Cobb school chief to SACS: Stark divisions on board, which is ineffective. Widespread anger over calendar vote.

Here is a fascinating and candid response from Cobb County Superintendent Fred Sanderson.to the concerns of  the accrediting agency SACS over recent school board actions.

Sanderson faults the board on many fronts. Please click on the link and read the entire letter, which is quite amazing for its criticisms, especially in the calendar reversal vote.

I am just sharing a small part of the five-page letter on the blog –  Sanderson’s response to SACS’ concerns that the calendar vote “eroded public trust and public confidence in board members’ ability to govern stemming from the “efforts of four board members to exclude their fellow colleagues and use their personal and political agendas to drive school board decisions, including the decision regarding the calendar.”

Sanderson responded:

The process of approving a system calendar in February 2011 was legal, but did not represent the spirit of effective governance. The board was hasty in raising the issue and voting to replace a three-year calendar that had been approved by a prior board, and had been in effect only five months. The effort to change the calendar was led by three newly elected board members, along with one veteran board member who is also board chair.

In November 2009, when the three-year balanced calendar was approved, board member
Alison Bartlett stated, “I was not willing to change the calendar because we had already set it
and I thought it was wrong to go back and undo what we had already set where people had
already set their calendars, so that is why last time I voted the way I voted because it wasn’t
right to go and do that.” In February 2011, as board chair, Ms. Bartlett did vote to change the calendar just six months prior to the start of a new school year.

The newly elected board members had campaigned on the issue of changing the calendar, but should have recognized their first priority on being sworn in was to become acclimated to and informed about district operations, and trained in the basics of school board leadership and effective governance. Had these first steps been taken, the new board members and one
existing member may have considered a more productive consensus-building approach to
honoring their campaign promises.

Instead, these four board members immediately brought the issue to the table for a vote,
despite the division it caused with their three board member colleagues and within the
community. The board chair appointed two of the newly elected board members to work with
the superintendent to develop alternative calendars. Additionally, the board chair directed
administration to conduct an online survey of stakeholders on the calendar issue and present the results to the board in less than one week’s time. The survey results indicated
overwhelming opposition to changing the calendar, but the four board members nevertheless
put the item on the board meeting agenda and, by a 4-3 vote, changed the school-year
calendar.

The result has been widespread anger and distrust among a large contingent of the district’s stakeholders. Many stakeholders have voiced their displeasure at board meetings, public forums and in the news media, and have complained that the four board members who voted for changing the calendar failed to provide a valid rationale for doing so other than the fact that they campaigned on the issue. Other stakeholders have submitted multiple Open Records Requests to district administration asking for data pertaining to the calendar issue and board member emails. Retrieving information in response to these requests has consumed many hours of staff time. Additionally, on April 1, 2011 the entire Board of Education was summoned to appear before the Cobb County Grand Jury to answer questions about the calendar approval process, among other issues.

The calendar issue has created stark division between the four supporting board members and the three opposed. One of the opposed board members, David Banks, has used his constituent email newsletter, David’s Grapevine, to publicly criticize his four colleagues, and in at least one instance used the district’s email network to distribute the newsletter. These actions are a clear violation of district policy and the board’s own ethics policy.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

146 comments Add your comment

madaboutmath

April 29th, 2011
1:27 pm

Although another poster stated that Mr. Sanderson “threw the school board under the bus,” I appreciate his honesty. I believe this response is his honest assessment of the situation, and his arguments are logical and well supported. Although I do not relish the idea of having SACS on our tail, the current school board in Cobb is out of control and must be reined in.

ABC

April 29th, 2011
1:35 pm

The new members campaigned on it. The promised to change it of they got elected. So they are being blasted for KEEPING campaign promises??????? Seriously????

