Still, the agenda item for the issue emphatically stated: “Funds have been raised in the community to offset these expenses so there will be no additional costs to the District,” prompting the question of whether Hinojosa misled his board or at least overstated the financing facts.
Teach For America is a nonprofit group whose mission is to recruit and train non-teachers to take hard-to-fill teaching jobs in urban schools. Cobb’s superintendent had been coordinating with the group to place 50 such teachers in the Pebblebrook and South Cobb high school feeder patterns, and perhaps some in the Osborne pattern. The teachers would be hired and paid by the district, but the district would also have to pay a total of $8,000 per teacher for two summer boot-camp training sessions.
The Open Records documents also show that the district and TFA had jointly applied for a Race to the Top grant from the state worth $350,000 per year for three years, though they did not win the money. This is the second time in recent months the district has applied for Race to the Top money with a private partner, even though the board itself never discussed, let alone voted on, whether to seek some of the federal money for its own use.
The emails show that Hinojosa had worked behind the scenes for about five months to contract to bring 50 TFA teachers to Cobb. His signature also appears on an August 2011 contract between Cobb and Teach For America, which was for “up to 20 teachers.” Cobb currently has two TFA teachers at Lindley Middle School and one at Osborne High School.
In a Dec. 13 email exchange between Hinojosa and Shyam Kumar, executive director of Teach For America Metro Atlanta, Kumar writes: “I met with Shan Cooper, Barry Teague and Sam Olens this morning and all are ready to help financially back and raise money for our partnership. Similar to the conversation with Ann Cramer, David Connel [sic] and Mitch/Jim Rhoden, they would like to get an assurance from you that the school board will support TFA’s expansion into Cobb if they raise the funding. Can we get such an assurance by the end of this month?”
To which Hinojosa responded, “It looks like we have support (not unanimous). We are also working on a communication strategy.”
He later wrote to Kumar that the issue was scheduled for the January board meetings.
Cooper is the general manager of Lockheed Martin Marietta, and Teague is an executive with developer Walton Communities and serves on the board of the Cumberland Community Improvement District. Olens is the state’s Attorney General and was previously chairman of the county commission, and Connell is the executive director of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. Jim Rhoden is president of Futren Corp., and Cramer does philanthropy work with IBM.
Hinojosa does not believe he misled the board.
“I do not know if the money was on hand, but I had verbal assurances that the money would be there,” he told the Journal this week. “I would not have proposed it if I thought it would cost the district any money.”
On Jan. 20, Kumar wrote to the fundraisers named above: “With the support of Superintendent Hinojosa and David Morgan, our partnership should be approved by the school board by a 4-3 vote next week with the provision that our partnership be cost-neutral to the district.”
David Morgan, the board’s vice chairman, is a paid lobbyist for the school-choice group that supported TFA. Board members Alison Bartlett, Lynnda Eagle and Kathleen Angelucci are all believed to have been against the idea, and David Banks was apparently the swing vote against it.
On Jan. 26, board chairman Scott Sweeney announced at the start of the 7 p.m. meeting that the item was being pulled from the agenda, but gave no explanation.
Sweeney told the Journal that Hinojosa telephoned him earlier during the day last Thursday “and suggested that he did not have support and he wanted to pull it off the agenda.”
Sweeney also insisted that the board had not discussed the issue during executive session or outside of any board meeting.
“Everybody learned (about it coming off the agenda) when I announced it at the meeting,” Sweeney said. He is believed to have been in favor of the program, though he refused to divulge his position on it.
Hinojosa says Teach For America will not come back up this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“I will try again in the future depending on the success of our outreach efforts to garner the support we need,” Hinojosa said. “We can do a better job of communicating with the staff and board of the benefits. I am a big fan of TFA as they have helped address achievement gaps in my previous assignment.”
Hinojosa previously led the Dallas, Texas, school district, which used Teach For America personnel.
Banks confirmed Tuesday that although he initially liked the TFA idea, he later changed his mind and would have voted against it last week.
“The more I thought about it, I felt like that there were too many ‘ifs’ that were involved,” he said. “I became uncomfortable. I didn’t have any facts to base anything on, just rationalizing it, I didn’t feel comfortable.”
Banks said he spoke to Eagle, who passionately voiced her discontent with the program at the Jan. 18 work session.
“I may have asked her why, after hearing all the conversations and what is really going on here?” he said. “I wasn’t anti or pro, but after hearing all the conversations, I said, ‘Somebody knows something that I don’t know.’”