By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education has approved the use of the Georgia Dome as the site for its graduation ceremonies for the third year in a row.
The dome has been the site of Clayton County high school graduations since the 2008-2009 school year. The issue of holding the ceremonies in Atlanta, versus a site closer to, if not in, Clayton County itself, has been raging for five years. Before the ceremonies were moved to the dome, they were held at the Georgia World Congress Center in 2007, and 2008.
Opponents have often argued that holding the ceremonies in the county would be more convenient for families of graduates, and pump more money into the local economy.
Proponents for holding the ceremonies in Atlanta have often countered, however, that there is no indoor venue in Clayton County large enough to hold the graduations.
Superintendent Edmond Heatley said he recommended staying at the Georgia Dome to the school board, because it was the best fit, size-wise, for what the district needed in a graduation venue. School Board Member Wanda Smith proposed using the Atlanta Metropolitan College gymnasium last week.
"We looked at every venue out there, including the Atlanta Metropolitan College venue suggested by Ms. Smith," Heatley said. "And, we believe the Georgia Dome is the best facility to hold the graduation ceremonies ..."
Heatley said with the selection of the Georgia dome, the district can now begin negotiating a contract, including how much will be paid to rent the facility for two days in May 2011. "We couldn't begin negotiations until the board approved the venue," he said Monday, after the board's vote.
Heatly said last year's ceremonies cost approximately $70,000 to stage at the dome. He said district officials wanted this year's ceremonies to be on par with last year's event.
But, approval of going back to the dome did not come without some grumblings of discontent from a few board members. The board approved the measure by an 8-0 vote, as part of a package of items acted on together, in what is commonly called the board's consent agenda.
In addition to the graduation venue item, the agenda included the district's purchasing, financial, and personnel changes reports, its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax construction update, and a resolution stating that the district has paid off the cost of constructing a classroom addition at James A. Jackson Elementary School.
Board members Smith and Trinia Garrett came back later in the meeting, however, and said that they wanted to change their votes on the consent agenda. They said they did not realize they could pull the graduation venue out of the consent agenda, to vote on it separately.
"Why would we vote for something we were opposed to last week?" Smith said.
School Board Attorney Glenn Brock told them it was too late to change their votes, though, and the board's original vote was then declared official by Chairperson Alieka Anderson.
Smith said she thought some of her fellow board members were influenced by the "glitz and glamour of holding the graduations at the dome," but she added that she was OK with the board's decision. She said she plans to push Atlanta Metropolitan College again next year.
"My hope is that we find another venue to hold the graduations," she said. "Graduation should not come at an astronomical price."
Heatley said he is open to looking at other possible sites for the 2012 graduation ceremonies. Anderson said, however, that holding the ceremonies at the Georgia Dome was the best option for the graduates, because it would not force the school system to impose limits on the number of family members each graduate can bring to the ceremony.
"We'll be able to facilitate everybody's family members," she said.