In April, the board rejected Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s proposal to purchase $7.5 million in online math resources and hardback books, citing the high cost and alignment of those resources with the Common Core national standards, which critics say erodes local control by contributing to the federalization of education.
The board majority worried that if the state pulled out of Common Core it would have wasted $7.5 million.
On Wednesday, the board approved a smaller, $2.9 million purchase of math resources in a 4-3 vote with members David Morgan, Tim Stultz and Kathleen Angelucci opposed.
In addition to the lower cost, the difference between the two packages is the $2.9 million version is composed of mostly digital resources with the exception of advanced courses unaffiliated with Common Core.
While the digital resources the board purchased are aligned with Common Core, they can be revised if the state pulls out of the controversial standards. By comparison, the $7.5 million version would have included textbooks that once purchased could not have been changed, leaving the district stuck with them.
The vote to approve the $2.9 million package came after three previous votes were turned down by the board majority.
Board member Scott Sweeney of east Cobb, for example, tried to convince the board to approve Hinojosa’s original $7.5 million proposal.
Sweeney said while he is not a fan of Common Core, his intent is to get math resources into the hands of teachers and students as quickly as possible.
“My deep concern is that we’re not supplying all the tools that we have at our disposal … that can be delivered,” Sweeney said. “I would urge my colleagues to give due consideration to a full restoration of the recommendations that the district made in April.”
Sweeney also argued that he didn’t believe the Georgia Department of Education would depart from Common Core in the future.
“The likelihood that the standards will be shifted again, I personally feel, is quite remote,” he said.
Yet board Chairman Randy Scamihorn questioned Sweeney’s confidence that Georgia’s education standards won’t change, given that Common Core is the third set of such standards Georgia has implemented in six years.
“Three (times) and now we’re going out on a limb saying that ‘I doubt there will be another change?’” Scamihorn said. “I’m sorry, throw another rock at me.”
Angelucci, who opposed Hinojosa’s April recommendation, has been an outspoken critic of Common Core.
“It’s not the end of the world, the sky is not falling,” Angelucci said. “This is not, ‘We have to have this or our teachers won’t have resources and our students won’t have resources.’ I just don’t buy that.”
Angelucci’s original concern, along with Common Core having ties to President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, has been that she doesn’t want the district to spend almost $8 million on resources if the state is going to shift standards again.
She pointed out that on Monday there has already been a change involving Common Core with Gov. Nathan Deal’s announcement that Georgia is cutting ties with the testing component of the national standards.
“My big concern is the expense, being fiscally responsible and just waiting to see what happens,” Angelucci said. “We may very well be staying with what we have, but we don’t know.”
Just as it failed in April, Sweeney’s recommendation to approve the $7.5 million math package was voted down 3-4, with Scamihorn, Stultz, Angelucci and Brad Wheeler opposed.
Angelucci’s recommendation to postpone the purchase altogether was also voted down.
She argued that the public hadn’t had enough time to review the materials since the meeting agenda and final list of resources was only released Monday. In July, the board combines its traditional two monthly meetings into one marathon meeting.
“We gave no time for the public to give input,” Angelucci said. “There are some pretty big items on this agenda.”
Stultz’s recommendation, which also failed, would have slashed the math package down to a $1.2 million price tag.
Hinojosa said he was grateful for the reconsideration by the board after the meeting.
“It wasn’t my original proposal, but I am relieved that we are going to get some resources for our staff,” Hinojosa said.
Public also voices
Board members weren’t the only ones who spoke passionately Wednesday about the topic.
Eleven people addressed the board on the $2.9 million math resources purchase during public comments, six in favor and five against it, including one Kennesaw mother who said she’d run for office if the board can’t make better choices than to approve what she called the “bizarre” and “ridiculous” lessons of Common Core Standards.
“This is a total travesty of (our children’s) education,” said Tammy Slater of Kennesaw. “I don’t own a private school, I won’t financially gain from Race to the Top funding or deals with any publishers, and I’m not (obligated) to the (Cobb) Chamber of Commerce. I’m a parent.
“My one and only true-vested interest in being here is my children and the quality of their education. That should be yours as well. If we can’t trust in this, then people need to be replaced, and I’ll run against you if I have to. Our children deserve better.”
Slater asked that the board, who she believes are obligated to be “honest stewards” of taxpayer money, make decisions that are in the best interest of the children and give the public more time to review the materials like Angelucci asked.
“To even consider spending $3 million on materials without a shred of open public discussion or thoroughly vetting them yourselves is truly disgusting,” Slater said. “The board can’t possibly know what’s in them, let alone make an informed decision, but you want to vote. That kind of betrayal and lack of accountability to the taxpayers, children and parents of this county is stunning.”
Yet Durham Middle School teacher Brian Lewis, who sat on the committee that recommended the books in the original $7.5 million proposal, said the teachers are in dire need of the resources.
“No matter the politics, no matter if you agree with Common Core or not, the ultimate factor is how are we going to impact our students?” he said. “Keeping the teachers without resources and further delaying the vote to August would keep them from having the proper resources to begin school, to lay the foundation for a brand new school year.”