Funding crisis main focus of school debates
by Haisten Willis
April 19, 2014 04:00 PM | 5831 views | 13 13 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — School board candidates squared off at debates Thursday, ahead of a competitive May 20 primary likely to be settled based on controversial issues about funding, construction projects, and who is perceived as best able to solve the challenges facing public education in Cobb County.

Post 6 candidates Scott Sweeney and Kevin Nicholas, along with Post 4’s Bill Scott and David Chastain, spoke at a morning PTSA meeting at Sprayberry High School. At 6 p.m. a second forum was held at Hightower Trail Middle School. All the candidates are Republicans, and their races will be decided during the May 20 Republican primary.

Post 6 is an east Cobb seat with Walton and Wheeler as its high schools. Post 4 represents the northeast Cobb area, including Kell and Sprayberry high schools.

Kathleen Angelucci represents Post 4 now but is not seeking re-election. No Democrats are running, so the winner of the Republican primary will win the seat for the next four years.

Chastain and Scott were asked Thursday what the biggest difference is between them.

Both agreed it’s their history — Scott’s background is in education while Chastain’s is in business — but they differed on what that means for their candidacy and the job awaiting the ultimate winner of the school board seat.

Scott, former principal of Marietta Sixth Grade Academy, said his background is a strength.

“I feel that being an educator at this day and time is probably an advantage,” he said. “While I was never at the executive level of school administration, I was in a school which was a recipient of the decisions made by school boards, both good and bad. I have that experience.”

Not surprisingly, his opponent feels differently.

“I have an understanding of how businesses work,” said Chastain, an analyst for Lockheed-Martin. “Not everybody is going to be a gifted child who goes out and becomes a knowledge worker. School systems need to accommodate all the kids with all of their dreams and their parents’ dreams and have them go out and do whatever that is.”

Chastain talked about the different experiences of his three kids working through their own career paths.

Both also talked about how the Cobb schools budget might look over the next four years. For now, the days of furloughs and shortened school years appear to be over. Higher property values and more money from the state mean the Cobb County School District is looking to hire nearly 200 new teachers for the 2014-15 school year.

But $40 million of the state dollars are likely a one-time, election year gift from Gov. Nathan Deal. Both candidates said they were cautious about the future.

“I’m going to say the glass is half empty,” said Chastain. “I want to believe things will be better, but I want us to figure out where the rest of the water is coming from.”

Scott also said the district needs to be careful.

“School systems need ongoing support, not just during an election year,” he said. “We have to hold our legislators accountable. If we’re not taking care of our students today we’ll pay for it tomorrow. They are the future.”

The two also discussed construction priorities from 2015 to 2018.

“We need to continue to approve (education sales taxes) that allow us to take care of the mortar in our buildings,” Scott said.

Chastain said he’s more concerned with the quality of construction than the quantity.

“We’ve gone from 103,000 students to 109,000 students over the last 10 years,” he said. “Will we pick up another 6,000 or will the growth level off? That I don’t know. I do know I’ve been told we have aging schools that have not been addressed in the previous sales tax referendums. This needs to be addressed. We have some schools that have withstood the test of time, and we have younger structures that need more maintenance. We need to focus on the quality of construction because there’s not much more land out there to grab.”

Post 4 candidates did not participate in the Hightower Trail debate.

Post 6 candidates

Speaking at the Sprayberry event, Sweeney touted his accomplishments during his first term in office.

“In so many instances, I’m trying to find out what we can do to make an impact at the school level by getting to what’s happening across the state and other areas,” said Sweeney, who runs a consulting firm.

Sweeney said he was appointed by the Georgia School Boards Association as the 6th congressional district representative to the Federal Relations Network, among other appointments.

Sweeney also touted his work in persuading voters to pass the most recent 1-percent sales tax measure, which he said could have added $20 million to $50 million to the school system’s deficit this year if it wasn’t passed.

“I found out we had a ‘B’ rating in the Sunshine Awards,” he said of the rating by Sunshine Review, a citizens group that measures government transparency. “I got with the people that drove that group and said ‘There are things you need to know about the Cobb County School District,’ and through that we were able to achieve an A-plus rating.”

Nicholas, senior vice president of a telecommunications company, shared his own ideas about the role of a school board member.

“It comes down to my three kids and if I can make a difference for them and for other kids,” Nicholas said. “It’s about enabling kids.”

For seven years, Nicholas was a single parent before a marriage a few years ago, he said. He cited that experience, working on homework and interacting with teachers as something he can draw on as a school board member.

“I scratched my head a couple of times on how things are being handled,” Nicholas said. “That’s nothing against the teachers. I think we have some of the best teachers in the country. But our test scores have been flat over the years; in fact, they’ve been going down a little bit. Graduation rates have been flat, why is that?”

School systems need to be able to push down the decision making process, Nicholas said, which could include the school system becoming a charter system next year. While not fully endorsing the concept, Nicholas feels there is “a lot of merit to pushing decisions down.”

He also touted his work experience.

