Burlington Superintendent's Blog

Performing Arts Operations and Improvements

This post will focus on ticket sales and other cash transactions associated with performing arts productions as well as some Music Booster events.  Before describing what has occurred and the changes that are in place, I wanted to express my belief in the individuals who have worked with integrity to support the student experience while at Burlington High School.  The findings in the review of the music revolving account are about process.  The faculty and staff in Burlington may need to learn new procedures, but I have no doubts about their dedication and honesty.

The Music Department implemented an on-line ticket sales system 9 years ago primarily to remove the responsibility for cash transactions for performances and to keep up with demand.  The average number of tickets sold to the BHS Musical is over 3000.  Looking at the typical number of transactions for shows, it appears that roughly 80% of the ticket transactions occur without cash using the online system.  The cash transactions occur in advance in the music office and the night of the show.  These transactions are recorded using the third party TIX online software.  Invoices for customers are available upon request.

This year the advanced cash ticket purchasing has been moved to the main office at the high school.  This change will allow for cash to be stored in the school’s safe.  As always, customer contact information is recorded and a confirmation and reference number is emailed to the customer (provided the customer chooses to share their email address).  It is important to note that this customer information only gets recorded during the pre-sale process.  Patrons were frustrated with the wait to gather this information on the evenings of the show.   In order to save time, walk-in ticket customers the evening of the show were classified as “guests.”

Complementary Tickets:

There appears to be some confusion around complimentary, or “comp”, tickets and the number of projected ticket sales with the actual number of tickets and revenue reported.

All faculty and staff members are offered one “comp” ticket.  This no cost ticket is provided and recorded in the accounting TIX software.  Obviously, we are attempting to encourage faculty and staff members to attend student events.

Secondly, “comp” tickets were printed and sold for last minute customers.  Cash and checks were accepted for these tickets.  In the past, there would be a line of last minute customers who were in a rush to get a ticket and find a seat before the show started.  The single ticket booth was slow to process the transaction.  In an attempt to solve this problem, the “TIX” company advised the box office manager to print a row or two of seats to sell.  Sometimes, they would print 20 tickets but only sell 10.  This created two problems.  The first is that these last minute sales were not recorded accurately due to pre-printing tickets with different values and the second problem was that the department would incur a fee for unsold tickets.  After further consultation with the TIX representative, it was decided that in order to avoid paying the fee, they should print “comp” tickets.  TIX does not charge any fee for comp tickets.  This decision saved the school from paying fees for unsold tickets; however, it did not solve the problem of unaccounted ticket income.  That is, the money paid for the last minute comp tickets was not recorded in the accounting software (as the ticket was pre-printed).  In other words, while the money was added to the revenue and deposited in the revolving account the next business day, there was no record to match the source of the extra cash and checks to a ticket generated in system at the time of sale.  Consequently, the number of comp tickets sold on the account print outs might be off by 10 – 20 tickets depending on how close the box office manager’s estimate was at the number of walk up purchases.  The amount of this discrepancy would result in extra cash per production being deposited or used for the next cash drawer ($200) because a small number of tickets were pre-printed to help alleviate the rush at the start of a show. 

Cash Box:

Addressing another finding, the business office has issued a $200 cash drawer for making change instead of this $200 cash drawer being stored in the music office safe.  This drawer will be signed out from the business office for any approved events that possibly need to make change. 

Going forward, thanks to the new business manager, with support from the IT department and in response to the report, the box office will not pre-print any tickets.  All last minute customers will be sold in the same manner as pre-sale tickets.   In addition, a second box office sales person will be hired allowing last minute walk up customers to be served in a timely way.  These customers will be sold tickets and their cash, checks, or credit will be recorded in the system at the exact price.  This will allow the business office the ability to count the deposit and match the accounting reports exactly.

These changes are being implemented for the fall show.

Ticket Revenue Reported:

I received several inquiries as to the number of tickets sold at each musical.  The music department has provided an estimate of ticket revenue when preparing a budget for an upcoming production.  The department has been conservative with these projections typically projecting a half-filled auditorium at a blended ticket rate.  For instance, the average ticket price is $12.50 ($10 Student/Senior, $15 Adult).  While most musical performances sell 600 tickets or more per performance, for planning purposes, the department would conservatively assume they would sell at least 450 tickets per performance.  This strategy was followed in an attempt to keep expenses in line with expected income.  Some comments have interpreted these projections as the final, reported receipts associated with a show.  This understanding is not the case.

I have asked the music department not to be involved with projecting revenues  in the future as it appears to cause confusion.  We do not ask our athletic director to project how many football or hockey tickets will be sold at games.  These programs are not dependent on ticket sales.  My expectation from the music department moving forward will be to provide a detailed budget of the expenses associated with each production.  The school committee can determine whether the budget reflects the type of show the community has come to expect.  Any revenues associated with ticket sales can be deposited in the music revolving account and used for instrument upgrades and other programmatic needs in a similar manner to our other programs.

Music Boosters:

We are grateful to have such an active and supportive music boosters group.  We are going to implement a change in how cash and checks are received for Booster Events. The Boosters group is a separate 501C3 non-profit.  In the past, students would bring in cash and checks from their parents to the music office for Music Booster events.  This money was to pay for Booster events such as award banquets, trips, cast banquets, Gala concert tickets and other Booster fundraisers.   Moving forward, we will ask all booster groups and PTO organizations to provide the school with a locked deposit box.  Parents can send cash and checks in with their children in a labeled envelope.  The envelope will be placed in the locked deposit box.  The lock box will be the property and responsibility of the boosters and only the PTO or Booster President and Treasurer will have a key.  The Music Department will not sell tickets to the Booster Gala Concert or Banquets.  This change addresses another finding from the review.