Cherokee school chief: Lawmakers are no friends of county’s highly rated school system

Dr. Frank R. Petruzielo (Cherokee schools)

Dr. Frank R. Petruzielo (Cherokee schools)

The gloves are off in the Legislature where lawmakers are going after a school district and board they perceive as hostile to charter schools.

What’s surprising to me is that they are going after Cherokee, a system that is among the state’s high performers and where the majority of parents would probably express confidence in the schools. That does not mean all parents are happy, but Cherokee has an enviable record of achievement.

House Bill 978 would realign the Cherokee county school board and effectively remove the elected school board chair and vice chair, according to the Cherokee Tribune. Now, the school board has seven members elected county-wide and members elect their own chair and vice chair.

An angry Cherokee Superintendent Frank R. Petruzielo is firing back at lawmakers, and he is not mincing his words about what he deems their lack of support for the schools and their efforts to undermine them:

Cherokee County Legislative Delegation members, who frequently extol “local control” as a value of their political ideology, have introduced legislation (HB 978) that will significantly limit voters’ ability to elect members of the Cherokee County School Board, despite input collected by the Cherokee County School District from thousands of citizens through a survey open to the entire community and a series of public meetings indicating that the vast majority prefer the current methodology of electing all seven School Board members countywide.

This ill-advised legislation makes it clear that our State lawmakers believe they know better than Cherokee’s registered voters and the School Board what is best for this community’s public schools… despite the fact that none of these legislators have children enrolled in our schools. Parents of the 38,600 students whose children are educated within the CCSD should question why State lawmakers want to reduce the number of School Board members for whom they can vote… from seven representatives down to two!

We have heard vague reasoning that this change would make things “easier.” Easier for whom? The current methodology is absolute — every citizen can vote for every School Board member; it does not matter where a line has been drawn by the Delegation. Maybe it would make it “easier” to run for office in a small segment of the county; but that should be the last consideration.

The fact is: the Delegation knows it is difficult to unseat School Board members who are proven champions for public education through a legitimate political challenge at the ballot box; so they have chosen to usurp the power of the people and simply draw School Board members who refuse to bend to their will out of their posts.

Long gone are the days when the Delegation supported and advocated for our award-winning, high-performing schools and School District. They have stood idly by while the State has cut $118 Million of our State-earned funding over the last seven years; while teachers have been furloughed and class sizes have had to grow larger every year; and while funding for textbooks, school nurses and transportation are whittled away. Instead of supporting and helping their community’s public schools, they have actively pursued and advocated for vouchers, private school “scholarships,” for-profit charter schools and various other efforts that continue to shift funding and local control away from one of the highest-performing public school districts in the State and Nation!

Regarding the new post boundaries created by the Delegation as part of HB 978, we have serious concerns about the impact on the community and the future equity of education in CCSD. Residents “below the Sixes line” will have the ability to control the election of five of the seven seats on the School Board – returning the county to the dysfunctional North vs. South political system of its past. Additionally, two of this area’s mega neighborhoods – Towne Lake and BridgeMill – each are split between two posts, giving them the opportunity to each decide two post elections, as well as make a major impact on the chairman election. Additionally, the four southern posts and two northern posts reflect major disparity as it relates to racial and socio-economic diversity; and all of the posts are significantly varied as far as population – one post has 686 more people than the targeted one-sixth of the county’s population.

It’s clear from reviewing the new post boundaries that deliberate gerrymandering efforts were made in order to draw two incumbents up for re-election this year – Chairman Mike Chapman and Vice Chairwoman Janet Read – into posts with incumbents not up for re-election, thus precluding Chapman and Read from running for post seats on the School Board. Their residences are on the edges of boundaries, and those posts’ boundaries were drawn without respect to standard principles of reapportionment… including setting equal populations, keeping precincts and communities intact, using geographical boundaries and making efforts “to avoid the unnecessary pairing of incumbents.”

