BRUNSWICK — The School Board on Wednesday set a $10,000 cap on what it is willing to spend on high school graduation and expects the community to raise money for the remaining costs to hold commencement at Bowdoin’s Watson Arena.
The decision is a reaction to the escalating cost of holding graduation at the arena, which surged to nearly $28,000 for 2015.
The board intends to talk with the college about ways it can trim costs by using different vendors or equipment to provide audio-visual and sound system services, or by holding commencement at a different Bowdoin facility.
If it runs out of options to reduce the cost, the board might revisit the amount it is willing to spend, board Vice Chairman William Thompson said.
“At least by providing a cap, we’re sending the message that there’s a need for fundraising so as school ratchets up people will be able to recognize that and start doing what they need to do,” Thompson said.
In previous years, Brunswick has been able to piggyback on set-up costs by holding graduation soon after Bowdoin’s annual alumni celebrations.
Because of the the board’s decision to move high school graduation back about a week, however, the board will no longer be able to share those costs with the college.
That means that the cost of audio-visual equipment, chairs and the sound system are double what they were this year, increasing the projected cost to more than $27,000.
Even without the increased cost, Brunswick has by far the most expensive graduation among nearby school districts. Last year’s graduation, for example, cost close to $16,000.
The surge in next year’s expenses made most board members want to take a second look at ways to save, particularly in the realm of rented audio-visual equipment, estimated to cost about $9,000, and a sound system, pegged at $11,250.
Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said there is a possibility the board could find significant savings from audio-visual, mainly attributed to the big screen used to broadcast graduation.
Board member Corrine Perreault suggested asking whether the in-house system used to announce Bowdoin hockey games could be used for commencement, rather than an expensive rented system.
Moving graduation to another Bowdoin building may also be an area for savings. Until 2011, Brunswick used Farley Field House for commencement. In its last year at that facility, it spent about $7,600 on the graduation ceremony, a price that rose sharply to around $17,000 after it moved to Watson Arena.
The board has ruled out trying to use Brunswick High School for graduation, citing inadequate space and facilities.
Neither board members nor staff appeared to know whether Bowdoin had contracts in place that would prohibit using different equipment or vendors.
Despite the high cost, Bowdoin’s graduation venue has support from students, parents and teachers, many of whom view it as an important community event.
Board members are apparently hoping the support will translate into active fundraising, although Perreault expressed concern that relying on fundraising would place a burden on parents who typically organize for such events. She suggested a ticketing system could give graduating seniors two free passes, but charge up to $10 per additional person.
Sarah Judd, a rising senior at Brunswick High School and treasurer of the Class of 2015, also questioned whether her classmates had the capacity to raise money, pointing out that it has taken three years to raise $7,000 for their senior prom.
“It would be a large step to move from fundraising about $2,500 a year to fundraising some $15,000 in one year,” Judd told board members.
The School Board voted Wednesday to become the school of guaranteed acceptance for Regional School Unit 5 students from Durham and Pownal, who may be divorced from Freeport if that town pulls out of the RSU.
A withdrawal agreement between Freeport and members of the RSU 5 Working Group, representing Durham and Pownal, was approved by the Maine Department of Education last week. Freeport residents are expected to vote on withdrawal in November.
In presentation to the board, Michelle Richarson, from the RSU 5 Working Group, said that as a school of guaranteed acceptance, Brunswick would be required to accept any Durham and Pownal students who wished to attend.
Prior to the formation of RSU 5, students from the nearby towns, particularly Durham, attended Brunswick High School.
Freeport High School is willing to accept students from the two towns, Richarson said, but it has capped the high school population at 500, citing capacity issues.
Most of the students displaced by Freeport’s withdrawal are expected to come to Brunswick High School, but some could attend other schools in the area, Richarson said.
No members of the School Board voiced concern or opposition to the plan. Previously, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski has mentioned that gaining students from neighboring towns could help buttress the School Department budget.
Board member Corrine Perreault, who graduated from Brunswick High School, said she had fond memories of going to school with students from Durham.
“I’ve been longing for this to happen, I’m so thrilled for the opportunity to have you guys back,” Perreault said.
Of the seven board members in attendance, six voted in favor of becoming the school of guaranteed acceptance. Board member James Grant abstained.
The decision will still have to be approved by the Town Council.
— Peter McGuire