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District to address poor OAC attendance

Oct. 20, 2010

Oconomowoc Area Schools — District officials will sharpen their pencils and talk strategy after reviewing disappointing ticket sales at the Oconomowoc Arts Center.

The School Board reviewed a first-quarter financial report that detailed the results of community performances that failed to meet initial projections.

"Total ticket sales versus budgeted amount is about 33 percent," said Board Treasurer Dave Guckenberger, of the six shows staged at the 755-seat OAC.

Budget assumptions for the first quarter called for 2,000 tickets to be purchased, far ahead of the actual 666 tickets that were sold, resulting in a $35,000 shortfall.

District officials said they will use a three-pronged approach to remedy the situation.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mike Barry said they will make the necessary reductions in the OAC budget to make up for the revenue shortfall.

"We can fix the first quarter," he said.

In addition, the district will re-evaluate the business terms of each performance contract and investigate employing opt-out clauses and shared-risk approaches.

"The key issue here is it's not an expense issue, the issue is there were six productions with six revenue assumptions and the tickets simply did not sell at the quantities anticipated. The real issue there is programming and sales," explained Barry.

Superintendent Dr. Pat Neudecker said the district will also form an advisory committee to help in program selections.

"Obviously we have shows that are not interesting to the public," Board Member Mike Bickler said.

Neudecker said it takes time to understand what your community will support.

"What we are learning from the shows that draw the largest audiences, 80 percent of them come from outside of Oconomowoc," she said.

The Superintendent said they may also re-evaluate scheduling shows in the summer. A three-production summer series attracted a total of just 353 theater goers, with paid attendance under 25 at two of those shows.

Theater manager Michael Duncan explained in an OAC publication that it can take between 10-15 years to establish solid backing, a timeline board members balked at.

"I want to make sure we steer this ship in a different direction as soon as possible," Bickler said.

Neudecker agreed.

"It's not a public school district's role and responsibility to provide an arts program for a community at the expense of a school district budget. We are all on the same page there," she told board members.

Neudecker said the community supported the construction of an auditorium addition through referendum and then additional community fundraising upgraded the plan to a state-of-the-art facility with an eye toward community programming.

"We know we have to run that on a balanced budget and we know we aren't there yet," Neudecker said.

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