The board has a lot of decisions to make in 2014, among them: Addressing the Common Core national standards, deciding on whether or not to become a charter system, and delegating the state funds Gov. Nathan Deal has recently pledged to education.
Angelucci, who told the MDJ on Friday she will not be running for re-election when her term is up in November, thinks the board is prepared to take on these issues, as long as members stay properly informed.
Common Core’s future in Cobb
While she doesn’t personally agree with the Common Core standards, Angelucci doesn’t know what the board will do with the controversial program in the coming year.
The board rejected spending $7.5 million on math textbooks that aligned with the Common Core standards in April, as members were not convinced of the effectiveness the standards would bring to Cobb’s already top-performing schools.
Deal, who had vigorously defended the standards, reacted by pulling out of a Common Core testing mechanism in July. He has since asked
the state school board to compare Common Core to the Georgia Performance Standards.
“Georgia has the talent to develop our own standards. I think the federal government should stay out of our state education,” Angelucci said.
The Common Core standards for math and English language arts were implemented in Georgia classrooms in fall 2012, replacing the Georgia Performance Standards.
Since then, Angelucci and Scamihorn have heard from parents, students and community leaders who are frustrated with the new math curriculum.
They say the time it takes to teach to the new standards is too lengthy, the curriculum is “watered down” and not challenging enough for many schools, and it takes children hours to do routine homework assignments.
Scamihorn, a former technology teacher, estimated the ratio of people who liked Common Core to those who didn’t was 1:4.
“I’m not in favor of Common Core,” Scamihorn said, “Education should be local.”
Scamihorn said he would rather give back the roughly $400 million federal Race to the Top funds that came with the adoption of Common Core if the federal government would allow Cobb to go back to using the Georgia Performance Standards.
“I do not personally support Common Core. You usurp the state’s rights to set its own standards. This came from outside the states with financial strings attached,” Angelucci said.
The two are waiting to see what the state does before they make a move to oust the curriculum from Cobb.
Guarding its taxing authority
After weeks of negotiating with the Development Authority of Cobb County over a planned $103 million mixed-use development, which brought in state political leaders, including Attorney General Sam Olens, County Chairman Tim Lee and former Gov. Roy Barnes, Angelucci and Scamihorn said their feathers had not been ruffled.
A day after mega-developer John Williams pulled his application for a lucrative tax break from the Development Authority, which would have withheld millions of tax dollars from the school system, Angelucci and Scamihorn said they were just doing their job in standing up for Cobb students.
The focus will remain on how to improve education in the county, which will bring more businesses into Cobb, they said.
“How do we find a solution to move forward?” Scamihorn asked.
He hopes the school board will have more communication in the future with the Development Authority on issues that affect its tax base.
“It’s our job to stand up to protect our rights and our authority,” Angelucci said.
School board members weren’t comfortable with an unelected body chaired by Vinings Bank executive Clark Hungerford manipulating the school system’s tax revenue especially when the district is facing a $79 million funding shortfall this year.
“If you had a $100 dollars in your wallet, and I could at any time without any worry take your wallet, take $70 dollars out at any time, and put it back, and you have no control, would you like it?” Scamihorn asked.
Scamihorn said he’s yet to find anyone who said yes to that question.
He answered Hungerford’s claim that “the children” were the ultimate losers in the struggle between the school system and Development Authority by saying, “If Mr. Hungerford wants to have an opinion that the children have lost, I’m not going to debate that in the short term, but in the long term I think better things will come out of this because it pointed out a glaring deficiency of elected officials not being able to control tax dollars, that our customers, in our case parents and Cobb County citizens, expect us to control and be fiscally responsible.”
Angelucci agreed with Scamihorn.
“What our biggest concern was that our taxing authority would be negated, and we have to protect the district,” Angelucci said. “That’s our job. We didn’t ask for it, but even still it’s our job to stand up and protect our rights and our authority, and that was the crux of our objection is that we could not allow for that to be encroached upon in any way. At the end of the day we are absolutely pro-business, we need that, but our job is to protect the district and that’s what we did.”
Angelucci believes other school districts were watching the Cobb board’s every move in its legal dispute with the Development Authority.
She’s been approached by residents in the grocery store, cheering her on in the board’s struggle to keep its control over their tax dollars.
