Sponsored by the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club, the forum was in the Cobb County commission chambers.
Three of the seven school board members are up for re-election this year.
In Post 2, Tim Stultz is challenged by retired Cobb educator Susan Thayer and Wells Fargo lending officer Jeff Abel for the Smyrna-area seat. Whoever wins the May 20 Republican primary faces Democrat Kenya Pierre of Smyrna, an attorney, in November.
Post 6, representing the east Cobb area, pits incumbent Scott Sweeney against Kevin Nicholas, director with PGi, a global video and audio technology company, who has three children in the school district.
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci is not seeking re-election in the Post 4 seat, leaving Lockheed Martin logistics analyst and grandfather of two David Chastain and retired Marietta Sixth Grade Academy Principal Bill Scott to compete for the north-central Cobb seat.
Candidates were given one to two minutes to answer each question.
Scott calls Race to Top ‘innovative,’ Chastain says no
Candidates were asked about President Barack Obama’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, and its pay-for-performance component.
Scott said he doesn’t
believe pay for performance works.
“One of the things with that is that teachers become competitive with each other rather than sharing with each other and to have a good school where people collaborate, they need to share ideas,” Scott said.
At the same time, Scott had some good things to say about Race to the Top, which he called innovative.
“Race to the Top is a guideline that I think that we can work through, but it’s something that is able to help us create an innovative way of looking at the best way to help children learn, so it does need some work. We want to make sure that it doesn’t become a mandate, but so far about 44 states have adopted this philosophy of Race to the Top, and I think that we can possibly make it work,” Scott said.
Chastain, of Acworth, had nothing good to say about Race to the Top.
“When you have Race to the Top, who wins? I mean, what was the race all about?” Chastain asked.
Chastain recalled attending Wheeler High School in the 1970s, when the fashionable education concept was “open-space” teaching.
“Let’s take 90 kids, throw them in one big room and have three classes going at once, and I’m sure a lot of educators and people that benefited from that financially embraced it. It was a total failure,” Chastain said.
Another education fad Chastain said didn’t work was Georgia’s “Math 1, 2 and 3,” which he said his daughter suffered through.
“Race to the Top, all these other things, I think we’re helping make corporations richer, and we’re helping lobbyists fund politicians with Race to the Top and that sort of thing. It ain’t happening with my kid,” he said.
Ragsdale praised and poked?
Stultz and Abel did not show up for the event, leaving the floor to Thayer. Some believe Thayer took a swipe at Ragsdale, Cobb’s deputy superintendent of operational support, who the Cobb school board named as its finalist for interim superintendent, in her brief remarks. Thayer was permitted an opening statement, but did not participate in answering questions.
“A big thing that’s facing our system right now is selecting a superintendent,” Thayer said. “I know how to pick educational leaders. I know what to look for. I hope we find someone who does not function always on operational issues, but looks at learning.”
By contrast, Nicholas, who is challenging Sweeney, praised the selection of Ragsdale while referencing Sweeney’s support for Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.
“I applaud the appointment today … of Chris Ragsdale as interim superintendent instead of the outgoing superintendent that my opponent supports,” Nicholas said. “With Chris and myself, I think we can start the business of real transparency. There has been some issues as far as transparency with land purchase on Terrell Mill Road, I believe, and also with East Cobb Middle School. We need to enable our students for success. We need to manage the taxpayer money efficiently and earn their trust.”
Sweeney reportedly fought the board’s decision to select Ragsdale as interim superintendent from the beginning, according to sources inside the school system who asked not to be identified.
Sweeney spoke of using special purpose local option sales tax dollars to help reduce classroom sizes.
“I’ve actually worked tirelessly to reduce classroom sizes, and I’ve done so by supporting the usage of excess SPLOST funds, which is legally permitted to do so, which resulted in the preservation of hundreds of teaching positions,” he said.
Sweeney also took credit for “educating” the community about school finances. During a town hall meeting in December, he called on parents to deprive Gov. Nathan Deal of another term in office if he didn’t give the school system more money. Sweeney referenced that action Thursday.
“With this community’s support, which I was largely responsible for getting out in front of the community and educating, I held more than 15 education forums, talking about finance and what it means to fully fund. And the good people of this county made their voices known, made it known to the governor, made it known to the state representatives and senators, that we need to improve the funding mechanism, which will help us reduce classroom sizes,” Sweeney said.
Nicolas said managing existing revenues should also be a priority.
“One thing we do differ on between my opponent and myself is I think you have to manage the money you have without trying to find where the available money is,” he said. “And you have to allocate that as a priority to reducing classroom sizes. I do agree with all of my colleagues up here that classroom sizes directly impact performance. That needs to be a priority in the budget and also needs to be a priority toward students.”
— Jon Gillooly contributed to this report.