Juneau's public schools will have to start paying a dollar a student for Perseverance Theatre's InReach education program after the school district last week turned down the theater company's request for some free use of school facilities.
Perseverance officials told the School Board, in a letter last month, that "we have arrived at a financial moment in our institution where the cost of (educational) programs and services, particularly InReach, have become prohibitive."
The letter proposed a trade of continued free programs from Perseverance in exchange for one week's free use of the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium and two weeks' use of the JDHS dance studio.
InReach is a a six-year-old program that brings students to Perseverance's theater in Douglas to see excerpts of productions and talk with performers. Students also are given study guides and a $5 coupon for a play. InReach served more than 3,000 students last year, said Producing Director Jeffrey Herrmann.
Herrmann said Perseverance Theatre's expenses have been going up in recent years as the theater stages more productions, and he said grants previously used to fund InReach have ended.
At Tuesday's School Board meeting, a majority of board members decided against granting free use of the school's facilities.
Superintendent Gary Bader told the board he did not want to enter a bartering agreement.
"It's not to say we don't appreciate them, but the auditorium has costs involved and it takes cash to pay for them," he said.
Other board members said other arts groups provide services to the district without compensation. "If we were to allow an exception on this one, we'd have another exception tomorrow," board member Stan Ridgeway said.
Board member Deana Darnall dissented, saying that denying the request was going against the district's goal of building partnerships..he School Board also discussed examining facilities' usage to ensure that other groups were not receiving unauthorized free rentals.
Community Schools Supervisor Joyce Kitka estimated that Perseverance's request would cost the district about $2,000 in lost user fees. Herrmann said the theater's annual rental payments to the district which includes usage beyond what the letter requested - are about $5,000.
After hearing the board's decision, Herrmann said Perseverance Theatre officials decided last week to charge the $1-per-student fee for InReach.
Herrmann said he felt Perseverance's contributions to the district were substantial enough to warrant the request.
"I certainly understand their decision to set a strict policy, (but) I feel our request was a defendable one," he said. "I feel the level of work we do is a level where it would have been justified."
Kitka said Thursday the decision of whether to pay to continue with InReach would likely fall to individual schools.
Glacier Valley Elementary School Principal Bernie Sorenson said if fees were nominal, her school would find a way to continue InReach participation.
Sorenson said the program provides many students' first introduction to live theater, and said Glacier Valley makes the most of each visit.
"For us, it's an incredibly valuable component of our arts program," she said. "When the kids go, we really live it up."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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