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.”


Cherokee County School Board Sets Legislative Partnership Priorities

The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, approved its annual Legislative Partnership Priorities (read online here), which outline its position on major education-related issues likely to be considered by the Georgia General Assembly in the upcoming legislative session.

The majority of the priorities are largely unchanged from those set last year, with the addition of a request for the General Assembly to consider bringing back a career-track diploma with course requirements that better prepare students for technical college and/or directly entering the workforce.

The School Board’s requests for the Cherokee County legislative delegation to consider are:

  1. Partner with K-12 public school districts by requiring any changes to the State’s education funding formula to fully restore “austerity budget cuts” or provide for the equivalent in new state revenue… thereby empowering local School Boards to: address continued student population growth in Georgia; maintain a 180-day school calendar for students; reduce class sizes to State-funded maximums; and, replenish annual reserve fund balances. Locally-earned Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula funding was fully provided to local school districts by the Georgia General Assembly for 15 years with initial funding beginning in 1986-87 and continuing thereafter until 2002. Since 2002, $205.2M ($3.9M this year and $84M over the past five years) of statutorily-required QBE formula funding earned by CCSD has gone unfunded through austerity budget cuts… all during a time when CCSD student enrollment increased by more than 53% (14,527 students). 
  1. Partner with K-12 public school districts and their employees by addressing cost-prohibitive premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for participation in the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP)… thereby empowering local School Boards to provide competitive, affordable and responsible health and benefit packages to their employees. Develop a statewide strategy for State Health Benefit Plan cost containment … rather than continuing to pass annual premium increases along to local school districts and their employees. State-level policy planning and budgeting, and the appropriation of necessary funding in this regard, are critically needed to address immediate and future healthcare needs of educators, noncertified staff and educational system retirees. Between FY2008 and FY2017, State appropriations for non-certified health insurance premiums have been systemically reduced and are slated for total elimination. Non-certified employees most often represent local school district’s’ lowest wage-earners and have been the most negatively impacted by the State’s recent actions in this regard.  SHBP is currently projected to operate with an annual deficit of more than $55 Million in FY 2018, signifying probable continued premium increases under current policy and planning. Extraordinary employee health care costs (in the form of significantly higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for deductibles, annual maximums, reduced credits and co-insurance expenses) continue to erode the quality and competiveness of the overall compensation package developed by local school districts for its employees.  While CCSD had approximately 350 fewer non-certified employees participating in SHBP in FY2016 compared to FY2009, employer contributions increased over $7M (from $3.6 to $10.7M) during that same time period. CCSD has been forced to privatize custodial and grounds services and increase the use of part-time/ temporary workers for non-certified staffing as cost-reduction measures. The annual cost of providing health insurance for a non-certified employee has risen from $2,000 in 2010 to $9,000 in 2016 a $7,000, or 450% increase! And with an additional $100 per employee per month increase effective Jan 2017, the cost of providing health insurance for a non-certified employee will increase to $846.20 per month and more than $10,000 per year. CCSD benefit costs for non-certified employees are projected to be $11.7M for 2016-17; up from $10.7M in 2015-16; $8.2M in 2014-15 and $7.5M in 2013-14. Local school systems cannot continue to absorb these extraordinary costs. 
  1. Partner with K-12 public school districts by ensuring proposed legislative initiatives strengthen provisions for the local control and management of schools . . . thereby empowering local School Boards to fulfill their Constitutional authority and responsibility to involve their local constituency, develop locally derived educational policy and oversee continued performance improvements among their students. CCSD FACTS: CCSD and its highly-respected School Board has garnered multiple State and National awards relative to student achievement gains and innovative educational programs. Through a model of determining a visionary Mission Statement, a prioritized listing of Major System Priorities and collaborative, governance-based policies, the CCSD School Board has a transparent and proven ability to guide its schools in exemplary teaching and learning. 
  1. Partner with K-12 public school districts by developing statutory provisions to further insure workforce readiness skills and preparation by high school graduates for transitions directly into careers or secondary-level career educational opportunities by providing students in Georgia with an alternative diploma option in the area of Technical/Career Preparation. 
  1. Partner with K-12 public school districts by implementing statutory provisions designed to address continued erosion of the State’s tax base through exemptions from the sales and use tax, income tax and other State taxes. 
  1. Partner with K-12 public school districts by opposing the continuation and/or expansion of existing programs that directly or indirectly use public funds to pay private school tuition for students or provide tax incentives for their parents. 
  1. Partner with K-12 public school districts by insuring timely, state and local access to all federal funding allocations.

The School Board hopes to meet next month with Cherokee County’s legislative delegation to review the priorities.

“I want us to be proactive in this process,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said.

Prior to the Regular Meeting, the School Board held a public hearing for input on 2016-17 school year attendance zones; no one came forward to speak.  A formal boundary redrawing process was not needed this year, as the only attendance zone adjustments planned are for neighborhoods not yet under construction that will be assigned to Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy.

The School Board also:

  • Recognized Woodstock ES teacher Pam Morgan as the 2017 Georgia Art Educator of the Year;
  • Recognized five CCSD high school students for appointment to the Model Atlanta Regional Commission;
  • Recognized CCSD School Nutrition for winning the Georgia Golden Radish Award at the Gold level;
  • Approved the renewal of Partnership Agreements with the Atlanta Area Council Boy Scouts of America, Cherokee Day Training Center and Northside Hospital-Cherokee;
  • Presented the “trailer” for the CCSD-Cherokee Retired Educators Association annual oral history video project, “Learning from Legends: Retired Educators Share Their Wisdom,” in celebrated of Retired Educators Day on Sunday, Nov. 6;
  • Set Feb. 11, 2017 as the date for its next School Board Training session;
  • Approved monthly financial and Education SPLOST reports;
  • Approved out-of-state travel;
  • Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
  • Approved the monthly capital outlay projects report;
  • Approved special lease agreements;
  • Approved granting right of way to the Georgia Department of Transportation for an intersection improvement and signal/crosswalk upgrade at the main entrance of Cherokee High School on SR 140/Marietta Highway;
  • Approved monthly personnel recommendations including the appointment of Brad Orth as Supervisor of Staffing; he currently works as a solutions consultant for Kronos Incorporated and previously served as Chief Information Officer for the City of Salem, Va.; and,
  • Reviewed a timeline for the upcoming AdvancED (SACS-CASI) accreditation renewal external team visit to CCSD.

 

School Board Member Clark Menard was absent.

Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, December 1, 2016