Heavy-hitters behind plan to boost schools
by Hannah Morgan
January 31, 2014 11:57 PM | 13212 views | 19 19 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Former Cobb County Schools Superintendent Kermit Keenum has formed a group of top educational and political figures in the state called ‘Save Our Schools Advisory Council’ to advocate for more educational funding. The council has written a booklet, which was presented to Marietta City School Board this week. The group has plans to address the Cobb County School Board of Education next week.<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Former Cobb County Schools Superintendent Kermit Keenum has formed a group of top educational and political figures in the state called ‘Save Our Schools Advisory Council’ to advocate for more educational funding. The council has written a booklet, which was presented to Marietta City School Board this week. The group has plans to address the Cobb County School Board of Education next week.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
MARIETTA — A group of Cobb heavy-hitters has organized to defend the county’s public schools, arguing more money is needed to ensure students can compete in the 21st century.

Sixteen men and women have banded together to “Save our Schools” in Cobb, and the group includes well-known veteran educators, bankers, politicians and businessmen, such as former Gov. Roy Barnes, former Cobb Commissioner Earl Smith and Betty Gray, former Cobb Board of Education member.

The group is called the Save Our Schools Advisory Council.

The common denominator between its members is a love for the Cobb and Marietta school districts, said member and former Cobb School Board member Stanley Wrinkle.

Cobb schools need more money to be great, its members argue, and they want to see something done.

“Our children deserve the best,” said group founder Kermit Keenum, former superintendent of Cobb and Glynn County schools.

Keenum presented a 7-page booklet with the list of the group’s demands to the Marietta City School Board at a meeting Jan. 21, and the group is expected to give another presentation to the Cobb Board of Education at a meeting Monday.

The former two-time Cobb superintendent said he has remained involved with the school system since his retirement, and has watched as teachers have been given more responsibilities, class sizes have skyrocketed and salaries and funds for schools have dropped in the last decade.

“Something needs to be done before we destroy the quality of the schools in Cobb and Marietta,” Keenum said.

Topping the list of the group’s priorities: Figure out how to get more money into Cobb and Marietta schools.

“I do not believe our country can compete in this global economy if we don’t increase state funds to education, and local level funds,” Keenum said.

Increase taxes, more from the state

Cobb schools receive most of their funding from local property taxes, which haven’t been pulling in enough money recently, Keenum said. He would like the state to increase what it gives to the local schools.

The group thinks Gov. Nathan Deal and state legislators should declare the 2015 budget year as “The Year for Georgia’s Students and Teachers,” and putting its priorities on classrooms, according to the group’s written booklet.

All eyes are on legislators this year to fund schools at a higher level, they said.

“The state needs to look very carefully. It is their responsibility to fund public education. That’s the state’s first priority,” Keenum said.

Yet, state Rep. Don Parsons (R-northwest Cobb) recently noted state revenues to Cobb County schools have been going up for the past five years. He said it was “unfair criticism” by those who blame the state for any budget shortfalls.

But in Keenum’s view, more and bigger increases are needed.

He hopes Deal will organize a council of people to coordinate how the state will be able to manage spending more money on schools in the future.

“We think the state is extremely late at this point in creating a new funding program for the schools; we believe looking forward, 60 percent of state revenue should be going into education,” Keenum said.

The group doesn’t want much more than money from the state. Keenum said he firmly believes the majority of school control should be in the hands of the local school board and community.

Switch up outdated formula, SPLOST rules

“I’ve always been concerned the only source of funding we have at the local level is the property tax. Our funding should be made up of two sources, a combination of property and sales taxes,” Keenum said.

The passage of SPLOST IV last March has added a steady stream of money to the school’s budgets, although Keenum is concerned the funds are being spent on buildings and not top priorities, such as decreasing class sizes.

“The state should look this year to try to make some adjustments in the existing SPLOST program for local schools and local school groups to use SPLOST funds with more flexibility,” Keenum said.

An amended law would give communities the option to use SPLOST funds for increasing the length of the school year, or giving teachers bonuses instead of building a new school.

“We feel like the local community is the group that should be making the decisions on the priority on how they spend the funds,” Keenum said.

Fund transportation, teachers, art

A sharp rise in class sizes has made it hard for teachers to do their jobs, Keenum argued.

Cuts in school staff and teachers has only compounded the problem.