East Cobb Parent

April 29th, 2011
1:43 pm

I disagree with madaboutmath – Sanderson encouraged parents to contact SACS in the first place. Then he states his own opinion in regards to the calendar vote. And you know what they say about Opinions. I went to many meetings while the new board members were campaigning. Each said they were for a more traditional calendar. Never once did anyone ever stand up and say, well we like the calendar or would like for it to stay for a while to see how it goes. So to have all the hoopla regarding the calendar is childish at best. As for his blast to David Banks, well that was well deserved. Unfortunately I doubt he is intelligent enough to realize he did anything wrong. As for not following the spirit of the law, check a few meetings back. It seems to me that Alisha Morgan made a comment about Cobb County, under Sanderson’s direction, not following the spirit of the law in regards to school choice.

BillM

April 29th, 2011
1:46 pm

Good for Fred. Boards collectively and board members individually need to be responsible for their actions and for acting responsibly. No matter the merits of a particular calendar, the most important thing is the confidence of the public in competence and the fidelity of the board.

I don’t have a dog in the calendar fight but the Cobb board has behaved poorly compromising the public’s confidence.

another comment

April 29th, 2011
1:54 pm

The Cobb County School Board should immediately fire Fred and give him his walking papers. The Ga. Constitution says that the School Board is the Boss of the Super. not the other way around.

The voting both is the only true way to know what the County residents and taxpayers wanted on the Calander issues. Get this one Fred, the monkey survey does not count. It showed that more teachers responded than the county even has employed. Many of those teachers don’t even live in the county, so in a real election they don’t get to vote. So if they want the balanced calendar to align with their kids they need to teach in Cherokee where they live. Also, all those illegals in the county, sorry they don’t get to vote at the ballet box, like they do on a monkey survey. Teens and students don’t get to vote for more vacation only registered voters in Cobb County who actually vote and pay the taxes get to vote and we spoke in November.

Just Wondering...

April 29th, 2011
1:56 pm

@ ABC – the calendar wasn’t the only issue. For many it wasn’t even the most inportant issue, and they didn’t think the change would happen that fast. One candidate ran UNOPPOSED. One ran as a Republican in East Cobb – for all intents and purposes, he ran unopposed (especially this year). The other won in a tight race that was as much about personality as anything else. These three (along with the fourth who was already seated on the board), came in representing a little more than than half the distraict, yet they made a higky controversial decision that affected EVERYONE. The number of people who voted for those three isn’t even close to the number of half the people in the county (or even the number of students served by Cobb County Schools). I’m tired of the “Well, the voters spoke” argument – I didn’t have a chance to vote as my district wasn’t up.

What I really want to know is 1. how do we as a system go about electing an at-large board member, someone who would respresent ALL of us, and not just Six Flags or vacation homes in Hilton Head, and 2. how do we as a system go about making the board positions NON-PARTISAN? It really shouldn’t be about D or R…

Dr. John Trotter

April 29th, 2011
1:57 pm

The truth of this matter may very well be that Fred Sanderson already communicated with Mark Elgart about the forthcoming letter. A cabal perhaps? Ha! Where is Glenn Brock on this matter? Remember that I have always believed that the unelected ones (e.g., superintendents, chamber folk, et al.) collude either directly or indirectly with SACS to put a whamee on the elected ones. See Clayton County and Atlanta City. These things are not done in a corner. In addition, they are done for public consumption. A real chess game. “Yeah, let’s get these four recalcitrant board members in line. Hey, Markie, why don’t you send me a letter of concern, and I’ll write a response. Yep, this ought to scare the poo poo out of these orangutans. The very idea that they question my authority and the authority of my staff! Who do they think that they are, elected officials or something?!” Note: This quote is not from a conversation that I actually heard. Ha! It is mere satire. Full disclosure.

Just Wondering...

April 29th, 2011
2:00 pm

another comment – SACS requested the information from Sanderson – should he be fired for telling the truth? For a wide variety of reasons, the board is not acting properly, and it’s causing problems – PR only being one of them. I heard about the SACS petition from a facebook group started by a nieghborhood group of PARENTS – not teachers, not central office staff, not Fred Sanderson. I know the person who started the group – she’s just a parent, not a teacher, and no Sanderson (or Banks) fan. She did this on her own.

