A nearly 160-year tradition has ended. Belleville District 118 will no longer have its annual end-of-year parade and picnic.
The longtime tradition just doesn’t have the participation to justify keeping it going, district administrators say. An official decision was made in December, and the Parent Teacher Association Council, with members from each school’s PTA, will soon decide what, if anything, will replace it. The Belleville 118 Council of PTA typically meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month at District headquarters; its next meeting is March 1.
The council’s choices include alternatives for a district-wide event or events at individual schools. Administrators say the council has been considering the parade and picnic’s viability for a couple years. The council voted in December; Superintendent Matt Klosterman informed district employees by email on Monday afternoon.
Voluntary surveys taken after last year’s event showed a student participation rate of less than 60 percent, said Assistant Superintendent Ryan Boike. He said the picnic has ended early because children did not stay as late for the rides for the last few years; he also said vendors would run out of food early. Boike said the Council would like to see an event that at least 75 percent of the students could attend – he later clarified that “I would love to see an event were all the students participate.”
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Judy Keplar, a school board member and District 118 parent who is on the PTA Council, said there have been “a lot of conversations” about events other than a picnic that would focus more on the district’s wellness initiative.
“It’s important that whatever we do involve families,” she said.
She said the Council is in the initial planning stages of running a “Pedal for the PTA” event in the spring, saying it would be “almost a mini Tour de Belleville that would promote school spirit and families getting involved.”
“The community has changed. New families don’t have that (old Belleville) connection,” Superintendent Klosterman said. He said another reason for lower participation was that more parents work multiple jobs, or jobs where they cannot take a day off of work for the parade and picnic without losing pay.
The PTA Council’s budget showed last year’s parade and picnic cleared less than $10,000.
“All of our dynamics have changed,” Klosterman said.
Parent Lisa Hayes, who has children attending West Junior High School and Jefferson, said attending the picnic was “something that my children were just not interested in doing.”
“It was always hot, always crowded ... you had to wait in long lines, people were impatient. It was just not something that was very fun for them,” she said.
Hayes said she would like to see an annual activity at the school level, and said Roosevelt has a camput, Westhaven a Carnival.
“Recently, Abraham Lincoln had a movie night,” she said. “It would be nice to see something else where families could get involved and do things.”
Klosterman said a number of schools have events that act to bring together students and families with teachers, including fall fests and Roosevelt Elementary’s Spooktacular.
“We have large turnouts on the school level,” he said.
Boike said the district is looking to include the largest number of families possible.
“Right now, on a school day, that’s tough,” he said.
Initial costs and contract negotiations with ride suppliers and vendors has been through the PTA Council, Boike said, and any money made is used by the Council for school field days, Young Authors and Science Fairs.
We want something for the kids, and kids and families; and if we want to support district events, we have to have the fundraiser.
Superintendent Matt Klosterman
The Belleville Catholic schools picnic and parade ended in 2008 after 60 years. At that time, Klosterman said the public schools had no intention of giving up their annual picnic and parade.
Monday morning, he and Boike said that while the loss of shared expenses hurt, it is the particapation that is the driving force in the Council’s decision.
“There’s two realities,” Klosterman said. “We want something for the kids, and kids and families; and if we want to support district events, we have to have the fundraiser.”
The picnic, while it does raise money, is not the only fundraiser and raised less than $14,000 last year, Klosterman said. The PTA Council’s budget showed the event cleared less than $10,000.
“We have some (fundraisers by individual schools) that make close to $10,000,” Boike said, citing cookie dough sales being a significant fundraiser when he was a school principal at Roosevelt.
The two administrators expect a “mixed” public reaction to the end of the tradition.
“Some will be sad,” Klosterman said. “(They would) say ‘I remember when...’”
“But we’ve seen a continual pattern that this particular event is just declining.”