The mother of three children enrolled in the Cobb School District moved to east Cobb from Chicago two years ago, and immediately volunteered to serve on the school council at Dodgen Middle.
The council was made up of four parents, two teachers and a principal, and the group traveled to meetings around the county to learn about the district’s budgets and curriculum.
At a meeting in May 2012, somebody mentioned to Ritchie that the district was facing an $80 million shortfall, and she was taken aback.
“That doesn’t make sense. You move here for the schools, and the schools are experiencing this deficit, that’s a concern.”
Ritchie and about 15 other parents formed the group FACE It Cobb, which stands for Funding Awareness Campaign for Education, in February.
The group has received nearly 550 “likes” on its Facebook page, where recent posts advertise the PTAs at county schools, including Mountain View and Kinkaid Elementary.
The group describes itself as a grassroots movement “to help preserve the premier quality and prestige of our nationally ranked” county schools, according to their Facebook page.
Ritchie said she has been working for close to a year to educate other parents like her about the realities of the school district’s budget.
The average person in the grocery store would not know about the financial situation of the school district, Ritchie said. She wants to change that.
“These are dire times. We’ve been dealing with these deficits pretty well for years. But now, it’s getting to be more than anyone can handle. Thus the movement,” Ritchie said.
The group tries to have meetings once per school quarter, and had a meeting last February to promote Ed-SPLOST IV, a five-year tax approved by voters in March.
A group of about 30 people, including board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney, gathered Thursday morning at Infomart, a building off of Terrell Mill Road and east of I-75.
They listened as Ritchie, along with Claire Suggs, an analyst from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Hilda Wilkins, a former Cobb County principal, and Matt Jones, the president of EmpowerED Georgia Action, another grassroots education group, described their experiences with school budgets.
Bottom line, they said, is the state’s school systems are in financial trouble and state lawmakers need to give local districts more money.
“Now’s the time to hold our legislators accountable,” Jones said.
Ritchie passed out bright green shoestrings, on which read, “stop putting our schools on shoestring budgets.”
The strings are meant to symbolize the anticipated $79 million budget shortfall the Cobb School District will have for the 2014-2015 school year.
FACE It Cobb is working to get shoestrings into the hands of teachers, parents and students, and then onto the desks of lawmakers downtown.
Ritchie is hoping the physical reminder of shoestrings will help lawmakers prioritize when voting on the 2014 budget in January.
Until then, Ritchie will be calling her representatives.
This past week, Ritchie said she has reached out to her local lawmakers. She has called state representatives Don Parsons (R-northeast Cobb) and Matt Dollar (R-east Cobb) and senators Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, and Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, but has yet to hear back.
She wants to tell them to prioritize funding education in the coming year.
Ritchie has encouraged fellow parents to call their lawmakers and tell them that they would be willing to raise their taxes to fund education.
“I’ve heard from parents that they are willing to have their taxes increase and would vote for people who raised taxes. People are OK with having their taxes increased, because they understand that these are different times. They are not against it,” she said.
Not so fast, says J.D. Van Brink, the chairman of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party.
Van Brink said raising taxes would not solve the school district’s problems. Instead, he advocated board members trim spending.
“There is no option to raise taxes,” he said.
Looking to expand beyond east Cobb
Ritchie and the other 14 members of the movement’s steering committee are planning to meet at the State Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 27 to deliver their shoestrings and show their support for increased education funding.
Ritchie said she would like to see the group expand out of its home in east Cobb, and for schools around the entire district to join in the shoestring movement.
She wants every parent in the aisles of Cobb County grocery stores to understand what the school district’s budget situation is.