Mike Lawson • Archives • November 1, 2002

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This month’s nationwide Survey on music budgets indicates that there is oftentimes a fine line between budgeting and fundraising. In many cases, middle and high school band and orchestra programs rely as heavily on fundraising support as they do on school budget allocations – if not more so. In some cases, according to survey results, music programs could not survive without the aid of student and booster fundraising efforts.

At schools in many parts of the country, the budget picture is grim. Twenty-five percent of directors surveyed report that their programs have suffered severe cuts or frozen budgets in recent years. With the assistance of booster groups and fundraising campaigns, many directors are able to make ends meet, while others are barely able to scrape by – and some just do without.

Budget Approaches

According to survey results, 53 percent of participants submit an annual budget for consideration by the school board or other budgeting authority. Thirty-seven percent receive a fixed budget from the school administration or district that they apply to their programs’ most pressing needs. Four percent boast generous, open-ended financial support from the school system – they ask, and they receive. And 6 percent of those surveyed have no money available to them at all and, therefore, do not produce a budget.

Those who do present an annual budget approach the task with various strategies. The most popular methods detailed in the survey were also the most opposite. Many directors say they “pad” the budget, asking for much more than they expect to receive so that once their budget is cut by the board, they will walk away with at least some of their requests fulfilled. Other directors ask for very little so that their requests will be taken seriously, following the theory that if they don’t ask for too much, the chances of budget approval are higher.

Sometimes, both of these strategies can backfire.

“Usually I request my entire wish list,” reveals Michael Emmerich, band director at Nuttall Middle School in Robinson, Ill. “My problem is that the school tends to approve the lower-priced items but shys away from the big-ticket items. I have to do a lot of explaining why I need some of the larger, more expensive instruments and equipment.”

In the case of James Jaszewski, band director at Sibley East High School in Arlington, Minn., one of his requests was approved and then retracted.

“The building principal asks for our requisitions in the spring. I submit them and hope I may get some of them,” he explains. “This year, he told me I had $5,000 for new horns. I ordered a tuba, a double French horn and a baritone. He then told me that was changed and that I only had $3,000, so I could only have the tuba. I had to send the French horn and baritone back to the manufacturer.”

Whatever the budget approach, band director Roger Thaden, of Lux Middle School in Lincoln, Neb., has a suggestion to help make the budget process as painless as possible.

“A goal of having all budget requests in on time (if not early), clearly stated and referenced (including photocopies of the covers and pages from current catalogs listing requested items as well as the rationale for the purchase) and within dollar guidelines (with a very simple spreadsheet, it is easy to balance requests to be within $5 of a total budget allowance) has proven to result in positive growth in our inventory supporting the band and orchestra programs,” he points out.

Budget Requests: Fulfilled and Unfilled

While 29 percent of respondents say they receive 100 percent of their budget requests, the majority tagged on a disclaimer: “as long as I stay within the parameters of my budget allocation.” In other words, all of their budget requests are being fulfilled – on paper. But since many directors can spend only a fixed amount, there is a limit put on their requests. That means other needs aren’t being fulfilled because directors do not have enough money allocated to fulfill those requests.

“I am given a certain amount of money to work with. As long as I stay within my allotted amount, I get it,” explains Jayne L. Karbula, band director at Waupun Middle School in Waupun, Wis.

“Within the financial limits, I get whatever I wish,” echoes Tim Mika, orchestra director at Kingwood High School in Kingwood, Texas.

Six percent of those surveyed estimate that 95 percent of their budget requests are fulfilled each year.

Justin W. Love, director of bands at De Soto High School and Lexington Trails Middle School in De Soto, Kans., has had success with his budget requests (90 to 95 percent fulfilled) in spite of a statewide budget shortfall.

“As long you can justify what you are asking for and have good documentation, most administrators will find a way to fill your request,” he maintains. “This past year, the state of Kansas, like many others, had an enormous budget shortfall. Our administrators still worked very hard to provide the things we needed.”

Eighteen percent of directors report that 80 to 90 percent of their requests are approved. Thirteen percent see 70 to 80 percent of their budget needs satisfied. Four percent get the green light for 60 to 70 percent of their requests. Twenty-three percent of survey participants receive approval for 5 to 50 percent of their requests. Four percent of directors’ requests are rejected. (The remaining 3 percent said they could not provide an estimate.)

