We collected answers to three questions from the Post 3 and Post 6 Cherokee County school board candidates. (We also did other counties and will post those candidate responses over the next few days.)
1. Has the county been receptive to charter schools and are they a good idea?
2. Do you agree with how the school board has dealt with the county’s growth in terms of planning and staffing?
3. Has Cherokee made enough changes to cope with the reduced funds from the state and should there be more cuts?
Michael Geist is the Republican running for Post 3; Bachelor’s degree from Georgia Tech in aerospace engineering and some graduate work in business. Works as a senior IT analyst. First-time candidate:
1. It is my impression that a majority of the PEOPLE of the county are receptive to, if not eager for, a public charter school option. Perhaps the results of the local Republican primary reflect this as two pro-charter candidates – myself included – prevailed over long-time incumbents who had not supported charter petitions in recent years. Whether the board and the system administration are receptive to charter schools is still an open question.
Every child in this county has his or her own unique combination of strengths, weaknesses, and needs. For me, school choice is about giving parents the option to individualize the education of their child based on the specific needs of their child. Your local public school may be a great fit for your child. While I hope that it is, what if it isn’t? Where do you turn if you can’t afford private school and if you can’t homeschool?
Last June, in denying the most recent charter petition, the school district never argued that accepting the charter petition would harm our public school students. If there is enough public interest to fill a school, if it would be operated by a company with a history of success, and if it won’t harm students remaining in the system, then, yes, I think it’s a good idea to give parents that choice.
2. In general, yes, I think the board and the administration have done a good job accommodating and anticipating growth but the current economic crisis is making this more difficult. Cherokee is still a net growth county but the county has recently been forced to delay some new school construction. Perhaps an unintended benefit of bringing new public charter schools to Cherokee would be to help the school system relieve some of this growth pressure. It would also mean additional teaching and staff positions for our county, if not our school system.
3. Cherokee has coped better than many metro Atlanta school systems in large part because the system began making adjustments several years ago. While the system has faced its own tough choices, it has thus far avoided large-scale staffing reductions.
As to whether more cuts are necessary, time will tell. The district relies not only on state funds but federal and local funds as well. All of these sources have been impacted by the recession and the resulting reduction in tax revenues. There are those who say that the school board & the state should raise taxes to make up the difference. In my opinion, this ignores the fact that many taxpayers are also hurting.
Each year, the board and the school administration evaluate operating costs against anticipated and realized revenues. If they don’t match, cuts may be necessary but all cuts are not created equal. I believe that before furloughs and reductions in teaching staff, we should consider less intrusive options. For instance, one such option would be to shorten the school year by expanding the school day. This could significantly reduce transportation and support services costs with no impact on instructional time. In the current economic climate, the question may be less about whether more cuts are necessary but how careful or creative those who are making the cuts will be.
Tony Guice is the Democrat running for Post 3: Bachelor’s degree in finance with a minor in economics from the University of Florida, Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Central Florida. Licensed certified public accountant. First-time candidate:
1. I believe the people of Cherokee County, in general, are in support of charter schools. I also believe the school board has given serious consideration to recent applicants for new charter schools in the County, but have had to deny them due to various legal and technical merits of the application. My thoughts on charter schools are this, I believe they can be a viable alternative for parents, if used strategically. By that I mean, we allow a limited number of “top notch” charter schools that can help relieve overcrowding and that provides an academic curriculum that meets or exceeds County standards. I am not in favor of mass charter schools in the County that will undermine our public school system. I believe our current system is one of the best in the state and that we should be focusing our efforts on offering more support to our teachers and schools.
2. Yes, I think the Cherokee County School Board has done an admirable job with the resources that it has been given. I think the Board has nicely executed a five-year plan that accurately projected much of the growth that we’re seeing. The problem is that resources are dwindling and more needs to be done at the state level to ensure our County is getting its fair share of educational funding dollars; we cannot continue to allow state cuts in education. Cherokee County will continue to experience growth in population for the foreseeable future, therefore, it becomes imperative that we do all that we can to make education a priority at the state level.
3. Given the current level of revenue, the Board made the changes necessary to balance the budget. However, we cannot afford to continue furloughing our teachers; we need to seek alternative funding sources. I am in support of a 1% special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) that would be used for funding our schools’ operations instead of construction projects. In the last legislative session of the General Assembly, Representatives Butch Parrish of the 156th district and Ed Rynders of 152nd district sponsored a House Resolution (HR 1203) proposing an amendment to our state constitution for this very reason. This tax would allow our School District to help meet the widening gap between state and local funding and keep more of our teachers in the class room. This may be one of the last viable options that we have since we are virtually maxed out on our current level of property taxes at 19.85 mills (the state maximum is 20 mills).
Rob Usher is the Republican running for Post 6: Computer systems engineer for packaging company. Unfinished college education, certificate in drafting. First-time candidate:
1. Many of the county residents I have spoken with are in support of charter schools. I believe that permitting charter schools in Cherokee County is really about providing parents with options that best suit their children’s needs. Having charter schools will also provide a certain amount of relief from the overcrowding we are experiencing in our existing schools. Recently, a petition for a charter school in Cherokee County was denied by the school board. This was an unfortunate decision in that the charter school will most likely be successful in petitioning the state for approval thus causing the county school district to have minimal or no involvement with these schools.
2. I believe that the school board has done a pretty good job planning for county growth in the past. However, the unprecedented economic situation we are in now has placed new unexpected burdens on the school district. The school board will certainly need to review all plans and staff assignments to make sure the school district is as lean and efficient as it can be while providing the best possible education for Cherokee County students.
3. I do not believe that there have been enough changes to cope with the reduced funding. The school board recently voted to raise the millage rate in Cherokee County. Now we are nearly maxed out on what can be taken from county residents. The school district has also been relying on stimulus funds which we all know cannot continue forever. There will certainly have to be more tough decisions made in order cut to costs and make ends meet in the future. Raising taxes and accepting handouts from the government is not a long term solution.
Alice M. Archey is the Democrat running for Post 6: B.S. in business administration, M.A. in school counseling. Owner/director of Life Skills, provider of at-risk youth group intervention and counseling services. She also works as substitute teacher in Cherokee schools. First-time candidate:
1. The limited support base for charter schools in the County has done so voicing that parents should have another school option. Somewhere in this logic the needs of the students become lost. The Georgia constitution requires a free and adequate education to all students, not an option for parents. Charter schools have been a tremendous asset in bridging the achievement gap in school systems with high student achievement deficiencies.
In Cherokee County School District, where students are scoring above state and national levels on the SAT and ACT, the school system has met Adequate Yearly Progress requirements for four consecutive years and a high school has been recognized by the Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School for high student achievement of six schools in the state and of 254 public school in the national, fundamental public school education is working and satisfying the needs of its students.
2. Cherokee County is the 29th fastest-growing county in the U.S. with 10,000 or more residents. To facilitate an approximate increase of 500-600 new students each academic year, the school board has been diligent in its long-range planning and staffing of replacement or new schools to keep up with student growth. Additionally, the school board has used boundary redrawing and redistricting in an effort to ease overcrowding in the student population in some schools.
3. Just as in many other school districts, as the funding shifts more to local dollars, Cherokee County School Board’s option cuts had to come from cutting expenditures, raising taxes or using reserve funds. The school board’s decision to increase the school district millage rate to 19.85 mills was the most fiscally sound option to offset state funding shortfalls and avoid major teacher lay-offs and interruption to learning instructions. Hopefully, with the award of $2.8M Race to the Top Grant funds, the school district will be able to increase in number and also award teacher performance pay.