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Economy puts burden on Tampa's school bands

Amy Morancie's fellow tuba players are counting down the days until the senior graduates from Jefferson High School. It's not that they want her to leave — they just want her instrument.

Morancie is fortunate to have one of the newer tubas available for lease from the Hillsborough County School District.

"The older tubas have dents and dings, and it makes them sound muffled," Morancie said.

The demand for pristine rentals like hers has increased with the economy's downturn.

All but one of the 90 students in Jefferson's band program rent their instruments, David Rosa, director of bands, said. At $42.80 a year, renting a tuba is significantly cheaper than shelling out about $5,000 to own one.

Even the cost of renting an instrument is more than some families have been able to bear, especially combined with uniform rentals, band event expenses and other dues.

Bottom line: Participating in high school bands can easily top $200 a year, causing some programs to increase their emphasis on fundraising and payment plans to reduce parents' burden.

Rosa, for one, instituted a new rule this year: Each student must raise $100. The first $25 goes toward the band's overall fundraising requirement, and every penny collected after that is credited to the student to cover personal band expenses. The school also works with families to break up payments for band dues.

In South Tampa, Howard W. Blake High School is among the latest schools to make provisions for struggling band musicians. In the past, the performing arts school required students to pay all expenses at the beginning of the year. With more students struggling to do so, officials have asked students this year to pay a $50 initial fee. The remaining costs will be broken up into quarterly installments.

Another cost-cutting measure: "Some students share an instrument if they're in different classes, since they won't need to play it at the same time," said John Dupuis, director of bands at Blake.

They split the rental fees and buy their own mouthpieces for sanitary purposes.

Blake has also reduced some overall dues, as the program consolidates its jazz, concert and marching bands into one unified program. For instance, the concert band's dues have dropped from $150 a year to about $100, which does not include the costs of uniform and instrument rentals, Dupuis said.

The number of struggling band students hasn't increased drastically, "but more parents are out of work," said Dupuis. "The kids and parents have the will to find a way to pay, though."

To pay their band fees, some students have spent weekends hawking hot dogs and nachos at Raymond James Stadium or going door-to-door after school selling everything from Yankee candles to doughnuts.

At Gaither High in North Tampa, the main area where the band has felt the impact of a slumping economy has been in event participation, said Brian Dell, director of bands. It can cost $25 to $50 to attend each band festival and event throughout the state. After paying for rentals and other expenses, some parents have scaled back on the number of band trips their children take.

"It's been harder for individual students to do as many things as they did in the past," Dell said.

Back at Jefferson, taking part in concert band costs $194.85 per student, which includes the costs of cleaning and borrowing a uniform, participating in band camp and renting an instrument. Many students are also involved in marching band, jazz band and other musical ensembles at Jefferson, which can cost more than $50 for each additional uniform that needs to be rented and professionally cleaned.

"I've used fundraising to pay for all of my band fees for two years," Morancie said. She estimated that her band expenses cost close to $800 during that time, since she was involved in several programs at once.

Students who exceed their fundraising goals can have the money roll over to the next year, Rosa said.

Still, all of the fundraising hasn't come easy.

Jack Vasquez, 16, said he has had a more difficult time convincing companies to place ads in the band's concert programs this year.

"We hear a lot of, 'we don't do that anymore,' and 'not now' from business owners," said the Jefferson junior.

"Fundraising's been a little more difficult this year since people are less likely to spend money, but you just have to try," said Jefferson senior Robert Torres, 17.

And try Torres has. He estimates that he has already covered his $100 fundraising requirement.

"The students' work ethic is so strong, and they're so dedicated," said Rosa, who added that the school hasn't seen a decline in overall money raised. "We're all working together to get what we need."

Candace Braun can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

Economy puts burden on Tampa's school bands 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 3:30am]

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