CobbParent

April 29th, 2011
2:04 pm

I’m glad Sanderson is being honest. Regardless of whether they board members ran on the platform or not, they rushed into changing the calendar immediately upon being seated, despite bigger problems and issues with the school system. On top of this, they did not listen to the majority of their constituents when we spoke through a voting system they initiated. It’s one thing to say you ran on a platform, it’s another to continue to shove that platform down your constituents throat once you realize that’s not actually what the majority wanted. Moving forward, and calendar issue aside, we need a board who can work effectively and this board appears incapable of doing that.

missy

April 29th, 2011
2:09 pm

As a parent of a Cobb student, I am thankful that the calendar was changed back to a traditional calendar. This is what they ran for and it is why I helped vote them into office. I was not happy with the balanced calendar, mostly because the start date. The schools told us to send our children to school with water for their bus rides to and from school to combat the intense heat of riding on school buses with no air conditioning. Furthermore, the schools having to run the air conditioning during the hottest month in Georgia is costing Cobb residents dearly. Not to mention the disruption going on vacation (basically) every six weeks has on a child. Many teachers I spoke to said that it takes almost a week to reel the kids back in when they’ve been out, so essentially you lose two weeks for every week the student is off. It’s a disruption and takes away valuable teaching time. The only value that the balanced calendar has is that it allows families to take more vacations throughout the year – and if that is the argument, people should be ashamed of themselves. Education is more important than a vacation! I would love to hear a valid argument to support the balanced calendar.

FedUp

April 29th, 2011
2:09 pm

CobbParent,
Why did the former school board change the calendar? If you remember people were REALLY upset then too. Listen to the majority of constituents, yeah like the former board did in 2010?

missy

April 29th, 2011
2:10 pm

The survey was accessible to any person with a computer and therefore could not be considered a true representation of the people/parents of Cobb county.

madaboutmath

April 29th, 2011
2:12 pm

@ another comment– It was the school board that formulated and put out the “monkey survey.” You live by the “monkey survey,” you should die by the “monkey survey.” I’m quite sure there were just as many bogus votes in favor of the traditional calendar as there were for the balanced calendar. All I’m saying is it’s the board’s own fault that the survey was inaccurate; it was ill-conceived and rushed through without thought as to the consequences, but those of us who voted (only once) voted in confidence that our votes meant something.

FedUp

April 29th, 2011
2:12 pm

Get rid of the teacher workdays, the early releases, etc and you wouldn’t need to start school back until the END of August.
BTW, the breaks during the winter and spring were filled, at least in my house where I have an 11th and 7th grade student with what? HOMEWORK and PROJECTS! Why, because of the snow in January.
What kind of break is that?

AJinCobb

April 29th, 2011
2:13 pm

As a Cobb parent who preferred the “balanced” calendar I appreciate Mr. Sanderson’s honesty. I also strongly agree with “Just Wondering…”’s comments about the election of the new board members. They may have campaigned on the traditional calendar, but there were apparently no viable alternative candidates. This makes it doubtful that their election shows that the voters indicated a strong preference for the traditional calendar. Furthermore, those of us who reside in other posts had no opportunity for input.

Ali

April 29th, 2011
2:14 pm

Having students start school in the middle of summer is costing Cobb taxpayers money – is that not enough of an argument to change the calendar back?? I would love to know what the costs were to run the air conditioning for Cobb county schools from Aug 1 – Aug 15. I think those in favor of the balanced budget may re-think their position on the matter!

FedUp

April 29th, 2011
2:18 pm

madaboutmath

April 29th, 2011
2:18 pm

Oh, and while the superintendent may work for the school board, more importantly, he works for the constituents of Cobb County; therefore, he owes it to us to be honest. While I think loyalty to the school board is a worthy goal, the higher responsibility is the one he has to me as a parent in Cobb County. I believe Sanderson was acting on this higher responsibility when he was honest in the letter to SACS.

