“I’m not critiquing his performance. I’m just saying I think I could give our system good representation for our area,” Thayer said.
Thayer, a consultant with James Wilson’s Education Planners, hopes to win southeast Cobb’s Post 2 seat on the county school board. To do so, she’ll have to unseat incumbent Tim Stultz in the Republican runoff July 22. The winner faces Democrat Kenya Pierre Nov. 4.
She and Stultz advanced from the May 20 Republican primary into the runoff, leaving behind Wells Fargo lending officer Jeff Abel.
“Stultz took 33 percent of the vote, which means 67 percent of the voters wanted a change on the board,” Thayer said.
Abel has officially endorsed Thayer.
“I think one of the main reasons that I decided to run was I didn’t like the lack of representation we were getting in our post,” Abel said.
“I really wanted to see that position filled by somebody else.”
Thayer, whose campaign chair is former Cobb school board member Lynnda Eagle, said her experience as a former teacher and administrator is her biggest strength as a candidate. She said three sitting school board members asked her to run for the position, though she refused to say which three.
Control of the board is determined by a majority vote of four.
Common Core rift
A major difference between Thayer and her primary opponent is the controversial Common Core education standards. Stultz has long been against the standards, but Thayer sees them as merely a framework for education that will have little effect on the day-to-day learning environment.
“I don’t know whether Mr. Stultz has reviewed all of the Common Core standards,” she said. “I have not. I doubt very seriously that he has either. It would be hard to give an analysis of Common Core. What I do know is that I totally dislike the fact it has caused controversy for our schools.”
Thayer feels the standards, which some conservative critics have denounced as “Obamacore,” have been politicized unfairly.
“I think there is some confusion on terms,” she said. “There is a difference between standards, curriculum and instruction. Standards are simply a framework upon which you build your curriculum.”
Regarding the rift between the school board and Development Authority of Cobb County over tax breaks for a proposed development last fall, Thayer said the two groups should never be adversarial if possible.
“We’re joined at the hip. We have to work together on things,” said Thayer, who has said she was encouraged to seek office by Cobb Chamber of Commerce CEO David Connell.
“I understand their need for confidentiality. I understand their need for incentives. The school system needs the development authority. It’s my understanding that 70 percent of the school system’s tax base is residential. We need the development authority working on our side.”
Thayer said she isn’t familiar enough with the situation to say what she would have done had she been on the school board.
‘Never say never’ on tax hikes
Thayer was asked if there were any circumstances in which she would vote for a tax increase if elected. She responded by pointing out the district’s millage rate, capped at 20 mills, was already at 18.9 mills. Raising it to 20 mills would be enough to hire 240 teachers.
“Spread that over 115 schools,” Thayer said. “That’s not the solution for our school system, so I don’t see it as a solution. We’re going to have to find other ways to deal with it. So I would need some real convincing before I would be willing to do that. I’m not saying it can’t happen. You know, never say never. And you certainly get more information when you’re in a situation to look at it more clearly.”
Convincing lawmakers to kill Cobb’s senior exemption, which waives the school portion of a senior’s property tax bill, is not something she believes will happen either. But she wouldn’t say the option is off the table, either.
“I’m not saying that. I don’t have the information to say what I’d really do, but I can’t imagine our legislators doing that, so it’s not going to be my consideration.”
One solution she believes would be effective is for lawmakers to allow more flexibility in the way special purpose local option sales taxes are spent, such as on personnel.
“If we could convince the legislator to give us more latitude, personnel, that’s the biggest expenditure of any system, so that’s generally where we need more help,” Thayer said.
‘Home grown’ superintendents best
Superintendents from the local area, Thayer believes, tend to work out better than those who move in from other states. Outside superintendents sometimes come only to “build resumes” and may not be as invested in the community. Thayer added she doesn’t think Cobb pays a salary high enough to attract top superintendents nationally, and said teacher salaries also aren’t competitive, compared to neighboring school districts.
“As long as people show a vested interest in our school system and they’re not just passing through or putting another notch on the resume, that’s good enough for me,” she said. “I’d love to be able to attract the brightest and the best from across the nation, but we’re not going to ever do that.”
At one time, Thayer said, teachers would take less pay to work in Cobb because it was such a great school system, but today, that is changing in some areas.
Thayer shared who she believes should be in charge of the school district when it comes to the superintendent and school board.
“The superintendent needs to be in charge of the school system,” Thayer said. “The board holds that superintendent accountable for that. But the superintendent needs to run the system. The board does not need to run the system.”
Thayer was asked about the collective performance of the Cobb school board over the last decade and whether she believed the board tended to be overly managerial with the superintendent or not managerial enough.