In drafting HB 978, the Delegation disregarded input from the true community survey conducted by CCSD and the map drafted by CCSD and approved by the School Board. Instead, the Delegation funded a political organization, Grassroots Conservatives of Cherokee County – already known to oppose the current governance model and impacted incumbents — to conduct an unverifiable “poll,” the results of which the Delegation touts in its press release as evidence of community support. When a majority of those in attendance at a town hall meeting called by the Delegation didn’t voice support for change, the Delegation appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee in an effort to create more “evidence” in its favor, and when the Committee didn’t vote the way it wanted… a new vote with a different result was required! All of this is a slap in the face to the School Board and community after members of the Delegation told local media they would not make any changes to the governance model unless the School Board requested it.

The future quality of education in Cherokee County is endangered by the Delegation’s actions; and it is my sincere hope that its members will rethink this politically motivated, ill-advised legislation for the sake of our community’s children.

This is my personal opinion; it is not necessarily the opinion of the Cherokee County School Board.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled board

134 comments Add your comment

Mel

February 17th, 2012
3:39 pm

My kids are in school in Cherokee and we have been pleased. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. However, while I’ve supported Chip Rogers in the past, he’s walking a dangerous line right now. I simply don’t think mandating at the state level helps with local control. Petruzielo doesn’t play the game and that is what gets at the Cherokee delegation. They don’t feel powerful enough. Dr. P has overstayed his welcome as far as I’m concerned, but I’d rather have someone in that position that is willing to back up what he believes than to just “go along to get along.”

Maureen Downey

February 17th, 2012
3:41 pm

@Mel, Is that the intent to drive off Dr. P? He would be in demand in many places as he has a strong reputation. Given all the new school chiefs who have not worked out, I am not sure how Cherokee would fare if he decided to leave.
Maureen

horse

February 17th, 2012
3:47 pm

Rogers’ spent more than $30K with a company in south Florida called Champion Communications, according to his campaign disclosures, who appear to have provided the phone services for the unverifiable surveys that are noted. Champion got its start in servicing porn and gambling lines a few decades ago. I suspect that Rogers knows them well.

Parent Teacher

February 17th, 2012
3:50 pm

Just another example of the legislature attempting to undermine local control and public education. Will the maddness ever end? The benchmark that should be answered when making any educational decision is, “Will this positively impact the student’s education.” The legislature continues to play politics rather than keep the student at the heart of the issue.

Atlanta Mom

February 17th, 2012
3:51 pm

What is the state legislature doing in local business? Let Cherokee County govern Cherokee County If these folks were my representatives, I’d be looking to vote them out of office.

horse

February 17th, 2012
3:52 pm

@Maureen, with respect to Mel, my take is that the intent is to drive off anyone opposed to privatization – especially corporate charter schools – in Cherokee. Rogers is ideologically aligned with the Koch-sponsored group ALEC, who are pushing the mantra of school “choice,” much as ALEC pushed “three strikes” and other laws to get prisons privatized.

Butterball

February 17th, 2012
3:53 pm

Get it on!!!!!!!!

Parent Teacher

February 17th, 2012
3:53 pm

Rogers has recently introduced legislation that would expand the power of companies like At&t, Comcast, Charter as well as other internet service providers. This bill would then reduce the authority of local governments and communities to control their own private network and instead require the local community to pay one of these organizations to service the already existing network. I think it is HB 313

Mike

February 17th, 2012
3:53 pm

This is easily an attempt by the local delegation to get rid of Dr. P. However, like you said, he has a strong reputation because he turned around this Cherokee district from the dysfunctional mess it was 10 years ago. This is a sad moment for Cherokee and local control. However, it will just inspire some spirited primary contests come July. Grassroots organizations are forming to oust all four legislators, including the powerful Chip Rogers.

Crazy!

