Parkway School District's Board of Education Directors recently sided with Superintendent Keith Marty's wishes and voted 5-2 to abruptly discontinue Parkway's contract with St. Louis County Parks Department to host graduation activities at Greensfelder Recreational Complex in Queeny Park. Those graduations, which cost $22,000 in 2015-16, have been moved to Family Arena in St. Charles County at an increased cost of more than $44,000.
District perks for the new location include the ability to host all district graduations on the same day at a more modern facility but has many in the community infuriated at its lack of cultural sensitivity.
In order to accommodate Dr. Marty's strong desire to secure this particular Saturday at Family Arena, the graduation dates of 2 out of 4 of their high schools had to be changed, causing Parent Teacher Organizations into a tailspin for their after-graduation celebrations to keep kids safe.
Even more troubling, the specific Saturday secured is the first day of a Major Jewish Holiday (Jewish holidays begin at Sundown and the high school with the largest concentration of people of Jewish heritage has its ceremony beginning at 8pm). Not only is May 19, 2018 the beginning of a 2-3 day major holiday, it is also their weekly sacred Shabbat, similar to an observant Christian's Sunday. With 21% of households in Creve Coeur and 8% of households in Chesterfield identifying as Jewish, the superintendent's strong advocacy for changing the date is troubling.
Watching Dr. Marty at the board meeting (video archive available here), he seemed proud that now Parkway would have this date secured for the future, missing the implication that possibly many future Shabbats and Shavuot's would be disrupted. This is not the first time that Parkway has been called out for cultural insensitivity under Dr. Marty's leadership. In 2015, local news outlet West Magazine pointed out Parkway's cultural bias with headline:
As of today's writing, within 2 weeks, high school student Hannah Maurer has gained over 2,000 petition signatures here. Parents are waiting to see if this will be the pivotal issue where Dr. Marty begins to listen to parents wishes.
There are other considerations as well.
City residents who have children enrolled through the St. Louis Voluntary Transfer program are also disturbed by the move to the Family Arena, further away from the city limits. The travel to St. Charles County presents a challenge for many who feel marginalized by the district's decision-making. They are left wondering: was there no other venue (such as University of Missouri-St. Louis or Chaifetz Arena) that was more conveniently located?
Expenses are another concern.
Under this new plan, at the minimum costs will double. The contract seems to imply that the base cost if $44,000 compared to $22,000 for Queeny's facility.
Queeny 2017 Established Expenses: $30,391.00
Family Arena 2018 Projected Expenses: $44,356.00
Details of Family Arena costs (based on contract & comments made during the 8/23/2017 board meeting here)
$10,656,20 base cost + $11,500 labor + $6,500 sound + $2,000 video + $5,700 set-up and cleaning + $2,000 Central High parking + $2,000 North High parking + $2,000 South High parking + $2,000 West High parking = $44,356.
Queeny Park = $30, 391
Family Arena= $44,356
The Post-Dispatch quoted Parkway District officials as stating that the move will save the district money. Sadly, this is misreporting on the part of the Post Dispatch here.
These investigative journalists have to wonder what does Parkway administrators have to gain by disrupting religious observances, undermining parents long-term planning of safe alternatives to after-graduation celebrations and further alienating transfer students and families? And increasing the overall cost as well?