Band equipment is now “pay to play”
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Following budget cuts, band students now find themselves required to pay a $10 fee per semester. The Department of Education’s funding for Townsend Harris has decreased, with art and music classes being the first to experience those budget cuts.
According to band teacher Peter Lustig, students were not required to pay fees while former Assistant Principal of Language, Art, and Music Lisa Mars held her position. Up until her departure from THHS, Dr. Mars would create an annual grant proposal, providing generous funding for the music department. Prior to her arrival at THHS, students always paid for their own supplies, such as music books, mouthpieces, and reeds. This year’s grant proposal was denied.
Every year, the total expense for the Beginner, Intermediate, Concert and Jazz bands is $6,000. Since the Department of Education (DOE) reduced its funding, the school has turned to the $2,800 raised selling tickets to the bands’ in-school performances. Consequently, Mr. Lustig and Principal Anthony Barbetta, who holds Ms. Mars’s former position, decided that a fee of ten dollars per student for each semester of band is sufficient to cover the expenses.
Students and administrators, including Mr. Barbetta, had mixed feelings about the fee.
“They’re only asking for ten dollars and what they’re getting is a good deal,” he said. “If I had a wishlist, I wish that they didn’t have to pay. It always worked out before, but on the other hand we supply the instruments and that’s very costly.”
Mr. Lustig also dislikes band fees. When he returned to teach this year, he was unaware of the budget cut. “I feel worse than the kids,” he said. However, Mr. Lustig also thinks that the fee is a non-issue. He recalls students not minding it, some even paying for the whole year upfront. As the money goes towards the students’ benefit, most do not take issue with paying a small fee to participate in a music class five times a week.
Senior Jada Allred dislikes the fee, saying, “It’s not an outrageous amount of money, but on top of everything else I have to pay for senior year, it just keeps adding.”
For many other students like Jada, AP tests, Student Union cards and senior dues will add up at the end of the year. Band students may hold fundraisers and bake sales, but those efforts alone would not be enough.
“Kids shouldn’t have to fundraise for a music or art program since it’s a graduation requirement,” said Principal Barbetta. “If kids really have a hard time [paying the fee] they could talk to the teacher or even me.” Mr. Lustig adds, “If someone has financial issues, then the fee can be waived.”
Even though the band fee is not appreciated by all, it does not stop students from learning and enjoying band class. “I dont regret taking the class…but I wish I knew [about the fee] beforehand,” commented Jada. Mr. Lustig was happy to report receiving all the required fees within two weeks of their announcement without any major problems. However, he has different hopes for next year. “I hope we don’t have to pay a fee next year, because music is about having fun,” he said.
High schools across the country have been facing the effects of budget cuts to their art and music programs. They are now offering fewer courses in the subject areas, with a dwindling number of teachers maintaining the departments. Future students can only hope for an increase in budget to increase their opportunities in music and the arts.