$20,000 piano bid strikes sour note
By ROBERT KING
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 21, 2000
SPRING HILL -- Springstead High chorus teacher Mark Pennington wants the School Board's blessing to spend nearly $20,000 for the 21st century version of a player piano.
Pennington says the instrument would give music appreciation students a chance to hear classical and jazz pieces played live before them with the precision of a master pianist.
It would be sophisticated enough to measure how hard piano students are striking the keys, how long they are holding the keys down and which keys they mishit. It would even play the left hand part of a song while the students play the right and record the whole exercise for playback.
School Board members don't doubt the wonderment of the technology.
But several question the wisdom of such a purchase when there are so many questions about the district's budget. Due to budget concerns, the superintendent has enacted a hiring freeze, a limit on overtime and a freeze on purchases made from the district's operating budget.
"At this point, spending $20,000 for a piano might be a little extravagant," said board member Robert Wiggins.
Pennington says Springstead needs to replace a 24-year-old piano that has broken keys and is always out of tune. He says the piano he wants to buy, a Steinway with a digital music system, is top quality and should last 75 years -- three times longer than what he would expect from other brands.
"Because of the technology age it gives our students the advantage of being able to work with this kind of equipment," Pennington said. "It just allows for a higher quality music program here at Springstead."
The piano would cost $12,665 and be paid for with money that Pennington says Springstead has been setting aside for five years. Money for the $7,105 digital equipment would come from the district's technology budget, which usually buys computers and software.
At least two board members -- Wiggins and Sandra Nicholson -- are concerned that only one music company -- the Music Gallery in Clearwater -- bid for the contract. And, like Wiggins, board chairman Jim Malcolm is concerned about timing. "If you are going to freeze (purchases), let's freeze."
Still, even Nicholson says schools can spend their site-based money how they see fit. And board member John Druzbick said that given the expensive nature of musical instruments, he doesn't consider $19,770 to be extraordinary.
But two Tampa Bay area piano dealers -- both Steinway competitors -- questioned the $20,000 expense for a piano and digital system intended for a school. They suggested Springstead is paying extra for Steinway's exclusive name.
Bill Adams, owner of Adams Baldwin Pianos in Tampa, said a Baldwin piano and digital system would cost roughly $10,000.
Ken Visser, owner of Keyboards Plus Inc. in Palm Harbor, said the Kawai package he sells would cost $12,490.
"I think that's outrageous," Visser said. "My god . . . this is something that kids are going to be fooling around with. If I were on the School Board I would say absolutely no way."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111