Carville, the acerbic Democratic Party political strategist, coined “It’s the economy, stupid” for Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against incumbent George H.W. Bush. That simple line helped keep the Democrats focused and confused the Republicans, who seemed to have no good response.
Which brings me to today. Like you, I have read a lot of stories in the MDJ over the past few weeks about the Cobb school system. Most newsworthy has been the discussion and ultimate appointment of Chris Ragsdale as interim Cobb schools superintendent, replacing Dr. Michael Hinojosa, who is headed back to Texas where he says he can get better Mexican food. Whatever floats your boat, sir.
I have heard from readers who say Ragsdale’s appointment is a stroke of genius. I have heard from readers who say he got the job because of political maneuvering by a group of insiders. I didn’t hear anybody talk about the students.
Then there is the controversy over Cobb School Board member Scott Sweeney’s ties to one of the world’s biggest educational technology companies, Promethean Ltd. Sweeney serves as a paid consultant. He told school board members about his relationship but never made that fact public and now seems to be sucking wind in his efforts to be reelected to his Post 6 position. Lots of talk about a conflict of interest, but nobody is talking about how this impacts the students.
Promethean’s influence extends to the Cobb Schools Foundation board. Board member Jim Marshall is president and CEO of Promethean’s U.S. operations, headquartered in Atlanta. The foundation’s one full-time employee is Sheri Brante, whose husband, Morten Brante, is senior vice president of Promethean. Ms. Brante says her husband went to work for Promethean after she was already working for the Foundation. I say all of this makes my head hurt.
According to the Cobb Schools Foundation Board website, the group is dedicated to “providing financial resources to enrich and enhance education in the Cobb County Public School District.” The MDJ reports that the district pays the foundation $136,000, but that the foundation raises only between $150,000 and $175,000 per year for the district. The paper reckons that by the time all the accounting is done, only about 10 cents to 28 cents of each dollar the foundation raises actually go toward their intended purpose. Some enrichment. Some enhancement. Cobb schools might be better off holding Saturday car washes.
The foundation website lists its chair, Dr. John Crooks, a former member of the Cobb school board, as being affiliated with Roswell Street Baptist Church. Crooks left Roswell Street in November 2013 and is nowhere to be seen on the church’s website these days. The foundation’s website still shows Alison Bartlett as a representative from the board of education and a non-voting member of the foundation board. Bartlett lost her school board re-election bid in 2012.
Ironically, School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci told the paper that she and her predecessor, current vice chair Randy Scamihorn, only learned a few weeks ago that the board chair is also an ex officio member of the Cobb Schools Foundation board. Angelucci’s name is not listed on the foundation website.
If the Cobb school system is giving the Cobb Schools Foundation $136,000 a year, could they pony up a few more bucks and ask the foundation to get their website up-to-date? My mentor, the late Jasper Dorsey, warned me early in my career that, “If I can’t trust you with the little things, I sure can’t trust you with the big ones.”
All of this would be funny — except it is not. Students seem an afterthought in this poorly-performed drama about Promethean boards and conflicts of interest and questionable foundation funding and how one political bloc gets their candidate in as interim superintendent to the dismay of a rival political bloc. It is not about the students. It is about money and power and political influence. And it is disgusting.
Through the cacophony, teachers are trying to teach their young charges how to read and write and add and subtract and endure an apathetic public that wonders why they can’t do better and special interest ideologues who would like to cut the legs out from under public schools and legislators who don’t deign to expose their own children to public education but want to tell teachers what and how they can teach other kids. I wonder sometimes why public school teachers even bother, except I know and they know that they are making a difference in young lives.
I know this, too. All the players in the Cobb County school district need to step back, take a deep breath and remember why they are here. This isn’t about you. It’s the students, stupid.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb