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LA school district's backlogged music repair shop to expand

Broken bows rest in a pile on a table at Los Angeles Unified School District's Music Repair Shop.
Broken bows rest in a pile on a table at Los Angeles Unified School District's Music Repair Shop.
Grant Slater/KPCC

The Los Angeles Unified School District has quietly moved to expand its instrument repair shop - a decision that came after KPCC reported that it is swimming in a backlog of at least 2,600 broken instruments. Some instruments had been sitting on shelves since 2010. 

Two new instrument repair technicians were added since the story ran in October - and four additional jobs were posted Dec. 20. Together, they double the repair staff from six to 12.

RELATED: LA Unified's backlog of broken musical instruments 'like a war scene'

At one time, the shop had 25 employees - but budget cuts and retirements decimated the staff. 

Julie West, an instrumental teacher at Palms Middle School and the president of the Los Angeles Secondary Music Teachers Association, said that repair times have improved drastically since the district boosted staffing and began outsourcing some repairs. Repairs take weeks instead of months. 

"The turnaround on instruments is really quick," she said. "Hopefully that will keep up."

Just a few months ago, teachers had to wait six months or more for repairs. Many were afraid to even send their broken instruments to the shop, concerned the school year would come and go before they'd see the instruments again. 

"Hopefully they will follow through with hiring," West said.

In an online posting promoting the new positions, the district credited the expansion to recent funding changes:

"Due to a recent increase in funding and generous donations by our community, LAUSD is increasing the size and scope of this one-of-a- kind shop to ensure our schools have the resources to inspire and share the life-long benefits of musical learning with students of all ages and backgrounds," the posting read.

But a district spokesperson denied that any community donations have come in and said the wording in the posting was due to an internal error. The spokesperson, Shannon Haber, said positions are being funded by general funds.

The district's website listed four separate positions: Brass and Percussion Instrument Technician, Piano Technician, Stringed Instrument Technician and Woodwind Technician, a position the shop has badly needed filled for months. It currently has no one on staff to repair woodwinds.

At least 150 instruments arrive at the shop each month on average - sometimes as many as 300, according to district staffers. It services more than 70,000 instruments owned by the district.

"I don't think we're out of the woods," said Tony White, coordinator of music and entertainment education for the district's after school branch.

But he said the public support and attention on the shop from KPCC's coverage helped to refocus its efforts. He hopes the shop will become sustainable in the long-term, to help expand music access to the district's students. 

"I think that we're moving," he said. "This is a program that needs that kind of constant monitoring."