The Music Man

Forget River City; there are problems aplenty at the New World School of the Arts, where members of the music faculty have declared war on their boss

Ponce says he's generally pleased with Lentczner's accomplishments, and he credits the provost with maintaining the state legislature's $860,000 annual appropriation to the school. "New World School for the very first time was in the budget without clamor, without catastrophe," Ponce reports. "A great majority of that effort was Bennett's doing. That's a lot of hard work and energy."

In addition, Ponce notes Lentczner's success in raising the school's profile. "This past year and a half we played for President Clinton at the Biltmore," he says, "and when Mrs. Clinton was down here [in October], our students entertained her all day. She invited the kids to the White House. These are all things that Bennett has done."

This past week Lentczner gained another layer of support when the New World School's four division deans sent Ponce a letter strongly advocating the provost's retention. And in a direct slap at the "disgruntled" music faculty, the deans described them as having "limited responsibility and vision."

Internecine battles, staffing cutbacks, and a severe shortage of classroom and studio space have combined in a way that suggests a school in disarray. That perception may be an exaggeration, says Seth Gordon, one of the school's founders and now a member of the New World School of the Arts Foundation, but the problems are real. In Gordon's view, they stem from the hybrid governing structure cobbled together by the legislature when it created the school. The arrangement, he claims, engenders a host of management problems.

For example, New World's executive board, which sets all policies, is composed of representatives from the University of Florida, Miami-Dade Community College, and the Dade County Public Schools, plus volunteers appointed by those representatives. "The school was designed in a way that crippled it from the outset," says Gordon, a partner in the public relations firm Gordon Sloan Diaz-Balart. "You have a board made up of people from the parent institutions whose primary loyalty is to the parent board and not to New World."

The three parent organizations also directly compete with New World for precious dollars distributed among state colleges and universities by traditionally parsimonious legislators. (The lion's share of the school's $7.3 million budget, however, is provided by its parent institutions: Dade Schools pays $3.3 million, MDCC $2.6 million, and the University of Florida $500,000.)

Despite the turmoil, New World School of the Arts students continue to delight their warring instructors and administrators by attracting national recognition. For five consecutive years a New World high school senior has won the National Art Education Association's top award. Eight students have been selected as Presidential Scholars. Former students have joined prestigious professional companies such as the Santa Fe Opera, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Parsons Dance Company, and the Houston Grand Opera. Several cyber-arts graduates have obtained lucrative positions as animation designers. "We live for the kids," Joy Davidson stresses. "They are our inspiration.

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