By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools is cutting back on shuttle buses for graduation ceremonies in May, in an effort to reduce the cost of ferrying people between Tara Stadium and the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where the ceremonies will be held, school officials announced on Monday.
Derrick Manning, the school district's assistant superintendent for Area I schools, told members of the Clayton County Board of Education that the district will switch to a bus schedule, in which buses carrying parents to a graduation ceremony will leave Tara Stadium two hours before the ceremony begins. The buses will then carry the parents back from the Georgia Dome two hours after the ceremony begins.
In the past, the buses picked up people from both Tara Stadium and the Georgia dome every 15 minutes, Manning said.
With the switch, he said, the cost of transporting family members and friends of graduating students will go from the approximately $40,000 spent last year, to an expected $7,242 this year. A $5 round-trip transportation fee will also be imposed for what has previously been a free service, Manning said.
"In some cases in the past, we had buses that were less than half-full carrying people to the Georgia Dome," he said. "We're doing this because there were so many empty seats, and we couldn't justify spending that much money [$40,000] on this service."
The school system has not held a high school graduation ceremony in the county since 2006. An average of 3,000 people have used the shuttle bus service each of the last three years, when the ceremonies were held in downtown Atlanta, Manning said.
The addition of a $5 fee could prove financially beneficial for the district, he said.
"If we were to have the same number of people using our bus service that we've had in the past, at $5 per person, that's $15,000," Manning said. "We could actually make some money off of this."
But the change also means there will be fewer opportunities for family members and friends to catch a ride to the ceremonies, and back home. On the first day of graduation ceremonies, May 28, for example, there will only be three opportunities for parents and graduating students to catch a bus from Tara Stadium to the Georgia Dome. There will also be only three opportunities to catch a bus back from the dome.
Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley told school board members on Monday the switch means families of graduating seniors will have three options to get back to Clayton County: take a bus leaving right after the ceremony ends; ride home on a bus leaving after the next ceremony, or find another way home.
"A lot of parents want to hang out and hug their kids after graduation," Heatley said. "What we're saying is get your peck on the cheek, and get on the bus to go back home ... If we're going to go out of the county [to hold graduation ceremonies], we're going to need you to help us out."
On Tuesday, Manning said the time frame following the graduation ceremonies will not be as tight as the superintendent's comments made it appear, though. The buses carrying people back to Tara Stadium will leave the Georgia Dome two hours after the graduation ceremony begins, he said.
That should leave approximately a 45-minute gap between the time a graduation ceremony ends, and when the buses depart, according to Manning.
"Last year, our largest school's graduation ceremony did not surpass an hour, and 15 minutes," he said. "There will be plenty of time after the ceremony to get back to the buses, and the buses will be parked close by, so people won't have to walk very far."
The following is the graduation schedule for Clayton County high schools:
Friday, May 28
* Riverdale High School, at 2:30 p.m., followed by North Clayton High School at 5 p.m., and Lovejoy High School at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 29
* Mundy's Mill High School at 9 a.m., followed by Forest Park High School at 11:30 a.m.; Morrow High School at 2 p.m.; Jonesboro High School at 4:30 p.m., and Mt. Zion High School at 7 p.m.
The graduation shuttle bus schedule will be:
Friday, May 28
* Buses going to the Georgia Dome will depart from Tara Stadium at 12:30 p.m.; 3 p.m., and 5:30 p.m.
* Buses returning people to Tara Stadium will depart from the Georgia Dome at 4:30 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 29
* Buses going to the Georgia Dome will depart from Tara Stadium at 7 a.m.; 9:30 a.m.; noon; 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m.
* Buses returning people to Tara Stadium will depart from the Georgia Dome at 11 a.m.; 1:30 p.m.; 4 p.m.; 6:30 p.m., and 9 p.m.