Graduation at Safeco costs district a pretty penny

July 28, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Ticket sales generate most revenue to pay for it

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you graduations can be expensive. But for a school district with 1,104 students, that can really add up.This year, Issaquah School District officials spent $40,005 to use Safeco Field as the venue for graduation ceremonies June 9. Students from district high schools Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline graduated there.

Much of the money spent comes from graduation ticket sales, about $29,724; the remaining $10,281 comes from the district’s general fund, according to Jacob Kuper, district chief of finance and operations.

Each student is given four free tickets. Additional tickets for this year’s ceremonies cost $8, a $2 increase from last year, according to Sara Niegowski, district communications director.

We “want to make sure that families can reasonably attend graduation,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We also don’t limit the number of tickets sold, so it is hard to get an exact estimate as to how many tickets would have to be sold at what price to break even.

“We might raise prices again this year,” she added. “In hard economic times, we do have to look at all opportunities.

Included in that price is the cost of transportation of students and diploma covers.

Tiger Mountain Community High School students graduate at their school; the district’s special-needs transition program graduate at the district’s administration offices.

In 2008, the district spent about $48,000 for the three high school graduation ceremonies at Safeco, according to Kuper. The stadium cost $35,000 to rent but $30,000 of that was covered by graduation ticket revenue. Another $13,400 was spent from the general fund, Kuper said.

Similarly, Renton School District used to graduate at Meydenbauer Convention Center in Bellevue, which cost nearly $21,000 in 2008, said Randy Matheson, Renton School District’s communications director.

That cost didn’t include police to help monitor traffic congestion, he added.

“It was decided by the principals, who actually made the decision at the start of the school year, to move to ShoWare on cost alone,” said Randy Matheson. “Not just for the rental of Meydenbauer, but for police and parking congestion flow, it was starting to add up quite a bit.”

Students of Renton’s three high schools, Hazen, Lindbergh and Renton, graduated from ShoWare Center in Kent. The facility opened in January and was built to house the Seattle Thunderbirds.

That stadium has variable seating configurations and can seat between 2,300 and 7,900 people, according to its Web site. The cost to the Renton schools was roughly half the price of Meydenbauer or $12,000. That price included parking fees; police were not needed.

The distance from Renton to Bellevue and Renton to Kent is about the same, Matheson said.

“It is a very inexpensive facility and is accommodating,” he added. “It is also a nice enough facility that it feels worthy enough for a graduation ceremony.”

Renton’s high school principals had discussed having the ceremonies at Renton Stadium, but the cost associated with rentals for a stage, awnings and public announcement systems would have been more than renting ShoWare, he said.

Black River High School students, the district’s alternative school, graduated at Renton Technical College. Students of the Sartori Education Center, a program for students who are self-motivated, graduated at the IKEA Renton Performing Arts Center.

The cost for those was negligible, because of district officials’ close working relationship with Renton Technical College and because the performing arts center is a place where they only needed to pay for someone to work the lighting, Matheson said.

Kuper said a variety of factors are considered when deciding what venue to use for Issaquah graduations, but mostly the decision is made based on availability of space so that family, friends and the community can attend.

Safeco Field is a venue that has plenty of room, which is why district officials continue to rent it, Niegowski said. It also has technology available to make graduation an enjoyable experience for all audience members, and stadium operators can close the roof if it begins to rain, she said.

Kuper said it is possible, given the tough economic climate schools are operating in today, that district officials might consider a new venue to save money, especially since their agreement with the stadium is a one-time use each year.

“We’ll continually assess the cost and benefit of having graduation at Safeco,” he said. “And we’ll continually weigh the community demand for a graduation venue versus its cost.”

District officials continually re-evaluate their needs for graduation ceremonies and make the best decision about the venue as they are able, given affordability, availability and needs like stages, podiums and technological capability, Niegowski said. And while there is not a formal process to gather community input, high school administrators and district officials are always open to suggestions, she said.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment on this story at

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