When Capitol High School administrators were looking toward this graduation season, one big obstacle they had to overcome was finding a place to hold the ceremony.
The small graduating class of 100, out of the 265 students at the school, meant there was little money from senior fees to pay for putting on the event.
The school couldn’t use its own facility for a graduation ceremony because the 1,500-seat auditorium lacks air conditioning and doesn’t have working lights, according to Capitol High Principal Onetha Albert.
“The cost of graduation has fallen on the administration,” she said.
After the school and alumni put out word it needed help so the May 21 graduation ceremony could take place, the Rev. Thomas Bessix, of New Gideon Baptist Church, stepped up to donate use of his church, at no cost to the school.
The school was definitely in a bind on finding a venue for the graduation ceremonies until Bessix heard about the problem and offered to lend a hand, Tirza Brazier, guidance counselor at the high school, wrote in an email.
“He understood that our budget was small to nonexistent so we were not able to pay a large fee,” Brazier wrote.
The donation means that the limited amount of money the school has available can be used for other events expected for seniors, such as a senior breakfast, senior awards night, senior movie night at the school and decorations for the graduation ceremony, Albert said.
That’s important, Albert said, since these seniors have been through a lot in the past few years, not the least of which was not knowing if their school was even going to be open this year.
“The last three years prior to this year have not been easy for them for various reasons,” she said. However, once the decision was made to open the school this year, these seniors decided to stay and graduate from Capitol High School, she said.
“I don’t think the students should be punished” just because there is a lack of money, she said.
Capitol High School was taken over by the state in 2008 and operated as a 100 Black Men’s charter school run through a for-profit school operations company called EdisonLearning for two years before the state took control in July.
The school is one of seven former East Baton Rouge Parish schools the state Recovery School District has taken over and placed under new management in 2008 and 2009. An eighth school, Istrouma High School, will be taken over this summer by the RSD.
Chris Trahan, spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, said none of the high schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system hold their graduation ceremonies on campus.
“Our classes are so large we usually use off-campus sites,” such as area churches or Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU, Trahan said.
Most of the spaces are rented, but some are donated. If they are rented, most schools have a senior graduation fee that helps offset the cost, he said. However, this does not always cover the cost of rental, so the school pays the remaining amount out of school funds.
Graduations at Capitol High School were handled in the same fashion before the Recovery School District took over the school, Trahan said. However, this year, the school just doesn’t have many students.
Jonathan Hill, president of the Capitol High School Alumni Association, said the decrease in attendance seems to be primarily because the school is no longer in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, where students were automatically assigned to the school based on their attendance zone.
Kizzy Payton, executive director for communications with the Recovery School District, noted that the RSD did not take over Capitol High School until three weeks before the start of the school year. She said that did not give the RSD adequate time to recruit students and to address misconceptions about the possibility of the school closing.
Hill said the state has not adequately supported the school since taking it over, but that could change as new partnerships are formed to help the school with its programs. He said programs that will allow Capitol High students next year to take vocational classes as well as academic classes should help boost the school’s enrollment.
Although the school has an auditorium that can seat 1,500 people, it doesn’t have lights or a cooling system, Albert said. The school and the alumni are working on raising the $8,500 needed to get the auditorium in working order, she said.
“The community has been outstanding, not just with the senior class but in support for all the students,” Albert said.
Payton acknowledged in an email response to questions that maintaining lights in the auditorium is the RSD’s responsibility. She said the RSD, as the building’s operator, is responsible for daily maintenance and that includes keeping lights in working order.
However, she said, simply addressing the lights won’t make the auditorium operational because significant repairs are needed. Such capital improvements are the school system’s responsibility, she said.
Trahan, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system spokesman, said Capitol High has never had an air conditioning system in the auditorium, as is the case in other schools built around the same time.
Of the 10 traditional high schools, six have auditoriums, Trahan said. The remaining four have lecture theaters that only hold a couple of hundred people and are air conditioned. Of the six that have auditoriums, four have air conditioning. The four with air conditioned auditoriums are Northeast High School and Woodlawn High School, which are new schools, and Scotlandville High School and McKinley High School, which were both recently renovated, Trahan said.