tampabay.com

Board to set the tone for band funds

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published February 6, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - It probably won't get much attention today amid debate over school boundaries and the creation of a mid level management job in the administration.

But the Pasco County School Board is scheduled to approve a contract worth up to $1.3-million for new musical instruments.

The bulk of the contract will go to five schools that will open this fall - Double Branch, Gulf Trace and New River elementary schools, Charles Rushe Middle School and Sunlake High School. Less than $200,000 is set aside for existing schools.

That may sound like a lot, but the band budget doesn't stack up with the district's annual cost of fuel or even copy paper. Letter-size alone comes to about $700,000. Nor will it come close to fulfilling the myriad needs of Pasco's more than 60 schools.

Witness Pasco High's fervent attempts to kick-start a strings program, without many strings.

"They never have enough instruments, even with spending that kind of money," board chairwoman Marge Whaley said.

Whaley acknowledged that instruments don't last forever. But she also noted that their cost makes it near impossible to meet the demand.

Consider the price tags: A tenor trombone lists at $384, marching quints (drums) cost $934 and a concert tuba gets $4,698.

"What are you going to cut in the budget" to buy those items for every school, Whaley wondered. "We get them started and then we say, 'You've got to get your band boosters to keep you going.' "

It's no different, she added, than the board's decision not to fully build an elementary school playground, leaving parent groups to pick up the slack.

Altogether the existing schools get a budget that starts at about $100,000, then grows based on special requests.

Last year the schools asked for about $180,000 in special requests on top of that $100,000. But the district bought only some of the requested equipment (exact figures were not available Monday).

"We can't purchase everything," said curriculum supervisor Kathy Sanz, who oversees the program.

Sanz does not expect the district to spend the full $1.3-million today. That would be the amount needed to buy everything on the bid sheet, and that, she said, is highly unlikely.

The district encourages students to rent or buy the less expensive items such as flutes, though it will buy one or two for schools in case there's a student who just can't afford it.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. Check out the Times education blog, The Gradebook, at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.