Promethean center of Sweeney/Nicholas debate
by Jon Gillooly
April 23, 2014 04:00 AM | 4498 views | 22 22 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County Board of Education Post 6 incumbent Scott Sweeney, left, discusses his platform with potential voters during a Forum collaboratively hosted by the Sope Creek Elementary School Council, PTA and Foundation. Cynthia Rozzo, Founder & Publisher of The EAST COBBER moderated the event.<br>Photos courtesy of Julia Curran Photography
Cobb County Board of Education Post 6 incumbent Scott Sweeney, left, discusses his platform with potential voters during a Forum collaboratively hosted by the Sope Creek Elementary School Council, PTA and Foundation. Cynthia Rozzo, Founder & Publisher of The EAST COBBER moderated the event.
Photos courtesy of Julia Curran Photography
slideshow
Cobb County Board of Education Post 6 candidate Kevin Nicholas, left, answer questions from constituents during a Forum collaboratively hosted by the Sope Creek Elementary School Council, PTA and Foundation. Cynthia Rozzo, Founder & Publisher of The EAST COBBER moderated the event.<br>Photos courtesy of Julia Curran Photography
Cobb County Board of Education Post 6 candidate Kevin Nicholas, left, answer questions from constituents during a Forum collaboratively hosted by the Sope Creek Elementary School Council, PTA and Foundation. Cynthia Rozzo, Founder & Publisher of The EAST COBBER moderated the event.
Photos courtesy of Julia Curran Photography
slideshow
MARIETTA — Cobb School Board member Scott Sweeney and challenger Kevin Nicholas squared off during a forum Monday, debating such issues as Common Core, Sweeney’s work for an education vendor and the new leader of the school district.

The Sope Creek Elementary School PTA sponsored the event, which attracted a crowd of about 80.

The evening’s moderator, East Cobber magazine publisher Cynthia Rozzo, asked the candidates about their ties to education vendors.

Sweeney has come under criticism since the MDJ reported earlier this month he is a consultant for Promethean Ltd., the maker of digital whiteboards used in some Cobb classrooms.

Sweeney answered Rozzo’s question by saying he was transparent about working for the education vendor.

“First of all, in the paper you may have heard that I am actually doing some consulting,” Sweeney said. “My consulting role is fully disclosed to members of the Board of Education. I shared with them, No. 1, I sent a letter to the board chair, the vice chair, the superintendent, our attorney, as well as the company I work for, said I will not vote on any matters related to this company as far as the Cobb County School District is concerned, nor will I do any work with the company. Secondly, I think it’s important to know that I do not do sales for this organization. I am not paid on a commission or an incentive of any kind. I work on strategic planning, and I work on the development of consulting services for that organization. And I’m not an employee. I actually am a consultant for the organization.”

While Sweeney said he informed the school board about his job with the education vendor, he did not disclose it on his campaign finance report or on an MDJ candidate questionnaire.

It wasn’t until Sweeney was spotted earlier this month in New Orleans at the National School Boards Association’s annual conference, a trip Cobb school board members were initially unaware of, that the MDJ asked Sweeney about his relationship with Promethean.

Sweeney refuses to disclose his contract with Promethean, claiming it is confidential.

His consulting work with a firm that does business with the school district has raised eyebrows. Board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci called it a conflict of interest, while William Perry, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, suggested the reason Promethean hired Sweeney was because of his school board position.

Former board member calls for Sweeney’s resignation

Retired educator Teresa Plenge, a Republican who served on the Cobb school board from 1997 to 2008, has called for Sweeney’s resignation.

“The fact that he became a so-called consultant after he was already a board member is, in terms of ethics, something that you just don’t do,” Plenge said. “He’s hiding it from the public. I think that action alone shows that he knows he’s guilty. And his stance now, to me, is just appalling — absolutely appalling — that he thinks any of this is acceptable behavior for an elected official is just appalling.”

Nicholas, a Republican who is challenging Sweeney in the May 20 primary, answered Rozzo’s question by saying conflicts of interest by board members must be avoided.

“And I do believe that we have to be very open about our dealings, in particular this example, where we have a company that is very interested in business with the Cobb County schools,” Nicholas said. “So regardless what letters have been sent, I think we need to be open with what my opponent does for them, and in return, I would be open to that as well in revealing my documents, in particular my tax returns, because I don’t have a contract in that regard.”

