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Bentonville School Board decides to keep graduations at home in 2023

by Dave Perozek | June 23, 2022 at 1:03 a.m.
Bentonville School District administration building.

BENTONVILLE -- The School District will continue holding graduation ceremonies at its high schools for at least another year.

The School Board on Tuesday decided by a 5-0 vote that Bentonville and West high schools will host commencement at their respective stadiums in 2023. Board members Willie Cowgur and Brent Leas were absent.

Before the vote, board members and administrators spent nearly half an hour discussing the pros and cons of graduating on campus versus at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Before the covid-19 pandemic, both high schools' commencements took place at University of Arkansas facilities, according to Jennifer Morrow, executive director of secondary education. In spring 2020 -- when the pandemic took large, indoor gatherings off the table -- the district held family walk-through graduations in the high school football stadiums.

The district held more traditional ceremonies in the schools' stadiums last year and this year.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Morrow sought guidance from the board on whether they wanted to continue that practice.

She told the board the cost of renting university facilities in 2019 -- Walton Arena for Bentonville High and Barnhill Arena for West High -- was a combined $13,428 for both events.

Costs were significantly higher to put on graduation ceremonies at the high school stadiums. The costs for sound, chairs and staging were about $29,000 in 2021 and $35,639 in 2022 for both events combined, according to Morrow. That doesn't include other costs related to security, maintenance, cleanup and landscaping, she said.

"We need the public to know that doing this in our stadiums is for local convenience, it's for economic impact, it's for nostalgia, it's because we think it's what you want us to do," Morrow said. "It is not easier; it is not less expensive."

Perhaps the biggest issue with holding stadium graduations is the threat of inclement weather. Bentonville High School's graduation was delayed last year, and postponed a day this year, because of rain.

Board members acknowledged that issue but said they still liked the experience of the stadium graduation.

Eric White, board president, added getting to Walton Arena is "not a pleasant experience" at graduation time. It means fighting traffic jams in and out of the site, and the size of the facility makes it hard for audience members to see graduates unless they're on the big screen, he said.

"But it does transfer a lot of responsibility to our district," White said, about the schools hosting graduation. "I think we have to be mindful of that. When something fails, whether it's audio, or livestream, if something fails, it's on us."

Jack Loyd, Bentonville High's principal, said both he and Jonathon Guthrie, West High's principal, love the stadium graduations.

The rest of Northwest Arkansas' biggest high schools held their graduation ceremonies at Walton Arena this year, including Fayetteville, Rogers, Rogers Heritage, Springdale and Springdale Har-Ber high schools.

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