ATLANTA -- Monday marked the first day of school for Clayton County students. Days before, their teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others gathered at Tara Stadium for the district's first annual Welcome Back Convocation.
The one hour, fifteen minute gathering actually resembled a pep rally; 8000 district employees heard speeches by superintendent Dr. Edmond Heatley and motivational speaker Keith Brown.
But at least one district employee wondered how the school system could afford a rally in the midst of deep budget cuts. Clayton County Schools are facing a 38 million dollar shortfall and recently cut 134 teaching positions.
"8000 employees at Tara Stadium, arrived by bus," the employee wrote in a message to 11Alive. "Waste of gas, time and money."
District spokesman David Waller said the district only incurred one expense: $2000 to hire Brown as speaker. Waller said bottled water and school supplies were all donated and the venue, Tara Stadium, was free.
Employees were driven from their schools to the stadium by school bus. Waller said the buses were holding their practice runs that day, so the price of gas and drivers' salaries were already covered.
"When you consider that we spent 25 cents per employee, I think we can justify that," Waller said.
He said the rally was a way for Dr. Heatley to thank employees for remaining with the district during recent tough times, including the budget problems of the last four years.