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Justifying Class Costs (Warning Long)

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I teach at a nonprofit community center. My program is small. I never thought i would have to justify costs since i am given no budget, if i can't get it donated then we don't have it. I've done well getting one retiring potter's whole studio donated and another retiring potter's glazes and chemicals donated to my program to keep us afloat in the 8 years i've taught here.

 

My students pay for their class and are assessed a fee for kiln use of $10 per student. They buy their own clay that i pick up from the local clay dude and buy their own hand tools that i put a group order in at the beginning of the semester. I'm only paid for teaching time, not prep time, not clean up time, and not firing time. I fire 4 times during our 8 week semester starting at week 4 and once a week there after.

 

All was well for the first 5 years of teaching but the last three years has seen a change of administration multiple times and i find myself having to defend my costs...what costs you might ask? The cost of electricity to fire our donated kilns. 4 admins ago i came up with the $10 fee per student for electricity based on research that on average a large kiln fired to cone 6 cost $8-$10 to fire. That would mean each student could be paying for one firing so with a minimum of 4 students the 4 firings are cover (tho not all those 4 firings are to cone 6 nor in the largest kiln). With more than 4 students i figured the rest of the money would cover wear and tear on the kilns and eventual maintainance.

 

2 admins ago i was questioned why i fired so often. 4 firing a semester does not seem often...that is 2 bisque and 2 glaze firings...for a semester. I pointed out that it was not excessive because the students needed to recieve their work back in a timely fashion so they could learn from their mistakes and try again. At the time i had 9 students and also pointed out that i only fired 4 times and the students had paid for 9 firings. It seemed to satisfy the admin.

 

Now yet again my firing is again in question. A new admin and a custodian trying to show his worth by cutting costs. He informed my boss that a firing costs hundreds of dollars and the mere $10 fee could no way cover the costs of firing. I went to skutt's website found the costs they averaged out for firing their largest kiln and showed them the estimate of $8.45 per firing to cone 6. The current admin seems to doubt these numbers...i suggested metering the kiln if they had doubts.

 

Then i hear the same custodian is now asking why the air condition is running while the kiln is running. I point out the ac cools two classrooms the pottery room and the dance studio, the dance classes pump the ac down cause they get hot, the pottery room is also a multiuse room and can likely also have some other class meeting in it while the kiln is firing and lastly i point out it doesn't matter if the ac is running when the kiln is running cause the kiln is in the separate enclosed kiln room that is not air conditioned at all and is vented with a giant exhaust fan in the ceiling to pump the heat and fumes to the great outdoors.

 

Is there resource online that talks about the average costs of running a pottery class? Someplace that might in layman's terms explain the needs of an average class? I want to show them what good job i am doing keeping this program going with no budget. My competition across town has a dedicated pottery studio built from grant money, buckets of glaze, supplies clay to their students, and fires multiple time during the week. My program is continually compared to them by both my admin and students but they are funded and mine is not. Any suggestions?

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I personally think $10 might cover the electricity but you are not counting wear and tear on equipment. How will you ever cover new elements when the old ones go. Or how can you replace a kiln shelve if one gets ruined. I think you need to increase the firing fee. Several posts have been done previously. Research them and see if you should be charging by the cubic inch, or other suggested methods.

 

Marcia

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Marcia has hit on the nail head. You have a great understanding of your energy use, but even then the contingency/emergency fund needs to be there to cover the costs of kiln & accessory repair. Where does that come from-your per student firing surcharge.

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I would suspect this is less about the costs of firing the kilns, etc. than it is about the non-profit looking to use the space for activities that could generate more income.  Key indicator is the high turnover of administrators in the past three years -- usually a sign of financial problems.  Your classes are small and pottery studios tend to take up more dedicated space than other activities.  While you may be covering the cost of the class, I doubt the class is covering the center's costs of sponsoring the class, e.g., providing space.  So, all the questions about kilns firing costs, AC costs, etc. are red herrings.  If the Administrator is looking to add/increase classes that generate more money for the center, they will start by cutting those which have a higher overhead cost.  And, for many non-profits, it has become more about metrics -- how many people received services, etc.  Given a choice between a yoga/jazzercise/step aerobics/etc. class with 25 paying students and a pottery class with 4 students, guess which one the Administrator will try to do -- because the non-pottery will show more people receiving services/benefits for the donor's dollars. 

 

I don't mean for this to be harsh, but unless the non-profit has donors with deep pockets, underwriting a pottery program is going to take more of the center's money/resources than many other activities.  And, from what you described, I think the questions are more a symptom of the financial standing of the center, not your program. 

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Gosh, sorry you have these hassles . I think one of the other commenters is right about this being a symptom of the overall health of the organization. But even if you raise your kiln fees, there is no assurance that money will be held for replacement of kiln shelves and other future needs. 

 

can you get the power company bill which shows a usage graph which would hopefully indicate the usage during the weeks or months that you fire is not that much different than those you don't?  Or suggest getting a natural gas powered kiln which is cheaper than electricity? 

 

I wonder if this custodian has something against the pottery - does he/she have more work to do  because of the pottery?