February 17th, 2012
3:58 pm

I have three kids in the Cherokee County school district, the last two graduating this year. I have seen 15 years worth of change and Dr. P. is the BEST thing that ever happened to Cherokee County. The improvement to the school system I have personally seen is amazing! After reading this, I am glad I will be out of the circus about to be created by politicians. I grew up in the Cobb County system which used to be good and now Cherokee surpasses it. Why don’t the county voters have the sense to vote these idiots OUT OF OFFICE!!!

Fred ™

February 17th, 2012
4:00 pm

Here we go again with the Republicans bound and determined to force tax payers to pay for “their” little private schools. ‘They” the important ones need separation form “them” you know, “those people.”

Cherokee Counselor

February 17th, 2012
4:01 pm

This is just another example of Chip Rogers deciding that he knows better than every educator, parent, and community member how public schools should be run and governed in Cherokee County. I am greatly confused and disturbed that someone with four children (who have never attended public school in Cherokee County or otherwise) could have this much arrogance and utter disregard for facts. Our entire Republican delegation should be ashamed of themselves–I thought that one of the major tenents of the Republican party was small government and local control of local issues.

Mel

February 17th, 2012
4:11 pm

@Maureen – the above posters sum up what I think as well. Dr. P definitely turned Cherokee around. My issue is that I feel things have become stagnant. That being said, there is opportunity for individualized education with the new county charter schools being set up. And you’re right about the dangers of bringing in a new super – at this point I’d rather have the devil I know than one I don’t!

Csoby

February 17th, 2012
4:17 pm

If it is not the Fed’s, it is the State that is mingling with local control. Schools should be local with Parents responsible and involved…that is the only way for the system to improve. and if you are a parent and not involved and think the schools are a babysitting service, then you child will follow your footsteps into a sorry life!!!

Beverly Fraud

February 17th, 2012
4:20 pm

While the charter bill CAN be seen as an attempt to give parents an option when local boards are NOT responsive, this bill SMELLS like nothing less than a political power play.

What’s next, getting SACS to come in and say Cherokee is “fatally flawed”?

ConcernedCherokee

February 17th, 2012
4:24 pm

Why even bother to have a School District under their proposed change? Each post will be out for its own rather than the good of the entire County and its students. Maybe we should have each post become its own district? Crazy idea, but it wouldn’t surprise me if our politicians decided to do that.

The legislators had made up their minds months ago. All these meetings, committees, etc were just an attempt to fool the voters to thinking they cared about public opinion. I heard Chip even brought Rep Hamilton to the Blue Ribbon meeting to say how he had changed the voting structure in Forsyth two years ago. Wonder how Chip wanted the vote to go….hmmmmm. Meanwhile already Forsyth County has a difference in the haves and have nots based on this new post only voting system. The more rural/poorer schools are not performing very well and the richer schools like the ones near Polo Fields (where Hamilton is said to live) are doing great. I know there were citizens from the northern part of the county on that Blue Ribbon Committee. Wonder how they feel now with the way the new lines were drawn putting most of the seats in the south part of the county. They sure got taken for a ride.

I live in the Bridgemill area so this change really does not harm me personally since most of the new seats are in my part of the county. Even though I am on the winning side, this is the losing side for Cherokee.

-Concerned and Long time Cherokee Mom

cherokee parent

February 17th, 2012
4:28 pm

@Beverly — SACS actually just visited Cherokee for a SACS CASI review to extend accreditation for another five years. Result? Glowing approval including commendations for the current school board governance system!

SusanL

February 17th, 2012
4:28 pm

The arrogance exhibited by our local legislative delegation defies description. I do not think that they have a clue how many parents, teachers and voters they have awakened by their blatant attempt to manipulate, control and usurp local control of education. It is obvious to everyone who really knows what is going on in Cherokee County that they do not have the best interests of the students at heart, but rather are concerned about their own power. It will be their political downfall.

concerned parent

February 17th, 2012
4:34 pm

Dr. P is the most bombastic educrat we have ever had in this district. The easiest way to rid ourselves of this horrible man is to truly empower the parents of the children and once again make the school superintindent elected by the voters instead of decided by the school board who allows the controlling Dr. p. to lead them around by by their noses.

