Around Town: Hinojosa, school board suddenly on the rocks
by Otis Brumby, Bill Kinney and Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
February 04, 2012 12:00 AM | 6002 views | 12 12 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
IT WAS SMOOTH SAILING for new Cobb School Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa during his first seven months on the job. He seemed to be avoiding the shoals on which his recent predecessors had foundered — such as a dysfunctional school board and a fondness for hiding important information from the board and the public. But Hinojosa’s pleasure tour took an unexpected detour onto the rocks this week.

Things got bad when the super suddenly found himself without the crucial fourth vote to approve his plans to hire 50 Teach For America teachers for underperforming south Cobb schools, causing new board Chairman Scott Sweeney to unexpectedly pull the item off of Tuesday’s meeting agenda (without explanation) at the last moment.

And things got worse when the super disclosed on Thursday that he had applied — without the board’s permission — for $50,000 in federal Race to the Top funds to help create a STEM charter school, although he notified board members in writing last fall about the school. (Yes. This system — with then-Chairwoman Lynnda Eagle and then-Superintendent Fred Sanderson in cahoots — never voted for or even publicly discussed applying for Race to the Top funds. But it now has apparently applied — twice — for the funds without the board’s knowledge.)

The capper? The system, with egg on its face, might have to reject or return the money because it has been unable to find anyone to operate the new school. Georgia law allows school systems to operate “conversion” charter schools (like Walton High), but prohibits them from operating “start-up” charters.

The proposed STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school has become an unexpectedly hot potato. Both Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University have expressed willingness to help lay the groundwork for the funding application, but said “thanks, but no thanks,” to actually operating such a school.

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MEANWHILE, even as Hinojosa has run aground, the board itself is in disarray after getting blindsided by the news of the charter school, the help it was getting from the system staff and about Vice Chairman David Morgan’s deep involvement in it as a co-organizer along with his wife, state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell). Some board members have already taken to calling it “Alisha’s school.”

And incredibly, even though Morgan was quietly pushing to get federal funding for his charter school, he cast the deciding vote last fall not to renew the charter for the Imagine International charter school, which would serve the same south Cobb area that his own school would. It’s a staggeringly obvious conflict of interest to everybody — except the Morgans and Hinojosa.

Around Town has now learned that the Georgia Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO) has filed an Open Records request asking the school board to disclose each member’s employer and other affiliations. It’s clear the probe is aimed at Morgan, who is a paid lobbyist for the school-choice group that supports Teach For America.

As one board watcher put it, “Morgan’s day job is to tear down public education via his work as a lobbyist for charter schools. And his night job is to build up public education as a member of the school board.”

Like the Bible reminds us, one cannot serve two masters. And as one board member said privately, “This (charter school) thing stinks to high heaven!”

That’s a sentiment upon which we suspect all Cobb residents can agree.

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THE BOARD APPEARS TO BE undergoing one of its periodic realignments at least on Teach For America — and this one is based on sex, with the four male members forming one bloc and the three females another. The women are complaining, privately, that the men have been conferring in advance of meetings and essentially taking “pre votes,” which is a violation of state law and also of the board’s recent “cease and desist” agreement with the state Attorney General that it would refrain from such behavior. Evidence of that could be seen in Sweeney’s last-minute decision to yank TFA off this week’s agenda. He had been sufficiently confident that he had the needed votes in hand to put it on the agenda; then knew ahead of time he needed to pull it after he was clued in about David Banks’ last-moment switcheroo, observers say.

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EVENTS OF THE PAST WEEK have left the board in disarray and tempers short, and has even damaged some of the personal relations among members, it is said.

“It looks suspicious that both of these issues (TFA and the charter school) came to light at the same time,” one member said.

Several board members are irked at Hinojosa’s support for hiring 50 rookie TFA teachers even as the system prepares to eliminate 350 teachers through attrition.

“I don’t understand why we’re getting rid of experienced teachers and hiring college kids,” said one.

Why not retrain experienced teachers rather than hire new ones, they ask? The combination of TFA and the RIF is hugely damaging to teacher morale, they say. And Hinojosa’s furtiveness on both issues brings to mind the penchant for secrecy shown over and over by Cobb’s superintendents in the past decade or so.

Hinojosa, meanwhile, is said to have spent the past week in “damage control” meetings with shook up school board members and top staffers.

Chairman Sweeney is said to have been so upset by the convergence of the two issues and the board’s tensions that he reportedly dialed the super late, late, late one night this week to request an early morning meeting with him at a local Waffle House.

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HINOJOSA’S HONEYMOON here seems to be ending. Critics complain he has little to show for his initial tenure aside from a reorganization of the top brass and accompanying raises (for administrators who, incidentally, were the fellow finalists for his job) at Glover Street. Those changes made it easier for him to go out and visit schools each Wednesday, the critics say.

But he apparently was busier than the public or his bosses realized, laboring under the radar to line up support for TFA and charter schools.

Board watchers are waiting to see if Sweeney or Hinojosa address any of those issues at Wednesday’s board meeting, or instead sweep them back under the rug.

Stay tuned.

***


HAS THERE BEEN AN OUTBREAK OF AMNESIA in Cobb County? Apparently so. The MDJ has been trying for several days to pin down Cobb Chamber head David Connell so we could ask who had requested he write his letter of recommendation on behalf of the Morgans’ proposed charter school. But Connell apparently is still checking his notes.

And it’s afflicting leaders at the courthouse, too. Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee was asked by the Journal how he selected Jerry Davis as facilitator for the day-long confab of county government brass Thursday.

Lee told us he couldn’t remember.

Turns out that Davis is an old friend of Connell’s from their days together at Georgia Power.

More evidence, you might say, that the Chamber is backing Lee to the hilt in his campaign for re-election this year.

COBB SUPERIOR COURT Judge Stephen Schuster has been designated to serve in place of Georgia Supreme Court Justice P. Harris Hines of Marietta in the appeal of Tampa Investment Group, Inc., v. Branch Banking and Trust Co., Inc. and Legacy Communities Group, Inc. v. Branch Banking and Trust Co., Inc. The Court will hear arguments in the case Monday. In this Fulton County case, two companies are appealing a Georgia Court of Appeals decision favoring the bank that sued them for more than $19 million in unpaid debt. In addition to hearing arguments, Schuster will participate in the Court’s decision.

Schuster has been on the Cobb bench since 2004. His rulings in the Cobb EMC case helped pave the way for new management at that utility.

***
ROSWELL STREET BAPTIST CHURCH will honor the Rev. Dr. Ernest Easley for 10 years of leadership with a luncheon following morning services tomorrow. Easley and his wife, Julie, left Odessa, Texas, so he could take the helm of the 9,000-member congregation in February 2002. He succeeded the Rev. Dr. Nelson Price, who had led Roswell Street for 35 years before retiring in 2000. Upon his arrival, Easley responded to the question of how he would succeed such a long-time leader by saying: “I may have have big shoes to fill; but I’ve got big shoulders to stand on.”

Homebuilder Jerry Bonner was head of the search committee that found Easley.
Comments
(12)
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Just a thought....
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February 06, 2012
Folks...listen please...we can live with Hinojosa for now, because our dysfunctional school board won't ever get their collective acts together long enough to agree to anything he may or may not submit to them. We deserve better, but that will only come with another election cycle or two.

For now, the issue should be Mr. Morgan's actions. Plain and simple there is a conflict of interest here and THAT needs to be addressed. Clem, please take care of this NOW. Mr. Sweeney, you are in the seat you wanted, now DO something!
I love it
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February 04, 2012
There's all the proof you pro-board pro "traditional" calendar people should need to finally be quiet. This board proved their complete incompetency when they broke the 3 year plan on the much preferred, superior balanced calendar, then quickly voted that no subsequent board could follow their shameful action. They already brought about one SACS investigation, this should and probably will bring another one. Beginning to sound a lot like Clayton Co to me...secret meetings, inability to work together, working against the will and benefit of the citizenry. The calendar fiasco, now the T America fiasco; shameful
anonymous
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February 06, 2012
Hinojosa did not apply for the job until someone told him to. He allowed the District to pay to move him here to be near his family and he stated that he has a 6 figure pension from TX. So anticipate him being here only as long as his contract and then he will take that 8% nest egg and go take care of grandkids.
Lump it
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February 06, 2012
Sigh. Once again, no CCSB in history has ever forced another board to a three year calendar. This breaks the election cycle. It is common practice for the board to set the calendar for two years at a time. If you want a certain calendar, go get someone to run who agrees with you.

PS. If you calendar parents would care about something other than the calendar like RIF's, class sizes, and supers who go behind board members' backs, maybe we'd move forward. The education of our students has very little do with when we start, or what days off you get.
frogbreath
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February 16, 2012
"This board proved their complete incompetency when they broke the 3 year plan on the much preferred, superior balanced calendar, then quickly voted that no subsequent board could follow their shameful action."

Even a blind pig will find a truffle now and again!!!!!

So, perhaps, the traditional calendar is their truffle.
Laura Armstrong
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February 04, 2012
As I wrote in a May 22, 2011 column, Hinojosa applied for grant funds for the Dallas school district without the permission of his board in May of 2010. Prior to that, in October of 2008, huge cuts were made in the teaching ranks in Dallas, yet it was alleged that Hinojosa protected certain teachers, including bi-lingual ones (and maybe some of the TFA teachers he'd brought in?)

And a year ago in March I reported that Cobb representative Alisha Thomas Morgan held a conference in an Atlanta public school with certain special interests, strategizing how they could gain control of federal education dollars.

Nothing wrong with that, but there's a lot of maneuvering going on for those dollars by people in a position to benefit both politically and financially, which looks really bad in light of the recent vote to tank the already-existing charter school.

Jim Stoll
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February 06, 2012
Laura: You are still living with a misguided belief that Hinohosa, his administrative staff and the good old boy network that he works with in secret are always striving, in everything they do, to serve the best interests of the children in Cobb County Schools. You just must understand that all of these folks are only concerned with their personal self-interests, letting the children and their parents hang out there to twist slowly in the wind. The only things these folks seek are recognition, power and money. By their actions you will know them. Beware!
RIF the Sup't
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February 06, 2012
Thanks for the reminder Laura. I guess he is doing a repeat performance here in Cobb. If Scott Sweeney and this board do not release Mr. Hinojosa from his contract this school district will never move forward. This man can make all the apologies he wants, bottom line - Gotcha - you did the same thing in Dallas! Playing stupid twice should not work here. I am sure he ran here as fast as he could from Dallas because he heard that some on this school board have no guts to make the right move to fire him. Just want to sweep in under the rug. Make it go away! What do they have to hide?
SG68
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February 04, 2012
Connell has been an unmitigated disaster as the new head of the Chamber of Commerce.

Let's see:

Supported the County Transportation SPLOST that won by only 70 some odd votes at the last minute.

Supported the property tax increase that immediately followed the SPLOST Vote.

Supported the TIA boondoggle.

Supported the ill conceived light rail proposal.

Supported the Cobb Development Authority shenanigans.

Supported the tax money grab known as the Competitive EDGE.

But to give credit where credit is due

he did manage (by mistake) to reveal that Tim Lee is a noodle spined incompetent

This guy needs to be shown the door before he completely destroys the credibility of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.

SG68
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February 06, 2012
Oh yeah.

And supported the hiring of Hinojosa!!
Cobb Taxpayer
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February 04, 2012
The actions and behavior that being reported concerning the Cobb School Board and the Centeral Staff Leadership would suggest deplorable and questionable behavior - This must be stopped - who and when will this happen - Do the District Attorney or Attorney General offices need to get involved ?
yes Cobb Taxpayer
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February 06, 2012
with the calendar, now the TFA, I hope someone with authority investigates. Deplorable and questionable to say the least!!!!!!
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