Originally created 05/24/05

Seniors' choices create big bill



The weatherman is predicting mostly sunny skies today and Wednesday for six outdoor graduations in Richmond County, but the long-term forecast calls for stormy debates over the location of next year's ceremonies.

The debate over whether to hold graduation at football stadiums or the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center promises to stretch into another year. With budget sessions under way, school trustees are again questioning the logic and cost of putting ceremonies wherever students choose.

Letting seniors decide the location this year resulted in four graduations Monday at the civic center and six ceremonies at individual stadiums. Cross Creek students even bucked the trend and chose a 9 a.m. ceremony today at their stadium. Five others agreed to evening ceremonies.

"I think we need to bite the bullet and go one way or the other," trustee Kenneth Echols said last week during budget talks. "The graduations seem to come up in some kind of controversy every year."

Superintendent Charles Larke proposed a 2005-06 budget that includes $14,400 for the rental of public announcement systems and chairs for stadiums. An additional $7,000 is set aside for the use of the civic center.

But Dr. Larke said the cost could balloon further if the board lets students decide again and more schools choose stadiums.

"If it was not a money issue, it is becoming a money issue now," school board President Marion Barnes said. "We need to look at this real hard."

On Monday, Hephzibah High graduate Carl Thomas put on his cap and gown in the civic center parking lot and prepared to join his classmates for graduation. He likes the civic center.

"You can't be in a football field with ant beds and mosquitoes and all that other stuff," he said.

"You've got your family and elderly people coming up there, and you don't want them suffering in the sun."

Grandmothers Lyla Mae Adams and Thelma Bias, each walking with canes, said the civic center was more accessible.

"The younger people can get into either one. But for the elderly people, it is a problem," Ms. Bias said. "So I would think the civic center would do for both."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

Graduation location

The way it is: Richmond County seniors are allowed to choose where they want graduation to be held and what day and time.

The objection: School trustees say graduation causes controversy every year. Superintendent Charles Larke said the cost of graduations could rise if students choose to have graduation in school stadiums.

Family opinions: Some graduates and their families say the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center is more accessible for young children and the elderly. The civic center also would protect attendees from the weather.