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    Orchestra booted from school after complaints

    Osceola Middle School's new principal says the Bay Area Youth Orchestra isn't welcome.

    By ABBIE VANSICKLE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 26, 2002


    SEMINOLE -- Bay Area Youth Orchestra Executive Director Beth Romanoff has a lot on her mind these days.

    She's used to coordinating practice times for 235 student musicians, booking performances and drumming up volunteer support. She has contact numbers and concert date information at her fingertips.

    But finding new rehearsal space after the group was kicked out of Osceola Middle School was not on her agenda.

    "We're losing our lease with the school," she said. "Our whole program is in jeopardy now."

    The orchestra, now in its 45th season, is composed of students from across the county.

    It is the only organization in the county that has a full orchestra open to any student who passes the audition, Romanoff said. Over the years, thousands have participated in the orchestra. Many have gone on to prestigious conservatory programs, such as New York's Juilliard School, and careers as professional musicians.

    The orchestra has practiced weekly at Osceola Middle School for at least nine years, Romanoff said.

    But after two incidents of property damage and complaints from teachers and custodial staff that rooms were left in disarray, Osceola Principal Robert Vicarik said enough was enough. He gave the orchestra one week to find another space to practice.

    "It's an unfortunate situation," he said.

    This is Vicarik's first year as principal at Osceola and he said several staff members approached him at the start of the school year with concerns about orchestra members' behavior. He said he met with Romanoff to lay out guidelines for the group.

    "When I first met my staff, a lot of complaints surfaced about the symphony," he said. "Several people told me the kids were left unsupervised and they just weren't taking care of the building."

    After several warnings, Vicarik said the damage to school property was too much to overlook.

    He said a conductor flipped over a school bookcase a couple of weeks ago and used it as a platform. The bookcase was damaged too badly to be used by the school.

    Shortly after, a student in the orchestra was given permission by the same orchestra staffer to drive onto the school's lawn to drop off some instruments. It rained while the student's car was parked on the lawn and the car got stuck, leaving ruts in the grass after it was moved.

    "How much are you going to tolerate?" he said. "My staff is angry and it looks like someone vandalized our property. They showed total disregard for our property."

    Romanoff did not dispute the two incidents and said she apologized to Vicarik and offered to compensate the school. She said the orchestra is taking action to ensure it won't happen again.

    Vicarik said the orchestra staff was quick to apologize and he extended their time at the school two weeks longer.

    "They were very sorry," he said. "They even brought me a plant to thank me for giving them the extra time to find a new place. I've made a few calls to other schools on their behalf. It's just too late to fix things here."

    Romanoff said she understands the principal's position. But she said she wishes Vicarik would give the group more time.

    She worries that without proper rehearsal space, the group will not be ready for its holiday performances.

    "What we'd like is for him to at least let us stay until the end of our semester," she said. "It's going to very difficult to get another school to let us in their facility now. We're quite large and we have five orchestra groups that rehearse at one time."

    Students audition annually for the group and are placed into the five musical groups according to instruments played, experience and age.

    Several parents and staff members said they were shocked to hear the orchestra must find a new facility. If the students don't get to practice together, they'll have to cancel the season, they said.

    "We need a big hall to practice in and it's not going to be easy to find that kind of space," said Rosanne Blowers, a parent volunteer who has two children in the orchestra. "Sometimes things happen and even the adults can make mistakes. I don't want the kids to get blamed for that. I hope the school will reconsider."

    -- Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (727) 445-4224 or at vansickle@sptimes.com .

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