A contrabass clarinet from the 1960s, a violin from 1972, a trumpet from the 1960s held together with electrical tape, and an oboe made in 1912 — the year the Titanic passenger liner sank — were shown to board members during a budget workshop Thursday where various district staff talked about their department’s needs.
Fine Arts Director Katherine Lowther had picked up the violin from Cardinal Valley Elementary Thursday morning (it’s being shared among schools) and said the violin was not getting better with age.
“The tuning pegs get loose,” Lowther said, and the wood is old.
About 5,000 Fayette County students are taking traditional band and orchestra.
“It’s very difficult when they don’t have the necessary equipment,” said Lowther. “At some schools they have these old instruments. At some schools they are able to use their booster raised funds and have great instruments.”
“But overall, we are looking at equitable access to instruments. Students especially in certain neighborhoods do not have access to high quality instruments or instruments at all,” said Lowther.
This spring, Superintendent Demetrus Liggins’ team will review current initiatives and new budget requests. A tentative budget is due to the Kentucky Department of Education by the end of May, and a final version by Sept. 30.
Liggins said there are campuses that have “fresh, plentiful” instruments as a result of fundraising from parents and boosters.
But at many schools, there’s no budget for piano tuning. The $50 needed to restring an instrument isn’t always available.
“Teachers buy a lot out of pocket,” Lowther said. Teachers and students are “making do.”
The contrabass clarinet shown at the school board meeting was also held together with electrical tape, has exposed wires and was taken out of circulation this week because the clips won’t align.
The oboe was missing a reed. It had gone through World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and is currently being played by students at Lexington Traditional Middle School, Lowther said.
Several aging instruments are in use at LTMS, she said. Kentucky Department of Education records said 82.5% of students at the school are economically disadvantaged.
District staff are not saying they want to replace all 5,000 instruments at one time, but they do want to start an instrument replacement cycle.
Lowther said she does not have specific numbers at this point of how much money schools need, only projections.
Board member Amanda Ferguson confirmed one elementary school council this week cut its general music teacher.
One elementary school only has a band teacher provided by the district, with no general music or visual arts teacher, said Lowther. School councils make those decisions.
When those students who have little music instruction in elementary school, move on to middle or high school, she said, “they’re lost.”
The state of Kentucky requires students to have a full credit of arts and humanities in order to graduate.
“At the high school level it’s imperative that we do keep as much of the staffing as possible so that we can have our students graduate,” said Lowther.
The Fayette school board makes an allocation for instrument repairs, but it runs out, said Lowther.
School board member Tom Jones asked whether the district had been consistent in funding fine arts, particularly in music, and whether the board needed to do some “make up.”
“If there’s been a neglect here in funding of arts programs, the board needs to be aware of that as we think about where we might want to place our priorities,” Jones said.
This tale was at first posted March 17, 2023, 2:46 PM.