Originally created 02/26/97

Aiken band and art programs seek help



AIKEN - About 30 band and art supporters showed up at Tuesday's Aiken County Board of Education meeting seeking a five- year, $700,000 commitment from the administration to provide band instruments and art supplies they say fund-raising can no longer do.

"The instruments we have - many of them rented - are in much need of repair and replacement," said Dennis Bartholomew, band booster president of Aiken High School, reading from a letter drafted by the group.

M.J. Villanueva, band booster president at South Aiken High School, told the school board that roughly 6,000 of the 25,000 students in the school district participate in band and art programs. The group estimated it would cost about $140,000 annually over five years to replace aging instruments and shore up lagging art and drama supplies.

"Fund-raisers are no longer an adequate means of support for these programs," he said.

Mr. Bartholomew said Aiken High recently purchased a tuba that cost $5,000, and it wasn't even a top-of-the-line model. He said the band also must fund its own way to out-of-town sporting events.

"They want us to be at football games, but they don't pay for the bus, so we have to provide our own transportation," he said.

Most of the school board was sympathetic and supportive of the group's call to action, but the solution ultimately hinges on dollars.

"You have to understand that Aiken County is a very poor school district, we are 90th out of 91 school districts in the state in the money we spend per pupil," school board chairman John Bradley said. "So when you come to us for a request, you have to understand there are other people in line making requests."

After the meeting, Mr. Bartholomew said he wasn't encouraged by the school board's response.

In other business, J.D. Lever Elementary School got approval to implement a voluntary uniform policy at the start of the 1997-98 school year.

Aiken County school board member Jack Hunter made the suggestion at a meeting in November to seek input on uniforms from schools and parents.

Later that month, J.D. Lever hosted a uniform fashion show to give parents an idea of the prices and varieties of uniforms. The response of parents was overwhelmingly in support of uniforms.

Even if uniforms become the rage in Aiken County, the school district still has no plans to make them mandatory.

Three schools in Augusta - Glenn Hills Middle and Barton Chapel and A. Brian Merry elementary schools - went to optional uniforms on a trial basis this year.

"We're excited to be on the cutting edge of change in Aiken County," said Jim Hidlay, chairman of J.D. Lever's school improvement council.