NEW PORT RICHEY — Forget the 76 trombones in the big parade.
This year's Chasco Fiesta street parade is lucky to have three marching bands — just one from a local school — scheduled to hit the streets Saturday. Spring break has forced a complete overhaul of the event, which last year had 17 bands in the lineup.
"I've been doing this 30 years," organizer Greg Armstrong said. "This is the first time this has happened."
School Board member Steve Luikart, who sits on the Chasco Fiesta steering committee, called it a "disappointment" that only Gulf High School's band would perform in the second-largest street parade in the Tampa Bay area. The other two bands hail from St. Petersburg and Orlando.
"It's a chance for them to shine and showboat," Luikart said. "It takes that away from them."
Calendars simply got in the way.
From the school district's side, instructional hours and testing dates weighed heavily on the decision when to hold spring break. Once those dates were set, the district could not require employees to work or students to attend events.
"We can't make bus drivers drive. Students are off. Teachers are off. So it was logistically difficult for us to get the process together so they could participate," spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.
Even Gulf High's band will include alumni to fill out its ranks. And the district's employees of the year float won't include all the winners.
The parade dates proved equally immovable, the planners discovered as they looked for ways to make it easier for schools to take part.
Just one professional float company works the area, Armstrong explained, and it's booked most other weekends with events such as the Strawberry Festival and Gasparilla. The participating krewes are equally occupied, as are the associated carnival rides, food trucks and other vendors.
"We have a set date," Armstrong said, likening the situation to that of the annual Christmas parade. It always happens at the same time, because otherwise "Santa's float is booked."
The organizers looked into swapping the street parade with the boat parade, a week later. It turned out to be a no-go, though, because of the expected low tide.
"We tried every way in the world to move it," he said. "We don't have a fix available."
As a result, the parade will refocus from music to a more Mardi Gras-styled event, with "bigger, better and more floats" than ever before.
"We're going to have some other things that hopefully will be just as nice," Armstrong said. "The parade itself doesn't take a hit. It's just going to be different."
The crowd better get used to it.
Spring break and the Chasco street parade are scheduled to coincide again in 2015.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.