Looking for ways to let the public know the good job your school is doing? At Victor Central Schools parent leaders have found a way to successfully marry the school budget vote with a Family Fun Festival.

The proposed school budget in Victor, a town of 10,000 near Rochester in western New York, is sent to voters in a detailed newsletter well in advance of the May vote. But what really draws voters to the campus is a carnival of events that takes place on the school grounds on voting day.

Creating the Festival

The Family Fun Festival comes to life through the combined effort of the art and music departments, PTSA, and Band Boosters at the pre-K-12 campus. Together, these groups showcase student talent, offer interactive art workshops, and serve up some delicious chow.

A few of the most popular festival activities include:

  • An ice cream social, sponsored and run by PTSA volunteers
  • An ongoing schedule of concerts by the sixth grade jazz ensemble, junior high and intermediate fiddle clubs, junior high band, and senior high jazz ensemble
  • An alpaca petting zoo
  • Hands-on art activities in which children can try diverse art techniques, such as throwing clay, experimenting with Japanese brush painting, and making fish prints.
  • A popular chicken barbecue fundraiser for the high school marching band
  • A gallery of student art from grades K-12
  • Strolling singers, a juggler, and drama club human statues

At Victor the schools, a pre-K-3 primary school, 4-6 intermediate school, and a combined junior high and high school, are housed on one campus, making it the ideal setting for the festival. Voters can roam between the two schools where the activities are centered and enjoy a low-key, fun evening.

Planning the Festival

Like many great events, the Family Fun Festival came together through a collaborative effort. It was first discussed during brainstorming meetings with the schools’ community relations coordinator, fine arts coordinator, and assistant superintendent for instruction.

“The concept of an art display came up,” explains Deb Jonsson, community relations coordinator. “I felt that just displaying student artwork might not encourage people to turn out. We needed to make it interactive. I brought some ideas back to the group, and we decided to target the vote as the time for the event. It took off from there and now involves not only art but also musical groups.”

The first year featured a K-12 art exhibit, a student jazz concert, a handful of student song and dance performances, and five art workshops led by art teachers and high school students. Younger visitors immediately took to an art scavenger hunt in the art exhibit. Attendance was so impressive that the festival became an annual event.

Since that first year, activities have been added and changed to keep it interesting. “For a couple years, we had pony rides. Art students took photos for a nominal fee, the proceeds of which went directly to Senior Connection, an annual picnic designed to get high school seniors better acquainted with their teachers and one another,” says Jonsson.

“We used to have the art gallery in the district building, which is at the far end of the campus,” explains Gail Gligora, PTSA building representative. “Once we moved it closer to the high school, it was more centrally located and we drew a bigger crowd. Now all of the activities are clustered in two neighboring schools, which works much better.”

Working Together

After four successful years, the event runs smoothly. “The budget vote is scheduled by August and appears in the district calendar,” says Gligora. “That way, student musicians know well in advance when they will be playing.”

Planning begins in January for the May budget vote. Tasks are divided up so that no one group is overwhelmed.

  • The fine arts coordinator and Band Boosters schedule outdoor music performances that coincide with the chicken barbecue.
  • The community relations coordinator handles the interactive events. These include the art gallery, art workshops, indoor musical performances, and all of the facilities and equipment coordination required by those groups.
  • Art teachers gather the supplies they need and spend a day setting up the art gallery and preparing for the art workshops.

Building Awareness

The biggest benefit of having a Family Fun Festival is increasing community awareness. “We want voters to know what’s going on at the school, and this is a great way to do it,” explains Gligora. “The event encourages people to come to the campus. Our families look forward to it year after year.”

Surprisingly, the event doesn’t seem to have a negative or positive effect on voter turnout. A greater factor seems to be the impact the budget will have on taxes. “Our biggest concern is that we are reaching people who don’t understand the budget. We want to make sure that everyone understands where the budget dollars are coming from,” says Gligora.

“The last thing we want is confusion over how the budget will affect taxes. Other districts in our area are seeing greater increases than we are, and that generates a lot of media attention,” explains Gligora. To that end, the PTSA hosts an open forum each year with the superintendent and the district financial officer so that district residents can get their budget questions answered.

Fundraising Details

The Family Fun Festival is used in part to raise money for both the PTSA and the Band Boosters.

The PTSA sells ice cream sundae cups, purchased at a discount from a local Friendly’s restaurant. The proceeds of the PTSA fundraiser are put directly back into school art programs.

The Band Boosters traditionally sell out of the barbecued chicken meals, making that the group’s largest fundraiser. They recruit about 50 volunteers to help out, many of whom are school administrators who donate their time before parents can arrive after work. Most of the money raised is used to purchase marching band uniforms and supplies.

Fun Festival by the Numbers

The Family Fun Festival does make a tidy profit, although that’s not its main purpose. The profit comes primarily from food sales.

Barbecued chicken dinners include a half-chicken, potatoes, coleslaw, roll, and soda. The dinners sell for $7. Hamburger or hot dog with chips and soda sells for $3. About 1,000 dinners are sold. Many items are donated, and the group invests $1,300 for dinner ingredients, including barbecue sauce and condiments. Profit on dinners runs about $4,600.

Ice cream sundaes are purchased for 90 cents each and sold for $2 apiece. Unused sundaes may be returned to the vendor. A total of 186 sundaes were sold this year for a profit of $204.60. Total profit on food: more than $4,800.