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Manatee High School charges $200 for a row of prime seating at graduation

BRADENTON ­-- As it implements a $20 fee this year for seniors to participate in the graduation ceremony, Manatee High School is also selling family members prime seating -- at $200 a row.

A group of 10 rows near the end zone of Hawkins Stadium were made available for purchase this year. Each bench cost $200 to seat about 15 people, a little more than $13 per seat. All other stadium seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The tickets, which went on sale Tuesday morning, sold out in about four hours, Manatee High Principal Don Sauer said.

The new fees are part of an effort to cover an estimated $12,000 in graduation costs for MHS after the financially strapped school district pulled its $3,400 contribution this year.

The school is charging a $20 senior fee for the first time. The additional fee was announced in November through a letter sent home to parents and students.

The graduation fee is common at the rest of the district's high schools, Sauer said, and implementing the practice this year helped level Manatee High with the other schools.

Fees were waived if students and families couldn't afford the $20.

"I am not here to make money off my kids," Sauer said.

Each Manatee County high school charges some type of senior fee, but the amount and what the fees cover varies by school, said district spokesman Steve Valley.

The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2014 is set to be held May 31 at the high school's Hawkins Stadium.

The other five high schools in Manatee County hold graduation ceremonies at the Bradenton Area Convention Center on May 29-31. Renting the center for five graduations over three days costs $7,387, according to a contract worked out between the center and the district.

The district covers the cost of renting the convention center for each high school. Each high school is required to cover other costs, like printing their own programs.

The convention center seats between 3,000 and 3,500 guests for graduation, said Kelly Klotz, the communications manager for the convention center. The high schools that hold graduation at the convention center do not charge families to attend, but do limit the number of tickets each graduating family receives.

Manatee High holds its graduation ceremonies in the football stadium so it can accommodate the large number of families and guests who want to attend the graduation. Typically, Manatee High School graduations see between 5,000 and 6,000 guests for about 500 graduates, Sauer said.

If Manatee High held graduation in the center, Sauer estimates only three or four guests would be allowed per student. In the past, the school has not wanted to limit how many guests can attend the ceremony.

"The ceremony isn't really for students, the ceremony is for the parents," he said.

This year, Manatee High's graduation will cost between $10,000 and $12,000, Sauer said. That includes renting a stage and chairs and paying for security and programs.

In previous years, the district gave Manatee High $3,434 to help offset the graduation costs. Manatee High won't be getting that money from the district this year.

"It's due to the district's financial situation that it stopped providing funding to Manatee HS for their graduation costs," Valley stated in an email to the Herald.

With that in mind, Sauer and a team came up with the plan to sell certain rows of seating to help defray the costs. The 10 rows of seats at $200 each will bring in about $2,000. Parents were notified of the seats Monday night, through an automated phone call.

"With the budget crunch, money has become tighter and tighter," he said.

According to the most recent estimates, the school will still be about $1,500 short. Sauer said he has the space to make two more rows of seats available at the $200 cost, to bring in a little more money, but he isn't sure if he wants to do that yet. 

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