“We’ve lost the personnel required to give students one-on-one time. Every teacher has had to do more every day, and that has increased every day for the last five years,” Keenum said.

He would like to see teachers get paid more.

“One thing that has not changed: The best education program starts with the best teachers in the classroom working face to face with students. Without a good teacher in the classroom, that’s not going to happen, they need the support and material to get the job done,” Keenum said.

Less state funding has come to the local school district for transportation since 2002, when the state funded 40 percent of school transportation costs, according to the group’s booklet.

By 2014, state funding had dropped to 17 percent, the booklet said.

This group wants to see that changed.

“The state needs to be paying 60 percent of that as a minimum,” Keenum said.

As for the other 40 percent? Let the local community decide how to come up with it, Keenum said. He would favor an increase in local sales taxes and property taxes to avoid the “erosion” of Cobb’s educational programs.

“Education is a full-time, all-time situation,” said Betty Gray, retired Cobb teacher and member of the Board of Education.

Never before in her 60 years of working in education has Gray seen such a need for funding education.

“It’s a must situation and a now situation,” she said. “Let’s move the edge of the envelope to see how we will find solutions.”

Will not rest until mission is accomplished

“Most of us lived our whole lives in Cobb,” Keenum said. He loves his home and wants to see it protected. Three out of his four children work in education, and he has invested his life in ensuring Cobb students receive a quality education. Keenum served as Cobb superintendent from 1973 to 1980, and again from 1989 to 1992.

“As long as I can breathe and think, I am going to do everything I can to make sure Cobb remains a leader in the state, the Southeast and the nation in education,” Keenum said.

Keenum said his group would welcome the opportunity to work with similar groups, including Face It Cobb.

What sets this group apart from the others is it’s comprised of such well-known figures, said member Jay Cunningham.

“If there is influence, it’s in this group,” Cunningham said.

The group plans to lobby the state Legislature for more funding for education, and stay engaged long after this November’s election, said Keenum, who is concerned this year’s anticipated increase in state funding was budgeted because it’s an election year.

“We simply cannot waste a lot of time,” Keenum said.

Save Our Schools board

Neil Barfield — executive director of Marietta Schools Foundation and former Cobb banker

Roy Barnes — former governor, head of the Barnes Law Group

Fred Bentley, Jr. — partner at Marietta-based law firm Bentley, Bentley and Bentley

Phil Blackwell — retired Cobb director of Elementary Instruction and Administrator for Georgia Professional Standards Commission

Jay Cunningham — owner, Superior Plumbing

George “Buddy” Darden — former U.S. Congressman

Betty Gray — retired Cobb teacher and school board member

Bill Hutson — retired Cobb sheriff

Kermit Keenum — former Cobb Superintendent

Tom Mathis — retired Cobb school administrator

Bob Prillaman — community leader

James “Friday” Richards — retired head football coach of Marietta Blue Devils

Betty Siegel — president emeritus of Kennesaw State University

Earl Smith — former Chairman of Cobb Board of Commissioners

Ralph Williams — retired principal of McEachern High School

Stanley Wrinkle — retired Cobb assistant superintendent

Comments-icon Post a Comment
February 03, 2014
The last budget shuffle just how much of a cut did the board take? Teachers took the hit! Larger classes are harder to control, it takes longer to grade more test, Classes over 30 might work in high school, but 20 is a lot in elementary grades.

Education is a personal responsibility. "A" students rarely do the minimum.

Common Core will solve all the problems.
Samuel Adams
February 04, 2014
Common Core will never make it here. Take your bilge and move...putting people like William Ayers, terrorist, Obama-friend, revolutionary anti-American and architect of much of the Common Core standards in charge of nationalizing our schools would be the worst thing ever for our children.

You might think you can slip it in as the "solution" but parents are on to you.
East Cobb Teacher
February 02, 2014
The increased class sizes are the issue, PERIOD. Nothing else has a greater impact on a teacher’s ability to forge and maintain meaningful and effective relationships with her/his students.

The point at which a teacher feels drained of all emotional energy (because of trying to care for TOO many students) is the danger point DESPITE the deceiving tale that the increasing test scores tell.

I can tell you that at every county level meeting I attend, there are emotionally exhausted teachers all over this county. As professionals, we WANT to do our jobs and do them well. We are careful to take care of the ’’business’’ end of education (test scores) but when it comes to the reason WHY we became teachers (to make a difference in childrens’ lives) we are not able to reach ALL of our students simply because of the demands that the business end now requires. THIS is the crux of the reason WHY we need lower classrooms. Because OUR CHILDREN NEED SMALLER CLASS SIZES.

