Israel Hicks, principal of Washington's Ellington School for the Arts, has resigned abruptly after a bitter feud with D.C. school system administrators over budget allocations and how the school has been managed.
In a letter of resignation distributed to faculty members, Hicks accused school Superintendent Vincent Reed of "watering down" the program of the four-year-old high school and treating it "as a cultural enrichment program and not as a school of the arts."
In turn, Reed said in an interview that Hicks was "naive and very parochial."
"I want to have a viable arts school," the superintendent said, "and we do have one. But I don't think we can support that school at the expense of other people in the school system."
Ellington, the only school of its' kind in the area and one of the few public schools for the arts in the country has had serious administrative and financial problems ever since it opened although its artistic work is well-regarded.
Last year it had 450 senior high students, chose by auditions from throughout the city. In the mornings students take a regular range of academic courses. In the afternoons they study music, art and drama.
The school occupies the old Western High School building at 35th and R Streets NW in Georgetown.
Reed said Hicks, a 35-year-old drama teacher and theater director from New York, had managed the school poorly since becoming principal a year ago. He said Hicks had far over spent his budget for part-time instructors in the arts.
For the new school year, Reed said he insisted that Hicks keep within the budget, which meant, laying-off or reducing the hours of some fo the arts instructors, Ricks refused.
Hicks said Ellington was unique and shouldn't have any cut backs," Reed said. "But I couldn't accept that. To say Ellington should take no cuts because it's an artistic endeavor isn't being realistic with life."
In a telephone interview from San Francisco where he is now directing a pilot television show, Hicks said, "I could not and would not be party to watering down the (Ellington) program which the superintendent asked me to do.
"I don't think minority students need any further watering down," Hicks continued. "Either Washington wants an arts school or they want another mediocre public high school. I came to build a school, not anything less."
Deputy Superintendent Edward G. Winner said Ellington had 44 teaching positions last year, including slots for part-timers, which was more than double the ratio of teachers to students in other D.C. schools. This year, he said, Ellington has 42 teaching positions.
In addition, the school was given a special $100,000 appropriation three years ago, Winner said, for remodeling and new equipment. He said Hicks had complained that the money had not been spent for the right things.
"That's as good as we can do with a restricted budget," Winner said. "That's not bad. The school hasn't been neglected."
But Hicks said teaching in many arts subjects, such as violin and piano, painting and sculpting, often requires one-to-one instruction. He said Ellington needs about three times as many teachers as a regular high school.
Hicks said he tried most of last summer to persuade Reed and Winner to increase the budget. In early August, he said he used his vacation to go to San Francisco to work on the television project, and while he was away decided to resign.
He dectated his letter of resignation by telephone Aug. 28, just 10 days before the start of the fall term.
Reed said that when he went over an acting principal, Phyllis Beckwith, she found that no scheduling had been done for fall classes. Financial and personal records were either mising or disarray, Reed said, so that on one knows exactly how much the part-time teachers worked last year or how much they are being cut back now.
Steve Jones, coordinator of the theater department, said that because of the cutbacks some instructors have been asked to teach only 10 hours a week instead of the 20-to-25 hours they worked last year.