Members of the public who visit Vermillion High School the evening of April 24 to witness the grand march that precedes the annual prom activities will encounter something new: a request to pay admission to attend the event.
The plan to charge admission came from the After Prom Committee, which is made up of parents of junior and senior students who strive to plan safe activities for students from midnight to 4 a.m. following the prom events at the school.
"Over the years, we've done different fundraisers, and we've looked at different ways to raise money," said Jill Munger, a representative of the committee. "Each year, we look at fundraisers that have been effective, and we review activities that haven't been as equitable."
Each year, the committee also sends letters to the parents of students who will be participating in the prom. "We ask the parents of junior and seniors to contribute $20 for each of their children," she said. "And … last year, we had about a 35 percent return rate on that, and we're looking at things being about the same this year."
Letters requesting financial help have been sent to local businesses, and committee members have followed up with visits to local establishments to ask for donations to the after prom activities.
"I know from being an business owner that they get hit pretty hard," Munger said, "and this year, not everyone was able to help us to contribute."
The after prom committee also held a basket auction and a meal to raise funds, along with a 50/50 raffle and the operation of a concession stand in the summer months. "That wasn't very successful in raising funds," she said, "and one of the other ideas that came up was to charge admission at the grand march.
"It was an idea that came from other surrounding towns," Munger said. "For example, Alcester charges $2, Canton charges $2, and Irene/Wakonda charges $1."
She said other schools are considering charging admission to their prom events.
The committee had received approval last month for charging a $2 admission for individuals, and capping admission at $5 for families to Vermillion's grand march by working with district administrators. It was a move that caught the Vermillion School Board by surprise.
Board members expressed their disapproval of the admission idea after learning about it at its March 22 meeting from Fred Moreau, a parent who said his daughter and other students had been informed that day that people wishing to attend the grand march would have to pay admission.
"The other reason we were really for this idea is that we had a some supplemental funds that were coming from Modern Woodmen of America," Munger said. "They were agreeing to supplement $500 toward what we took in from the grand march admission."
She said the committee would consider asking for free will donations at the door from the public if charging admission would not be allowed. "We think it's a little bit more equitable to do an admission, because it's usually the same people who paying their $20 who are going to put money in the hat."
Charging admission, said Damian Donahoe, an after-prom committee member, would "set the stage for the following year for the next group as they have start-up costs to do those things. And with the weather this year, one of the fundraisers we have habitually done is the waffle feed, and it got snowed out this year, and we couldn't get it rescheduled. So we're a little bit farther behind (in fundraising) than usual."
To pay for this year's after-prom activities, the committees will tap into its reserve fund of approximately $1,500.
"It will take the fund balance almost all the way to zero," he said. "We did a survey of the students, and one of the things we found was that the items they liked best, besides all of the prizes that are given away, is a hypnotist. Unfortunately, entertainment is fairly expensive. That's $2,000 right up front to have that.
"One of the things we found is that if you asked them (the students) further if they would stay if certain things are there or aren't there, fewer students are willing to stay if there aren't some of those same items," Donahoe said.
It's important, he told the board, to keep students in a safe environment after the prom.
"It should be so that if they are going to leave, someone will have to give them permission to leave," Donahoe said. "And we will also know where they are. This program was started years ago, and the thing we found is that students will stay in a safe place after prom.
"They won't go out and take part in some risk-taking behaviors that could result in an accident or endanger them in any way," he said. "What we are trying to do is set the stage for the following year. It is becoming more challenging to fund the items that are keeping the students there."
Each year, the junior class at VHS pays for the actual prom activities with funds its raises through candy bar sales, said Principal Curt Cameron. "They usually break even, and the cost of the prom is about $20 per couple."
The costs of both the prom and after-prom activities is becoming increasingly burdensome for the small percentage of parents who not only help pay the normal costs for their children who participate in the prom, but also pay the requested $20 per participant for after prom, and take part in the fundraisers held during the school year, Donahoe said.
The committee, he said, turned to the admission idea "to see if there is a way that some of that burden can be supplemented, say through a nominal fee, so that we don't have that same core group having to provide it," he said. "We're not trying to be prohibitive. It's something that will continue to happen if we aren't allowed to charge, but we might not be able to provide the same type of entertainment, and the same type of prizes for the students."
Donahoe said if students receive the perception that after prom will not be as much fun as in the past, they likely won't attend. "All it takes … is for a group of students to go out and drink and drive, or perhaps engage in some other risk-taking behavior that may result in a pregnancy and you've got a whole life-changing event," he said. "So we're trying to see if there is way that we can provide the funds."
"I think we were a little surprised when we first heard about this," said Mark Bottolfson, school board president. "I'm not saying the proper channels weren't followed … but it was never conveyed to the board, and when we were approached by a parent opposing it, that kind of brings us to where we are."
Board member Matt Lavin said he was troubled by how the admission plan was revealed at short notice, approximately a month before prom.
"If it was something that was in the planning phases from the get-go, and you knew from that time that were going to do it, it's much more palatable and understandable," he said. "It just seems it was short notice at the last meeting, from our standpoint. It was a fee that all of a sudden came out of nowhere. If it (a mandatory admission) needs to be in the future, let's plan on it for the future."
Bottolfson suggested that the committee request a $2 admission to the grand march, but not make in mandatory. "For this first year, you could see what kind of reaction comes from that, without necessarily denying anyone access. Maybe that's a compromise to make at short notice like this."
The school board agreed with Bottolfson's idea, and the committee was given permission to simply request, and not require, admission payment to grand march.