Nicholas said the problem doesn’t end with Sweeney consulting for one of the district’s vendors. It extends to the Cobb Schools Foundation.

Sweeney has said his initial contact with Promethean was through Jim Marshall, Promethean’s president and CEO.

Marshall is a board member of the Cobb Schools Foundation, a fundraising group that donates money to Cobb schools through fundraisers and has an employee on the district’s payroll. Sheri Brante is that employee, the executive director of the foundation. Her husband, Morten Brante, is senior vice president of services for Promethean.

Speaking of Promethean, Nicholas said, “That same company has representatives on the Cobb Foundation. I think we need to follow up with what Gwinnett does, for instance. They prohibit vendors from sitting on their foundation. And we also need to be very careful about the conflicts of interest that gives a business an unfair advantage to our school system.”

Thoughts on the new superintendent

Rozzo asked Nicholas if he would vote to hire deputy superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who is expected to be named interim superintendent Thursday, as the Cobb School District’s permanent superintendent.

Nicholas said he applauded Ragsdale for being selected as the finalist.

“I think Chris is a fine individual,” Nicholas said. “I think he has extensive experience in Cobb County schools, and I think he’s vested here, unlike our last superintendent, who my opponent has supported, who I don’t think was vested here, and I think we didn’t get his full attention.”

Born in Marietta’s Kennestone Hospital and reared in Paulding County, where Ragsdale continues to live with his family, Nicholas believes the district will have Ragsdale’s full attention.

“Chris is a technologist,” Nicholas said. “I think he can understand what we need to do regarding cost as far as implementing technology. At the same time, Chris knows how to surround himself with the proper people, so I think Chris has proven himself in his last position. I think we need to give him that opportunity in this position, and if he does a good job, I support him, and I support him as interim superintendent currently.”

Sweeney was next to answer the question, saying Ragsdale knows he has Sweeney’s support.

“Before we even started talking with people, I actually got together with Chris and I expressed some things to him very clearly,” Sweeney said. “I said, ‘Listen, one of the things I think you’re going to have a challenge with is No. 1, you don’t have your master’s degree yet. That’s going to be a challenge because he’s going to have to obtain his master’s degree simultaneously while he is going to be the interim school superintendent.”

Ragsdale is enrolled in Shorter University’s executive MBA program.

“Having a master’s degree is a requirement,” Sweeney said. “We actually had to go to the state to obtain a waiver to allow Mr. Ragsdale to be the interim school superintendent, and, by the way, we haven’t voted on that yet, but when we do vote, he’s going to have my support.”

Sweeney’s public support of Ragsdale directly contradicts what played out behind the scenes, according to a source with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified.

That source says Sweeney bitterly fought the board’s selection of Ragsdale as interim superintendent.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is a former Cobb school board member who’s hired several superintendents during his time on the board.

Tippins, who believes Ragsdale is the right person for the job, said it’s not unique to seek such a waiver and doesn’t anticipate any problems in granting one for Ragsdale. Tippins questioned the relevance of the state requirement given that the rule is the master’s degree could be in any specific field, whether it could meaningfully be used in the job or not.

“Integrity, leadership ability, experience and strong people skills are more important to me than the fact that they attended school for another 18 months and got an advanced degree,” Tippins said.

Angelucci calls Sweeney’s executive session alleged leaks “unfortunate”

Angelucci shared her thoughts about Sweeney’s Ragsdale comments Tuesday.

“It is unfortunate that a fellow board member would disclose executive session deliberations about any interim superintendent candidate and the Interim Superintendent Search Process,” Angelucci said in an email shared with Vice Chairman Randy Scamihorn.

“It would seem difficult to expect anyone in the future to feel comfortable interviewing with the BOE if candidate discussions or deliberations are disclosed.”

Angelucci said the question of whether a board member would support the interim superintendent for a permanent position should be deferred since the next board will be making that decision.

“It is our hope that Mr. Sweeney may have misspoken and did not actually meet with a candidate in advance of the process to discuss their candidacy or what they perceived to be their challenges; those are whole board discussions and part of the deliberation process which should have been only with the board, not with an individual candidate,” Angelucci wrote in her email.

