Poor logistical and financial supports leave Wilson instruments in critical condition

Baraka Aboul-Magd and Meredith Simon

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Musical instruments at Wilson are severely in need of repairs, due primarily to a lack of funding from administration and logistical support from DCPS. Nearly a hundred students use the instruments for concert band, jazz band, piano lab, and general music classes.

According to Manager of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall, each year the music department receives $4,000 for instrument maintenance from Wilson, split among the two instrumental music teachers: Eric McMillan and Paul Phifer.

According to Phifer, this annual allowance is rarely paid out and consistently inadequate. “Mr. McMillan had a flute that was at the repair shop for two months, three months, and it was a very simple repair, because he was waiting on a check from school,” Phifer said.

The lack of financial support from Wilson has forced teachers to find alternative means of financial support to repair instruments, including their own pockets. “I don’t keep track [of how much money I spend] because there won’t be a reimbursement,” said Phifer. McMillan said that although all of the instruments need to be repaired, self-funding repairs is a last resort that the music teachers often cannot afford.

Manager of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall said that some music teachers have reached out to administration about the limited funding. Administration has tried to address their concerns, scraping together $200 in the budget to help the band. However, they have to prioritize other more critical repairs, such as bathroom upkeep, in the budget.

The main alternative to self-funding repairs is contributions from the Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO). “[The PTSO] has been outstanding and a godsend for the last seven years,” Phifer said. According to PTSO Co-President Amy Hall, last year they provided a “significant strategic grant” of between $1,000 and $5,000 to the band for sheet music, repairs, and shirts.

The PTSO is the biggest source of funding for repairs in the music department and is able to help keep most instruments in a somewhat usable condition.

This year, getting financial contributions has been more difficult. McMillan and Phifer are looking for a new PTSO member that will advocate for the music department as their former liaison of four years, who was a Wilson parent, left the PTSO last year because their student graduated.

In the rare event that there is enough money to repair an instrument, the repair process provided by DCPS is flawed. According to McMillan, there is only one repairman for all DCPS schools, and some instruments that need quick fixes have taken extremely long to be repaired.

The lack of financial support available from Wilson has left McMillan and Phifer have to repair some of the instruments on their own. “I’m very lucky to know how to repair some of the instruments,” said McMillan, who was repairing an instrument while being interviewed. “But some of the work I just can’t do.”

Wilson doesn’t “receive new instruments,” according to Phifer, as they aren’t replaced but transferred from schools that aren’t using them. However, Phifer says, Wilson is lucky to receive these instruments at all, even if they are in less than ideal conditions.

Although the policy is that if a student breaks or damages an instrument they have to pay for it, no student has paid yet.