Pacific Boychoir Academy Survives a Major Financial Crisis

A major donation of apparently forged art resulting in a financial crisis has made the nation’s only nondenominational boy choir school stronger than ever.


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Photo courtesy Pacific Boychoir Academy

Pacific Boychoir Academy is rising strong. The school suffered a stunning blow when an art donation, valued at $2.8 million (which allowed the school to take out $400,000 in loans, expand the school staff, and up enrollment), turned out to be worth closer to $500. Now, this nondenominational boy choir school is meeting disaster with grace and rising from the ashes.

For such an accomplished institution, PBA flies surprisingly under the radar. Many East Bay residents have never heard of the three-time Grammy-winning Pacific Boychoir, much less seen a performance or considered enrolling their child in the academy. Artistic Director Kevin Fox opened PBA’s doors in 1998, and now over 150 boys (ages 4-18) participate in the Pacific Boychoir choral programs and over 20 girls (ages 6-16) are in Sorella, the sister choir. Boys attending the day school (grades 3-8) study music 2.5 hours per day in addition to math, Spanish, science, coding, art, humanities, Latin, emotional intelligence, and more. Johanna Ortis, administrative and development director of the school, said that once students complete eighth grade, they’ve received the equivalent of a master’s degree in music theory.

The school is more accessible than the top-notch academic and music offerings might lead you to believe.

“We have scholarships and financial aid for our day school and our after school programs,” said Summer Dittmer, a PBA math teacher currently serving as the school’s volunteer interim head. “My son received financial aid to attend before I even taught here. In elementary school, he struggled due to learning differences and one day asked if he could shadow at PBA. He came home so excited. We applied for aid and he was accepted. He really thrived here; he loved it.”

Team effort was the name of the game when the expected art money disappeared. Four Chinese paintings were donated to PBA, a school with an annual budget of $1 million, over several years. They were later thought to be forgeries, though after the school had committed to significant expenditures using the artwork as collateral. The organization struggled to stay afloat.

“Unfortunately, there were layoffs. Those who stayed had a 20 percent pay cut. Despite the challenges, staff worked harder than ever,” Ortis said. “They gave 25 percent more. It’s been amazing.”

A GoFundMe campaign created by Dittmer in February 2019 aimed to raise $270,000 — the estimated operating budget for the coming year. A local angel donor‚ one without personal ties to the school, pledged a $100,000 match once $170,000 of the GoFundMe was raised. The goal was met within two months.

“We are so grateful to everyone — student families, alumni, the media, the Oakland community, local businesses, special donors — for the support,” said Dittmer.

But the PBA team is not resting on its laurels. “$270,000 was our first milestone, but we still have the plans created when we had $2.8 million in growth potential. We’re not letting that vision go,” Ortis said. “We’re working hard. We surpassed our goal for our annual concert and fundraising gala, which has us at over $350,000 together with the GoFundMe.”

Thanks to these fundraising efforts, the school was also able to reinstate normal staff salaries as of May 15. Now the PBA aims for the initial security the art brought but believes it can be done without needing art.

“The community rallied in our time of need,” shared Ortis. “From the East Bay Community Foundation to Commodore Cruises & Events who sponsored our gala to Mayor Libby Schaaf organizing a concert in downtown Oakland to Carol Copperud of the San Francisco Symphony Choir, there has been so much help. The Oakland A’s are providing financial aid so more youth can benefit from our programs.” (During this interview the students were rehearsing the national anthem to open for the A’s on July 13).

With continued community support, PBA supporters hope as many people as possible can be touched by the performing arts institution, whether through a concert, summer camp, the choirs, or the school. “We are no longer just surviving; we’re thriving,” said Dittmer.

Learn more about enrollment, financial aid, scholarships, concerts, opportunities to donate, and the mission of the PBA at PacificBoychoir.org.

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