Angelucci said she and Scamihorn agreed that a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses should not be discussed in public “in an effort to embarrass or weaken him or her for any reason. The candidates’ pros and cons should only be discussed in executive session as a professional courtesy to all. The process should remain fair and consistent. It is our intent to request a meeting with Mr. Sweeney to discuss his statements. It is up to the Board as to any action taken.”

Common Core controversy

A Saturday New York Times’ article explored how the Common Core national standards have sparked an “establishment-versus-grass-roots” divide in the Republican Party.

Conservatives have denounced the national standards as “Obamacore,” believing it will lead to a federal takeover of schools and loss of local control, the article reports.

Yet criticism of Common Core isn’t limited to the political right. The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has called the rollout of the Common Core standards “completely botched.”

The Cobb school board has been front and center in the controversy, voting last year to reject a $7.5 million purchase of math textbooks affiliated with the Common Core standards and instead opting for digital resources.

Rozzo asked Sweeney and Nicholas about this vote. Sweeney said he was one of the board members who opposed rejecting the textbooks.

Sweeney said the digital resources that were purchased were working to a degree.

“But I talked to a lot of principals, and I asked them, ‘What’s working and what’s not working?’” he said. “Well, we have lots of students that don’t have online access at home. We have lots of students that have multiple children that are fighting for resources, not the least of which is trying to balance that with extracurricular activities.”

Sweeney emphasized the importance of giving teachers and students the resources they need.

“And what’s also happened is foundations are now purchasing these materials for schools, and the foundations are angry because those dollars were actually intended to go to perhaps reduced classroom sizes. So that’s my feeling on it. I really think that we need to put these resources into teachers’ hands,” Sweeney said.

Nicholas said he agreed providing teachers and students with the resources they need is important. But they need to be the right resources, he said.

Nicholas related how his son’s geometry teacher told him not to use the textbook because it doesn’t teach geometry the way it should be taught.

“Same thing in my sixth-grader’s class,” Nicholas said. “They use online resources and other resources. $7.5 million is a lot of money for textbooks if there is a potential change in curriculum. We need to be very careful though that we don’t put our teachers on a roller coaster of changing curriculums all the time.”

During this year’s legislation session, state Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) authored a bill that passed out of the Senate but was killed in the House and provided a pathway for Georgia to withdraw from the Common Core standards.

“I applaud Sen. Ligon’s progress in the Legislature to look at Common Core and try to move to a direction where it’s more palatable and maybe a little bit better for our kids,” Nicholas said. “So we need to look very closely coming up this year, and the next year, as far as what we’re doing with Common Core. Ultimately, we have to decide what’s best for our kids at the teacher level. We need to get their input.”

Among those in attendance was retired Dodgen Middle School principal Jim Snell, who has endorsed Sweeney.

Sitting next to Snell were retired Deputy Superintendent Alice Stouder, who interviewed for the position of interim superintendent but was not selected, and the district’s Chief Academic Officer Amy Krause. Stouder said she is also endorsing Sweeney for the job.

“I think it went very well,” Emily Yewell Volin, chair of the Sope Creek School Council and co-president of the Sope Creek Elementary PTA, said after the forum. “It was a good turnout. I was pleased to see the questions from the public that were sent to Cynthia were really addressed.”

Comments
(22)
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C. Nicholas-Welkis
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April 24, 2014


Scott Sweeney needs to reflect on the reason WHY he was elected to the board almost four years ago.

Mr. Sweeney won his seat because THE PEOPLE stood up and demanded their legal rights be honored and demanded transparency and honesty from our then school board representative, Dr. John Crooks. Dr. Crooks' actions and disregard for the public's wishes and lack of TRANSPARENCY led to legal grounds for a recall effort.

And as a concerned citizen, I and many others stood up to Dr. Crooks disregard for our rights as his electorate.

Subsequent to the recall efforts advancing, Dr. Crooks did not run for re-election and Mr. Sweeney was the "golden boy" successor of the East Cobb political inner-circle. Ties here run deep and one day you may be the apple of their eye and the next day you may be on the outs. Everyone is replaceable. Mr. Sweeney should refect on that as well.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Sweeney has apparently lost his way and has not consistently displayed the integrity we expect and deserve from our elected officials. Case in point is the Terrell Mill land deal. Although it was legally defensible to keep the discussion in Executive Session, however it was clearly unethical to not vet this with the public in advance. Another issue is his ties to a technology vendor and previous non-disclosure of his role and any conficts of interests.

