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For many years, the performing arts program at William Penn Senior High School was known throughout the county for high-quality performances and talented students whose skills could open doors to careers in the arts.

When the program was ended as the district began a financial recovery program, it was a blow.

So when the program returned in 2014 through the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, then the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, it was sign that the district was trying to re-establish programs that mattered to the students and the community.

The school board recently approved a new contract with the Appell Center for the next school year, giving the nonprofit $300,000 for programming, salaries and supplies to educate students about the arts.

More: School board member concerned over Appell Center partnership

The center and staff at the high school work together to teach 200 students in a variety of classes, from stage makeup and technical theater to ballet, hip-hop and tap and to playwriting, according to the center. The program stages two productions each school year at the Strand Theatre.

But at the school board's June 14 meeting, board member Michael Breeland brought up what he sees as some problems with the contract.

Specifically, the Appell Center is running summer camps for students ages 5-18 to have a chance to sing, dance, act and learn stagecraft. The three sessions began this week, and they're very popular, with several classes sold out.

Breeland was upset that city school students are being charged the $200-$300 fee other students have to pay. 

“Not open to our students free of charge, but we’re paying for it?” Breeland asked.

And that's where the misunderstanding comes in.

 

The school district is paying the Appell Center for specific programs that are laid out in its contract. Even though the district pays enough to cover salaries for several staff members, those people are still employees of the center, and they are going to do work that doesn't directly involve city students.

Breeland and some others at the board meeting called the Appell Center's treating those working with the city students as staff members of the nonprofit a "philosophical view."

It's not actually a philosophical view. It's part of that contract. 

Board member Jose Santiago said the board should have been more specific about the use of the funds if it wanted to change that.

"We put ourselves in this situation," he said.

He's right. The board approved the contract to give the center the funds in return for certain programming. The staff members work for the nonprofit, not the school district, and the center can have them conduct classes that don't involve city students as long as that work doesn't interfere with the William Penn classes and productions.

Breeland is calling for the board to look into exactly where the $300,000 is being spent. And that's good. The York City School District needs to look at all of its expenses all the time, just as it needs to carefully look at all of its contracts.

The district provides a good chunk of the Appell Center's budget, $300,000 out of a total of almost $3.7 million, according to Charity Navigator. And even in the district's total budget of $137.7 million for next year, $300,000 is enough to take a second look at. 

But it's standard in a contract that outsources a program that the entity providing the service takes the money and hires the personnel involved. 

Superintendent Eric Holmes said the partnership between the district and the Appell Center has been "enormously successful in returning William Penn to its roots as a premier school for students interested in the performing arts."

With the district hoping to expand the performing arts program into an academy for the 2018-19 school year, it's better to let the contract stand, let the students learn as much as they can from a nonprofit that has a lot to teach, and continue with a relationship that has worked well for both sides. 

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