Palo Alto mulls deal with Children's Theatre group

City would keep theater participation free in exchange for a $35,000 donation

Palo Alto's youngest actors will continue to participate in Children Theatre productions free of charge in exchange for a $35,000 donation from the theater's support group under a contract the City Council will weigh Monday night.

The deal would formalize an agreement the council made with the group Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre last spring, when council members were considering instituting performance fees for theater participants to help plug the city's budget deficit. The fees would have been between $50 and $300.

The proposal dismayed theater staff and members of the Friends group, who claimed the new fee would discourage children from low-income families from participating. The council ultimately agreed not to institute the fee after the group agreed to contribute $35,000 to the city.

According to the support agreement, the group would contribute its one-time donation to the city in four installments between September 2010 and June 2011. The city would pledge not to institute "any participant fees or their equivalent for usage of the Theater."

The agreement would be in place until June 30, 2011, and will be renegotiated annually. The Friends group had already approved it.

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Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Here we go again. The sacred cow continues to grow fat at the public trough.

$35,000 is a drop in the bucket.

Following info comes from the city staff in a July 14,2010 email.

“Enrollment in Children’s Theatre classes and camps has increased to above 600 with a projection of 680 for Fiscal Year 2010. The enrollment projection for Fiscal Year 2011 is 750.”

For 2011, there's a $1.28 M subsidy to the CT. For 750 kids, that’s $1707/kid, NOT including portion of $3.1M administrative charge backs to the entire Community Services Department.

By comparison, there are over 10,000 kids in UNFUNDED youth sports programs.

“For Fiscal Year 2010-11 Children’s Theatre and Community Theatre combined are budgeted for 1.0 FTE Manager, Arts; 1.0 FTE Theatre Specialist; 1.0 FTE Program Assistant I; 3.0 FTE Producer Arts; and 4.0 FTE Hourly (temporary) staff.”

Am I the only one who didn't know that Palo Alto funds a Community Theatre in addition to the CT?

“Donations from the Friends of Palo Alto Children’s Theatre are received both indirectly and directly by the City. Depending on the situation, need, and best pricing, the Friends of Children’s Theatre either pay for services, products, and projects to a third party benefiting Children’s Theatre or provide funds directly to the City to cover similar costs. The decisions on providing donations indirectly or directly are made by the Board of the Friends in consultation with staff. For Fiscal Year 2011, the Friends of Palo Alto Children’s Theatre have pledged nearly $200,000 in direct and indirect financial support for capital projects, scholarships, marketing, and program expenses.”

If the Friends pledged $200,000, why does the article say they’re now offering only $35,000?

Too bad there's no Friends of Palo Alto Infrastructure. Maybe then the city would start fixing the streets and spending our tax dollars on the things cities are supposed to be responsible for.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 3, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Many of the children who participate at the Palo Alto funded Children's Theater come from Menlo Park, Atherton, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley etc. There are not any "low income" families from those cities. The answer to this ridiculous request should be a resounding "NO". Those children who come from outside Palo Alto should be paying double or triple what Palo Alto children pay.

In return for the $1 Million or so the generous tax payers of Palo Alto give the Children's Theater annually; Friends of the Children's Theater should be happy to just donate $35,000. If Friends of the Palo Alto Libraries can generously donate without asking for a quid pro quo, so can Friends of the Children's Theater.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2010 at 7:58 pm

This is plain not right.

Low income children don't get free entry into sport, dance, music, etc. programs so why continue this handout to theatre?

At the very least, non PA residents should be obliged to pay.

All youth programs are equally beneficial, theatre is not a special case.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2010 at 8:07 am

It is a fact there are MULTIPLE equally worthwhile youth non-profits all around here and we PAID for our youth to participate in several of them. I disagree with giving so much PA taxpayer money to this one group. Maintenance and operation of the city for the benefit of all should come before this -- like better paving of the streets.