Hammond B2

February 17th, 2012
4:35 pm

Chipper has become what we all hate a Govt life time employee looks out for himself and those that give him the cash not getting my vote again

CCA Supporter

February 17th, 2012
4:35 pm

All you supporters of Dr. P – have you Googled him? They forced him out in FL after he overstayed his welcome there. He improved our district to a point – but it’s time for change. His methods are dated, and he rules thru fear, not respect. The two members, Chapman and Reed, are two of his biggest supporters. He is still budgeting Cherokee County as if it’s still in growth mode – when in fact, our growth has slowed or stopped – and will continue this trend for the foreseeable future.

JM

February 17th, 2012
4:37 pm

law makers tend to listen to their people. many people in Cherokee are asking for more school choices. the local board won’t give it to them so they are going to the state to try to get something done. sounds like local control does not always work for everyone.

catlady

February 17th, 2012
4:38 pm

How disgusting will these “leaders” go? Cherokee. turn them out NOW! Time for Chip et al to get a REAL job! You know, one that doesn’t fleece the taxpayers.

Cherokee granny

February 17th, 2012
4:41 pm

If it was possible for any of our representatives to feel shame, then they would be unable to sleep at night. I have lived here for over 35 years. We had a good school system until the school board members decided to inject themselves into the daily operation of the school system. We got slapped with SACS probation and the citizens cleaned house. We are now faced with the same situation. Yes they want to get rid of Dr. P., he is the only educator that will stand up for public education, teachers, students and parents. None of our representatives would dare to stand up to Chipper and his minions, perhaps they are afraid of being banished to one of Chip’s slums

cherokee parent

February 17th, 2012
4:47 pm

Concerned Parent, CCA Supporter, JM… thanks for backing up the Superintendent’s case! The legislators aren’t after improving schools for our kids — for them it’s all about putting in a superintendent and school board they can control!

Cherokee granny

February 17th, 2012
4:50 pm

I would love to support a charter school that was actually innovative and inclusive, don’t blame the school board for a less than compelling charter application. Yes the funding and finances need to be transparent. Yes there needs to be something offered that in not now available for our children. Such IB, STEM, Performing Arts, the list is endless and just what is so unique with the new “state” charter school. The fact that one of the ads actually touted the school as being a “private” publicly funded school.

td

February 17th, 2012
4:52 pm

If I understand the article right then currently in Cherokee county you elect 7 members and they all run countywide. The legislature is going to make 6 district reps and have one countywide position as chairman.

It sounds like to me that the old way is the unfair way because that could mean that all 7 members could be from the most populated area of the county with all of their children in the exact same schools. The schools from smaller, more rural areas of the county would have no representation. This would be like we are going to have our 180 state representatives elected statewide and all of them live in Metro area.

What the legislature is proposing sounds like it will give more local control on the local board then less.

Georgia Voter

February 17th, 2012
4:54 pm

Enter your comments here

td

February 17th, 2012
4:55 pm

ConcernedCherokee

February 17th, 2012
4:24 pm

Why even bother to have a School District under their proposed change? Each post will be out for its own rather than the good of the entire County and its students. Maybe we should have each post become its own district? Crazy idea, but it wouldn’t surprise me if our politicians decided to do that.

The fact that almost if not every other county in the state is set up in this matter means nothing?

concerned parent

February 17th, 2012
4:57 pm

Cherokee parent obviously prefers the control to remain with un-elected educrats within and outside of our state who only serve the needs of fellow educrats/teachers. our school system is the largest single employer in the county and the employees are fearful of change and…god forbid…ACCOUNTABILITY!

