A policy prohibiting large instruments from being transported on school buses could cost the Pickerington Local School District hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain its music programs.
Last month, the Pickerington School Board began debate about a proposal to purchase or lease about 200 musical instruments to support junior high and high school classes.
Initial estimates for purchasing each instrument identified by music staff, which range from bass clarinets and bassoons to trombones and tubas, are anywhere from $269 and $254 to $293 and $567, and that's including discount prices the district could secure.
Leasing the instruments could prove even costlier over four to five years.
However, those are costs the district might have to absorb if it wishes to keep junior high and high school music students outfitted with instruments during class.
That's because the district's bus transportation provider, Petermann Bus Co., recently informed students and district officials that any instrument that is not small enough to sit on a student's lap during transport cannot be taken on the bus because of safety issues.
"Ohio Administrative Code makes it very clear that no child can bring anything on the bus that would impede safety," said Ryan Jenkins, district treasurer.
"It is the reason this is the approach Petermann is taking that you can't bring anything that a student can't put on their lap."
School board members discussed the instrument issue at both of their January meetings, but have yet to determine how best to proceed.
Such action could happen at their next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. in Heritage Elementary, 100 East St.
District transportation consultant Dave Decsman told board members Jan. 27 there is little the district can do to modify buses which take students to and from school each day because state inspection standards are rigid.
Among strategies he said likely wouldn't make the grade was a proposal to create storage space behind bus drivers by removing a seat.
"In my experience, they would not permit that," Decsman said.
"They don't want loose objects.
If that bus had to hit the brakes hard, they don't want things flying around."
Board member Lisa Reade called such restrictions "ridiculous," but noted the instrument issue only is a problem on selected buses.
If district officials can't find a solution to safely store the instruments on the bus, the board might be forced to purchase or lease instruments that would be available to junior high and high school students while in class.
Those instruments then would remain at the schools, as opposed to being transported home with students.
According to information provided by the district Treasurer's Office, the district has averaged $16,065 in annual instrument expenses since 2004.
Even in 2005, when the district spent $87,125 for instruments, it didn't come close to the estimated costs for purchasing the large instruments Pickerington High School North Music Director Marc Parulekar has identified being needed because of the bus policy.
"That's because (students) have their own instruments that they bring to school," Reade said.
When asked if the music classes could get by with fewer oversized instruments, Parulekar said it's difficult to target which instruments students will select as they move through junior high and high school.
"We looked at how many they're playing in the 2013-14 school year and how many we need to accommodate current players," he said. "It depends on the instrument.
"There are some instruments where there is some sharing," Parulekar said.
"There are some instruments that you do not share."
Parulekar added he's already observed frustration among music students who've fallen behind because they can't bring their oversized instruments from home to class, but said he understood the board potentially was facing a large investment.