Like this comment
Posted by Close PACT
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 4, 2010 at 9:52 am

It should be clear to many what is happening---you have a powerful "friends" group, you have supporters who see this as "a treasured institution", you have people with a sense of entitlement that the PACT is more worthy than other activities for children, you have people willing to turn a blind eye to acts of malfeasance by the people in charge, you have council members vilifying the authorities for trying to get to the bottom of wrong doing at this "beloved" institution. Put all that together and it should come as no surprise that we are funneling over $1 million into PACT while other worthy institutions get nothing. Business as usual in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2010 at 11:34 am

The cost for this program is computed using operational costs, for the most part. The facilities need maintenance, and repair. AND, they need to be replaced at some point in the future. The typical accounting trick that has been played by Palo Alto for decades is to just "cost out" the budget based on operational costs. Because there is no "true cost accounting" being used, all of the non-operational costs go "somewhere", but don't appear in a clear, well-documented budget for this "operational unit" of the Parks&Recreation Department. Reading PA budgets can be very discouraging, since there is no way to determine the "true cost" of operating a department.

And then there is the issue of Reserve Accounts to help reduce the impact of future rebuilds of assets/buildings used by this, and other, groups. There is no easy way to provide an estimate for what a yearly contribution to a Reserve Account for this activity might be, but assuming that buildings in the future will be more expensive than they are now, then the yearly Reserve contribution would be $nM/30 (as a strawman). Obviously the facilities used by the Children's Theater are used by other groups too, so there would need to be a little analysis to determine the use by each group. Based on this, then money from their budget would need to be allocated for the Reserve, not frittered away on personnel, and other activities, as it is now.

Groups like the so-called "Friends" could be seen more as "noble", and well-meaning" (than they are now), by taking on a mission to help raise the money for the future rebuild of any assets/buildings used by this activity, rather than using their energies to make certain that other people get the bill for their favorite activity.

There are so many problems here: 1) Poor Budget Reporting, 2) City Councils more attuned to the wishes of their friends, rather than the City as a whole, bad management within the operating unit (nothing has been cleaned up from the mess we learned about a couple years ago involving cash management), and so on.

This is another example of how special interests have hijacked this town, and looted its treasury. The cost of running this activity will be about $50M over the next thirty years. The current infrastructure backlog is nominally $550M. Clearly, this giveaway of taxpayers hard-earned money to people (many not even residents), represents more than a little percentage of the total of back-logged infrastructure needs.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 4, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Whatever the CT costs the City should be paid for either by the participants or the Friends group. The TOTAL amount/

Like this comment
Posted by PAfamily
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 5, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Why does this group always get special treatment? Other children have interests after school that are just as valuable as the childrens theater. PA does not support these activities with a one million dollar subsidy. Perhaps PACT should be separated from the city and run as a stand alone entity that is forced to pay for itself. With other childrens theater groups, the costumes and props are made and paid for by the participants, not city staffers.
How exactly does the Friends paying 35000 come anywhere near to cracking the one million dollars it costs to run the theater?

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 6, 2010 at 10:47 am

Excuse me? Didn't I read that the $35,000 amount that kept the participant fees away came from a donation? I don't understand what the complaining is all about.

You may also consider that anyone living in these cities is not low-income, but considering housing prices, then a lot of those good income homes have little disposable income after paying the bills.

The PACT is a wonderful institution in PA, and it is one of the things that makes PA a wonderful place to live. People move here for their kids, with the schools, kid-friendly neighborhoods, and activities for the kids. That drive to live in such a great place for kids is what drives the property values so high, what has supported those values while 95% of the rest of the nation saw a housing slump, and is what causes involved parents to financially hamstring themselves to get their kids here. If PA starts becoming less kid-friendly, and gets known to be less kid-friendly, you can watch your property values drop down to Campbell-levels. How many people want that?

Let's keep PA the ideal place to raise your kids, even if those kids get spoiled and come here to denigrate their wonderful town.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 6, 2010 at 11:19 am

Just me -

Palo Alto is a great place to raise kids but one small group (theater students) who are only p recieve an HUGE financial benefit that none of the other programs receive. Many (most?) of the participants are not even Palo Alto residents.