And to provide some context and disclosure,

1) YES, I was the chairperson of the Committee to Recall Dr. John Crooks, and

2) YES, I am the wife of former Democratic candidate, Dr. Ricky Welkis, and

3) YES, I am the sister of Mr. Kevin Nicholas.

I am no longer in Mr. Sweeney's electorate, due to re-districting, however his post and decisions clearly impact my children due to residing in the East Cobb Middle and Wheeler attendance zones.

In a nutshell, Kevin has the integrity, knowledge, and heart to do what's best for our kids. He's the real deal, not smoke and mirrors.

And in support of this, our family has stood up, put our money where our mouth is and have made a stand in our community to ensure fair and just treatment. Past actions are also often a solid predictor of the future. Kevin has the integrity and ambition to turn the ship around for the betterment of our children.
Buzzy Creplock Jr.
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April 24, 2014
"Sweeney’s public support of Ragsdale directly contradicts what played out behind the scenes, according to a source with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified."

"behind the scenes..." = in executive session

"a source with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified..." = a board member

Obviously, other board members have been talking to the MDJ - and it's apparent it's not Sweeney.

YES. And YES.

The fact that CCSD had to seek a waiver is subject to open records requests therefor not privileged info covered by executive session.

Someone is just trying to cover their tail.

Cynthia Rozzo
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April 24, 2014
Just had time to read the comments. To "Not Obvious" comment that the forum was "moderated by someone who has come out in support of him" I am that moderator and have never come out in support of Scott Sweeney. I never posted a yard sign in support of Sweeney, no LIKING his facebook page, no campaign donations, no public support--so your assumption is wrong. As a voter, I wanted to give both candidates a chance to educate me (and the audience) on their stances and determine if they deserve my vote.

Nicholas too busy
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April 24, 2014
I attended the candidate forum at Sope Creek. When asked where his kids went to school, Nicholas listed out the schools then said he was proud of his kids as single dad with custody for the past 6 to 7 years. I couldn't help but think, how is a single dad of three kids in middle and high school with a full time corporate job going to have adequate time to represent our interests as a school board member? Couple that with the fact that he was 15 minutes late to this forum and totally missed the one at Hightower. Is he going to "no show" at board meetings? This guy should be embarrassed to be running.
wow!.
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April 23, 2014
Where is the story? I mean really, where is the story??

Scott Sweeney works as a consultant for a company that has not sold 1 item to the school board since he joined them!

Again, where is the story? The deafening silence you hear is based on the fact there is not one.

Sorry Sweeney
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April 23, 2014
Picking a school where your children go to have a debate is quite convenient. I see that the Dr.s have checked in to show his support. So disappointed in Snell that he supports him. And Strouder is a joke as she is tied into the old regime who Sweeney has now aligned himself with. These same people are out to discredit Angelucci. I guess they can't handle a woman being in a mans job, eh? Having any ties to a vendor who can make money is wrong, plain wrong and he either needs to give up that job or give up his post. And yes - I did vote for Sweeney the last time but am terribly disappointed in his decision making and political ties. Make no mistake, he is in this for politics, not for our children.
@ Sorry Sweeney
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April 23, 2014
Not a Sweeney supporter? That's fine, but he was obviously invited by the PTA groups at Sope Creek and he accepted the invitation. He did not choose the location. Your comments are an insult to Sope Creek's PTA.
anonymous
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April 23, 2014
Hate to disappoint you... Sweeney didn't pick the debate site. The PTA did.

At least Sweeney shows up and on time.
This is obvious...
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April 23, 2014
"Sweeney’s public support of Ragsdale directly contradicts what played out behind the scenes, according to a source with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified."

"behind the scenes..." = in executive session

"a source with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified..." = a board member

Obviously, other board members have been talking to the MDJ - and it's apparent it's not Sweeney.

Angelucci is just trying to cover her tracks and put the spotlight on Sweeney, hence all her chatter with the MDJ. She is obviously working hard to try and damage Sweeney's campaign, but it's obvious that Sweeney has tremendous support.

And as for Nicholas, (who Angelucci is obviously supporting), really? No show on last week's candidate forum? How rude to all the people that worked hard to organize the event and rude to the people who took their time to attend the event. Then show up late to Sope Creek's candidate forum? Lastly, Nicholas needs to do some homework so he can talk intelligently about some of the critical issues and quit wasting his time attacking Sweeney.

