More help funding Clarke Theatre: Mission Public Schools

Community uses the theatre 78 per cent of the time

Mission Public Schools (MPS) is asking the district to step up its support for the Clarke Theatre, starting with a cheque for $70,000.

MPS has not received any money from the District of Mission in the past two years, despite a 2007 agreement stating the district would pay $35,000 annually to help fund the community facility.

Although the school district owns and operates the theatre, it is used by the community 78 per cent of the time, said school board chair Edie Heinrichs, at a meeting Tuesday afternoon between school board trustees and Mission council.

“We can’t afford to run a deficit for the theatre year after year. It takes services away from education.”

The school district’s priority is education, not supplying the community with a theatre, said Heinrichs, who added she recognizes the value of the theatre for the community and students, and wants to work together to find a better funding solution.

It costs about $150,000 to operate the theatre each year. In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the school district had a net loss of $66,500 despite receiving the $35,000 grant from Mission and $51,000 in rental revenue. MPS spent about $134,000 for salaries and benefits that year and $18,200 on supplies and services.

In the past two years, without the grant from the district, MPS saw a net loss of $103,400 (2012-2013) and $106,900 (2013-2014).

According to a presentation by theatre manager Bronwen Sutherland, about one million people have been through the theatre doors in the past 17 years. The school district uses the theatre for graduation ceremonies, student performances and as a teaching tool for theatre technicians.

The Clarke theatre is booked mostly for community events, such as award ceremonies, conferences, festivals, performances, public meetings and craft fairs.

Other groups, like the Arts Club Theatre and Rock.It Boy Entertainment, also reserve the theatre for shows and concerts.

Mission councillors questioned whether rental fees and ticket prices should increase to helps with costs.

“We have to keep in mind who our clients are and not overcharge them,” said Sutherland. “There’s only so much people can pay to rent a facility.”

As for increasing ticket prices, Sutherland explained the theatre doesn’t produce or present performances and doesn’t run the ticketing office. It receives one dollar for every ticket sold.

Mission’s chief administrative officer Ken Bjorgaard said one of the reasons the funding, which has been approved by council, was withheld is because the school district has not been paying $20,000 a year for a school liaison officer from the RCMP.

Heinrichs pointed out there hasn’t been a school liaison officer since 2012 and noted officers in other school districts, such as Coquitlam, Vancouver, Surrey, Delta, and Richmond are funded by the police department.

The role of school liaison officers relates more to police work than school work, said Heinrichs.

Representatives from the MPS and the district will meet to develop a new funding plan for the theatre, and the district will pay out the money that’s owed this week.

The Clarke Theatre was built in conjunction with Heritage Park Centre, which contains Heritage Park Secondary School and the University of the Fraser Valley’s Mission campus. It opened in 1996 and was originally managed by the school district, District of Mission, and UFV.

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