Until all the rest of the wonderful programs receive a million dollars in support from Palo Alto, PACT should pay its way in FULL.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 6, 2010 at 1:18 pm

The arts always support the entire community. I don't see anything wrong with giving kids a constructive and self-esteem building activity as an alternative to boredom and other less-attractive activities. Or do you think they should join a gang and do drugs? Do you have your tickets to see Madoline yet?

How about if I voted against every sports team or stadium that was proposed just because I am not a sports-fan type? Would that be fair to the community? How do you suppose fans would take it is I proposed San Jose stopping any and all financial aid for the Sharks? How would the resturaunts, hotels, and shops that benefit from the Sharks games like the idea? Does the term "bigger picture" mean much?

We are not talking about "millions of dollars" here, we are talking about $35,000, and it was paid via donation, not by the city. I don't understand why you think you have a right to complain.

Like this comment
Posted by Close PACT
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 6, 2010 at 1:31 pm

JUST ME--- you are missing the point--the problem is that the city (i.e. taxpayers) subsidize the PACt to the tune of $1+ million per year. other activities for youth get nothing and have to make do on their own. There is no problem with the PACt, however it should be self-funded, given the fact that the city does not fund other youth activities. Also the issue of out of city children taking part in PACT on our dime.
The PACt has long been percieved as a 'beloved" institution so that means that people have a sense of entitlement about it and expect the taxpayers to pay for it. Clearly sports and other activities are not as worthy for our youth in your eyes and the supporters of PACT.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I don't think you'll find anyone arguing that PACT doesn't do great things with/for kids.

The problem is the $1,000,000.00 subsidy. And the money is benefiting non-residents to boot.

Unless the city is willing to fund all youth activities on a equal (per capita) basis, it is not right to continue to GIVE AWAY our money like this.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2010 at 3:01 am

What do you mean sports get no subsidies? The city pays for the maintenance of all those parks, schools and playing fields.

Youth sports simply have the advantage of not having their actual cost to the city itemized.

And I don't get the complaints here--the city cut PACT's budget and private donors made up part of the difference by covering the fee to participate. PACT also raised its ticket prices.

Unlike youth sports, children's theatre benefits more than its participants. The summertime Hot Dog theatre consistently sells out--its shows are geared largely to young children.

Unlike sports, the theatre also operates year round and serves a larger age range than any sports association I can think of around here.

You're comparing apples to oranges .

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2010 at 7:03 am


You usually get it right, but youth sports have to pay a large fee for using the parks (with the exception of Middlefield Ball Park which Little League owns). In fact, Little League actually helped pay for upgrades at Hoover Park for the diamond.

There is also a longer list of people wanting to use the facilities than there is time in the week. Parks and Rec. take in a lot of money for these park rentals and although I'm not sure how much the areas that soccer or baseball is played need any more maintenance than other areas where there is grass. Paul?????

PACT gets all its funding, facilities rental, heating in winter, paid staff, etc. etc. etc. Youth sports pay rental for facilities and all staff are volunteers who often pay out of their own pocket for extras.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

There are other music/arts youth nonprofits headquartered or that have been headquartered in Palo Alto over the years and these groups have not received funds from city taxpayers. It is not a theatre vs. sports question by any means. Youth have to pay to participate in these activities. Clearly, the PACT clearly has extremely cozy connections to those in power in this city, and I find that odd and offensive when other equally worthwhile groups work hard to fundraise and also charge for participation as a routine, but PACT has special status. Is this right for youth and Palo Alto taxpayers? No.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2010 at 9:32 am

I see I used the work "clearly" twice above to indicate how well we now understand PACT's "special" status -- as one who has participated/volunteered for similar equally worthwhile groups that have NOT received $1M per year of Palo Alto taxpayer money. That doesn't make the special status right. But we get they feel entitled even in these tough economic times.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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