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Monday, March 26, 2012

How desperate is your school for money?

From the Palm Beach Post, by Jason Schultz

You can have your storybook wedding in the auditorium of your high school for only $100 to $150 an hour.

That is one of the many sales pitches the Palm Beach County School District is making to the community this year as it seeks to beef up one of its revenue streams - the renting of school space - to supplement the ailing budget.

"From weddings to conferences to lectures to concerts, we can accommodate a wide range of events," reads a brochure produced by the school district this year to market the rental opportunities at schools to community groups, nonprofits, businesses and residents.

District officials say they believe the pitch is working. Barry Present, the district's planning and real estate services general manager, said he expects the number of leases and the revenue the district generates from leases will likely increase this school year.

He did not have a total account of revenue generated so far this year, saying the district switched to a new lease-management computer system, but he said from July to December the district processed 1,720 leases of school space.

For the entirety of last school year, the district processed about 3,000 leases and generated about $4.4 million. That was a big jump over the 2,460 leases processed in 2010, which raised about $3 million .

A larger revenue stream would come in handy for the school board this summer as they try to deal with an estimated $33 million budget deficit while avoiding layoffs and cuts at schools.

All leases are handled by each school's leasing coordinator through the new computer system and must be approved by each school's principal, Present said.

"Some of the top categories that utilize school facilities include churches, private tutoring companies, homeowner associations, dance recitals, performances, plays and even private preschool graduation ceremonies," he said.

Present said starting this year, district officials have been trying to be more proactive in marketing schools to community groups and certain businesses to make them aware of the leasing opportunities.

The district also offers rate schedules for employing additional theater technicians, school police officers, custodians and food service managers for private events .

Present said a new market for the space has been tutoring companies who rent out classrooms after school.

Alisa Perlmutter, director of education in Palm Beach County for the Markem Services Inc. tutoring company, said her firm rents classrooms in about 40 schools .

Perlmutter said being able to lease space right in the school works well for her company because the students they serve are already there, they can pay teachers to work after school as tutors, and they don't have to pay transportation costs to get the students there.

"This way, we know the students are already in a safe environment that is conducive to learning," she said.

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