FedUp

April 29th, 2011
2:20 pm

Exerpts from the above link in the AJC in November 2009.

Under the balanced calendar, school will start the first week of August and end right before Memorial Day. In exchange for the shortened summer break, school will be out for a week in September and in February, which working parents maintain will be hard to accommodate.

The board vote angered parents, many of whom felt betrayed by board members who campaigned on a later starting date for school and then changed their minds once presented with the arguments for a shorter summer and two mid-year breaks.

One outraged parent said she is considering private schools in Fulton County or homeschooling her kids. Others, she said, are doing the same to avoid the change.

A poster to my earlier entry on this issue served on the committee in my town to study school calendars . I think her comment is worth noting here:

You can have a balanced calendar for whatever reason you want, but improved achievement is not going to be a result of a different calendar. I was on a calendar committee and we did a lot of research on whether these calendars improve achievement. We looked at Henry County data which showed no improvement since their new calendar was enacted (they have had a balanced calendar for five years or so). We also looked at (nonbiased) university studies, which overwhelmingly showed fleeting or insignificant differences. Here is one study to look at … the most complete and unbiased one we could find….

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070811151449.htm

Our district is going to a balanced calendar next year primarily to use it as a recruiting tool and to give teachers and students a rest. Apparently teachers like it. We did a poll and most of our parents were against it (especially at the high school and middle school level) while most teachers/staff were for it. The admins were strongly for it.

FedUp

April 29th, 2011
2:23 pm

Maybe we can remind Fred of the 2009 vote.

Just Wondering...

April 29th, 2011
2:26 pm

@Fed-up – FYI, early release days COUNT towards the 180 total. That wouldn’t change anything. There is only ONE teacher workday (election day) in the fall semester, so that doesn’t help either. The main reason we start that early is to have the first semester over by winter break.

@Ali – the buildings are open and on most of the summer – granted it’s not the same as when it’s filled with students, but the air is on, nontheless. Classes are in session (adult and summer school) and maintenance is being done. The savings are not as much as one might think.

madaboutmath

April 29th, 2011
2:30 pm

Actually, Ali, the balanced calendar was saving us money. They have to run the air-conditioning all year (at least to some extent) in GA. It’s hot and humid here, and the buildings would get moldy otherwise. Also, there was a marked decrease in the number of substitutes needed in Cobb County, which could very well be because teachers were more rested from the breaks. As a substitute, I noticed a huge increase in the number of substitute jobs (to the point that schools often cannot get enough subs to go around) that were available as soon as the board changed back to the traditional calendar. My guess is that teachers were trying hard to reduce their absences while on the balanced calendar, but became discouraged and gave that up when the board turned their backs on teachers and parents alike.

Curious One

April 29th, 2011
2:34 pm

Just more evidence of “how” a few dim – wits as past and present board members and an ex coach as superintendent can mess up the reputation of a school district – in the press anyway – by having zero leadership, intellectual nor even management experience. Thank goodness all of the dumbness is located and captured on Glover Street ( Distict HQ) and not in the 100 plus schools where educators continue to serve the education community in an excellent manner.

FedUp

April 29th, 2011
2:36 pm

Just read about the 2009 vote above in the link. Nuff Said.
Actually January 9th is a teacher work day too. I guess they need time to get over the Winter Break.

FedUp

April 29th, 2011
2:37 pm

Maybe the teachers should start fighting the No Child Left Behind, teach to the CRCT debacle instead of worrying about the school calendar.

Lum

April 29th, 2011
2:39 pm

I have known Fred Sanderson for more than thirty years, and I assure you he knows more about running and administering schools than any group of elected Board members. The people get what they vote for, and in Cobb County they got crap.

