The Cobb Board of Education meets Thursday and is scheduled to consider board member Jaha Howard’s request to include the public comment portion of the meeting in the board’s official minutes, a suggestion that has received mixed reviews from his colleagues.
The board is also scheduled to vote on the final approval of the district’s fiscal 2020 budget and discuss the findings of a new demographic study used each year to make decisions for school planning in the district.
Public comment “a matter of transparency”
Howard wants the school board to include the names of speakers and subject of discussion from the public comment portion of each board meeting in future meeting minutes, effective in June.
Howard, who did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, first made the suggestion at a board meeting in March, where opinions were split. He said then the inclusion of the comments would better document what concerns the public had.
Opinions on Howard’s proposal remain split.
Board member Randy Scamihorn said he does not support Howard’s suggestion, at least until he has a solid reason to include the comments in meeting minutes.
“For several people to talk certainly gives us their view but doesn’t necessarily indicate what the majority of the public thinks. I really don’t see the need to include that in televising or in a written transcript,” Scamihorn said. “Nobody’s explained to me why it’s necessary to do that.”
Scamihorn added that framing the suggestion to record public comments in meeting minutes as a matter of transparency exaggerates the issue, but he is open to more discussion.
Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, disagrees. Jackson said she supports Howard’s proposal, adding the inclusion of public comment subjects will give the district a better idea of where its problems are.
“I think having comments in the official minutes is a good thing so that people can reference how many times this matter has been brought up. I think it is a matter of transparency,” she said. “It does give us, as a district, a better read on what people are concerned about.”
David Chastain, the board chair, said the matter will require the discussion of the full board and a possible change to board policy. He said the current board policy is not to include items that require no action from the board, such as public comment, in the meeting minutes.
Planning for the future of Cobb schools
Each year, the school district hires a demographic consulting firm to track census data, Cobb County birth rates and the number of building permits issued to project future enrollment in Cobb schools. The data is used to help the district decide where to build new schools and where to expand existing facilities.
For the fifth consecutive year, the district has employed the expertise of James Wilson, demographer and consultant with Education Planners, to conduct the study.
Chastain said the demographic studies used to take place every five years but now are conducted annually to monitor population growth, provide a more accurate picture of the district and to re-evaluate school planning each year, if appropriate.
“We’re trying to anticipate the future. We’re trying to monitor how the student population is evolving,” he said. “A lot of things happen over the course of one year, where all of a sudden, you thought you had your school population balanced somewhere and an apartment complex pops up, or a new housing development.”
As of March 7, the district had a total enrollment of 111,722, 458 students more than in March 2018.
Wilson declined to comment Wednesday on the new demographic study to be presented to the board, saying the first presentation of the data will take place at Thursday’s afternoon board meeting.
Wilson appeared at a town hall meeting at Campbell High School in March to provide parents and community members with tentative expansion plans for Campbell, Pebblebrook and Osborne high schools, as well as some elementary schools, based on expected enrollment.
He said then that, based on early elementary school enrollment trends, Cobb County can expect a drop or leveling off in later grade enrollment in the coming years.
The projections were met with skepticism from south Cobb parents, who said an enrollment dip did not match parent and teacher observations and would result in subpar school expansion plans.
Wilson’s estimates from the 2018 demographic report showed enrollment figures across Cobb were up from five years earlier, with the exception of students in kindergarten, first and second grade. He estimated last year that enrollment at Cobb’s elementary schools would drop by nearly 2,000 students between 2018–2020, from about 50,000 to 47,300.
2020 budget to bring raises, more teachers
The board will also consider approving the budget for fiscal 2020, which begins July 1. The district is expected to generate $1.16 billion in revenue in 2020, compared to last year’s $1.08 billion.
The proposed budget also includes a historic pay raise — anywhere from 8 to 12.6% — for teachers, bus drivers, custodians and other employees of Cobb County schools. The raises represent a $74 million line item.
While the millage rate of 18.9 mills is not expected to increase under the new budget, Cobb homeowners could pay about $121 more school tax than last fiscal year on average, thanks to an increase in property values, according to Brad Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer.
Other items in the proposed 2020 budget include:
♦ A 2% salary step for school nurses every two years;
♦ A pay increase for school police officers, with the amount to be determined;
♦ Hiring of 90 more teachers in various specialties to be spread across the district;
♦ Hiring of additional custodians to be assigned to schools that have expanded;
♦ New pay schedule for bus drivers, spreading payment across the year, rather than just the 180 days of school.
The Cobb school board meets Thursday at 2:30 p.m. for a work session, 6:30 p.m. for a budget presentation and public forum and 7 p.m. for a voting session. The meetings will be held at the district’s central office at 514 Glover St., Marietta.