MURFREESBORO - The decision to hold the 2014 graduation for Central Magnet School at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville for $10,750 came because the Opry House is closer to Rutherford County than the Williamson County Ag Expo, Principal John Ash said Friday.

The large county high schools plan to have their commencements at the Williamson County facility.

In an email response to a parent at Blackman High School, Ash also said the Grand Ole Opry House would not hold the number of students that would graduate from Blackman, a larger school.

"The Opry House holds 4,100," Ash said. "My son graduated BHS two years ago. I would estimate the crowd at his graduation was somewhere around 8,000. Of the 4,100, approximately 1,000 of the seats would be taken by the graduates, the band, choir, teachers and others that are in the graduation."

Rutherford County high school principals meet four times each year, and last year when they were notified that Murphy Center would not be available due to renovations, they were told to look into locations and make recommendations, according to James Evans, community relations coordinator for Rutherford County Schools.

Evans said Central Magnet's graduation will be anywhere from 150 to 200 students. Students in the 2014 graduation class will be the first to have attended Central Magnet School for four years.

The larger schools, like Blackman, decided to hold graduations in 2014 at the Williamson County Ag Expo at a cost of $2,500 each, Evans said.

"I was at one of the meetings," Evans said. "(The larger schools) looked at Bridgestone Arena. They liked the idea of it, but there was a chance of getting booted if the Predators make the playoffs next year."

Ash said activity funds that go toward graduation costs do not include tax dollars. Activity funds come from accounts associated with sports teams, choir, the Beta Club and other groups.

"These (funds) are raised, collected in gates or donated," he said. "As a class goes through a high school, they raise some money on things such as class shirts, small amounts of leftover money from events, and at our school we give the classes the box-top (donation coupons) money that they raise. This helps offset the cost of prom, after prom, graduation, etc."

Evans said people may not understand that "Central has the freedom to use that money."

"The board has to approve the contract," he said. "And they thought it would fit the needs."

Ash said if any money is left after it graduates, the class donates something to the school with its class year on it.

"You may have seen fountains, benches or other things at the older high school," Ash said. "We have only had one class, and they did not have any money left. The (Murfreesboro Central High) Class of 1950 did donate some money. We chose to buy an analytical balance with that money for our chemistry department."

Ash said he would rather the graduation not cost as much as it does, and he added that the $5,700 cost of holding the graduation at Murphy Center does not include video and personnel costs, which are included in the cost of the Grand Ole Opry House.

"We, as a school, chose our venue," he said. "Our first choice was one of the churches in town to keep the cost down, but the largest could only hold about 2,000 people in the sanctuary. Anyone else would have had to be in another building watching on large TVs."

Ash also said he was sure that Gail Vick, principal at Blackman High school, and her staff "will do everything in their power to make it a memorable night."

Vick said Friday that all Rutherford County principals were on a committee to find 2014 graduation sites at the request of Director of Schools Don Odom.

"We contacted Lipscomb, Belmont, Vanderbilt, Bridgestone Arena, Miller Coliseum and several other places we thought would accommodate the schools," Vick said. "We just tried to contact as many people as possible to get the right price and size for what we needed."

Vick said some of the places could not accommodate dates, some did return callsat all, and some were not large enough to hold the audience.

"We tried to do what was best for our kids, so they could invite who they wanted," Vick said. "We didn't want kids to have to give tickets and decide one or two people that could come. The Williamson County Ag Expo was the only one that had everything we needed."

The smaller schools opted out of using the location in Williamson County because it was far larger than what they needed for their class sizes, according to Vick.

"Magnet School said they didn't need that many seats, so they'd do their own thing. Holloway and Eagleville and Stewarts Creek said they'd do their own thing," Vick said. "Everybody else, except for that group was, 'I'm on board.'"

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