Bethlehem, Pa. (AP) Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts has its own ice rink and skating coaches, but critics wonder if the unique public school program has enough worthy skaters to fill its roster.

Students in the classroom-on-ice spend two hours a day working on their turns, jumps and spins.

But only 17 of the school's 420 students are enrolled in the figure skating program five years after its inception. Their home districts pay about $135,000 combined for their education.

"It's a total waste of taxpayer money," said Wendy Cole of Hellertown, a founding member of the school who fought the skating program in 2005.

The school's mission is to offer a comprehensive education program "for students with proven, exceptional talents."

Yet Superintendent Tom Lubben and skating director Bill Fitzpatrick acknowledge that they have allowed students with minimal skating ability to enroll. Some were steered to the program after failing auditions for the school's dance, theater, music and visual arts programs.

They defend the policy, saying there's more to skating than the ability to perform a camel spin.

"I'm looking for what we call the 'passion,'" said Fitzpatrick, a U.S. Figure Skating Association judge.

He hopes to build the program to 40 students.

"We are providing a service," said Lubben, who credits skating instruction with helping his daughter overcome a learning disability and go on to skate professionally. "If a hockey player wants to come and learn we will welcome him with open arms."

The program funds five part-time positions: two skating coaches, an off-ice ballet instructor, a fitness trainer and an off-ice drama teacher. Records show the budget for salaries, rink rental and other fees totals $104,568, leaving less than $2,000 per student to cover their instruction in math, history and other traditional subjects.

Bethlehem Area School Superintendent Joseph Lewis said the charter school provides a strong foundation in the performing arts that regular schools cannot afford. But he questioned whether the skating program's cost is justified, given the enrollment.

Leonard Perrett, who heads the board's curriculum committee, said he didn't know that Lubben and Fitzpatrick were lowering their audition standards. But he said the school's goal is not to train Olympic champions.

"Not everyone is Michelangelo," he said. "If a person has the desire to skate and all they can do is go across the ice on skates, we hope by the end of four years they progress."

Information from: The Morning Call,

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.