After swift start, school board reformers stalled
by Kim Isaza and Lindsay Field
newseditor@mdjonline.com and lfield@mdjonline.com
January 01, 2012 12:00 AM | 5156 views | 44 44 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A year ago, the newest members of the Cobb School Board — from left: Scott Sweeney, Tim Stultz and Kathleen Angelucci — vowed to back up their campaign promises of bringing ‘reform’ to a board that many thought had made one poor decision after another. The three got off to a fast start on making changes, but then seemed to fall back into the practices of the previous board.<br>Staff/File
A year ago, the newest members of the Cobb School Board — from left: Scott Sweeney, Tim Stultz and Kathleen Angelucci — vowed to back up their campaign promises of bringing ‘reform’ to a board that many thought had made one poor decision after another. The three got off to a fast start on making changes, but then seemed to fall back into the practices of the previous board.
Staff/File
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MARIETTA — A year ago at this time, a spirit of revolution was in the air around the Cobb school board. Three avowed “reform” candidates — Scott Sweeney, Kathleen Angelucci and Tim Stultz — had just been elected, and together with incumbent member Alison Bartlett, the four promised to undo a laundry list of bad ideas they believed the previous majority had installed, or at least continued.

Their to-do list targeted the balanced calendar; the expensive liability of employee rollover vacation accrual; the 1-2-3 standards based report cards that required sending home a separate “how to read this report card” manual; and perpetual contracts with Brock and Clay for legal services, among other issues.

The board got off to a fast and furious start, taking control of the board from the get-go by electing Bartlett as chair, and then swiftly tossing out the so-called balanced calendar and returning the system to a later school start date. But the vote was highly controversial and brought serious backlash from supporters of the balanced calendar, just as the implementation of the balanced calendar had upset the late-start-day set.

Beyond that, though, little has been changed this year.

On the vacation accrual, the board talked about changing the policy during its Jan. 27 meeting — and then promptly dropped the issue. The district allows all administrators, central office employees, janitors and any year-round employee to roll over unused vacation days and cash them out when they retire or leave the district. The district’s finance chief, Mike Addison, said at the time that if the district had to pay out all of those benefits at once, it would total more than $7 million.

Sweeney, one of the reformers who had said during his campaign that the rollovers “need to end now,” instead made a motion to table the item indefinitely on Jan. 27, and then denied he had flip-flopped on a campaign promise.

Board Chair Bartlett — who had tried to end the rollover practice in 2010, but was outvoted — told the Journal that the issue may come up during budget talks for the 2012-13 fiscal year. It didn’t come up in 2011, she said, partly because of the change in superintendents.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate to hit (Hinojosa) with that one,” Bartlett said. “It would be better … when we’re looking at our budget concerns. I see it coming up in the next three to four months.”

On the 3-2-1 report cards that are used for kindergarten, and first and second grades, Bartlett again said she wanted to give new superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa time to get acclimated before putting the issue on his plate.

And though she does not agree with standards-based grading, Bartlett said, “we need to focus on the big thing, which right now is the budget.”

For his part, Sweeney says he doesn’t like the 3-2-1 report card, either, but couldn’t explain why it wasn’t brought before the board in the first half of 2011, when Fred Sanderson was still the superintendent.

“Students don’t magically perform better because a different evaluation tool is being used,” Sweeney said. “Our skilled teachers are readily capable of communicating student strengths and weaknesses. My concerns about the K-3 standards-based grading systems … center on the potential of additional time teachers must spend completing the evaluations and time teachers must spend receiving training to effectively administer the evaluations. This is time I feel is better spent as instructional time.”

Block vs. traditional scheduling in high schools is also an issue that touches a nerve. Of Cobb’s 16 high schools, only three are based on a traditional schedule, where students take the same classes every day. Interestingly, those three are also the district’s top-performing schools in terms of SAT average: Walton (1725), Pope (1676) and Lassiter (1634).

The traditional schedule is also favored by board chair Bartlett and at least two of the new board members.

For Bartlett, consistency across the district is key.

“There’s pros and cons to all schedules. Whatever we choose, it should be the entire system,” she said. “When we need to move students, we’re trapped about which school we can move them to because of scheduling issues. Our high schools with the higher transient rate are on the block scheduling, and it’s very difficult for parents who are moving them around to be able to keep up with their high school because of seat time. They are left behind in high school credits.”

