But as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Sweeney now seems to have “drunk the Kool-Aid” offered to him by the superintendent and the Chamber of Commerce. And Hinojosa suddenly seems to be giving predecessors Joe Redden and Fred Sanderson a run for their money when it comes to hiding pertinent information from the board and the public.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
The Teach For America program is touted by Hinojosa as a benefit for struggling south Cobb schools. But the board was surprised to learn that he had twice applied — without its knowledge, and unsuccessfully in one request — for a total of $400,000 in federal Race to the Top funds for the program.
And the board also was dumbfounded to discover that Hinojosa’s staffers were helping Vice Chairman David Morgan and his wife, state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, lay the groundwork behind the scenes for a start-up charter school in South Cobb. Also unsettling was the realization that David Morgan had cast the deciding vote last fall that sounded the death knell for another charter school that would have been competing with his. Can you say “conflict of interest”? Input to the MDJ from readers and others indicate they are having no problem saying those words.
In addition, the CCSD apparently has found no taker for the job of operating the new school. Southern Polytechnic State University has said no, and Kennesaw State University spokeswoman Arlethia Perry-Johnson wasn’t exactly waxing enthusiastically about the hot potato when contacted by the MDJ late this week.
State law allows school districts to run “conversion” charter schools, but not “start-ups,” like that the Morgans are pushing. And that brings us back to Dr. Hinojosa, who has been at the center of the recent controversies as questions have arisen about the apparent genesis of the district’s start-up charter school. He issued a brief “mea culpa,” if you could call it that, at the end of this week’s work session.
“Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a couple of issues that have garnered a lot of attention in the media and on the staff and I wanted to say that my effort to move the priority goals forward were sincere and genuine. I do accept responsibility for not communicating complete with all the board members as I should have,” he said.
“There were also some technical items that were overlooked and I accept responsibility for that but I do want to assure you that I’m focused, I’m energized and I’m proud of where we’re going in this district and I just want to put that on the record.”
Said one board watcher, “That’s what you call a ‘non-apology’ apology.”
Others wondered if the “technical items that were overlooked” referred to the law prohibiting systems from running start-up charters.
“You’d think their $2 million-a-year law firm (Brock & Clay) could have pointed that out to them,” cracked another observer.
On the other hand, who knows whether Hinojosa even informed the board’s attorneys about what was coming?
Such talk has been fueled by his obvious reluctance to have the board discuss the TFA program and the Morgans’ charter school in public. The TFA proposal had been rushed onto the agenda for last week’s meeting — indicating that it “had plenty of steam,” or support — then was suddenly yanked off by Sweeney at the last moment with no explanation after learning at the last moment that it no longer had the four necessary votes.
Then during the executive session portion of Wednesday’s meeting board member Kathy Angelucci — who apparently was the member who was the most riled to learn of the back-door machinations — pushed for the board to give the two items a full airing in public, but was stonewalled by Sweeney and of course Morgan, who is pushing Hinojosa on both initiatives.
Board watchers afterward wondered why fellow reformer and past Chairwoman Alison Bartlett, in particular, had not supported Angelucci’s request.
Sweeney later explained the board’s refusal to discuss the two items by saying the board’s new policy that took effect for that meeting states that only the superintendent, board chair or two members can get an item placed on the agenda. It’s obvious he has no interest in such a public discussion: otherwise, he could have volunteered to be one of the other “co-sponsors.”
Angelucci said afterward that she hopes the two will be discussed during the board’s next meeting in March. But that will be a night meeting, which means much of it will be devoted to presentations, awards and dog-and-pony crowd pleasers. There likely won’t be much appetite at a late hour for what likely would be lengthy discussions on the two touchy issues. Therefore, she probably will settle for a day meeting later in the month to get a more thorough airing.
Though none of the other board members seemed eager on Wednesday to revisit the two issues publicly, member David Banks said that henceforth he would “automatically support” any fellow member’s request to add any item to the agenda. Banks, under a rule that allowed any member to add items to the agenda, has spent most of the past year trying to get the board to change the calendar. With help from Banks, Angelucci should have no trouble finding a “second” for adding the two items to the agenda.
THERE’S A NEW NAME being talked up in the race to be the next chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners: that of state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth). Though fairly new to politics and not well known outside of northwest Cobb, Setzler has made his mark in recent months with his persistent opposition to incumbent Chair Tim Lee’s support for a TSPLOST-funded light rail line from the Atlanta MARTA station to Cumberland Mall.
Setzler was first elected to the House in 2004 and chairs the 19-member Cobb legislative delegation. He is a program manager for AMEC Environment & Infrastructure in Kennesaw and lives with his wife Tracie and their four children in the Greens Crossing subdivision in north Cobb. Setzler is a native of Atlanta, earned a B.S. in physics from Furman University and is a former Army Ranger officer.
He and two other lawmakers, including Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) introduced legislation on Tuesday that would postpone the TSPLOST/TIA referendum for two years to provide time to clear up what he contends are its “fatal flaws.” He’s also said that if legislators had known that Lee and the Atlanta Regional Roundtable were going to endorse spending more than $1 billion on a light rail line that barely enters Cobb, the enabling legislation would have never left committee. TSPLOST/TIA supporters rebut that Setzler and his fellow critics “were asleep at the wheel” when the Legislature passed it.
Lee has three declared opponents in the July GOP Primary: former Chairman Bill Byrne, retired business exec Larry Savage, and retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce. But Around Town continues to hear mutterings of dissatisfaction with the field and hopes expressed that a stronger candidate might still emerge. Northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham is one of the names most frequently mentioned, although she has not publicly expressed any interest in such a run. And Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood, a real estate developer heavily impacted by the sour economy who a month or so ago was considering a run for chair, now says he will not run and was named Wednesday morning as the new head of the Cobb Community Foundation.