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K-State Band and SGA Butt Heads Over Funding

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Although there are only two news articles about it -- once again a tribute to the atrocious local coverage afforded by the K-State Collegian and Manhattan Mercury -- it came to my attention a couple days ago that there was a big flap over funding for The Pride of Wildcatland (aka, the K-State Band).

You can read a little more about the issue in these bare-bones articles from KTKA and KMBC 9.  Somebody really needs to tell KTKA that with the inverse pyramid format used for news stories, it's a really bad idea to embed a video that covers up the first few paragraphs of your story.  Or at least that's how it shows up on my Web browser.  But, I digress.

Anyway, the best site for information about this situation so far is Keep The Pride.  According to this site and the most recent email from Dr. Frank Tracz, director of bands at K-State, the issue is going to be resolved, although no details have been given.  As such, my critique of the situation is probably nothing more than superfluous, but it's an issue that deserves some examination, if for no other reason than to discuss a complex issue that is important to K-State fans.

In discussing funding for a university program such as the band, we're going to discuss some quasi-political concepts, but keep in mind that we want BOTC to remain a politics-free zone.  You love K-State sports, I love K-State sports, let's talk about that.  I'll be discussing the following concepts in the context of a university setting only, which can be distinguished in many ways from federal and state politics.

First, according to the letter from various SGA leaders posted on Keep The Pride, K-State is one of the only schools in the Big 12 that funds its band at least in part through student fees.  The propriertors of Keep The Pride assert that students pay a fee of $4 per year that provides the band with about $150,000 in funding.  These numbers don't add up, as there are a little more than 23,000 students at K-State, and 23,000 multiplied by four does not equal $146,000.  It's more like $6.30, which doesn't change the fact that, per student, it's a nominal amount of money.  The athletic department kicks in some funding, as does University President Jon Wefald's office.  Actually, for a school that doesn't have a big budget for anything, sharing the cost in such a manner is a pretty creative method for funding a band program.  Also, according to the info posted at Keep The Pride, it is not uncommon for a band to receive funding from a variety of sources.

Rather than simply cut the band's funding altogether, the bill passed by SGA would decrease funding via student fees by $6,000 in FY 2010 to $140,000 per year, then by 50 percent to $70,000 in FY 2011, and finally would totally defund the band program by FY 2012.  Now why would they decrease funding by $6,000 next year?  Your answer, sir:

The committee decreased funding for FY 2010 by  $6,000, which is the equivalent to the amount of funding that was spent on student awards at the annual banquet last year. This was recommended because according to state statutes, no more than $20 can be spent on a student in the form of an award. This was made explicit in the last review three years ago. However, as reported, awards are still bought for students using Privilege Fee money, including class rings, engraved name plates, and blankets, each being reported as costing more than $20 each.

Abuse of a privilege fee is not cool.  I don't mind taking relatively small amounts of money from students in general to fund a program that represents the university as a whole and provides a valuable part of the atmosphere at sporting events.  But I do mind taking money from the students in general to buy class rings and the like for a group of students.  I realize the band members put in a lot of work, but they also get privileges, including travel to at least a few away games.  They got to go to bowl games back before we sucked at football.  Having a banquet at the end of the year is perfectly acceptable, but buying expensive gifts like class rings is not.

So it looks like the defunding of the band is being done for two reasons.  First, to punish the band for abusing the privilege fee in buying gifts above the $20 maximum per gift, and to pass band funding on to another entity, most likely the athletic department.  The problem with that is our athletic department budget is in the bottom quarter of the Big 12, and things aren't going to get any easier as we face buying our Ron Prince's contract, hiring a new football coach and new assistant coaches, and dealing with the generally struggling market that is going to slow donations, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and everything else.

An integrated approach to funding that looks to multiple sources for band funding makes the most sense at K-State, and use of a student privilege fee is a perfectly acceptable method of funding.  I fully understand that the cost of college tuition is going up everywhere.  I'm still attending school myself.  But cutting a $6 fee will do very little to lessen the cost of college attendance.  Students at the Manhattan campus pay $673 in privilege fees per academic year.  I'm all for keeping the costs of college down, but excuse me if I don't cry over the privilege fee at K-State.  I'm going to be about $130,000 in debt by the time I finish school in May, and the vast majority of that money will have been spent on tuition, housing, and food, not on fees.  If we were to assume arguendo that I paid a privilege fee of $673 per academic year, then in the seven years I've spent in the higher education system, I would have paid $4,711 in privilege fees.  Further, that privilege fee goes to fund things that make the college experience enjoyable, including the recreation center and other on-campus facilities and activities.

In short, I hope that the solution apparently reached today ends up being good for K-State as a whole.  Gameday at K-State wouldn't be the same without the band playing Wildcat Victory, Alma Mater, The Wabash Cannonball, and all the other songs they play.  However, the band's hard work and gameday service is not a license to abuse the use of a privilege fee, and I hope SGA takes appropriate steps to monitor every program's use of the privilege fee to prevent such abuses from occurring.  Finally, I hope SGA realizes that it's much more efficient to charge a nominal fee to the approximately 23,000 students at K-State to fund the band rather than pass the entire cost off to an athletic department that isn't flush with cash these days.