She said the dispute wasn’t about picking sides, or even whether developers should be offered incentives.
“We have eight development authorities just in Cobb County,” she said. “There are 150 in Georgia. That’s why it’s important for us to get schooled, big time. Whoever is on the school board, we need a say (in how taxes are used).”
Charter system or status quo?
The state Board of Education has asked each of the state’s 181 school districts to formally declare what sort of system they intend to become by June 2015, and Angelucci said discussions will start now as to where Cobb will go.
Whether Cobb remains a traditional system or switches to a type of charter district will depend on a number of factors, most notably, the price tag of either move, Angelucci said.
The board is getting advice from people on all sides of the education world, including former Fulton and Cobb County Superintendent James Wilson.
Angelucci said Wilson was concerned Cobb, the state’s second-largest school district, may be too large to adequately implement any type of charter system.
It would be difficult, Angelucci said, to determine how the board would effectively maintain local control over schools, if they were to become a charter system.
Charter schools require an enormous amount of involvement from parents and private businesses who act within governing boards for each school. Angelucci said this may not be feasible in some of Cobb’s schools.
“What is the end plan if we can’t keep our governing boards together?” Angelucci asked.
However, becoming a charter system would allow Cobb to set its own regulations on class sizes, which have increased in the last number of years with budget cuts.
As a public system, Cobb has been able to apply for waivers from the state, which allows them to squeeze extra students into classrooms above the state limit. These waivers will disappear in June 2015, and Cobb will have to start paying for those larger class sizes.
“When the waivers go away, it’s going to kill us financially,” she said.
Whichever direction the board decides to go in, it will take time for the district to adjust.
“It’s choosing the lesser of all evils,” Scamihorn said, as each choice would come with benefits, as well as detriments.
If the board agrees it wants to become a charter system, it would need to send a petition to the state Department of Education to be approved.
Board members are already divided on where they want the district to move, with David Morgan pushing to become a charter system, and Angelucci and Scamihorn hesitant to make any drastic changes.
Morgan has served as a paid lobbyist for charter schools in the past.
School funding — what does this mean?
Deal announced Wednesday he intends to increase education spending by $547 million next year, $314 million of which are new funds, but Angelucci is wary of his intentions.
She said she welcomes the extra cash this year, but is concerned that it could be “a one-time, election year deal.”
After years of austerity cuts to state schools, which began in 2002 under former Gov. Sonny Perdue, the state has withheld roughly $7 billion from schools, forcing districts to cut the length of school years and cram more students into classrooms.
“I’ve heard 19 school districts are on the brink of insolvency. That should alarm everybody,” Angelucci said.
The first place any extra money will go is to reducing the number of furlough days for teachers, increasing the length of the school year and reducing class sizes, she promised.
The board is waiting on a report from Superintendent Michael Hinojosa that will break down what Deal’s education dollars will mean for Cobb. Angelucci hopes the report will be completed within the coming months.
“We take the money we have and try to do the best job we can,” she added.
Scamihorn said the board wouldn’t use a single penny of this year’s budget on extra expenses.
If there were extra funds left over after balancing the budget, reducing furlough days, increasing the length of the school year and decreasing class sizes, Scamihorn said he would like to see the board give a pay raise to teachers.
The board will meet to discuss next year’s budget within the month, but won’t have a clear idea of what funds will be available until late spring, Angelucci said.
The Legislature could always change the state budget during the session.
Keep board and community informed
Angelucci said her main objective is to keep her fellow board members informed.
It isn’t her job as chairwoman to get everybody to agree with her, rather, it is to keep her board members up to speed on what is going on throughout the district’s schools.
The board is about to choose two elementary schools to be rebuilt with SPLOST IV funds, decide what it is going to do with its limited budget and how it will respond to Common Core complaints. Members are bound to disagree on some issues, she said.
Her 2014 goals are to keep everyone on the same page, keep the personal side out of board decisions, and to keep the community informed.
Getting to know ...
Elected: November 2010
Children: Tony, Cera, Laura
Best way to contact: Email: Kangelucci.firstname.lastname@example.org
Elected: November 2012
Children: Allen, Amy
Best way to contact: Phone: (770) 337-8553