Vice chair Sweeney said that while he was campaigning, he expressed his favor for the traditional schedule, “and the belief that the district needs to have a serious discussion concerning this topic.”

“Missing class under a block schedule means a student loses the equivalent of two instructional days,” Sweeney said. “Instructional consistency and continuity are important, particularly so with math programs. With block scheduling, it’s conceivable a student would not have a math course for a full year” — though he acknowledged that block does have its supporters.

Stultz said he was on block when he attended high school in Rockdale County, and had no problem with it.

Still, “I do see where it could be a negative for students who are absent and can’t keep up with the workload. Unfortunately, this is a consequence of the ‘one shoe fits all’ model that we use in education. Block may work well for some, while the traditional schedule may work better for others. Fiscally speaking, the Superintendent has stated that block scheduling is more expensive, so it would probably serve the district well to standardize around the traditional schedule.”

Bartlett said she has heard from several board members about the block scheduling.

“I would not be surprised if it ended up on the agenda in the next few months,” she said.

For his part, Superintendent Hinojosa has said he’s ambivalent about the schedule.

“Block scheduling is more expensive, so you don’t get any more units, and your classes are larger if you’re on a block schedule,” Hinojosa said in an interview published Dec. 4. “Some people would argue that low-income students need to have math every day, and they don’t necessarily in different types of block, but there is no significant data that points in either direction.”

He also believes the school principal should decide what is best for his or her school, rather than have the school board dictate a schedule.

“If you have a great principal, they can manage whatever schedule you’re on,” he said. “A couple of board members are trying to push me (toward a traditional schedule) and I’ve said, ‘Look, I’m not going to do that.’ I feel the same way about the school calendar. You can get great success under the traditional calendar or the balanced calendar. I even had my kids on a year-round calendar, but it’s not the calendar and it’s not the schedule. It’s what you do when you’re in there that really makes the difference.

“I believe it should be up to the individual principal and then we hold them accountable. If I’m directed to do otherwise, I’ll do what I’m directed to do,” Hinojosa said.

As for legal services, it’s unlikely that contract will be put out to bid, even though Bartlett, Angelucci and Sweeney all were on record in 2010 as supporting a bid. The Brock, Clay, Calhoun, and Rogers firm, of Marietta, has been the school district’s lawyer for about 22 years. It is also the law firm that represents Marietta City Schools, as well as several other districts in the state.

On Nov. 9, the board directed finance chief Addison to see how Cobb’s $2 million in annual fees compare to similar districts. Addison looked at Atlanta, DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton, and Gwinnett, and found that only Clayton pays less in legal fees than does Cobb.

DeKalb, which has about 7,000 more students than does Cobb (which has 107,000 students), pays $6 million a year, nearly three times Cobb’s costs.

For Bartlett, that makes the subject moot.

“We currently have very competitive services, and at this time I do not see a need to put it out to bid,” Bartlett said.

One other thing — or person, rather, who came up during the 2010 campaign was the district’s communications director Jay Dillon. Sweeney and Angelucci both stated that if elected, they would get rid of Dillon. But last spring, his contract, along with most others in the executive cabinet, was renewed.

Angelucci didn’t respond to inquiries about the discrepancy. But Sweeney now says his campaign comments were wrong.

“During a 2010 candidate forum Q&A, I said ‘ditto’ responding to a comment stating that ‘if elected, Mr. Dillon should be looking for another job.’ I’ve apologized to Mr. Dillon for my statement. It’s wrong for any board member to suggest that they would get rid of a particular employee which would effectively be micromanaging district personnel decisions. I have never attempted to place a request on the agenda to remove Mr. Dillon from the staff.”

Comments
(44)
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TeacherTOO
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January 04, 2012
Once again- there are NO TEACHER UNIONS IN GEORGIA! Please get your facts straight. There are Professional Organizations but we are not required to be part of any of them. They DO NOT negotiate our contacts, they do not get to contract our benefits and they do not call us to strike. Please tell me when the last teacher strike was and PLEASE tell me any action that any of these organizations ( there are several) have ever done that would lead to a "union" mentality! What they do is provide us with insurance in case you want to sue us, and they make their position known on upcoming legislation (which is often ignored anyway) So PLEASE TELL ME HOW THIS IS A UNION!!!!
EduKtr
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January 04, 2012
If you are not a member of the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers, then you are not likely in any union -- and your dues money therefore won't be overtly or covertly funding the 2012 Obama campaign.

