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El Camino Arts Programs Hurt by Budget Cuts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stringent budget cuts under way at El Camino College are playing havoc with the arts.

The college’s highly regarded South Bay Center for the Arts--which presents an array of performers from opera stars to country singers in the 2,054-seat Marsee Auditorium--is significantly trimming its fall season.

Bearing the brunt of the schedule cuts will be symphony orchestras, classical soloists and dance companies that often don’t draw audiences large enough to cover their booking fees.

Also, the college’s performing and visual arts conservatory for South Bay high school students, which began only last September, has been forced to cancel a planned summer session that was to have included a summer musical and formation of a symphony orchestra.

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In the fall, high school students will be able to take some after-school classes already being offered at the college. But the original conservatory concept, in which youngsters from six area school districts receive special instruction and advanced training at the college, will be shelved.

Calling the cuts regrettable, college President Sam Schauerman said they were also unavoidable because the school must trim $3.2 million from its 1991-92 budget to make up for an expected loss of state revenue. “We don’t want to decimate the instructional program or lay off teachers,” he said.

The school’s budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is $55 million, but it expects to have to make do next fiscal year with $53 million.

Schauerman blames the fiscal woes on two factors: a drop in state lottery funds earmarked for education and a proposal by Gov. Pete Wilson that schools receive no cost-of-living funding increase for operational expenses because of the state budget deficit. Schauerman said that in planning its ’91-92 budget, the school needed to assume that Wilson’s proposal will take effect.

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El Camino, which is located in an unincorporated area north of Torrance, expected to receive $2.3 million in lottery funds but probably will get only $1.8 million, Schauerman said.

And he said that normally the college could expect a 5% increase for operational expenses under Proposition 98, a voter-approved school financing measure that the governor wants to suspend.

The South Bay Center for the Arts, which has been operating on a break-even basis, has been directed to show a $400,000 profit for its next season. Philip Westin, El Camino’s dean of fine arts and the center’s executive director, said he “will book the things that are money-makers,” such as popular music and country and Western performers, as well as popular lecturers.

Classical performances, which total 16 attractions this year, probably will be cut in half, Westin said. Dance performances will be cut from four this season to two next season, with an emphasis on booking local companies, he said.

The center presented the Pacific Symphony Orchestra this season, but no large orchestras will be on next season’s schedule, Westin said. “If we get a good low-fee chamber orchestra, we can make that work,” he said.

Westin said the cuts are a blow to the center. “We (will) offer less to the public and become more of an entertainment center than an arts center,” he said.

However, Westin said this is better than the alternative: shutting down the center. “Our best bet is to try to curtail the program to keep it viable so when we get back from this crisis, we can expand back to what we were doing. That clearly is the intent,” he said.

El Camino began its performing arts program 23 years ago with construction of Marsee Auditorium. The center this season is presenting $1.7 million in professional entertainment. Performers who have drawn big audiences include Harry Belafonte, opera star Frederica von Stade, Crystal Gayle and author Maya Angelou.

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The high school arts conservancy is a victim not only of budget cuts but of the college’s failure to find foundation support to help finance its continuing operation, Schauerman said.

The college received $450,000 from the state Department of Education to plan and open the school, which currently has an enrollment of more than 200 students from the Inglewood, Centinela Valley, El Segundo, South Bay Union, Torrance and Palos Verdes Peninsula school districts.

“We put $50,000 into it this last year, and staff time over and above that, but with the budget crunch, we can put no more dollars into it,” Schauerman said.

He said the situation is unfortunate because “young people in high schools, and even down the elementary level, are suffering from a lack of arts activities.”

The college already has reduced its summer school program by one-third, for a saving of $350,000 to $400,000. Some subjects have been eliminated, and the number of classes offered in each subject has been reduced. A total of 430 classes were offered last summer, but the number will be cut to about 310 this summer.

The school also is considering imposing a student parking fee that would pay for parking services now provided by the college.


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