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East Aurora to dip into emergency funds to buy new band uniforms

East Aurorbmembers wait outside school Friday night after ralightning canceled Tomcats' football game against West Aurora. August 30 2013. |

East Aurora band members wait outside the school on Friday night after rain and lightning canceled the Tomcats' football game against West Aurora. August 30, 2013. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 26, 2013 6:25AM

AURORA — East Aurora School District plans to dip into emergency funds to buy new attire for the high school band after parents and students told the school board this week that the band’s 24-year-old uniforms are falling apart.

“We’ve spent the last few years sewing them, piecing them together, hiding the rips and tears,” said Brad Mills, president of the East Aurora Band Boosters Association. “These uniforms were purchased new and first used in 1989, which I know first-hand because I was one of the band members to wear them.”

Mills’ father, Charles Mills, said the lack of uniforms took away from school pride.

“When you go to West High they’ve got uniforms that look nice,” he said. “We have a good school and we need to look nice when we’re out there on that football field.”

The district estimates it will cost about $88,000 to buy new uniforms for the 164 band members, in addition to extra pieces to accommodate a growing marching band program.

Brad Mills told the school board that the band decided to perform in black jeans and T-shirts during this year’s football season because they had only 148 uniforms — not enough for all band members — and many were torn or coming apart at the seams.

The issue is especially important to Mills, who played the trombone at East Aurora from sixth grade on and now has two children in the band: a senior daughter who plays the flute and a freshman son who plays the trumpet.

He sees the out-of-date uniforms as representative of a larger issue: that the district is not paying enough attention to the fine arts.

“There has to be systems put in place so this doesn’t happen again,” Mills said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s not just about uniforms. It’s about the entire fine arts. Things seem to fall through the cracks.”

After the band’s plea, school board members, including Richard Leonard, Kirsten Strand and Annette Johnson, agreed the issue needed to be taken care of.

“Twenty-five years is a long time,” said Strand, whose son is in the East High band. “We need to equip our band members.”

Johnson said she planned to attend a Band Boosters meeting Thursday night to talk to students and parents about the uniforms.

She said the next steps are to gather sizing information from the band director, then put the uniforms order out to bid. Johnson said the new uniforms should arrive in time for the marching band’s Memorial Day performance next year.

She said the request for new uniforms got lost in the communications chain this year, in part because the high school has a new principal.

Mills said the band has asked for new uniforms every year for the last five years and that he made a similar request before the school board last year.

Johnson said she recalled hearing a request for uniforms once in the past, but that she thought the matter was being dealt with by the school board’s Student Enrichment Committee, a group she isn’t part of.

She said last year the board approved about $185,000 in new instruments for the high school band.

“From my stance we had been focusing on the arts,” Johnson said.

She added that over the last few years the district has been making efforts to rebuild arts programs that were cut, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, when the district wasn’t financially sound.

“I was kind of surprised that the uniforms were in such bad shape,” she said. “You get 1,000 things coming at you. You don’t focus on one thing or another until they are in front of you.”

Now East Aurora plans to do an inventory of all uniforms in the district, Johnson said, to see which teams and groups are in need of uniforms, or soon will be.

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