The Cherokee legislative delegation continues to meddle with the school board, which strikes me as peculiar in a county noted for its public schools.
In a phrase, why mess with success?
Cherokee draws many of its new residents because of its schools. I first saw eight years ago at a lacrosse game between my son’s rec team and a Cherokee-based team. Almost all the Cherokee parents I met were Northern transplants, and they all told me the same thing: They moved to Cherokee for the public schools. (For those keeping score, the players from New York and New England brought great lacrosse skills South with them. Cherokee won.)
I don’t dispute that there are some unhappy Cherokee parents who want more charter school options or who send their children to private schools, including some influential lawmakers. But, by any objective measure, Cherokee schools are performing well.
In its campaign to revamp the school board, the Cherokee delegation won the help of the full House yesterday, which passed House Bill 1223.
Sponsored by Reps. Mark Hamilton, Charlice Byrd, Calvin Hill and Sean Jerguson, the bill is a second attempt by Cherokee lawmakers to reconfigure the school board to their liking; their first effort, a far more blatant power play, was rebuked by the national accreditation agency.
I am getting emails from concerned Cherokee parents wondering about the politics at play here and the implications for their schools. There will be a rally Friday afternoon by Cherokee parents in support of the schools from 4:30-5:30 outside Hickory Flat Elementary.
Cherokee Superintendent Frank R. Petruzielo and the school board leadership contend that this comes down to a petty vendetta for failing to approve a charter school application last year. The school district is hoping that the state Senate will not pass HB 1223, but I think senators will back their Cherokee colleagues.
Some Cherokee parents are appealing directly to Gov. Nathan Deal to veto HB 1223 once it has passed, but that is a long shot.
In the meantime, here is a district statement about the House campaign.
Despite being given a proposed map in August approved by a 5-2 super majority of the school board, the delegation instead chose to spend state taxpayer dollars to create not one, but two maps, both of which are poster children for gerrymandering and blatantly violate basic principles of reapportionment… including the avoidance of pairing incumbents in the same posts.
After the delegation withdrew its initial map upon learning how the House Bill 978 governance model would threaten the school district’s accreditation, we again asked the delegation to use the school board-approved map. The school board-approved map was drafted using input from parents, educators and other stakeholders gleaned through a series of public town hall meetings and an online poll open to the entire community.
The school board-approved map not only meets all state and federal laws and guidelines, but also the “General Principles for Drafting Plans” document presented by Rep. Sean Jerguson at a town hall meeting, which he said would be the basis for the new school board map.
The latter of which states maps should “avoid the unnecessary pairing of incumbents” in posts; but apparently, the delegation doesn’t feel the need to follow its own rules.
One of the most glaring examples of gerrymandering in the delegation’s new map includes ignorance of Lake Allatoona. The principles for reapportionment require posts to be connected by more than a single point of contiguous geography and, while Census blocks do lie under Allatoona’s waters, the Post 4 School Board member would be unable to travel from one side of his post to the other without use of a boat, as there is no land connecting the two sides.
Similarly preposterous is the split of Post 1 over Allatoona with only the Bells Ferry Road bridge connecting the two sides. Not only are communities and neighborhoods split by the delegation’s map, so are streets within neighborhoods; and school attendance zones appear to have had no bearing on the design.
It’s clear that this gerrymandering was the means to the delegation’s desired end, as the House Bill 1223 map, just as the Delegation’s first try, again pairs School Board Chairman Mike Chapman in the same post as School Board Member Robert Wofford and School Board Vice Chairwoman Janet Read in the same post as School Board Member Rick Steiner.
As Mr. Chapman and Ms. Read are up for re-election this year, but Mr. Wofford and Mr. Steiner are not, Mr. Chapman and Ms. Read will automatically lose their seats on the School Board come Jan. 1.
The fact these are the four school board members who voted last year to deny the flawed Cherokee Charter Academy petition is no coincidence. It has been reported that these school board members were threatened by members of the Delegation that they would be drawn out of their posts if they made such a vote, and that threat has now apparently come to pass.
This move by the delegation is widely perceived as a vendetta and reflects their disregard for the welfare of our school district by removing two of the school district’s most veteran school board members, who have been outspoken advocates for our educators and our children and who have stood up publicly to the delegation.
These actions will likely have a chilling effect on remaining and future school board members… if they don’t do the delegation’s bidding. It should be noted that in their last elections, Mr. Chapman was re-elected with 65 percent of the primary vote over one opponent; and Ms. Read was re-elected with 59 percent over two opponents; so the Delegation is also overruling the majority of community voters with this action.
It’s unclear whether the delegation has finally heeded the school board’s call to leave the governance model alone, as House Bill 1223 does not address how the seven School Board members will be elected. It is our hope that the successful longtime system of each voter electing all seven school board members who, as a result, are obligated to serve the entire community in order to win re-election, will be left untouched. The delegation in House Bill 978 dictated that school board members would be elected by voters in their post, which inevitably would lead to politics taking precedence over the equitable distribution of education resources throughout the School District.
Such a change would lead to polarization of our governance model through local legislation that not only comes unrequested by the School Board, but which the school board unanimously voted to oppose through approval of its 2012 Legislative Program. If the delegation continues its pursuit of this change, it would be violating its own delegation rules by pushing local legislation that was not requested by the local government entity it would affect.
This model’s “zip code” education threatens the very foundation on which we’ve created and sustained our SACS CASI-commended governance model over the past 13 years… when the current superintendent was hired to restore the School District’s accreditation. You don’t have to look far to find examples in Metropolitan Atlanta where school boards driven by politicians beholden to their own communities sacrifice the good of all children in the school system to benefit the few.
The delegation’s vendetta goes beyond four school board members.
They don’t appreciate that the School District’s student achievement outshines state and national averages and continues to rise despite the fact that our community’s overall affluence is waning in these economic times, with a third of our students now living in poverty and an increasing number of our students requiring more costly services due to special needs or due to speaking English as a second language.
They don’t appreciate our philosophy that it takes “unequal resources to meet unequal needs,” meaning we need to spend more time, effort and resources on the poor, the academically and physically challenged and the children of parents who don’t speak English.
They don’t appreciate that we expose how state government is continuing to cut millions of dollars from the school district budget while at the same time finding millions to fund charter schools run by for-profit management companies without necessary accountability, liability and oversight and which create a duplication of services through payments of taxpayer dollars to separate school system “central offices.”
They don’t appreciate that our administration costs per student have been kept lower than any other school system in Metropolitan Atlanta.
They don’t appreciate that a majority of the school board for the past 13 years has generally supported the Superintendent’s recommendations, and that we have not only restored the school district’s accreditation, but also upped it to the highest level of accreditation granted and saw that accreditation renewed in January with glowing reviews from the granting organization.
They don’t appreciate that we stand up for our educators and for our public school children.
The school district’s refusal to stand down makes it harder for them to make their anti-“government schools” arguments, demean our educators and shift more control and taxpayer dollars to corporate friends who want to run schools for profit.
We can only hope at this point that the Governor stands up for our educators and children and shows them that his support of education extends beyond charter schools.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog