At a nearly six-hour meeting Wednesday, the Cobb school board quizzed district staff about the proposed career academies; discussed how much they can legally say about an upcoming charter school amendment vote; agreed to pay teachers more than $200 rather than making them come in for a restored furlough day; and outlined targets common to the district’s Strategic Plan and the superintendent’s evaluation.
David Banks, who represents northeast Cobb, asked for more information about two proposed career academies, valued at $29.9 million each, recommended to be built in south and north Cobb in the SPLOST IV notebook.
Chief Academic Officer Dr. Judi Jones said students would come to a career academy for their classes that follow their chosen “career pathway,” but participate in core classes and extracurricular activities at their home high school.
North Cobb board member Kathleen Angelucci said she was concerned about building two new schools and taking on the costs of maintaining and staffing them because enrollment has remained stagnant in Cobb for more than five years.
“That’s money that could be spent at the buildings that we already have,” she said. “Has their been any plan to look at the possibility of doing the College and Career Pathways, which I am in support of, in the schools we already have?”
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said he would be willing to scale back to one academy if needed and would provide more details at the next meeting.
Alison Bartlett, who represents west-central Cobb, said the district must be specific about projects in the notebook.
“Voters aren’t going to agree to build a building that we haven’t defined what’s going in that building,” she said.
Lynnda Eagle, who represents northwest Cobb and has been a strong advocate of career pathways, said she didn’t care whether the classes were in a new building or in existing buildings.
“We need to make this happen for our students,” she said.
Deputy Superintendent of Operations Chris Ragsdale said a “semi-final” project list should be available to the board by the Oct. 25 meeting. Members will meet at 4 p.m. that day to review it.
The board is expected to vote at their Nov. 14 work session on whether to put the sales tax before voters. If approved at the ballot box in March, the five-year, 1 percent sales tax would begin Jan. 1, 2014, and end Dec. 31, 2018, during which it is expected to raise $717 million.
In regards to the charter amendment, some board members felt stifled by the implications of a recent letter from Attorney General Sam Olens to State Superintendent Dr. John Barge, which said school boards could not campaign for or against legislation.
Bartlett, who put the item on the agenda, said it should be acceptable for board members to talk about their individual feelings on the amendment in public in order to educate the community on the resolution.
However, board attorney Clem Doyle advised the board to wait until after Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob ruled in a lawsuit that alleged illegal campaigning by public education authorities opposing the amendment.
“Until I know what the judge says, I don’t know how that will be viewed,” Doyle said.
Angelucci said the same restrictions didn’t appear to have been enforced in the past.
“While I understand the law and I read the Attorney General’s letter, I am a little perplexed at the leaning that’s taking place on school districts and school boards around this state,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t the case when TSPLOST was promoted, and I just find it really interesting with regards to the positions to the districts and this state with how the charter amendment will affect this district.”
Bartlett echoed Angelucci, saying that she thought they were under a “different set of rules.”
“Now all of a sudden that the school districts in the state aren’t agreeing with the governor’s office, we’re getting leaned on and being told that we’re not allowed to have freedom of speech,” she said. “We’re not allowed to do our elected position, and I have an issue with that.”
Doyle said the board could discuss what effect the charter amendment might have on the district financially, but not in a “campaigning way.”
“Even that may draw some scrutiny in this environment, though,” he said.
Hinojosa agreed with Doyle, saying they should wait until Shoob rules on the lawsuit.
Bartlett asked that the financial impact conversation be put on the agenda for the Oct. 25 meeting.
The ballot measure would allow the state to create a new commission that could grant charters to independent school operators. That power now rests with local school boards, with appeals to the state Board of Education. The proposed system essentially would let local applicants who are denied choose which of the two state panels hears an appeal. Applicants for a charter school with no local attendance boundaries, meanwhile, could apply directly to the new board, bypassing local authorities.
In other business, the board agreed to pay teachers back for a recovered furlough day on Dec. 20.
The average teacher would see a bonus of $241.22 in their December paycheck.
Hinojosa said members of his teacher advisory board told him “it would be nice to get (the check) at that time of year.”
The board also learned more about the similarities in the targets for the Strategic Plan and superintendent’s evaluation.
Each document will measure academic achievement, including graduation rates and Advanced Placement participation; the achievement gap; fiscal management and feedback from the community.
Progress will be determined by whether the district meets its targets each year.
For example, the 2012 graduation rate was 74.1 percent, and the “fully successful” target for the class of 2013 is 75.5 percent.
A majority of the information in both documents will be available to the public, with only “Board/Superintendent Relations,” which accounts for 15 percent of the superintendent evaluation, withheld.
Hinojosa said a $15,000 cost outlined in the superintendent evaluation would pay for an annual poll of parents, employees, students and constituents to rate their satisfaction with his work.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report