O.C. Educators Would Like to Bank on Artistic License : Schools: Sales of a special vehicle plate would help fund field trips and other arts programs if Gov. Wilson OKs two bills on his desk.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Youths from every grade in the Anaheim City School District used to take cultural field trips regularly to museums, orchestra concerts, dance performances and the like. Now, only a fraction of those students board the bus.

Such trips "were an extensive part of the curriculum," says district Supt. Meliton Lopez. "But that has gone by the wayside."

Private funding supports limited cultural field trips for third graders from about half the Anaheim district's 21 schools, Lopez said. But recent cuts in public education--which have decimated arts-education programs statewide--last year eliminated bus money for all but science-related trips for all other students.

"We'd definitely like to have the field trips reinstated," Lopez said.

Two legislative bills sitting on Gov. Pete Wilson's desk could make that happen. They might also help restore other fallen arts education programs or produce new ones with hundreds of thousands of dollars, to be generated without drawing on the state's general fund or a tax increase.

How so? Assembly Bill 3632, authored by Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), calls for the creation of a license plate design bearing a depiction of the state designed by a California artist, available to motorists for an initial fee of $20, and an annual renewal fee of $10. Senate Bill 1571 would authorize the money generated by the plates to go toward local arts education.

While former Gov. George Deukmejian twice vetoed similar legislation, Minicucci is optimistic this time. The bills have passed both houses, and Minicucci gives them "better than 50-50" odds of clearing the governor's desk. Wilson must make his decision by Wednesday. Officials estimate that funding would become available in fiscal 1994-95.

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The money, estimated at an initial $440,000 annually, would be administered by the Department of Education and the California Arts Council. Adding in matching-grant funds available from the National Endowment for the Arts, the pot could reach almost $750,000. Local arts agencies, such as countywide arts councils or city entities, would be eligible to apply for 2-to-1 matching grants averaging between $20,000 and $40,000. These agencies must use the money to involve local artists or arts organizations in educational programs.

"We're going to really push that everyone involved in arts education buy (a license) plate," said Jennifer West, spokeswoman for the California Confederation of the Arts, a statewide arts advocacy organization. West has been working for the bills' passage.

Key to the Senate bill, which would create the Local Arts Education Partnership Program, is that the government agencies would work hand in hand to develop arts programs with arts professionals, parents and school districts. The legislation requires districts to adopt a "comprehensive curriculum" before they could receive any money from the new arts fund.

This curriculum would, for one, encompass four arts disciplines: dance, theater, music and the visual arts. And it would ensure that related classroom instruction always be provided in conjunction with field trips or artists' residencies, for instance. It's an attempt to deal with the dearth of trained arts teachers and lack of weekly arts instruction, particularly in elementary schools, much of which resulted largely from the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

"There has to be a much closer collaboration" between schools and professional artists and institutions, said Paul Minicucci, consultant to the legislative Joint Committee on the Arts, chaired by Sen. J. Henry Mello, author of the Senate bill. "We want to try to make every dollar count inside the schools, so that the teacher doesn't go out the door when the resident artist comes in."

The legislation could be particularly beneficial to Orange County, because it would enable cities--not just county arts councils--for the first time to apply directly for state arts funding. Orange County is one of a handful of counties in the state without such an arts council, although it has been struggling to establish one for more than two years.

Sally Davis, manager of the Arts Council's State-Local Partnership program, said it hasn't been determined whether cities need an arts agency to apply for funding, or if they may apply without such an entity. But several Orange County cities have expressed interest in the Local Arts Education Partnership Program, she said.

"Orange County has many strong city arts agencies, and we hope this is a way they can be served," said Davis, who would help oversee the proposed program.

To launch the partnership program, the CAC would use the first $300,000 generated by the Assembly's Artistic License Plate Bill to match a grant from the NEA.

Officials expect that competition for the grants will be stiff. But Orange County school and arts administrators recently cited numerous ways they could use the money.

The city of Fullerton could provide more docent school visits to acquaint students with the exhibits they see in tours at the Fullerton Museum Center, said museum education coordinator Aimee Grodski. Now, sessions are given to only one out of about 10 schools and community groups who take the tours, Grodski said. Money to support the tours is sorely needed as well, she added.

With each new exhibition, "there are more and more requests for tours. It's a real challenge to keep up with the demand," she said.

The Fullerton School District could apply the funds to its All the Arts for All the Kids program, which was cut in half last year, said Konnie Gault, the elementary school district's community liaison. Now students receive two lessons in each arts discipline--dance, theater, music and visual arts--for the entire year.

Because arts education often involves the study of various cultures, it is particularly critical now that whites are in the minority in the Fullerton district, said Gault, who also teaches music education part time at Chapman University in Orange.

"We have such a wide range of different ethnic groups coming into our community, and it's so important for us to understand and develop a tolerance for each other," she said.

Also, exposure to the arts in elementary school can keep a child from dropping out later, she said.

"Students who may not be doing well, quote, academically, may excel in the arts, and this may be one reason to stay in school," Gault said.

The Irvine Unified School District already offers elementary children instruction by trained arts specialists, said Jack Vaughn, the district's fine arts coordinator. Although it constitutes only one hour every six weeks, it is "more than any other district in the state" he said.

Still, as in the Anaheim district and scores of others statewide, its transportation funding for field trips has been "drastically reduced," Vaughn said. That problem is widespread; some county school districts lack funds even to bus children to school. Often, parents must help pick up the tab.

"We have to find creative ways of coming up with these funds, and that's why these bills would be so important," he said.

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