What is truly important in the education of a CHILD cannot and will never be measured by a test score.

Pay Up Seniors
February 01, 2014
Didn't see anything about asking special interest groups to give up their exemption and pay their fair share like everyone else.
February 04, 2014
Then I would like illegal immigrants to pay up also. They are one of our larger special interest groups.
February 01, 2014
Class sizes have increased to the point that teachers can no longer be effective in far too many situations. Couple this significant increase in their workload with their reduced income in terms of purchasing power and you can understand why many teachers are discouraged and dissatisfied with the educational environment. Our political leaders at the state level are either deliberately or unintentionally undermining our students' futures.23932865895
Mark Felt
February 01, 2014
Looks to me like they could use a few young teachers in this group. Then they can hear what the teachers need for their students as well as what can be cut in order to save money.

(Retired Cobb Educator)
Michelle Sollicito
February 01, 2014
I think it is fabulous that this group is doing something to increase attention on this issue. Funding of Education is the big issue in Cobb County and throughout Georgia and it is time it was given the attention it deserves.

NOW I think we need to:

- raise the millage rate to 20

- increase pressure on Governor Deal and Representatives to FULLY FUND QBE (cut the Austerity Cuts)

- provide more flexibility to local school boards on how to spend money sent from Georgia

- restore furlough days

Longer term:

- change the QBE Formula

- support LEST (David Banks idea for sales tax of 1% to go direct on teaching costs)

- pay our teachers and schoolbus drivers decent salaries!!!!!

Remember what the teachers and schoolbus drivers did on Tuesday / Wednesday for your kids (or grandkids) when you are asked to ok a tax rise please!!
February 01, 2014
RE: Cobb schools need more money to be great, its members argue, and they want to see something done...Topping the list of the group’s priorities: Figure out how to get more money into Cobb and Marietta schools.

More money.

This from a looooong list of oh soooo impressive names from organizations firmly affixed to/dependent on the teat of the Cobb County taxpayers. From the Crony Chamber of Commerce to our Sheriff to a number of 'Educators", we see these concerned community cronies put forth (the same remedy they put forth when they want new toys/more pay/a bigger fiefdom, etc...) the well thought out proposition that Cobb County needs more money for education...and a new sales tax sounds like the key. Oh yeah, and this time "do it for the kids".

How insightful. How lucky we are to have such "great minds" here to save Cobb county.

What else can we expect from a Loooong list of people who have lived their lives off the government coffers, one way or the other. More money is their call. AND the Cobb taxpayers pocket is their only idea/source. (It is the same prescription or dear president continues to put forth for the rest of the country. It is NOT to be confused with a true solution. It is merely a money grab...again - thank you Cobb rinos and cronies).

Sorry. I am real tired of the suggestions of the Cobb Chamber and "government Worker"/"Educator" contingents on just what needs to be done in Cobb County. It is always the same...we need more taxpayer money. ( So we can build "world class" performing arts facilities, marble top hot dog stands, astro turf sports fields, buy new projects when the lamps burn out, build new libraries, provide ATL a luxury bus system straight into downtown ATL, etc.).

I will be impressed once I see this list of cronies talking about how to responsibly manage a limited budget and still obtain the results that are desired. Until then, I know I am looking at the suggestions of people who really are not cut out for the rigors of the real world ( i.e. outside the government/chamber of commerce dome of ineptness and cronyism). Without the free rein on the Cobb taxpayers pocket, these people would be incapable of finding a solution to any challenge that the private sector deals with daily.

Just Wait
February 01, 2014
OF COURSE! Let's throw more money at education! That has always been the answer in Georgia. More money! Give teachers raises! They have gotten raises over the years and our kids are still at the bottom of the barrel in learning. Throwing money at the problem is why Cobb is in such bad shape now. They have become accustom to the cash, grown fat and happy, and now can only survive with more money. It is a systemic problem that will only go away if they go on a diet, not a feeding frenzy.
Cobb Parent/Teacher
February 02, 2014
Pay raises? When? Teachers in CCSD have NOT had a pay raise in 7 years. Just furlough days and an across the board 2% pay cut in 2010. "Just Wait" you spew the same Tea Bagger BS over and over again. CCSD's student population has gone up over the years while the State's Austerity Cuts since 2003 continue (about $500 million in cuts to CCSD alone). There is NO Fat to cut in CCSD only bone. SPLOST has built or rebuilt numerous 50 yr old schools and expanding to population growth. Just another Cobb looney who thinks that there should be no taxes, no government etc. Put down the remote and watching FAUX News and get out in the real world.