Nor will it be used to finance those militant NEA/AFT activities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and other states.
Anon Parent
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January 04, 2012
Obviously, the Mabry Mom is not as informed as to what really goes on. Just check the number of teachers who have left that school as to the dynamics that persist. More specifity is not needed as the obvious is apparent. ("Him" is a "Her" and she is paid to be at events.)
Well Intentioned
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January 03, 2012
I believe that the incoming Board Members along with the current are well-intentioned, concerned Cobb Countians that feel they can make a difference. With exception of the two Davids (both which are absent (minded in one's case), the others have certainly found much red tape and more perspective with the political-ness of our system. With the hiring of Hinojosa, it would make perfect sense for them to step back and let him draw some conclusions before making further change. That is not how you set up your employee for success. Give them time. I think we will have some good change coming our way. Maybe they'll even modify the proposed "Balanced Calendar" to meet somewhere in the middle. Stay tuned for new seasons episodes this month...
Autonomy
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January 03, 2012
It's time for the Superintendent and School Board to take responsibility for what occurs in our schools. They take the easy route and give "autonomy" to Principals without the concurrent accountability. Too many Principals in Cobb County run their schools like mini Kingdoms knowing that no one in the County offices will require well thought out supportable policies. It is time for a complete overhaul from the local school administration, the county office and the Board.

Jane W.
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January 03, 2012
How interesting, that a Google search of "NEA" and "union" turns up an National Education Association website page that confirms the group is a labor union. This is the same group, by the way, which months ago endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2012 ... even though the Republicans and other independent parties have yet to even choose their 2012 nominees.

And I'm paying over $130 yearly in mandatory NEA dues for that?
Jane W.
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January 03, 2012
... This actually is meant to be part of a conversation thread below.
Cobb Teacher
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January 03, 2012
Jane W.>> I just changed my educator's association to one that does not endorse political candidates, merely puts 'Educators First'. This way you're not endorsing candidates with whom you disagree, and the dues are half that of other groups.
Anonymous parent
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January 03, 2012
The board definitely needs to take an investigative position and address those principals who continue to rule with intimidation and threats. They may want to start with Mabry Middle - so sad to see such divisiveness created to cover up insecurity and favortisim. So many teachers have left in recent years.
Mabry Mom
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January 03, 2012
COMPLETELY disagree with your comment. MH has done an outstanding job creating an atmosphere of partnership between parents and teachers. She attend every event and is a huge supporter of the school. CC seems to deal more directly with the teachers but I have had good success in addressing issues with him. You might need to be more specific in your statement of insecurity and favoritism.
Concerned Parent
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January 03, 2012
I wish that people would stop making blanket statements regarding block scheduling. My kids, their teachers, and I love it.

Block gives the teachers time to really delve into the subject matter. There is also plenty of time for labs and creating teaching AND for question and answer at the end of class for students who are struggling.

With the six-or-seven-a-day class schedule, the teacher barely gets going before the bell rings, and there is much less time for kids to ask questions.

Everyone knows that the high schools are so big that there is no time for the kids to use their lockers during the day. Hence they would also be carrying six or seven heavy books around all day. I wouldn't want to do that. Would you?

When my kids were in middle school they were on a six-class-a-day schedule. The teachers could not get all of the teaching finished in the allotted 40-50 minutes, so they sent home unfinished classwork IN ADDITION TO the regular homework. The result was middle schoolers who had 4-5 hours worth of homework every single night. There was not even enough time to sit down to dinner together. It was ridiculous, and no amount of complaining to the principal or the staff made any difference.

I am tired of hearing people purporting that Lassiter, Pope, and Walton's test scores are higher because of their daily schedule. There are many ethnic and socio-economic factors contributing to that.

There are high-scoring schools in west and north Cobb, too...Harrison, Hillgrove, Kennesaw Mountain, Allatoona, North Cobb, Sprayberry, Kell, etc.

And once again, test scores are not the only thing that matters. Truly gaining a deep understanding of the material should matter just as much. I am sick of the fact that people think that test scores are the end-all for success in school.

Eveyone acts as if block scheduling is a plague sent to undermine the lower sociomic kids. It wouldn't matter which schedule those kids are on...if school is not a priority to them or their parents, a daily schedule isn't going to change anything. Lack of attendance and lack of preparedness are the problems there, not the schedule. Even with six classes a day, you have to show up and participate to learn anything.