“I’m not sure that I have the information to judge that effectively,” she said.
Facility improvements needed
The schools in the Smyrna/Vinings area are some of the oldest in the county, Thayer said, and facility needs will have to be addressed soon.
“We certainly have the oldest buildings around, and many of them are over capacity,” she said.
Osborne High School, which is in Post 2, is set to be replaced under the current SPLOST. But she said she doesn’t have enough information to say whether she’d push for a replacement of Campbell High School, which also sits in Post 2.
“I’m not sure what Campbell’s needs are, and I don’t have the information,” Thayer said. “I’ve not heard that Campbell is over capacity. It’s certainly kind of a disjointed school because we took different things and mashed them together. You have to look system-wide and look at all your needs and wants. Then you address the most critical ones.”
Thayer said overcrowding is a bigger concern for her than the age of a building.
Anti-nepotism policy may bite Thayer
An anti-nepotism policy adopted by the state in 2010 may cause problems for Thayer. Though she signed an affidavit saying she was fully aware of a state nepotism policy, Thayer said she’s never heard of it.
“I’ve not read the policy or even looked at it at all,” Thayer said. “I don’t know.”
The policy, listed under O.C.G.A. 20-2-51, says local school board members cannot have an immediate family member serving as a “principal, assistant principal or system administrative staff” in the district they serve. Thayer’s husband, Ed Thayer, is supervisor of the Lassiter High School Concert Hall. District spokesman Jay Dillon said Ed Thayer is a part-time supervisor who receives an annual salary of $46,783.
The affidavit signed by Thayer on March 5 reads, “I have read and understand the code of ethics and the conflict of interest provisions applicable to members of local boards of education and agree to abide by them.”
Thayer added she fully intends to follow the policy once she learns more about it.
“I’m not familiar with it, but I’ll follow all the rules and regulations,” she said. “I would never break a rule.”
New teacher evaluations
Thayer said she hasn’t studied Georgia’s new teacher evaluation system enough to have a strong opinion about it.
“I’m not familiar with the new one,” Thayer said. “I’m not up on it. Retired educators don’t usually worry about those things.”
The system is known as the Teacher Keys Evaluation System, with administrators falling under the Leader Keys Evaluation System. Half of the weight of the evaluations is based on student test scores. Thayer said it’s important to pre-test students so growth is measured, rather than just scores.
“I know there is a stronger accountability component to it, but I have not seen what that is,” Thayer said. “Anytime you do something like that, fairness is something you really have to look at. It certainly takes it out of the realm of subjectivity because scores are what they are.”
Marietta City Schools is one of a handful of Georgia school systems looking to tie a pay bonus to the evaluations. Thayer said she’s okay with the concept.
“If it’s fair to teachers, then I don’t have a problem with it,” she said.
Next year, school districts across Georgia will have to decide whether to become a charter school district, an Investing in Educational Excellence district or remain a “status quo” district. Thayer likes the idea of becoming a charter district, but wishes Cobb schools had better choices from the state.
“I’m surprised we don’t hear more discussion of that from our school board,” Thayer said. “Of the three choices, I hope the Legislature wakes up and gives us better choices. But if they don’t, of the three, the IE2 is too risky. If our schools don’t perform, they can be taken over by the state. I’ve never seen anything work better when it was taken over by the state.”
Under IE2, districts could negotiate for greater spending flexibility if they agree to meet higher academic standards. Charter school systems have more academic freedom and also have to meet higher standards.
Thayer said remaining a status quo district would mean the district would lose its class size waivers, leaving only the charter school option by process of elimination.
“That’s basically the only thing we can do,” Thayer said. “I think it could easily put more bureaucracy on schools.”
Pleased with Ragsdale performance
Thayer has been pleased with the work of interim Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, who took the job May 1.
Citing an example of his work, Thayer said she was glad to see Ragsdale got the school board to approve a $7 million math text book purchase earlier in June. A similar purchase had been rejected 4-3 in 2013 because of concerns over Common Core.
“I have been very pleased with what I have seen so far,” Thayer said. “We finally got math instructional materials to teachers.”
During an April 10 candidate forum, 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.”
Some took the statement as a shot at Ragsdale, formerly Deputy Superintendent of Operations in Cobb.
Thayer said the quote was “absolutely not” a shot at Ragsdale and said he’s capable of leading the district as long as he surrounds himself with good people.
“I have no hidden agenda for anyone or anything,” Thayer said. “As long as he keeps his focus on learning, he’ll be fine.”
Thayer said she would like to keep Ragsdale on as permanent superintendent “if he continues to do this well.”