Budget Problems Mean Parents Will Pay for Graduation Ceremonies This Year

Amador has raised the needed $20K for its ceremony; if Foothill can't catch up by April 1, its ceremony might be cut back.

These days, Pleasanton parents are being asked often to pony up their hard-earned dollars for local schools, whether it's to hold onto beloved programs or teachers, or to help keep class sizes small.

State financial woes forced the to cut more than $5.5 million from next year's already lean budget. A got the axe, along with many other much-loved services, and around 75 full-time workers, including teachers, could lose their jobs.

And now, the latest in a long line of things that will be lost unless parents help, is the high school graduation ceremony.

In the past, the district was able to give both and high schools at least some of what they needed to put on their ceremonies.

But this last couple of years, the schools have had to fund the graduations, which cost more than $20,000 apiece, with no help from the district.

This year, Amador chose to raise the money during walkthrough registration and other means. Principal Jim Hansen says the Parent Teach Student Association (PTSA) has already set aside money from its pot, which is completely made up of parent donations. Amador's ceremony, it looks like, will happen without a hitch.

"I don't know how we'd pay for it if we hadn't done that," he said.

But Foothill, a little behind, recently sent a letter to parents asking for a $40 donation to make its graduation happen. With a class of 543, a donation from each parent would cover expenses.

"So far, we've raised about $2,800, so we're quite a long way off," Foothill Principal John Dwyer said Tuesday.

He'll be sending out a voice mail dialer soon to give a little reminder, so the school can raise the most possible by the April 1 deadline.

Some parents may have just missed the flyer that was sent to their homes, or thought it was something they had already taken care of.

"Then, depending on how much we have, we'll start making decisions about whether to cut back the ceremony or another possibility like charging for tickets," Dwyer said.

In the past, both schools' graduations were held at the ; one school would hold its ceremony at 2 p.m. and the other at 6 p.m., and then the following year, they would switch times.

But those ceremonies had problems.

In addition to limited seating in the amphitheater that meant some people couldn't come, temperatures at the early ceremony were known to climb into the 100s — typical for June, but not great for elderly relatives in the crowd (or anyone, for that matter).

Dwyer said parents and others got together about five years ago and decided it would be better to hold graduations at each school site, and later in the evening. Seating would no longer be limited, and each school could pick whatever time worked, with weather in mind.

But, the cost went up.

It may not seem like it, but the following things suck up money: audio (almost $3,000), stages and canopies ($7,500) rental chairs ($3,000), a podium, shade umbrellas, diplomas and medals ($6,600), portable bathrooms ($600) and the list goes on.

Initially, the district did kick in some money, but then had to cut back because of the state budget problems. Now, the district puts in nothing.

Everyone was fine with this, knowing they would have to pay for some of it — but that was before "things got recessioney," said Joan Laursen, district president.

That said, she hasn't heard many complaints.

"My friends who have students in this age group still like the idea of having the ceremonies at the individual sites, even though it's more expensive. More siblings and grandparents can participate, but yes, it's a much bigger undertaking."

Board member Valerie Arkin said that if the tax had passed this past summer, there would be more money for the district to use for other programs and services everyone loves. And that would at least loosen the belt a little, for things like graduations.

"It's a shame," she said, noting that the graduates work hard to attain their goals and should be celebrated.

"Unfortunately in these tough budget times, we don't have a lot of options."

As for parents, most say they're OK with it. Others say they're feeling a bit of "donation fatigue." And still others say both are true, but what are you going to do?

Parent Carol Jones said she supports the $40 donation plan, and also suggested that the graduates help with the cost.

"Maybe the seniors can host a car wash or another fundraiser so they too can get involved."

Sonja Cuffe said she would prefer to donate $40 than cut another teacher.

"Once again, this goes to show how poorly run the state is, to cut more money from the schools," she said. "I think it's sad that we are being asked to donate ... but what else can be done?"

Gillian Holmes, vice president of the parent group at Foothill, said that the district actually hasn't put money toward graduations for two-plus years. Last year, Foothill had a fund they used for graduation but it was a one-time thing.

She said most parents feel that $40 to watch their senior walk in a nice surrounding with all of the expected trimmings is not a high price to pay.

"Where else is the money going to come from?" she said. "The district has just had to make further cuts based on budget news from Sacramento, to really important programs and classes.

"No one is happy about this situation but if like me, you are involved in the school and aware of what is going on in the district and Sacramento, it cannot come as a shock.

"I have two choices," she added. "I choose to light a candle and stop cursing at the darkness."

Dwyer said that over the years, the school has had a very supportive parent community but they're getting burnt out; they fundraise, they're active, they donate their time and their money.

"So to lean on them even more is hard on them," he said. "The burden is being placed on a small number of people — a core group that is very involved."

If the $40 donation plan doesn't work, he and others will perhaps look at holding other fundraisers, but "we also have to look at how we're impacting this group of people and to what extent the fundraising is actually benefiting us."

And so, he said the schools will continue looking for ways to cut back on spending and be effective, as with anything.

"We want to provide the same or better levels of service so the kids this year aren't suffering," he said.

"But it's becoming difficult."

To donate to Foothill's graduation ceremony, make checks payable to Foothill High School and take them to the main office by April 1. Foothill's address is: 4375 Foothill Road, Pleasanton, CA 94588.

To see Patch's coverage of both graduations last year, click for Foothill, and for Amador.

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Sandi fisher March 22, 2012 at 06:22 PM
It does seem like the school day has gotten shorter. I went from 8 to 3 when I was in school. We did have 50 kids per class but we were there what seemed to be forever when I was in school. The Patch focused on this because it is just ANOTHER cut the parents have to pay for.
Californicus March 22, 2012 at 08:02 PM
When you're at the top of a bubble, you're not bothered at all by the higher cost of on-site graduation.
Stacey Gustafson March 22, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Thank you for bringing this issue to our awareness. If you have a Foothill senior, it is critical for parents to pay the $40 or have your child contribute. Next year, let’s hope that Foothill follows the lead of Amador and asks for this expense at registration. It is the new reality. New fundraising efforts must be explored in order for the schools to operate at a minimum standard. Parents should pay their fair share unless, due to your financial struggles, you are truly unable. Don’t jump on the band wagon and refuse to pay just because you can get away with it. We need to help Pleasanton stay strong.
Kim C March 23, 2012 at 09:29 PM
The Amador graduation was paid for by the PTSA last year, and it was in the BUDGET of the PTSA again this year. That is why it is so important for every parent at Amador to throw in their $15 to join the PTSA. As far as I know, Senior parents and alumni of Amador were not asked to contribute to this fund. The graduation ceremony can be held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds for about $5000, but that would limit the number of seats for each graduate to about 4 per student walking.
Cher April 02, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Sometimes enough is enough and I guess in a couple of more years it'll be something else and more cuts will happen and they'll need more and more money. Previously it got to the point that you needed to donate money so your kid could go to public school.


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