Cost of school activities keeps mounting
Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 5:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 5:13 p.m.
Whether in dollars or hours, families of local high school band and theater students have increasingly had to support the extracurriculars in recent years.
Ted Lewis, director of the theater arts program at Buchholz High School, said that his budget has decreased from nearly $3,000 to about $300 in the past 12 years, but students and parents have continually stepped up to help keep the program running.
“We support ourselves with our box office and our fundraising,” he said.
Fundraising can include anything from car washes and bake sales to applying for grants and direct pleas to the community.
Even with a tighter budget, Lewis said the program sets aside scholarship money for students who may not have the means to make the annual trip to New York to experience Broadway or even state competition.
“If the kids wants to do theater, we’ll find a way,” he said.
High school bands have also had to support themselves more.
In order to fund uniforms, travel and other costs, booster groups ask families to make a “fair share” contribution to the band.
At Eastside High School, the fair share contribution for parents has increased $100 in the past two years, with parents now responsible for $250.
Liz Horne, president of Eastside’s Band Boosters, said the increased costs have come mostly from the growth of the band in recent years.
“We really, really try to keep costs as low as we can, but it’s always a function of how much we have to pay for divided by how many members are in the band,” she said.
Randy Wright, president of the Band Boosters at Buchholz High School, said he was surprised to see how much parents and families support local high school programs out of their pockets when he and his family moved to Gainesville from Missouri two years ago.
“We really have not found anyone that has been overly negative of this concept of being supportive of these programs,” he said, adding that he feels fundraising efforts bring the community together.
The fair share cost at Buchholz is $440.
At Santa Fe High School, band director Nathan Bisco said the fair share cost has stayed at $450 for the past four years.
With large fundraising events like parking cars at the annual Gatornationals and installing and removing the chairbacks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, most parents can work to pay their fair share and keep that contribution low.
At Eastside, Horne said most parents choose to write checks to meet the fair share, and they can set up a payment plan to pay through the year.
In addition, Horne said they do fundraisers to supplement the band, including recycling printer cartridges and small electronics, selling poinsettias during the holidays and holding silent auctions.
Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for Alachua County Public Schools, said the district has an equalization fund that provides money for band programs based on the size of the school and the percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches.
The fund is meant to account for the different fundraising capabilities of different schools.
Keith Birkett, assistant superintendent, said allocations for high school bands have not decreased in the past 10 years, but they haven’t kept up with increasing costs, either.
“It hasn’t increased either, which is obviously not good,” he said.
He said it’s been fortunate the district has been able to maintain these levels of funding despite have a budget that is about $30 million smaller than it was for the 2007-08 school year.
In Alachua County, there is a rotating allocation of $50,000 for band programs that moves from high school to high school, which Birkett said was originally created to replace band uniforms but now covers additional costs.
He said principals, along with school leadership and school advisory councils, determine how much of their budgets they dedicate to theater programs.
Many band booster programs have scholarships or partial scholarships to assist when a family cannot make the fair share contribution.
At Buchholz, Wright said few families have trouble with contributing their share.
“But even if it’s one, it’s a big deal,” he said.
Scholarships are a big help, he said, a sentiment echoed by Horne at Eastside.
“We have kids with a range of financial situations,” she said. “We always budget some money for partial scholarships.”
Bisco said he thinks the Alachua County School Board does a good job of funding band programs overall, but the bills add up for running a marching band.
“Band programs are very expensive to fund,” he said.
Back at Buchholz, senior Kacey Musson said she worries whether the arts will continue to survive in the long run.
“It’s disheartening,” said the 17-year-old student director.
She and senior Kelli Kaufman, 17, have directed the Buchholz Players’ latest production, “The Three Musketeers.”
Lewis said when he and student directors decide on which plays to produce, they have to strike a balance between artistic value and what will translate into good box office returns.
It isn’t always easy, he said.
“It is virtually impossible to predict the success of a show,” he said.
Musson, whose mother applied for a $2,000 grant from Target that has helped fund the production, said that even though support has dwindled, the increased self-reliance of the program brings the students closer together.
“I think you can see a lot more family in us.”