Two good basses, three cellos, one viola and two really nice violins are in Reynoldsburg schools' stringed-instrument inventory.

Those were purchased with donations, and besides those instruments, not a lot more is on the shelf for students to borrow. This is true in many central Ohio districts: For students
who can't afford the $500 to buy a student violin or a $20-a-month rental fee, learning to play is probably out of reach.

"If we had to provide instruments for every student, we couldn't do it. We've got 350 kids in our program and we probably own 30 instruments. We don't have enough for every
kid," said Kathy Vansant, orchestra director at the high school.

Learning to play an instrument shouldn't be an opportunity only for students who can afford it, music teachers say. Still, opening the door to more students is getting harder and
harder.

Money is tight for parents. And as schools slice away at their budgets, music and arts almost always are the first to be cut. In many central Ohio schools, music programs have
grown lean.

"I have had numerous parents contact me before school started and say they can't afford an instrument. We try and hook them up with an instrument as best we can," said
Cristina Wade, band director for Blendon Middle School in Westerville. She also is assistant band director at Westerville South High School.

"I can foresee a time when there are so many students who can't afford an instrument that they won't be able to participate."

Instrument-rental companies see the strain, too.

"I'd say across the board, schools are cutting programs. The schools around here, the kids that are involved are involved because their parents can afford to pay for
instruments," said Jane Watson, teacher and office manager at Columbus Music Academy on Morse Road. The business offers instrument rentals and private music lessons.

It costs $68.75 a month to rent a tenor sax at the music academy and about $50 to rent an oboe. Violins are less expensive, at a little less than $20 a month, but even that can
be a hardship for some families, teachers say.

That's when schools rely on their loaner instruments. Columbus and Newark schools provide most students with instruments from their school inventories. About 30 percent to
40 percent of upper-grade students in Groveport Madison bands use school-owned instruments, director of bands Sarah Brown said.

Some others have expanded their stock, buying larger instruments that are both pricey to rent and bulky to transport.

"We're very, very lucky to have a pretty great inventory. I know that all schools are not in the same position," said Stephanie K. Smith, director of instrumental music at Teays
Valley schools in Pickaway County.

Many instrumental music programs are supported largely by parents and music booster groups. In Liberty Union-Thurston schools in Fairfield County, for example, the district pays only for sheet music and supplemental contracts for teachers.

Groveport Madison recently bought several sousaphones, which cost about $5,000 each, but they had to do it on a lease-payment plan, Brown said. It will take five years to pay back.

In Westerville last month, music teachers organized a citywide instrument drive and had them repaired. Next school year, about 35 instruments will be available to students who can't otherwise afford one.