By Tyler Murphy
VOORHEESVILLE — With reductions in aid over the last few years, many public school officials are exploring what they call “alternative revenue streams” to raise money through non-traditional methods.
One stream the Voorheesville Board of Education may soon offer is marketing tuition rates for out-of-district students. About two years ago, the district also began public auctions of old materials being discarded, such as vehicles, desks and computers, to help generate more income.
Soon for students it will mean hosting a Beatles’ music concert.
Actually, it’s the Broadway tribute band, Beatlemania Again, and the show will be on stage Feb. 2 at the high school-middle school Lydia Tobler Theater.
The show is a first for the school district, which is now in the experimental business of renting out performance space to private entertainers and has so far scheduled three performances.
“We’re thinking outside of the box of revenue streams,” said Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder.
On April 12 and 13, the Northeastern District Barbershop Harmony Society will perform at the school theater, and, on May 5 the rock-jazz group, Standard Clam, will play.
The district’s contracts so far are either charging a flat rate to use the 790-seat venue, along with any other related costs such as custodial, technical or food-service support, or as in the case of Beatlemania Again, the school will instead get a cut of ticket and retail sales.
“It’s kind of like being an entrepreneur,” said Snyder, comparing the fund-raising model to private schools.
Snyder was the principal at the private Emma Willard School in Troy from 1990 to 1994.
“You were always thinking of ways to generate money, so it’s kind of a throwback for me,” she said.
“It’s a 21st-Century bake sale. The climate requires us to be entrepreneurs. We can’t keep to the taxpayers,” she said. She posed the question, “How do we deal with major cutbacks in state aid?”
Elementary school Principal Thomas Reardon who has taken
on the role of media coordinator for the event said the changing practices of public school’s engaging private businesses put more work and pressures on administrators.
“Some people think school administrators are overpaid and don’t do enough, but in reality this is one more thing in a whole slew of others we’re now responsible for,” he said.
As schools across the state continue to seek alternative revenue streams, Reardon believes the role of school administrators could change dramatically.
“For example, in the old days, before tax-levy caps and during more plentiful budgets, schools always looked to raising taxes or cutting the budget but now they’re no longer options,” he said.
“Considering we have this beautiful space, built in 2001 — it really is a performing arts center,” said Reardon. The facility, paid for with a taxpayer—supported bond, cost about a million dollars.
He said the school’s theater had sound systems and seating that was superior in quality to most other public schools, giving Voorheesville an opportunity to better appeal to performers. Some profits from the events should go back into the facility, which would pay for even more upgrades, Reardon said.
According to Reardon the Beatlemania group needs to net about $5,000 from tickets sales before the school can collect any money.
“There’s no deposit, as long as we guarantee selling at least 200 seats. Everything above that is profit,” he said.
Each ticket costs $30 and the school will also get $3 from every T-shirt sold and makes more money on concession stands.
“We’re hoping for enough revenue to offset the cost of a few good educational programs we offer or maybe it’ll help a teacher or staff member keep their job someday. Even if that’s all, it’s worth it,” said Snyder.
Concession workers and ushers for the performance will consist entirely of student and staff volunteers, said Snyder.
Reardon acknowledged, however, that making money is not the school’s first priority; education is. He recalled a controversy a few years ago over Pepsi and Coke offering large sums of money to school district’s that would exclusively sell their products, which were sometimes pushed on sports teams.
“We will always prioritize kids first; we’re not looking to go a commercial route,” he said. “This is a learning curve for us. We’ve never had to assume this role before. We’re taking it one step at a time.”
Snyder agreed, and said the events were carefully planned to avoid any potential conflict with school programs.
“There are times when we have this empty space sitting in the dark, so why not use it?” Reardon asked stressing that the events are scheduled around all other activities.
The school will be conscious of which programs it will allow on its stage, said Snyder, but noted that controversial performances may have a place so long as they are of cultural and artistic value. She said the school board would have the final say.
Both Reardon and Snyder, being fans of the original Beatles, said it was a band that appealed across generations.
“My young granddaughter, who is 5, talks about the Beatles and about Justine Bieber,” said Snyder, noting her own favorite song by the group is “Mother Mary Come to Me.” Reardon said his was “Day Tripper.”
Besides moonlighting as an entertainment venue, Snyder said, the school is also looking at it how it could create revenue from its food-service program. She said officials are examining the possibility of opening a café, providing catering or having a small restaurant. Voorheesville’s food-service director, Tim Mulligan, is a trained and certified professional chef.
Snyder added, “There are a lot of ideas but we haven’t quite figured it all out yet. A lot of schools are in the same boat.”