School bands are not always necessary in order to support music programs; however, there is no question that they can greatly advance musical instruction curricula. Quite a few music teachers are qualified to organize and manage bands; at some conservatories and fine arts schools, some teachers can handle directing more than one musical ensemble during the academic year. Schools that combine marching bands with varsity and intramural athletics are doing things right because they stimulate drive, ambition, and competition among students, but not every institution is able to support such programs.
In the American public school system, music programs have been in crisis for decades. In many school districts, educators complain that stakeholders fail to realize the overall value of music education; this is made clearly evident by the deep cuts made to music programs. Ever since the bursting of the real estate bubble and the mortgage market meltdown of 2008, school districts have seen their funding diminish to worrisome levels; this is directly related to decreased revenue collection from property taxes, and music programs have been decimated as a result.
Until all stakeholders realize that reducing funding to music programs is a mistake, we can expect that budget cuts will continue. Now more than ever, music educators can benefit from the contributions and support that band booster groups and clubs, which are mostly comprised of parents along with some members of the community, can provide.
Basics of Booster Groups
Each group will need to have a charter regardless of how ambitious or organized it wants to be. Traditionally, booster groups or clubs are started by parents who approach school teachers directly with ideas about enhancing the music education program. Although this is a volunteer effort, the bottom line of most booster groups is to obtain funding.
As is the case with just about everything in life, it all comes down to money. A well-funded music curriculum or program at a private fine arts academy will not generally require booster groups; interestingly, many of these institutions have very active booster groups due to the vested interest that parents have in seeing their children get the most out of their musical learning experience.
At public schools, one of the best ways to manage a booster group is to operate as a dedicated section of a parent/teacher organization or association. Quite a few public and private schools operate a general PTA that has separate groups dedicated to supporting activities such as:
- Honor academics
- Civic engagement
The advantage of a PTA music club is that the main organization is already established, and this means that you will not have to worry too much about the charter, only about the bylaws. The club will have to adhere by the PTA regulations, and it must have at least two members, ideally the club director and a music teacher, attend general PTA meetings. If there is no PTA in place, the most ideal situation would be to create one; in this case, you would have to let administrators take the lead.
In situations where a PTA will not be established, a charter and a set of bylaws will need to be drafted and submitted to school administrators. Public schools may need to get their charter reviewed and approved by district officials. The written goals of the charter need to be broad and very general; for example, the mission of the group is to provide financial support to the school music program. You do not want to get into specifics such as managing a jazz combo; that will come later when members of the group meet to discuss goals and projects.
Booster Groups Are Essentially Foundations
As previously mentioned, funding is the lubricant that can reduce the friction of improving music education programs; to this effect, you will want to run a booster group as a foundation. We know that the ultimate benefactors will be the students, but the music program is the one that benefits in practice, so it is better to run the group as a foundation that raises money and grants it to the program.
Bare-bones foundations can be operated as casual treasuries. Let's say a music program does not have enough instruments or could use new ones that the school will not provide. An informal booster group can simply put the word out so that parents can chip in a few bucks; perhaps some parents can reach out to local business owners and ask them for donations. A more formal and ambitious booster group will need to operate as a foundation, which the United States Internal Revenue Service describes as a 501(c)3 charitable organization.
Since a significant aspect of a parent booster group is to collect money so that grants can be made, school administrators are going to be concerned about potential liability issues. This is another reason why it makes sense to organize a booster group in accordance to IRS 501(c)3 requirements, which include:
- Filing of organization documents.
- Drafting and filing of bylaws.
- Obtaining an Employer Identification Number from the IRS; this is basically a tax ID.
- File documents to register charitable solicitation status from the IRS.
The best way to fulfill the 501(c)3 IRS requirements is to have an attorney, paralegal, or accountant review them prior to filing. Most PTAs are already organized as foundations, but in the case of booster groups not affiliated with PTAs, they may need to check if there are parents who are lawyers or accountants.
What Booster Groups Can Accomplish
Assuming that music teachers and school administrators are willing to work with parents in order to make the most out of a booster group effort, quite a few things can be accomplished for the benefit of music learners. Keeping things cordial between all stakeholders is crucial; public school administrators must get along with teachers and parents because they are the ones tasked with approving everything, but they are not the ones calling the shots.
Booster groups can provide support in various manners. Obviously, the most important activity will be to raise funds, but there could be other things that the group can do. It should be noted that booster groups do not have any responsibilities. In a perfect world, there would be no need for booster groups to organize. Anything that these groups can accomplish should be welcomed and not expected.
Music teachers should not be directors of booster groups; instead, they should act as special members who report on the status of the program but do not have a vote. Initial group meetings must assess the status of the programs and its deficiencies. You always want to start with plans to address deficiencies. The next item to review should be growth and expansion; to this effect, you will want to remind member that strength in numbers is highly desirable, which means that the most active and driven parents should try to recruit more members. The goal should be to entice all parents, guardians, or family friends of music students to join the group. The next outreach goal will be to touch base with community leaders and local business owners. Ideally, recruiters working on behalf of the booster group will reach out to local musicians or music lovers; these individuals are likely to help the foundation even if they do not have children enrolled in the program.
While obtaining course materials, musical instruments, and supplies is always a priority, educators should also think about meaningful activities that can enhance their students' relationship with music. Impromptu recitals where students perform for parents and guests can be made more attractive with refreshments and a solid PA system; keep in mind that the snacks do not always have to be purchased because they can be donated, and the same can be said about the sound system, which can be borrowed from parents who have the right connections.