 

Maybe you could encourage the students to tell the center  ( i e its board of directors) how much they love the ceramics and how valuable it is to them.  Ceramics is so good for kids and adults on so many levels.  why can't your administrator seek the grants like the other competitor gets?

 

I do know that ceramics studios open for public use have sort of a critical mass of how many people and dollars they need to make it work and sometimes its a narrow line. Wish you could get the custodian and administrator's kids or family into clay.

 

wish you the best. Rakuku

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Guest JBaymore

I'm right there with the 'red herring' comments. 

 

It is also very possible that they hope you'll quit if they make your life difficult enough ........ so that they do not have to make the hard decision to actually fire you (to be replaces with spinning classes or yoga in that space).  If you quit... they can stop the program with the explanation to the people who do participate that the person who was teaching left and they can't find another person.  They don't have to do something "nasty" ...... and they get a 'win' on the explanation for the end of the program.

 

One of the problems that often happens when someone goes 'above and beyond' to make a program (any kind of program) work and keep it alive thru super human efforts is that they eventually get taken for granted.  When YOU are always finding bandaids so that the administration does not have to confront those issues......  they EXPECT you to find the bandaids. 

 

There is a reason you have no budget.  YOU will go out of your way to find the solutions.  Why should they give you money iof you go out and find it yourself?

 

I think you'll be forever searching for bigger and bigger bandaids.  When you stop...... then it will be YOUR fault that there is a problem!

 

Does the janitor guy hate to do cleaning in the ceramics areas?  Does his boss give him crap about the mess in the ceramics studio?  Did you ever cross this person in some way and "win"?  Is it possible the administration has set this guy up as the "hit man" to harass you into quitting?

 

Sounds like you care.  Sounds like they do not care.

 

Harsh to say......... but I'd be finding another place to teach.  (Check out the place that has a budget......your student might follow you.)  Or just get into your own studio and make stuff.

 

Sorry you are dealing with this.

 

best,

 

..................john

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The centre I go to, I pay 13$ for 4 hours of studio time and it includes glazes and firing. But it is only for an open workshop. Classes with instructors are a bit more expensive and I don't think they make much money on people like me (since I don't go to the lesson) but they probably make the money on all the students. I find that anything under 15$ (I'm talking Canadian $) for 4 hours is really cheap. I don't know anything about running a place like that but I feel that since running a studio is a lot of work, you shouldn't feel bad about asking more from the students. How much is it at the other place?

Good luck though, it sounds really annoying.

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I agree with bciskepottery and John B. They are likely sending you a message (probably systemic, not necessarily personal) and unless you are up for a dogged fight and can also "find" money (i.e. a grant or award) you are probably spinning your wheels. Non-profit organizations often have short-sighted management practices when it comes to programs that are not self-supporting or bring in revenue to support other programs. It seems that your program is just not valued and there is no administrative effort to market it to increase the student base (along with a reasonable increase of fees).

 

Regardless of why the custodian has targeted the studio, it seems that his agenda is to move you out, and without the admin's support you are probably losing ground. The tip off is not having a designated budget. No budget means no organizational  buy-in, which means no investment in valuation from the agency, which = no leverage on your part. Plus, administrators and boards often do not take programs seriously that run on fumes and band aids, even in a non-profit environment. It must feel like being in victim mode to have to justify a couple of kiln firings when clearly that is not the issue.Ugh...if it were me, I'd take my marbles and go play somewhere else. And require a modest budget, from the git-go. 

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Hi I am in saint augustine, Florida. A tiny studio, owner run charges $160 for five weeks. That includes 2 hr a week of lesson, use of the studio, and I am not sure about firing cuz he is over booked! He can't really fit me in, and even if he does, his hours are Monday and Thursday 9-5 , half days weds, fri and sat, off Tuesday and Sunday's . My schedule and his clash , I would never get enough hours in to justify the $160. And he is super busy. Why are you only booking 9 students? Is that the most you can ? Reason I ask is , you obviously really like doing it ( 8 years), you are fighting for it. Do you only want to teach a small group? Part time? Maybe if you had more students, became more "popular" , you could gain more control. You are charging them more than the $10 firing fee, cuz you said you got paid. Is the non profit making money off each student or are you paying them a lump sum to run the class? Cuz if they are making a per head on the other classes, then they might be nudging you to up your game. If you can run a few classe, use the big kiln to combine firings on all classes, and seem busier, it might get them to back off. It sounds like you are in a type of community center, and in my experience, people try to get other people thrown out because of the non committal rent situation. If this is true at all, if you want to stay there, I would up my numbers and classes, become bigger to get the pressure off . Jolie

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I charge $200 for an 8 week session, which includes class time and open studio. I charge $25 per 25 pounds of clay ($1 per pound), which includes glazing and firing costs. So for stoneware which costs me 33 cents per pound, I get 67 cents per pound to cover the cost of glazes and firings. A flat fee per student isn't fair to those students who only make a few pieces, and it's a steal for those that make a lot. With the price of firings tied to the clay, everyone pays their fair share. It's also and incentive for the students to improve their skills and throw thinner.

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