In a victory for Interim Cobb School District Super-intendent Chris Ragsdale, the board voted 5-1-1 to approve his proposal to purchase $7 million in math textbooks and materials to be used for the next seven years.
The books are expected to arrive in time for the start of the 2014-15 school year.
School Board Chair Kathleen Angelucci voted against the purchase, while Vice Chair Randy Scamihorn abstained. Both voted against a similar purchase last year.
Board members Tim Stultz and Brad Wheeler also voted against the purchase in April 2013, which failed 4-3, but decided to vote in favor of it this year.
While all four said they still have issues with Common Core, they stressed the need to put materials in the hands of students and teachers.
“Common Core is awkward, if not incomprehensible,” Scamihorn said. “I’m opposed to Common Core, but I’m also strongly in favor of supporting our teachers, and our teachers needed some materials.”
The Georgia General Assembly nearly pulled 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,” said Ragsdale, explaining the hesitation a year ago.
Last July, 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.
Stultz is in the middle of a primary challenge from education consultant Susan Thayer, with a runoff coming July 22 for the southeast Cobb seat.
The winner faces Democrat Kenya Pierre, an attorney, in November. Pierre has said previously said she is not opposed to Common Core.
Thayer has said she would have voted to buy the books last year, and Stultz’s vote puts the two southeast Cobb candidates closer to alignment on the issue.
“Our vote last year gave the state an opportunity to take the state out of Common Core,” Stultz said. “They did not come through, so the district is left with no other option but to give the teachers the resources they need.”
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 another.
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.
Different books than last year
Ragsdale said the 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 McGraw-Hill replaced Pearson for elementary schools this time. Ragsdale said McGraw-Hill’s materials have a stronger digital element.
Scamihorn asked Wednesday if the board could vote on the elementary, middle and high school textbooks separately, but the board decided not to do so. Angelucci said she favored the elementary textbooks, but not the books for middle school and high school.
“If I can’t support a portion, I can’t support the whole,” she said.
Scamihorn said he was ready to vote for the books, but had issues with how the vote was handled. He questioned why the vote was held during a work session rather than next Thursday’s regular board meeting.
Mary Elizabeth Davis, the school system’s chief academic officer, fielded questions by board members about the books.
When asked by Scamihorn about voting next week, Davis said it would delay the book order until after the July 4 holiday and the books wouldn’t arrive until late August.
Scamihorn took issue with the response.
“It was heavy-handed,” he said. “I thought this was pre-determined. They knew exactly what they were doing. But I want to stress that I support the vote. Any abstention goes with the majority.”
Before the board talked about the purchase, school board member David Morgan made a motion to accept the purchase, which was seconded by David Banks.
Seven people spoke to the board during public comment before the meeting, of which six spoke about the textbook purchase. All said they were in favor of buying the math books.
One of those speakers was Michelle Sollicito, who recently campaigned for Post 6 school board member Scott Sweeney.
“A vote against these books is a vote against teachers and children,” Sollicito said.
Others who spoke favorably of the purchase included Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, and Stanley Wrinkle, a former Cobb assistant superintendent.