A controversy over the book purchase arose last year because the books aligned with the Common Core national education standards.
In April 2013, the board voted 4-3 to reject spending $7.5 million on math textbooks aligned with the standards. Board members Kathleen Angelucci, Tim Stultz, Randy Scamihorn and Brad Wheeler voted against buying the materials.
This time, things could be different. The Georgia General Assembly came close to pulling the state out of Common Core this spring, but decided against it at the last minute.
“The board basically wanted to hold off to make sure we didn’t have to spend $7 million in textbooks and resources that we were going to have to change in a year or two,” interim superintendent Chris Ragsdale said, explaining the hesitation a year ago.
Ragsdale is asking the board to spend $6.96 million on a similar purchase this year to be paid for with sales tax dollars.
Ragsdale acknowledges the proposed textbooks are aligned with Common Core as required by the state, but says he saw to it the books are more rigorous than the “common” standards are.
“We don’t have to stop at that,” Ragsdale said previously. “We wanted not only textbooks, but textbooks and resources that would allow the students and teachers in Cobb County to far exceed the minimum standards set forth by the state. We want to exceed those standards.”
Supporters of Common Core say the initiative creates a consistent set of education standards across the country, proving helpful, for example, to military families when they move from one state to the next.
Yet critics view Common Core as a federal assault on local control. Some believe while the “one-size-fits-all” set of standards helps students at underperforming schools, it lowers the standards at high-achieving ones.
Cobb Board of Education chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci isn’t a fan of Common Core.
“I would like to discuss the proposal with my colleagues as well as ask pertinent questions of the district before making a decision or casting a vote,” Angelucci said. “I still have serious objections about Common Core; that has not changed.”
Last July, after months of debating, the board authorized a scaled-down version of math resources for kindergarten through 12th grades, spending $2.9 million on the purchase. In addition to the lower cost, the $2.9 million version was composed of digital resources with the exception of advanced courses unaffiliated with Common Core.
Board member David Banks, who voted in favor of the purchase last year along with David Morgan and Scott Sweeney, said he’ll vote to buy the books again this year.
“It’s almost a disgrace to not put books in the classroom for students,” Banks said. “I hope some wiser thinking will take place this time.”
Banks does not have objections to Common Core.
“It’s a state initiative,” Banks said. “It was created by the states and it has been very much a benefit to Georgia because the Common Core national standards are basically our standards that we already had under the Georgia Performance Standards. So there’s really been no change in Georgia.”
Ragsdale said the potential textbook purchase uses textbooks and digital materials from McGraw-Hill for grades K-8, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for high school students. The same companies are being proposed for the middle school and high school textbooks as were proposed last year, but a different company has been recommended for the district’s elementary schools.
“The board wanted us to focus more on digital resources,” Ragsdale said. “Last year’s item identified Pearson, but this year we’re going with McGraw-Hill.”
Demographic study on tap
The school board will also hear the results of a demographic study performed by Davis Demographics and Planning at a cost of $77,400. The school district orders demographic studies every five to seven years to see where populations are shifting.
“It’s pure and simple population and growth forecasting,” Ragsdale said. “I’ve seen a brief look at the study, but they’re doing the presentation (for the school board) Wednesday.”
The study was conducted between October 2013 and March 2014, according to Ragsdale.
Board members said the study is used to help plan future construction projects.
“It is important to have a good grasp on where the county and school district is growing and declining for future planning purposes,” Angelucci said.
‘Smart Snack’ presentation
Another agenda item Wednesday calls for a presentation on the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The presentation will be made by Cynthia Downs, executive director of food and nutrition for Cobb schools, according to Ragsdale.
A federal law, dubbed the “Smart Snack Law,” goes into effect July 1, bringing with it bans on serving any snacks or drinks considered unhealthy by the federal government.
Gone will be non-diet soft drinks, cookies, fried potato chips and any other snack foods not meeting the new requirements. Also on the way out are products such as Chick-fil-A biscuits and doughnuts used as fundraisers, if they are sold during school hours. Similar regulations requiring healthy school lunches went into law in 2012.
The board will learn more about the law Wednesday, but some members already have expressed their displeasure with it.
“Grades K-5 are allowed to have a maximum of 650 calories, for grades 6-8 the maximum is 700 calories and for grades 9-12 the maximum is 850 calories,” Angelucci said. “I find it ironic that the title of this law is ‘Hunger Free’ because that is exactly the opposite of what is going to occur. Hunger is not conducive to effective learning.”
Other members, such as Morgan, see both sides of the issue.
“I definitely think our children eating more nutritious meals is very important, but at the same time, you have to balance that with pragmatism of what’s happening on the ground,” Morgan said. “I understand both sides, so we’ll see how it plays out Wednesday.”
One potential consequence of the law is a loss of revenue to schools if the biscuit and doughnut fundraisers are banned.
“We are going to be in communication with schools to prepare financially for what this will mean to them,” Ragsdale said. “Fundraising could be an area affected because of these particular requirements.”