Coweta BoE candidates have their say

The decision by voters on the winners of two contested seats on the Coweta County Board of Education is less than two weeks away. The Citizen asked the five candidates for those seats to respond to questions that are relevant to public education, both now and for the future. Their responses are provided below.

The candidates for the District 1 seat include Jimmy Harrison, Amy Dees and Andrew Krause. Candidates for the District 1 At-large seat include incumbent Michael Sumner and challenger April Parker. Responses by Harrison are not included because his remarks were not submitted.
The answers to the questions posed to the candidates are verbatim.

1) What are your thoughts on current curriculum offerings and what can be done to keep Coweta public schools providing even better academic challenges for children over the next decade? 

Amy Dees - We have Georgia Performance Standards in Georgia and our curriculum is designed to allow our children to "meet " or "exceed" those standards. As a parent, I have always had confidence in the curriculum that my children were being taught. I rarely asked the "why's" and "where's" of the curriculum. Why are we teaching this? Where did it come from? The new math that my 10th grade daughter is now taking has changed my outlook on the curriculum that all my children are being taught. I do not like it nor do I agree with the change. I have learned an important lesson. Do not take the answer that I was given. I was told, "They told us this is going to strengthen our SAT scores". My response: define “they.”  
We as parents and as educators should continue to seek out the latest and most recent information for our students. When I was in school, Pluto was a planet!

Andrew Krause - Coweta has done a good job of offering a best-in-class curriculum and reinforcing that with placement programs that give young adults real world experience. I think if we’re going to go beyond that, we need to consider programs that prepare students for life outside of the nine-to-five work setting. A recent study found that only nine states in the Union require financial literacy as a graduation requirement. None require legal literacy or media literacy courses at all. The result is that we have a generation or more of young adults who cannot recognize puffery in advertising, do not understand the financial impact of using credit and do not know their legal rights and responsibilities under contracts. Is it any wonder why the highest number of vehicle repossessions, credit card defaults and judgments impact on the 18-24 year old demographic? We need to provide for basic financial, legal and media literacy starting in the 9th grade.

2) Some reports suggest that a substantial percentage of jobs in the coming decades will be vocationally-oriented. If you agree, then how might a school system transition into a curriculum more attuned to vocational pursuits without sacrificing the traditional academic orientation?

Amy Dees - We must realize as a community that not all children are going to go to college. It is just a fact. There are so many options available to our young students today, but we need to acknowledge that fact in middle school and early in high school. We require a student to take classes that are preparing him/her for college. We should be looking at our students as individuals and working with them as such. We have budding artists, mechanics, landscape designers, carpenters, and welders. I could continue with a list of productive jobs that could be available to our students. Currently we require all students to meet the same graduation requirements. While that is a goal to strive for, it is just not reality. Many times we simply overlook these students and they get frustrated with those tougher classes and quit high school before ever learning a trade that could help financially support them in the future. 

Andrew Krause - Here’s the problem; our education system was designed to fit the needs of the industrial revolution. Our industrial revolution ended in this country more than three decades ago. We are in an information and services based economy with less than 23 percent of our GDP coming from manufacturing. As manufacturing shrinks, our high tech economy is creating new jobs including new vocational trades. The good news is that most of these vocational jobs pay well and cannot be off-shored. I think the CEC is a good model for what we need to do to prepare young adults for the 21st century economy, and we should bolster our investment there. We should also replicate it with a magnet school dedicated to science, medicine and engineering. Most people aren’t aware that in addition to exporting our manufacturing jobs, we’re importing our scientists, doctors and engineers from Asia and Eastern Europe. The National Academies recently put out a challenge to get 10,000 new science and math teachers into schools in order to stop the national “brain drain”, and we should answer that call with vigor.

3) The charter school movement issue has been front and center in Coweta with the eventual opening of the Coweta Charter Academy in Senoia. What is your stand on charter schools in general and this school in particular?

Amy Dees - As a parent, I feel that I should have the right to decide how to educate my children. Public school, private school, homeschool, charter school. All of my children attend public school. That is my choice. I would love to see government step "out' of my local school so that our teachers and principals can get back to teaching our students. We spend so much time having to deal with the "politically correct terms" that we lose precious time on educating our children. I am for education reform as a nation. It is something that is being pushed to the forefront of our headlines and for that I am grateful. We can make a difference in our public schools. We have got to minimize federal government in our schools and we can start with eliminating "No Child Left Behind". I believe that it can actually be done. 