Someone mentioned in an earlier blog that block schedule kids only have three classes a day. In fact, they have four. In most cases, they are four academics, too, because foreign languages, fine arts, and other AP classes that the kids want to take for college fill those spots.

I think it's interesting to note that Hillgrove and Sprayberry were just named Schools of Excellence..and they are both on block.
OMIPS
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January 02, 2012
It is obvious that over on Glover St. they have a big cooler of psychedelic Kool-Aid and these folks that we elect to the school board are duped into drinking this mind altering concoction of big government agency and academic elitism. It makes no sense to elect new people because they'll also be duped into drinking the Kool-aid. Our only hope is to dump out the Kool-aid.

I was positive
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January 02, 2012
once the new board went against the will of the majority and changed the calendar, and made up a new rule that nooone else could change it back, I knew we were doomed. I was right. I still wish the accreditation folks would take a second look
Blame Sweeney
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January 01, 2012
Sweeney has taken his vote to the other side and the others can't accomplish their goals.
mchanin
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January 01, 2012
And around and around we go!

This Tim Stultz lik a smiling boy scout, and he wants to be Chairman?

How about the school board taking on an investigative role. Like trying to find out why a young man and young woman, who are really good teachers, lost their jobs in 2011. Certain headhunters were after the two teachers, and they got 'em. There is no reason for this, and it's about time that somebody finds out why this is going on throughout the county!
K.Euston
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January 01, 2012
Hats off to Kim and Lindsay for this article. I too am very disappointed in the lack of change and inaction from the school board in 2011. The voters elected these individuals based on a slate of campaign promises to shake up Glover Street but the new Board members lacked the courage to follow through. A few things the board should have done differently:

1. Former Superintendent Fred Sanderson should have been put on administrative leave with pay when his retirement was announced so he could not continue to be the puppet master behind the curtain. This hampered a fulsome search for his replacement. I also question the diligence the Board conducted during the search process for a new superintendent. A simple review of the Dallas papers shed much light on Dr. Hinojosa's reign while there - poor performing test scores, questionable hiring of teachers and falsification of social security numbers, runaway travel and entertainment budgets, etc. Why did the Board not look to hire a #2 from one of the top 10 best performing school districts in the nation? Sanderson and Brock Clay did not do the Board justice in conducting a more robust search.

2. Board member David Banks should have been censored for his numerous violations of the Board's code of conduct

3. The runaway budget of the renovations at Wheeler High School and the new - expanded -- theater project at Lassiter should have been stopped. Both projects, keep in mind, were out of scope form the original SPLOST notebook. Also, this Board should have also questioned more thoroughly the land deal for the new Smyrna Elementary school. There were several SPLOST projects the Board voted to move forward despite the F&T Committee - the citizens oversight committee for SPLOST - not recommending.

4. The school Board sets the calendar. Period. Voting to approve a 20 person committee comprised of mostly administrators and PTA leaders to review the calendar issue is ridiculous. There are more important issues to focus on such as the budget, vacation accrual , test scores, etc. and this issue should be dropped.

Our teachers should have the best resources available to teach our children. They should receive raises, not the Administrators at Glover Street. I hope the new Board members get their resolve back in 2012 and make some radical changes. If not, the voters will see that change happens.
agree with all but 1
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January 03, 2012
You just want them to leave the calendar alone, because this is what you wanted all along.

It is horrible
Choppy Seas
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January 01, 2012
This group looks to be one ham sandwich away. While the Board looks to be underachieving as presently constituted it may be because they are better equipped to plan birthday parties. We get what we elect.
CCSB victim
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January 01, 2012
All these 3 wanted to do was change the calendar so the big businesses backing them up could get more cash with the later start date. Everything else they said they would do they did not do because they really don't care that much.
CCSB victim 2
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January 03, 2012
And no evident as to what at horrible calendar this is but to see it working right now - A start date of 1/10 - 2 -- 4 week days in a row - HORRIBLE
R Goodden
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January 01, 2012
Here's a thought: why, in this period of strained budgets and overburdened taxpayers, is Cobb picking up the tab for collecting employees' union dues?

A growing number of school districts in which taxpayers (Cobb's, for instance) subsidize the collection of monthly teacher association membership dues from paychecks -- are taking a harder look at the expense and appropriateness of doing this.

Unions are perfectly capable of collecting their money on their own, just as every other voluntary organization does. Why does the school district absorb this unnecessary expense?