“There is about $40 million in one-time revenue in next year’s budget,” he said. “We’re blessed with a balanced budget, but what happens next year? What happens when it’s not an election year? I think I can bring some large company experience to look at that.”

Nicholas also applauded the school board’s decision to hire Chris Ragsdale as interim superintendent. The next school board will decide whether to keep Ragsdale long-term or hire a different superintendent after May 2015.

Nicholas also didn’t participate in the Hightower Trail debate. He pulled out of it after finding Facebook posts by its monitor, JoEllen Smith, saying she supports Sweeney.

Post 2 candidates

Post 2, a district covering the Smyrna/Vinings area, also is open this year. Incumbent Tim Stultz faces fellow Republicans Susan Thayer and Jeff Abel in the May 20 primary. The winner faces Democrat Kenya Pierre in the November general election. Because Thursday’s forums were for the east Cobb area, Post 2 candidates weren’t involved.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Vinings res
April 21, 2014
Please report more carefully on where these district boundaries are. Post 6 (Scott Sweeney's district) encompasses all of Vinings and also includes some of Smyrna. Post 6 includes Teasley and Argyle elementaries. So unless your definition of Vinings is Mableton or the city of Smyrna along Atlanta road -- Vinings is not in post 2.
Swindler Sweeney
April 19, 2014
Does anyone know if Swindler Sweeney is supporting the new Superintendent announced by Ms. Angelucci? I have heard everyone is supporting the new Super except from Sweeney. At the Cobb Women's Forum his opponent made it clear he supported him, the MDJ had a quote from the Walton Principal (and she should be our best judge with that school being #1 in everything) but Sweeney was quiet on that one. Just wondering before I go vote? Is Sweeney trying to Swindle us on this one along with the East Cobb land issue or what?
Mike H
April 19, 2014
Georgians pay less per person in taxes than any other state.

Cobb is a VERY low taxed county.

The discussion about high taxes makes no sense as we see the quality of Cobb schools decline, but they are becoming more segregated thanks to our school board.
April 21, 2014
How in the world is it the School Board's fault that more minorities choose to live in Cobb? You think they should put a No Vacancy sign for minorities at the county line? How stupid.
Bd friend
April 19, 2014
Was Scott a principal in Marietta city or CCSD? If he has been out of the schools for 5 years or more, then his education knowledge would be about equal to the parent volunteer.
Chalker parent
April 21, 2014
Bill Scott was an educator and principal for over 20 years for the CCSD. He is well respected by his former teachers and staff and loved by the students and parents. I know because he was my children's principal for many years. Since leaving the CCSD, I am told he continued his education and earned a PhD. I cannot imagine a more knowledgeable person to represent Post 4. He definitely has my vote!
April 19, 2014
Boy, to hear Sweeney tell it, he is the lone savior of the district. Sweeney said he was appointed by the Georgia School Boards Association as the 6th congressional district representative to the Federal Relations Network, among other appointments - funny he didn't mention that his buddy, Hinojosa made these appointments for him; sort of quid pro quo.

Sweeney made the District's ‘B’ rating in the Sunshine Awards, go to an A-plus rating? I guess he sat on the school board all by himself. What a pompous, arrogant fool.

He and his East Cobb groups did one thing for the county, for sure; he helped raise your taxes.

April 19, 2014
Sweeney's appointment was actually made by Sis Henry the President of the Georgia School Board Association.
Taxes ?
April 19, 2014
The property tax millage rate has remained at 18.9 for schools. As values declined, property taxes declined across the county by close to 20%.

Sales Tax has also remained the same across the county for several years.

So, how exactly were taxes raised?
Post 2 ????
April 19, 2014
Word on the street is that Stultz and Abel aren't agreeing to participate in any forums, yet Susan Thayer is.

Stultz and Abel were no shows at the Cobb County Reublican Women's Forum, yet Susan Thayer showed.

Can anyone chime in on that?
Post 2
April 20, 2014
Actually, Jeff Abel HAS agreed to participate in any forum that he is able to. Therefore, the "word on the street" is incorrect where he is concerned. One is in the process of being set up at Griffin Middle School. Susan indicated that she is unable to attend on the date that was originally chosen and Tim has not responded. We are hopeful that the next date will work out for all three candidates.
Joan V.
April 19, 2014
Nicholas talks about "enabling" kids. We'll presume their not addicts, so what exactly does he mean?

At no point at any meeting has anything substantive come out of his mouth saying what he will do.

Went to the Hightower Trail PTA forum hoping to hear specifics, yet they said Nicholas pulled out minutes before the forum began despite the PTA changing moderators, apparently to honor his request.
Momof 2
April 19, 2014
I don’t think they should have ever put JoEllen as the Moderator. She has been very vocal about who she supports. The PTA has known this for sometime, so changing moderators last minute isn’t professional.

I’m not sure about Nicholas, but I am sure that Sweeney is a swine. From a business perspective his actions regarding his recent employment and serving on the School Board is unethical at best. Not my post, but if it were I would not vote for Sweeney. I would give Nicholas a try.
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