It’s official: Ragsdale’s the man to lead Cobb schools after 7-0 vote
by Haisten Willis
April 25, 2014 04:00 AM | 4282 views | 10 10 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chris Ragsdale (MDJ/File)
Chris Ragsdale (MDJ/File)
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MARIETTA — The Cobb County Board of Education appointed Chris Ragsdale the district’s interim superintendent by a 7-0 vote Thursday.

It also passed a tentative budget that could include 300 or even 400 new teachers next year.

During a scheduled meeting, the board confirmed what it announced two weeks earlier in naming Ragsdale the sole finalist for the job. The 14-day waiting period is required by state law.

Ragsdale, formerly the deputy superintendent of operations, said he’s ready to get off to a running start on May 1.

“We’re going to take a look at everything,” Ragsdale said. He added that he hopes the district’s revenues continue to improve.

“Staff morale is particularly in need of a boost,” he said.

Ragsdale, 45, was selected from among seven candidates to fill the role after Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced in February he was resigning effective May 31 to move back home to Dallas, Texas.

“His decision making is very logical,” Randy Scamihorn, the board’s vice chairman, said of Ragsdale.

“He has a grasp of the issues and is very ‘parent oriented.’ It’s my belief that all the candidates had strong points, but overall Chris is the right person at this time.”

Hinojosa and Ragsdale will work together during the month of May as the superintendent job transitions between the two. Ragsdale’s term will run from May 2014 to May 2015. Whether he will stay on beyond that point remains to be seen.

With the promotion, Ragsdale’s pay will jump from $135,000 to $185,000. Hinojosa’s base pay was $247,625.

The school board also accepted the retirements of Frey Elementary Principal Joyce Piket and Clarksdale Elementary Principal Marjorie Bickerstaff Thursday.

Scamihorn said he knows Piket because she was principal when two of his grandsons attended Frey.

“It saddens me to see another good one go,” said Scamihorn.

Tentative budget adopted

Next year’s budget got the school board talking thanks to one big piece of news — it’s going up.

After years of cuts during the Great Recession, Hinojosa was projecting an almost $80 million deficit when the school year started. But thanks to more funds both at both the state and local level, that deficit is gone.

Next year’s budget will be about $899 million. Passed by a 7-0 vote, the tentative budget includes no furlough days, a 180-day school year and potentially 300 new teacher hires.

During the recession, the district cut the pay of all employees by 2 percent. The proposed budget restores half of that cut.

“These are significant improvements,” said Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson.

The school board already met twice on April 14 and 16 to talk about the budget. At first, it eyed 193 new teachers, but has since felt safe going to 300.

But one school board member wants to push the number even higher.

The budget includes $95 million in what’s called “unreserved” funds, which is loosely akin to a savings account.

Scott Sweeney, in the middle of a heated re-election challenge from Kevin Nicholas, said he thinks the district can take another $7.5 million out of savings and hire 400 new teachers.

“I think we can afford 400 easily,” he said, citing the impact it would have on class sizes. “I know we can afford this.”

Other board members, such as Scamihorn, said they weren’t comfortable making such a big jump just yet and would rather wait until next year to see how the numbers play out.

Nicholas, vice president of a telecommunications company and father of three Cobb school students, also said he prefers 300 to 400 new teacher hires.

Nicholas pointed out that $40 million in state funds are an election-year boost that might not be around next year.

“We need to be careful of being reckless with new funds,” said Nicholas.

A new elementary school?

The proposed budget also includes a $5 million earmark that could go toward construction of a new elementary school, though no decision has been made whether that will happen or what school it could be.

Mableton resident David Berny spoke during public comment pushing for the replacement of Harmony-Leland Elementary. But school board member David Banks said in an interview that Powers Ferry Elementary, a school in his district, is just as old and could use replacing itself. Both schools were built in 1951.

Another possible expense is hiring up to 11 new school resource officers next year, enough to have one at every middle school in the county in addition to every high school. The additional officers, including new police cars, could cost around $900,000.

Again, Scamihorn had reservations.

“I’m sympathetic but concerned about spending our money too quickly,” he said.

Sweeney disagreed.

“It’s a different day and age,” he said, making the case the officers are needed.

The tentative budget isn’t official yet. The board will talk it over and pass a final budget next month.

Comments
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Principalsgone
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May 14, 2014
I'm sure there is a collective,"Yeah!" from the staff at Frey that the principal is finally leaving. Although I'm sure they will not say anything for fear of retribution, but a wink and a nod tells many tales. Can't believe the tyrant was praised by Scamihorn. However, I'm sure she put on a good face when he was around.
Slow down
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April 25, 2014
As a teacher in CCSD, it appears the board is going overboard with spending. We are all encouraged but are smart enough to realize that it is an election year. We need to put away for a rainy day and be very cautious. This board can't seem to get it right, and we want to ease into the best decisions for the children and staff. Please don't put us into a deficit the following year!
Watcher...
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April 25, 2014
There was not concern for CCSD Taxpayers last night.

Sweeney will drive CCSD's financial situation into the ground.

He was PANDERING to CCSD Employees last night. I would suggest that his campaign is in deep trouble.
@ Watcher...
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April 26, 2014
Sweeney is actually the one who makes the most sense on the board.

* Banks references "Pots of Gold," which he was very willing to spend last year, but apparently not this year.

* Scamihorn ignored the tax assessor projection last year. The tax assessor was right. Scamihorn was wrong.

* Angelucci didn't support the budget last year, which arguably saved teaching positions. If she tells you it didn't save enough teaching positions, that means she wanted to spend more.

Watching the Thursday meeting was very telling. It's apparent that with the proposed budget that the CCSD will have $20 million more than a one-month reserve.

The decision is to use that $20 million to hire more teachers and reduce classroom sizes further, or to let the "Pot of Gold" funds sit idle in the bank.

Northeast Snob
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April 25, 2014
A few tips for Mr. Ragsdale; complete your MBA and then pursue a PhD, shave off the facial hair and move into Cobb County.
Please stop
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April 25, 2014
You need not comment! No one needs to hear from you!
Tes Socra
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April 25, 2014
For a candidate with a financial background - I would say Swenney has lost his way with his spending proposals dipping further into reserves.

Scamihorn is correct to suggesting using all of the "found" revenues to reduce class size - period !
@ Tes Socra
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April 25, 2014
If you watched the meeting last evening, Sweeney actually made a very compelling presentation.

Based on the CFO's conservative estimate, the district will have more than $20 million above the one month reserve level with the budget as it was presented.

The board went to the one month level last year with Scamihorn as chair.

Sweeney supported adding an additional 100 teachers to further reduce class sizes.

Students and teachers will benefit if we add these much needed teachers.

Budget Dog
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April 25, 2014
Why is it that SCAMiHorn, who demonstrated last year he was willing to dig deeper into reserves, is reluctant to go to that same level to add more teachers and improve classroom sizes?

Same for Stultz who is on record stating he wanted to infuse the economy with a tax refund, that would have resulted in the loss of teaching positions.

Putting more teachers to work is good for students and for our local economy.

It's not that complicated!
Great Day
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April 25, 2014
It is a great day for Cobb schools! Ragsdale is a fantastic choice and will be an excellent superintendent. And, he clearly gets it, especially the horrific employee morale problem. "We're going to take a look at everything" is exactly what needs to happen. Off to a great start!
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