Mikey D

February 17th, 2012
4:59 pm

Unfortunately, things aren’t going to change until the voters start looking beyond the (R) or (D) behind a candidate’s name and become more willing to educate themselves about the candidate’s beliefs and positions. There are many districts in Georgia where Satan himself could get elected in a landslide, simply by saying, “Hey, I’m a Republican!” In fact, Chip Rogers is pretty darn close to Satan, so….

Georgia Voter

February 17th, 2012
5:02 pm

Yet another example of Chip and his minions putting corporate interests way above the interests of the voters. These people would totally privatize education if we let them. We need to vote Chip, Charlice, Sean and mean old Calvin out of office.

Home School Drop Out

February 17th, 2012
5:03 pm

Cherokee County is Republican Run in every Political office.
So how do we have any problems?

Mary Elizabeth

February 17th, 2012
5:03 pm

“Instead of supporting and helping their community’s public schools, they (State’s lawmakers) have actively pursued and advocated for vouchers, private school “scholarships,” for-profit charter schools and various other efforts.”

============================================

And, these pursuits are remarkably aligned with a national Republican ideological agenda.

—————————————————————————-

GiveChipTheBoot

February 17th, 2012
5:04 pm

It’s time Cherokee had state representatives that want to represent the people of this county and not their own wallets. Each of these sorry excuses for a representative have enriched their own lives and stuffed their wallets. Sean Jerguson is one of the largest recipients of Obama’s stimulus money and I wish Chip Rogers would explain how he can afford two homes totaling $725,000 paid for in cash on his salary of $38K a year. He doesn’t list any other job or income on his financial disclosure.

td

February 17th, 2012
5:05 pm

What is all this about local control and the state taking local control away? I thought most of the people posting on these blogs were educators in this state. It is obvious from some of the post that the people charged with educating our children have not even learned what is in the state Constitution. It is the local delegation that has the authority to decide how local county elections are handled. All the Representatives are from Cherokee county and it is their local bill that is being introduced.

cherokee parent

February 17th, 2012
5:05 pm

@td — That’s not how it works. Currently, there are seven posts, and candidates have to live in the post where they run, but the election is countywide. All voters each gets seven votes. The proposal changes it to six posts where you run just in the post where you live and one chairman who lives anywhere in the county and runs countywide. All voters would get only two votes.
@concerned parent — Your comment, which appears directed at me, makes no sense. I prefer the current system where I get to vote for all seven board members instead of the proposal where I would get to vote for only two. More votes = more accountability.

Joe Rural

February 17th, 2012
5:06 pm

@ td — I think you misread or misunderstood the article. The current way, with 7 board members, has each member living in their own district. The representation is spread throughout the county and not all in one area of the county or in the same school. In this new method, each of the six members will only have to answer to the voters in their district. Only the chairperson, who can live anywhere in the county, will run county wide. Look at Dekalb, Cobb and Clayton. This is how their school board members are elected. Now do you think it is still such a good idea?

Watching

February 17th, 2012
5:09 pm

All of us here in Cherokee know that this is the Republican delegation exacting revenge on the members of the school board that voted against CCA. I am a life-long Republican and I am appalled by the heavy-handed tactics of this Cherokee delegation. It is time for the majority of us in Cherokee that support our public schools to make our voices heard and vote out these special-interest legislators. There is always room for improvement in any school or school district but I have not seen any of these legislators truly try to find ways to improve the existing school system-it’s all about the charters and the vouchers.

