Cherokee County School Board Shares Priorities with Legislative Delegation

Cherokee County School Board Shares Priorities with Legislative Delegation

The Cherokee County School Board on Friday, Nov. 17, continued its tradition of sharing its legislative partnership priorities with the local Legislative Delegation over breakfast.

During the breakfast, School Board Chair Kyla Cromer shared an overview of the 2018 Legislative Partnership Priorities unanimously approved by the Board at its meeting on Thursday night.

Ms. Cromer and Board Members John Harmon, Patsy Jordan, Clark Menard and Kelly Poole expressed their opinions and answered questions asked by State Representatives Mandi Ballinger, Michael Caldwell, Wes Cantrell and Scot Turner.

The Priorities include three main areas of concern: Funding, Local Control & Governance, and Educational Opportunities.

“It really comes down to these three big topics,” Ms. Cromer said. “Over the years, we’ve stayed focused on them.”

In regard to Funding, the Board is asking the Delegation to push for full restoration of $4 Million in State education funding that CCSD has earned under the State’s formula, but is being withheld in the name of “austerity budget cuts.”

These cuts, which were implemented as a tool to help the State’s budget recover from the Recession, should cease, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said, given that the State’s “rainy day” reserves fund has ballooned to $2 Billion (with another $500 Million likely to be added in 2018), while school districts statewide struggle.

“We still have a lot of school systems statewide feeling pain,” Dr. Hightower said, noting that in CCSD it means class sizes remain higher than pre-Recession levels and less opportunity for innovation. “All we’re asking for are for the ‘austerity’ cuts to be restored.”

The statewide “austerity budget cuts” total $167 Million… so they could be restored with hundreds of millions still available for further growing the State’s piggy bank.

This, Dr. Hightower said, would lessen the additional pain school districts are feeling due to the continuous shift of costs from the State to local systems both for the State Health Benefit Plan (which, for tens of thousands of classified employees, now is entirely paid for by local systems and employees with no State contribution) and the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.

Also, under Funding, the School Board is asking the Delegation to refrain from funneling taxpayer dollars to private schools through any means.

Under Local Control & Governance, the School Board continues its request for the Delegation to support local control in regard to public school systems, with a specific mention of school calendars.

Business interests are lobbying to require all schools statewide revert to the old, agrarian calendar that starts school after Labor Day, removes popular “balanced calendar” breaks and reduces holiday breaks. These lobbyists argue tourist attractions need the calendar changed so attractions can pull in more local dollars from families, and so businesses have more opportunities to take advantage of low-cost student labor.

This potential State mandate would overturn CCSD’s balanced calendar model that began 15 years ago with strong and continued support from parents and employees and the locally elected School Board.

“We don’t accept one-size-fits-all education for our children, and a statewide calendar that silences local community input is just as damaging a State mandate,” Dr. Hightower said. “Our calendar not only works for our community, but it’s also so successful that surrounding communities have adopted it as well. We need to put our children’s best interests first.”

Under Educational Opportunities, the School Board asks the Delegation to support a return to the dual-track for high school students, so they can either choose a college prep track or a career readiness track. Without the latter option, students are unable to take as many Career Pathway classes as they’d like and earn industry certification, as they must instead take sometimes unnecessary college preparatory classes.

“We want our kids to graduate,” School Board Member Clark Menard said, referring to a dual-track’s positive impact on graduation rates. “There will be kids who find it more desirable to stay in high school and get trained to go to work. It’s a real push that can help a lot of kids.”