Dr. John Trotter

April 29th, 2011
2:40 pm

Did Mark ask for the information because Fred suggested that he ask for for? Just wondering…

Dr. John Trotter

April 29th, 2011
2:43 pm

Now, Lum, you are just being more honest. The unelected folk know more than the elected folk do. Hmm. I have noticed that SACS and superintendents tend to hold elected officials in contempt. Thanks, Lum, for being so honest about your views on democracy.

missy

April 29th, 2011
2:45 pm

Besides being able to take additional vacations, what benefits are derived from the balanced calendar? I’m sorry, but I have/had a huge issue with the school asking us to send our children to school with water to hydrate them while they sat on non-air conditioned buses on the way to/from school! Insane!

Just Wondering...

April 29th, 2011
2:53 pm

@Fed Up – the teacher workday in January is to put in grades from the second semester which ends the day before winter break. High school has to grade finals and get those grades in so report cards can be mailed. It’s not a “break for the break.” It truly is a WORK day (of which there are THREE total throughout the year). sorry to bust your bubble on this one, but it’’s not going to help your cause even a full week.

catlady

April 29th, 2011
2:57 pm

That rag has been scalded!

What?

April 29th, 2011
3:11 pm

The problem is not that the calendar was changed. The problem is how they went about it.

TeresaB

April 29th, 2011
3:13 pm

The truth is the truth; poor school board can’t handle the truth. Missy, please tell me the temperature difference between August 1at and August 15th. Can’t tell me, I know, on average one degree. This past August no child fell out from the heat by going back two weeks earlier. The calendar may have started this, but this board has a lot of distrust in the community that they have developed, not just by teachers. They also ran on building a sense of community and trust with all stakeholders, that’s not working out so well now is it? By the way, before it starts, I am a parent, not influenced by a political agenda and I am a free thinking intelligent individual. Try it some time, parrots.

Cobb County Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:16 pm

Sanderson is an idiot, as are board members Banks and Crowder-Eagle. Can’t wait to see them all leave the county.

Cobb County Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:16 pm

“The problem is not that the calendar was changed. The problem is how they went about it.”

Yeah…they campaigned on the issue, then kept their promise.

Sounds like sour grapes to me…

Cobb County Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:18 pm

” I am a free thinking intelligent individual.”

Then you should celebrate the free deomcratic election of the school board members, and the fact that they kept their campaign promises.

Cobb County Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:18 pm

“I have known Fred Sanderson for more than thirty years”

We’re sorry.

GetALife

April 29th, 2011
3:19 pm

Just wondering, read the 2009 post I linked you to.

From a person who’s Mom taught in public schools for over 30 years, let me say Teacher Work days are bogus. The Pinnacle System where grades are entered by computer and should be graded prior to break beginning, not afterward, is not like the days of manullly, by pen and paper, sending in transcripts for grades for students.
While teachers are giving homework and projects during the winter and spring breaks, let them work over break too.
The calendar is the calendar. Get over it. We had to in 2009 as well. REMEMBER!

Concern Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:19 pm

At least two newly elected CCSD board members were lead and supported by Georiga Needs Summer, all they cared about was that group, not teacher or parents. They are the ones with true ethics violations, they are the one PARENTS ( no we are not lead by anyone!) distrust, I wonder if Maureen will ever publish anything against her beloved Georgia Needs Summer Group ( they should be called lobbyist)

GetALife

April 29th, 2011
3:20 pm

Please

April 29th, 2011
3:21 pm

What is the problem? Teacher Unions!

CobbParent

April 29th, 2011
3:23 pm

BooHoo. Fred is mad! BooHoo!

Concerned Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:27 pm

For those who have a problem with what the Superintendent said to SACS, I guess the truth hurts.

Thank you Mr. Sanderson for your honesty. I hope SACS takes you seriously and looks further into what this Board has been up to. I have a feeling it’s not gonna be pretty.

TeresaB

April 29th, 2011
3:31 pm

Hey Please,
They don’t have a union here, thanks for trying though.