J Green
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January 01, 2012
Which school districts are subsidizing union dues? I don't believe there are any teacher's unions in Georgia, and I pay my teachers' association dues out of my own paycheck.

Where do you get your information?
two cents worth
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January 02, 2012
You really do NOT know what you are talking about. Georgia = no teacher union. Teachers pay for their memberships in teacher organizations/associations. This can be done through a payroll deduction but the teacher is paying for it. It does not cost you a penny.
r Lopez
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January 02, 2012
What is the cost for the county? For me being a teacher, it so much easily to have it through payroll. Do I need to pay payroll the extra ???? cost. You do not have money set aside for savings as an option? I would be willing to pay the little difference to make it easy for me. This is an example of another person wanting to take away any little perks that teachers, parapros,bus drivers and regular staff have.

Yawn1
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January 02, 2012
Very Good Point

Perhaps taking the teachers' money for them is viewed as morale booster?
NY Teaching Vet
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January 02, 2012
What union?
R Goodden
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January 03, 2012
1) The union types expressing angst and befuddlement don't want readers to know that each GAE member must also belong to the National Education Association -- at a cost of $130 yearly. The NEA is a union: as any Google search on "NEA" and "union" will confirm.

2) If the bookkeeping and other taxpayer expense involved in gathering and transferring monthly dues to teacher associations are so minimal -- then these groups won't mind absorbing them, right?

3) GAE and its parent union are highly partisan, endorsing only Democrats for US president and Georgia governor over the years. Must taxpayers in effect subsidize this?
Just Wonderin'
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January 01, 2012
It seems like the board (and the MDJ) ought to be a little more concerned with a) the budget; b) student academic performance; c) the massive re-districting in the southern part of the county which, given the propensity for district planners to kow-tow to upset yuppie parents is going to create an even-greater disparity in academic performance than currently exists; d)long-term planning to keep the district on a strong academic footing and e)restoration of employee morale after years of financial cuts, staffing reductions, and bashing from the public.
Lol at Angelucci...
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January 01, 2012
She used to couldn't wait to get her name and opinion in the paper talking about the broken campaign promises in the paper.

Now, she won't even respond to a question.

Shoe on the other foot and what not.

Exactly as I knew it would be.
Yawn1
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January 02, 2012
So....

Why didn't you run?
What does
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January 03, 2012
running for office have to do with Angelucci's hypocrisy? Save the smart answers until you get a better schtick.
yawn1
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January 03, 2012
if Lol at Angelucci "knew it would be" and cares about the schools:

why doesn't Lol care enough to run?

Angelucci did

Simple question.
And you did not
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January 03, 2012
answer a simple question. What does one person running have to do with Angelucci's hypocrisy?

She spent a great deal of time and effort writing editorials and getting interviewed. But when the lights are on her, she retreats.

Calling out her hypocrisy has nothing to do with someone running. Simply pointing out that she is a hypocrite.

Simple answer.

Yawn1
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January 04, 2012
I didn't comment on your comment on ka's hypocrisy.

I commented on how you seem to be all-knowing (I know it would be), and I guess you care about the schools. So, if ka can put forth the effort to run for the board, why didn't you?

Seems like you prefer to be a catty backseat whiner.
Mainly because
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January 01, 2012
these folks had one issue...to change the calendar. The other promises were just campaign rhetoric. Beyond that, they have no plan, no vision, no leadership and no care about changing anything at CCSD other than the calendar.

Sad really. We could have a world class system and too many idiots are worried about a calendar.

Yawn 1
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January 02, 2012
We could have a world class system and too many idiots are worried about a calendar.

- Talk to the Legacy Park Loons about that one
Loved the calendar
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January 03, 2012
You are 100% correct - this was nothing more than get the old calendar back! Sad but true
Changes needed
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January 01, 2012
Thank you MDJ for the reminder of the false campaign promises from the board. Also, in 2012, please be fair and report on all school districts in the area. It seems that CCSD makes the news more than any other school district with the negative information. How about some balanced and fair reporting on all of the school districts in this county and the surrounding ones.
yawn1
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January 02, 2012
einstein:

the paper is called the "Marietta" Daily Journal for a reason.

and

there are 2 school districts in Cobb

Marietta and Cobb, guess which one is by far the largest
Walton Parent
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January 01, 2012
To their credit, they did force the retirement of Fred Sanderson. The jury is still out on these board members but a verdict is coming soon.
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