SHS graduation to move indoors

Published 12:24 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2015

By Alyse Stanley

Staff writer

In a four-to-one vote, the Isle of Wight County School Board denied the motion to move Smithfield High School’s graduation offsite at Thursday’s meeting.

However, several members supported discussing the issue again during the budget cycle.

In August, the Board requested that division staff conduct a phone survey restricted to rising seniors and parents from Smithfield. Their choices were to keep the graduation on sight in the gym with overflow seating in the auditorium, or offsite at the Hampton Roads Convention center.

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If onsite, seniors would receive eight tickets — four for the gym and four for the auditorium — and the school division would pay a one-time fee of $5,000 to cover technical, facility and logistical needs for the ceremony. If offsite, seniors receive 10 tickets but the school division would pay an annual fee of $15,000 to the venue. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The survey showed that Smithfield High School graduates and parents were in favor of an offsite graduation, despite the additional cost, said the school spokesperson Kenita Bowers. Actual numerical results were not presented at the meeting nor obtained by press time.

Smithfield district representative and Board Chair Denise Tynes was adamant the Board abide by the survey’s findings.

“The citizens are saying this is what they want, so we have to move forward. And we need to find the funding to do that.”

Carrsville District Representative Robert Eley brought up the issue of funding, particularly for the offsite venue.

Windsor District Representative Julia Perkins shared his sentiments.

“We’d be spending a tremendous amount of money for those two extra tickets. And we’d be paying that every year,” said Perkins.

Eley said the Board had not budgeted for such an expense this year, so the money would have to come from another project. If the Board waited until next year, though, they could specifically set aside money for either option. At the very least, Eley said he wanted Superintendent Jim Thornton to examine the budget before the Board made any decision.

Despite the findings of the survey, Perkins said the students would be happier continuing the tradition of an onsite graduation. She said Smithfield High School students wanted to graduate from the school they attended.

Donaghvan Brown, student liaison from Smithfield High School and a senior, said the students would prefer an offsite graduation because they wanted a different experience. Also, the Convention Center would accommodate annually larger graduating classes, he said.

Hinds brought up the issue of how students would get to the Convention Center; would the county be required to provide transportation or would the students be responsible?

The annual $15,000 did not include transportation, said Bowers.

Some School Board members misunderstood and began opposing the idea that the county provide transportation for the senior’s families. Tynes corrected them and said they would only be discussing transporting the students themselves.

Still, “The transportation issue is not a minor issue in my mind” said Newport District Representative Ed Easter.

The Board voted to approve moving Smithfield High School’s graduation offsite, and it was denied in a four to one vote. Tynes was the dissenting vote.

“I represent those constituents, and if that’s what they wanted, then that’s what I voted for,” she said.

Tynes later said that, if that’s what her district wants, then she’s not going to give up. She plans to approach the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors next month and inquire about ways to possibly fund the offsite graduation. The school division could give parents the option to fundraise the cost, she said.

In July, the School Board requested school division staff conduct a phone survey about the future of Smithfield and Windsor High Schools graduation locations. Their decision came after Smithfield High School’s 2015 graduation, where 96-degree heat on Packer Field caused nine attendees to require medical attention, some from heat exhaustion.

At the August school board meeting, Manager of Financial Services and Procurement Anthony Hinds presented the initial survey results. The results showed students from both Windsor and Smithfield were divided on the issue, though more Windsor students leaned towards an on-site graduation. {/mprestriction}