GiveChipTheBoot

February 17th, 2012
5:13 pm

TD before our useless state representatives turned into dictators we had 7 districts for our school board members and each member was required to live in their district. They all ran at-large giving every voter in the county the ability to vote for a candidate in each district. It was a great system because all members were accountable to every child, parent, school and citizen in the county. Our school board members worked together as a team for all schools in the county which is why we have one of the top school districts in the state. Counties that vote for only a post member and chairman end up with certain districts that have good schools and other area’s that don’t. People moving to Cherokee didn’t have to look for the good school district to purchase a house because they are all good.

td

February 17th, 2012
5:16 pm

Joe Rural

February 17th, 2012
5:06 pm

I lived in Cobb county (Smyrna) for 42 years and was never allowed to vote for a school board member or a county commissioner that lived in a different district. I now live in Paulding county and they elect board members the same way. I know Fulton does the same thing and I am not sure about Dekalb.

According to Cherokee Parent, you each get to vote for members in every district (7 votes). This is the same thing that Roy Barnes attempted to do by creating a mega US house district with multiple members in the 2000 census redistricting and a Federal judge declared it unconstitutional.

concerned parent

February 17th, 2012
5:17 pm

Regretfully, we don’t have the local control that we think. The district is bound to obey the national acreditation bureaucracy (sacs). Even a failure by an elected school board member to obey their rules can result in losing acreditation which means our children’s education won’t be recognized by similarly acredited colleges thus preventing their enrollment. usually just the threat is enough to gain control of the board as the parents will be made to tremble with fear that their children won’t receive a higher education.

Jerry Eads

February 17th, 2012
5:21 pm

You missed the most important point, Frank. You and your board care about the district’s kids. It sounds like your students’ welfare is the LAST thing on the minds of your delegation. Sorry, that’s an overstatement. Student welfare doesn’t appear to be even in their consciousness.

td

February 17th, 2012
5:21 pm

GiveChipTheBoot

February 17th, 2012
5:13 pm

Again, the way your system is currently arranged is the same thing Roy Barnes attempted to do with a US house district with multiple members and a Federal Judge ruled it as unconstitutional.

I am a die hard conservative and do not really like Chip Rogers but this method of multiple votes for multiple representatives is so wrong on so many levels and it surely dose not give “local control” over the local BOE.

Steve

February 17th, 2012
5:27 pm

What a joke. This superintendent makes $225,000 a year and he moans about budget cuts and furloughs? Take a cut in pay you fat educrat and then you can moan a little.

Mel

February 17th, 2012
5:28 pm

@Granny – the STEM, IB and performing arts charters are in the works. In fact, some will be available in the county at the elementary level this next fall.

ChipsterTheCrookster

February 17th, 2012
5:30 pm

Chip Rogers is pure evil. Here in Cherokee County he is referred to as Teflon because no matter what he does – nothing sticks. Could it be that he has finally crossed a line of no return with the people of our county? I certainly hope so.

GiveChipTheBoot

February 17th, 2012
5:42 pm

TD If you are happy with how your county conducted their local elections – bravo for you. Our system worked well – our test scores and award winning school district is proof of that. Maybe Cobb County and other counties with troubled schools should look at what worked in Cherokee and change their election process. If not I guess you will continue to have poor performing schools in some of your districts. Our system is a proven system that gives all children the best educational opportunities.

Teacher

February 17th, 2012
5:46 pm

People may not remember, but ccsd was on probation and in danger of losing accreditation before Dr. P got here. When Chip Rogers puts his kids in public school or actually teaches, then I may listen to what he has to say. Why are we still pushing charter schools, when just this week there was a report that charter schools are not living up to the hype? Someone needs to stop making this a Republican vs Democrats or Towne Lake/BridgeMill vs the rest of the county someone PLEASE make it about what is best for the children of Cherokee County.
Chip Rogers, Sean Jeurgson, Rob
Usher ….gentlemen, I’d starting updating your resumes.

Anne Kimberly

February 17th, 2012
5:47 pm

Another Cherokee parent chiming in to say that I’m very satisified with Cherokee County schools and very eager to vote out the lawmakers who seem to be motivated by self-interests instead of the interests of our children and their education. Our system has achieved great success under the current leadership and board structure – why do lawmakers see the need to interfere when the current system is not only working, it’s thriving.