To Fundraise, or Not to Fundraise

According to survey participants, in some districts, fundraising is not even allowed, never mind encouraged. Twenty-nine percent of directors surveyed say that no fundraising – of any kind – takes place in their schools. Many of those who do not fundraise are very vocal on the subject.

“We believe the school district should be responsible for the music program – providing instruments, equipment and uniforms,” states Patricia Ellis, concert band director, Vestal High School in Vestal, N.Y. “Allowing boosters to purchase such items will set a bad precedent and the school district will come to expect this type of support.”

Sue Cechal, director of high school bands in the Valders, Wis., Area School District, echoes these sentiments.

“Our boosters do not buy equipment or uniforms. They help raise trip money and they provide scholarship money for camps and college. Different administrators have tried to get us to go 50-50, but until the football team has to fundraise for uniforms and equipment, we will not use the boosters for that type of purchase,” she asserts.

In many districts where fundraising takes place, it means the difference between a thriving and ailing music program.

“Fundraising is the only way we make ends meet,” notes Robert Geiger, director of bands, Union City Community Schools in Union City, Mich. “We must constantly raise funds just to maintain our program. This money is used for every imaginable expense except professional fees and development.”

Twenty-three percent of respondents to the survey assert that fundraising plays a vital role in their music program’s operation – adding that they could not run their programs without it. Ten percent of the survey participants pointed out that 100 percent of their funds are provided by the Booster organization. Forty-one percent of directors say they receive a significant amount of financial support from booster and fundraising efforts; anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of the money they receive comes from these sources. Most directors who fall into this category indicate that this money fills in the gaps left by the inadequate school budget.

“Our fundraising provides equal to 180 percent of our allotted budget. Without it, we would have no capital purchases, or any money for trips, scholarships, etc.,” explains Len Hansen, department chair and band director at De Pere Middle School in De Pere, Wis.

Seven percent of directors surveyed say fundraising plays a small part in the overall budgeting process – 50 percent or less.

Long-Term Needs

The majority of directors surveyed struggle with obtaining funds for long-term needs and one-time expenditures, such as instruments, uniforms, equipment and travel.
“If there was one thing that would drive me out of teaching music more than anything else it is the fact that the school district does not put enough importance in music education to fund it to a minimal state,” points out Jonathan L. Schmid, director of bands at Merced High School in Merced, Calif.

According to survey results, instrument replacement ranks highest among directors’ long-term goals – and immediate needs. Seventy-six percent of directors surveyed fall into that category. Larger, more expensive instruments like timpani, sousaphones, pianos and basses are at the top of many directors’ wish lists. One director reports that some of his school-owned instruments – which are still in use – date back to the 1930s.

“Having a superb local repair shop has been life-saving to the program,” says John R. Spitler, director of bands at Moultrie Middle School in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Those who receive some money toward instrument replacement acknowledge that the amount is never quite enough to fulfill the program’s needs.

“We have a replacement account of $3,000 each year. We try to replace instruments as we can. With this amount, we can replace each school instrument about once every 65 years. Not the ideal situation,” observes Linda Becker, band director at Prairie Middle School in Merrill, Wis.

Updating uniforms is another high priority item for 31 percent of directors who participated in the survey. One director notes that her marching band’s uniforms are 32 years old. Some schools represented in the survey are on a 15- to 20-year uniform replacement schedule.
Twenty-five percent of those surveyed expressed a long-term plan for purchasing new equipment of some kind, including furniture, risers, storage cabinets, recording equipment and software. Twenty-two percent have costly group travel plans on the horizon that will require additional funds. Five percent of survey participants have a plan in place to acquire more literature for their ensembles.

Four percent of directors see no possibility of the long-term budget situation ever improving, and must make do with what they have.

“The district has funds available occasionally for new instruments, but competition is fierce and we don’t receive much. I buy used instruments at pawn shops and try to get reimbursed later,” explains Craig L. Swartz, band director at Harding Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa.

Other long-term needs expressed in survey responses include transportation funds, students awards and scholarships, additional staffing, equipment trailers, music commissioning, a lesson subsidy program and new music facilities.

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