I'm a firm believer that school districts should provide necessary equipment for their school music programs and take care of repairing and replacing that equipment just as they would for any other school subject. Far too often, however, this is simply not the case. Many school districts do not have a formal plan in place for the replacement and repair of musical instruments and other equipment, and this can present many challenges as music directors work to provide a high quality educational experience for their students. When I arrived at my current district 17 years ago, there was no such plan in place. Today, I am happy to report that we have an generous annual repair budget and a plan for purchasing replacement and new inventory. How did we accomplish this? Read on for tips to create your own proposal!
1. You need data, lots of data! Your first step is to gather all the information you can to assist in your cause. This includes inventory reports, repair and purchasing history and enrollment data (especially if you are in a growing program!) You will also want to provide industry numbers about average lifespan of school owned instruments. (Conn-Selmer has a helpful chart--click here!)
2. Enlist your colleagues. This is definitely not an "everyone for themselves" endeavor. If you are in a district where multiple schools have instrumental music programs, work together. If your administration is hearing the same message from every program, it will be that much more powerful.
3. Be prepared to prioritize. A five or ten year plan may make more sense when it comes to district finances. By looking long-term, there is time to plan ahead for financial expenditures. As you develop your proposal, separate your requests into immediate needs, items you anticipate needing in the next 3-5 years, and so on.
4. Don't forget to include a repair budget. It's a fact that instruments last longer when they receive regular maintenance and upkeep. So include an annual repair budget in your proposal.
5. Be prepared to educate administrators who may not have a great deal of knowledge about the needs of instrumental music programs. Be patient with administrators who may ask a lot of questions. At least they are asking! This means that they want to better understand the needs of your program and make informed decisions.
6. Put everything together in an polished looking report with charts and graphs that are easy to understand. Making your proposal thorough, but easy to digest, will go a long way in getting administrative buy-in. Conn-Selmer has some great tools on their website that can help you get started on your own plan, and I also used information about balanced instrumentation from Shelley Jagow's book, Teaching Instrumental Music to help justify why we needed more of certain instruments in the inventory.
When preparing my most recent proposal, I also found pictures to be very effective.
For example, I used this photograph to help my administration understand why I was requesting additional sound shells for our performance space.
And graphs like this one helped my administration to understand just how much our program had grown over the past decade and why additional equipment was needed.
Color-coded tables like the one below were used to help administration see at a glance the age and condition of our inventory. Here, I used red to indicate any instruments that were at or past the average recommended life-span (based on the Conn-Selmer website link above) and yellow to show instruments that would be nearing the end of their life expectancy within five years.
In developing your own document, don't forget to include a summary of recommended purchases and your proposed plan for the future so that administrators do not have to guess when it comes to prioritizing.
While you may not get everything that you request, developing a thorough document with a well-defined plan can go a long way to getting your administration to understand the need for a clear repair and replacement plan in your district, while allowing those who determine the budget an opportunity to prepare for those big ticket items that may be needed in the future.
Best wishes and good luck as you continue to advocate for the needs of your students!