Sincerely A fed up CCSD Teacher/Parent AND TAXPAYER !!
Kennesaw Resident
February 03, 2014
@ Just Wait, let's begin with restoring the money that has been cut. More money is not the issue.
absolutely agree
February 01, 2014
Roy Barnes? Huh? I read the list with dismay and then disgust settled in. Forget the "heavy hitters"! Where are the people who could do some good? Why in the world does someone not turn to a group of older, retired teachers, ones with excellent reputations for dealing with difficulties and ask them for suggestions? The hard questions are going to have to be addressed if anything is to improve. We have untold hundreds of non-English speaking children, probably most illegal and a large number of Black students who, unfortunately due to their home lives, have no real support from home. Get busy and deal with this. The schools have already gone to pot!
Keep pushing
February 01, 2014
Thank you to those who are taking time to work for the students in Cobb and Marietta. I don't understand Mr. Parsons's belief that criticism is unfair. The fact that in absolute terms money has increased, does not mean the problem is getting fixed. The problem lies with the funding formulas. When Cobb gives 131 million to Local Fair Share and is 81 million short, there lies the problem. There needs to be an increase in property tax to 21 mil, sales tax initiative as well. This team of 16 look strong. They get it. Why doesMr. Parsons, who has a voice in the legislature not understand the problem? The fact is that it is the state to blame. It is the legislature that should be blamed. Nothing is being done to fix the QBE issue.
February 04, 2014
Until somebody unseats Don Parsons in his district, we'll be listening to him -- but he only speaks when one of his supporters stands to be hurt by something. Otherwise, ya can't find him.
Great idea
February 01, 2014
First, I find it ironic that Roy Barnes is on this committee because he did not do much for teachers. SPLOST needs to have a certain percentage to strictly go toward teacher salaries, not central office big wig salaries but teacher salaries. We are losing great teachers who are leaving after 5 -7 years. They are finding jobs in the private sector or staying home. Our children are suffering and people don't seem to care. Cobb has become a minority majority school system. Meaning we have more blacks and Hispanics than whites, and it is increasingly more difficult. Why? They don't get the help they need at home, and teachers don' get the support from those parents that they need. Teachers don't want to work in this district anymore. Sad.
Tripp Allen
February 01, 2014
Amen , finally have a group that understands the issue. We do not have a cut problem we have a revenue problem. Myself and other educators went down to the board meeting last may and expressed our concerns. We must raise more revenue, state funding, mileage increase, reexamination of property tax exemption law, more flexibility in using splost dollars and to look at the QBE formula. Being an Atlanta native we all understand that once the public school system goes, the deterioration of the county follows, property values plummet ,businesses leave and we become the next dekalb or Clayton county.

This group understands that the number one thing in education is student to teacher ratio and attracting and keeping top notch teachers. Right now teachers are referring and not teaching, 35 to 40 in a middle and high school class and 24 in elementary is insane. We don't need another standardized test, but highly qualified teachers that create relationships with students in a workable environment . We as educators and homeowners need to get on board with this group and support them. As the saying goes, " we need to spend a nickel so we can make a dollar down the road" . The misconception is that fiscally conservative people will pay for a good product, they just don,t want their money spent on wasteful entitlements, and a good public school system is my tax dollars well spent.

Get Real
February 01, 2014
I never knew African Americans and Hispanics could bring down and entire school system. Never mind overcrowded class rooms, under paid and overworked staff, or the parents who complain about too much homework. Give me a break!!! Minority majority!!! Go and crawl back under your racist rock.
Kennesaw Resident
February 01, 2014
Teachers don't want to be teachers anymore and are advising young people not to choose it as a career.

Teachers don't get paid for the days they do not work and with most districts in the state having multiple furlough days, no cost of living increase for six years and in some cases and actually pay reduction, increased health insurance costs, and substantially increased work loads, teaching is just not the profession to be in these days. Teachers may get summers and holidays off, but it is unpaid time off.
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