West Cobb Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:34 pm

@madaboutmath in regards to your comments about substitute requests increasing with the traditional calendar: I’m sorry, but under the traditional calendar teachers receive 4 weeks away from their students during the school year (Thanksgiving break, winter break, and spring break) and then 2 months during the summer (~8 weeks). That’s 12 weeks away from their students each year. Last I checked, that’s 10 weeks more than your average salaried worker in the private sector to attend to your private matters. Not to mention the lessened likelihood of having a sick day requiring a substitute teacher with that much time away. I’m not buying the necessity of increased substitutes based on that. Either that, or the teachers need to be drastically more efficient in dealing with their private matters.

Cobb County Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:36 pm

“Concerned Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:27 pm
For those who have a problem with what the Superintendent said to SACS, I guess the truth hurts.

Thank you Mr. Sanderson for your honesty. I hope SACS takes you seriously and looks further into what this Board has been up to. I have a feeling it’s not gonna be pretty.”

Cobb County schools are going in the crapper, and if your views reflct those of typical parents, I guess you are getting what you deserve.

Just Wondering...

April 29th, 2011
3:44 pm

@ GetALife – was that “are you ignoring it?” comment directed at me? Sorry, I have a life, and it doesn’t involve hanging around a computer waiting to read a post that I read the first time around (and commented on, to boot).

How are grades supposed to be entered before breaks begins when the test is GIVEN on the last day? Teachers DO take them home and grade them over break. Pinnalce does a lot but it doesn’t grade the tests for you. It also doesn’t print and distribute alone.

I don’t give projects over breaks. Never have, never will. My children, who all came up through Cobb schools rarely, if ever, did either. We all have our empirical evidence to “prove” our point, my friend.

Maybe your mom needed to tell you that two out of the three “work” days aren’t “work at school” days, but are instead “professional learning days” where the PTB at the county offices plan meetings/conferences/staff development. Teachers typically are not fond of those days, and would rather be in their classrooms, kids or no kids.

I could’ve told you in 2009 that “the calendar is the calendar.” I actually didn’t want the balanced calendar, but I did want a February beak. As someone who grew up in the north, with a “traditional” Labor Day start, we HAD a February break. It IS traditional, to me. I am over it, but I still want to have school board positions be non-partisan and an at-large board member, becasue I don’t feel like the entire county isrepresented well with current system It’s not just the calendar. It;s a lot of other things, including internal policies that you have NO clue about.

East Cobb Parent

April 29th, 2011
3:44 pm

Concerned Parent, you should listen to Dr. Trotter, he knows what he is talking about. Sanderson is enjoying the mess he stirred in the background. Reminds me of the little kid that always starts the rumors that entices two others to squabble/fight. If Sanderson truly cared about the children of Cobb county he would have stated the calendar vote was legal and moved on – you know be the bigger person. Teacher absenteeism is now somewhat tied to performance so hard to say that the balanced calendar lead to the reduction. My phone has rung almost daily to sub, even though I took myself out of the system. Calendar issue aside, I disagree with the way Sanderson handled this.

SunshineD

April 29th, 2011
3:49 pm

Just FYI… all of you who keep saying that the air conditioning is costing the county money, you should know that the “Traditional Calendar” costs $62,333 more in utilities just by being open those extra two weeks in August instead of September and February.

You should FURTHER know that the balanced calendar resulted in a reduction of 8740.5 teacher sick days in just the first semester (over 2009/2010 school year). That translates to $651,342.06 in JUST substitute teacher salaries.

CobbDad

April 29th, 2011
3:53 pm

It’s about time someone let the public in on how dysfunctional our new board has become thanks to the 3 newly elected members. I can understand their need to work to keep campaign promises, but they also promised accountability and transparency, of which there has been none. They are working on their own agenda, and have shown complete disdain for process, procedure and their constituents.

It matters not which calendar you may favor, that’s no longer the issue. It’s now about ethical behavior, accountability and trust.

The new board (the 3 new members and their disrespectful chair) is going to end up jeopardizing the next SPLOST vote. Thanks a ton.