People, you may not agree with every decision Sweeney makes in his board member role, but he definitely knows the issues, works hard for this community and is running a clean campaign. Do your own homework on these 2 guys and it's obvious who needs to be re-elected...

Not obvious
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April 23, 2014
Actually many people don't agree with any decision he has made, and to work for a vendor is wrong. Who is Angelucci supporting? First of all she doesn't vote in this district and she has not endorsed anyone. This debate was held where Sweeney's kids attend school and is moderated by someone who has come out in support of him? How were the tables really turned last night? Definitely in Sweeney's favor so quit the belly aching and "Do the Homework" which also includes whoever Sweeney spends his time with - namely bitter ex board members who lost their re election campaigns and are now trying to get even by doing things in the background.
@ Not Obvious
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April 23, 2014
Ooooh - hit a nerve! :)
Are you Kidding
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April 23, 2014
May not agree with Sweeney's decisions - How about what he initially campaigned for - has he fulfilled what he stood for - No. Mr. Sweeney is not the person that was initially elected. He stated that he would stand for what was right and that he would dig into the budget and come up with solutions rather than grab money from previous SPLOSTs. He DID NOT do this. In Fact he supported this maneuver of OUR money- TWICE. He supports Common Core actually he supports what ever the current Superintendent did.

Go back to what this man ran on - he is not the person who has been in this office for 4 years. In FACT he is friends with Crooks who we voted out of office.
darkside
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April 23, 2014
Sweeney is too tied into the good ole boys school board network now. (Crooks, Banks) scary.
Craig Kootsillas
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April 23, 2014
Sweeney is accused of using his position as a member of the school board to provide a competitive edge to a firm he represents.

He refuses to disclose the details of his contract with that firm.

Guilty.
THE TRUTH
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April 23, 2014
“I applaud Sen. Ligon’s progress in the Legislature to look at Common Core and try to move to a direction where it’s more palatable and maybe a little bit better for our kids,” Ligon said. “So we need to look very closely coming up this year, and the next year, as far as what we’re doing with Common Core. Ultimately, we have to decide what’s best for our kids at the teacher level. We need to get their input.”

EDITOR, WHO ARE THESE QUOTES ATTRIBUTED TO? IT APPEARS THE WRITER HAS ATTRIBUTED THEM TO SEN. LIGON, BUT CERTAINLY THAT IS NOT CORRECT.
Textbooks ????
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April 23, 2014
It's laughable that Nicholas states that "his son’s geometry teacher told him not to use the textbook because it doesn’t teach geometry the way it should be taught."

That's because the board failed to purchase new textbooks aligned with what is being taught in the classroom.

All of the consumables have been used up and teachers are spending ridiculous amounts of time at copying machines to produce materials for students.

anonymous
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April 23, 2014
This is a sideshow. It has not been shown that a single purchase was improperly influenced by Sweeney. There are comments being posted by people in the MDJ who are calling themselves employees of the school district virtually begging for an investigation of what may be true and potentially massive purchasing improprieties. Where's the real beef?
anonymous
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April 23, 2014
The real beef is this - you can't work for a vendor and be a board member!
Funny Stuff !
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April 23, 2014
Nicholas doesn't show for the Hightower Trail middle school forum and then he shows up 15 minutes late for the Sope Creek debate.

Rude behavior is no way to win votes.
anonymous
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April 23, 2014
It's also rude and incredibly unethical to have a very biased individual who has publicly endorsed one of the candidates serve as moderator. JoEllen Smith should never have even been considered as a moderator for this event. Stacking a room for one side is completely rude.
@ Angelucci
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April 23, 2014
Angelucci - we're certain you'll be digging into the bowels of the earth to learn who the actual mole is, won't you?

Who's the source that asked not to be identified?

Why did the media announce the interim superintendent before the board's announcement?

Concerned in Cobb
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April 23, 2014
Sweeney did not disclose his relationship with Promethean, a vendor that sells millions of dollars to the Cobb County School board, the very board he sits and votes on.

He did not mention it in his campaign finance report or on an MDJ candidate questionnaire.

And, he refuses to disclose his contract claiming it is confidential. = CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND EGREGIOUS ETHICAL VIOLATION
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