Andrew Krause - Chartered public schools are part of an overall education portfolio that includes government, public charter, magnet, parochial and private schools as well as home schools. Traditional public schools work for 83 percent of American students. The other 17 percent often find themselves marginalized, and need alternative educational experiences. Parents have a right to make that choice. Here in the First District, a lot of parents were excited to get a charter school, but crushed when our own school board decided to fight it. The school board acted wrongly in fighting a meritless a lawsuit against the State. There is a clear Constitutional and Statutory authority for charter public schools to be established in communities that want them. Judge Schoob upheld that authority in a similar case just a few months ago. Now the Georgia Supreme Court has heard oral arguments, and if you read the original 30 page complaint and compare it to the oral arguments before Justice Nahmias last week, it’s clear that the case against the state has collapsed into a silly argument about the meaning of the word “Special”. It’s been a debacle. No school board should ever stand between a parent and their child’s best interests.

4) Despite the claims of Washington and Wall Street the recession appears to be far from over. Along with the recession comes falling revenues for school operations. What is your philosophy on school system fiscal accountability and how will you assure voters that you will vote to spend taxpayers money wisely?

Amy Dees - We must have transparency in our school board budget. It is our money, but most importantly, it is the future of our kids! We must have that budget prepared and ready for parents to view. Fiscal accountability should be common sense in my opinion. It is an easy formula. We pay taxes, taxes run our schools, taxes pay our teachers, we should be able to see how and where OUR money is spent. No question. Our money, our right. We must remember our teachers pay taxes as well, so they have a right to know how and where the money is being spent. Many teachers are having to ration paper in their classroom and most use their own money in their classroom. It would be a crime to know that money was sitting in a "committee's budget" that could have been used for that teacher's supplies. I have no hidden agenda. All four of my children attend public school here. I will see that your money is being spent on your students. 

Andrew Krause - That the Great Recession has ended only means we’ve stopped digging the hole; we still have to climb out of it. As a tax-levying government entity, school boards must act responsibly; if a tax increase comes up that would endanger our recovery in Coweta, I will oppose it. That being said, we need to shift our viewpoint on education spending. It’s not an expense; it’s an investment. We have to put our investment dollars where it will do the most good. Buying overpriced text books and expensive proprietary software uses up funds that should go to employing educators. I believe we can leverage open-source textbooks and software to dramatically bring down our costs. We can also leverage technology to increase efficiencies so that educators spend more time educating and less time doing pointless paperwork.

The responses below are from the candidates for the District 1 At-large seat.

1) What are your thoughts on current curriculum offerings and what can be done to keep Coweta public schools providing even better academic challenges for children over the next decade?

Michael Sumner - We always need to look at offering more Advanced Placement courses for high school students. At CEC, we need to explore more opportunities with Mercer University and the University of West Georgia for joint enrollment – where students can receive high school and college credit for the same course. We need to expand our arts, culinary, hospitality and construction curriculums by expanding the CEC campus to a site adjacent to the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts. Finally, in grades 1-3, we need to enhance our remedial curriculum for students who cannot read at their grade level.

April Parker - As a parent of elementary age students I have been very pleased with the current curriculum. Our school system’s recent achievement of every school meeting their AYP goal lets us know the curriculum is working. However, I am certainly aware there have to be changes in our high school’s Math 1, 2 & 3. I believe the road to providing greater academic success for Coweta’s students is paved with lowering class size and fabulous, effective teachers. I believe we have the teachers so enormous efforts must be put forth to bring student/teacher ratios down and not let them creep up. I believe these two factors are the foundation that everything else must build on. Of course lowering class size is going to take money so when times are tough you have to “trim the fat”. Our school system has had to cut too much from the bottom (raising class sizes, cutting the IT department in half, reducing resources). We have got to start trimming the fat from the top.

2) Some reports suggest that a substantial percentage of jobs in the coming decades will be vocationally-oriented. If you agree, then how might a school system transition into a curriculum more attuned to vocational pursuits without sacrificing the traditional academic orientation?

Sumner - We can expand vocational offerings by expanding the footprint of CEC and by building a classroom wing adjacent to the Arts Centre.

Parker - I believe Coweta school system should continue to strategize and implement the integration of academic with vocational education. We need to be preparing young people to fill the jobs needed by our changing economy. I personally favor the Career Academy model. In this model clusters of courses are aligned around specific careers, with a group of teachers collaborating on developing an integrated academic and vocational program for a student. This model allows students to work with employers in industries related to the school's occupational focus. I think the CEC is doing a great job but we have to keep strategizing to take this concept even further.
I went to Fayette County High School and as a 12th grader participated in what was then called the “work program”. I had enough credits to meet the college prep seal so was given the option of finding employment or an internship. I spent that school year working in an after school program in a local school. It was an invaluable experience. It was truly where I decided to become an educator. I hope we can offer work or intern opportunities for students who are college bound as well.

3) The charter school movement issue has been front and center in Coweta with the eventual opening of the Coweta Charter Academy in Senoia. What is your stand on charter schools in general and this school in particular?

Sumner - I believe in local control of our schools in Coweta County. During my time on the Board I have supported the opening and operating of CEC – which applied for and obtained charter school status. I do not support the Senoia school because it is operated by a for-profit company based in Florida – Charter Schools USA and because it did not originally meet the state-mandated criteria for charter schools. If a school is to receive local tax dollars, that school must be accountable to the Coweta County Board of Education because we set the local tax millage rate. The school board is accountable to all Coweta County citizens for how those dollars are spent. No board involvement in how a charter school’s funds are allocated run contrary to the principles of local control and fiscal responsibility.

Parker - My husband and I personally have chosen public schools as the best fit for our three children. However, I strongly support the concept of charter schools. I believe in education “one size does not fit all”. I believe the school system should not be allowed to create a monopoly with tax payer’s money and a parent’s choice. Competition is healthy and the free market works. Why in the world would we think a school system is any different? I did not come up with this mind set but I sure do agree with it; we have to start running our school system like a business. And let me be clear; to be a true charter means to be run by different management. For our school system to announce that they are pro-charter because they started the CEC but deny any charter except the one they started is a monopoly. To me the “tell-tale” sign of what our current leadership believes about the charter concept was revealed in their two year fight to stop a group of home school parents from forming the Odyssey Charter School. This local charter was approved by the state in 2001 and because of legal battles with our school leadership did not open until 2004. It was in fact the first charter school in the state (something I think Coweta County should be proud of). So it comes as no surprise that our leadership would continue spending money on lawsuits against the Senoia Charter School.

I don’t agree with Mr. Summer’s announcement of wanting to start a Fine Arts Charter. I believe we should save the tax payers a LOT of money by integrating more art classes at the CEC. My thought would be to put it all under one roof. I believe we must resist focusing on one proposal at the expense of others.

4) Despite the claims of Washington and Wall Street the recession appears to be far from over. Along with the recession comes falling revenues for school operations. What is your philosophy on school system fiscal accountability and how will you assure voters that you will vote to spend taxpayers money wisely?

Sumner - Our school board’s and the current administration’s careful stewardship over the past three years have allowed Coweta County schools to be one of the best examples of fiscal responsibility in Georgia. We have made the tough decisions to pass a balanced budget without a millage rate tax increase. I will continue to keep a close eye on all revenues and expenditures if I am re-elected.

Parker - I truly appreciate this question because it is at the heart of my campaign. I do not see fiscal accountability. Why? Because I have yet to see the budget although I want to and have tried to. Every line of our operating budget is 100 percent a public document but yet I can only get my hands on a one page overview. I believe tax payers should demand that our school system put every page of that budget on-line. Can you even imagine how many pages it takes to break down a $193,000,000 budget? I want to know who got raises on years employees were laid off. Who has car allowances and why? A break down of how much money goes to each school and what the money is for. I believe the only way we will ever truly have fiscal accountability is if tax payers can review details on-line. Visibility Is Accountability! And this mamma is saying “Show Me the Money.”
I assure voters that I will vote to spend taxpayer’s money wisely because every decision made affects my three children. With my youngest being just four I have thirteen years ahead of me invested in Coweta’s schools. There is no greater motivation to stand up for what you believe in than your children.

NUK_1
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Coweta candidates

I would really welcome them if Krause, Parker and Dees moved to FC and ran for BOE. Nice to see a field of candidates that understand the core issues and will not tolerate BS such as the BOE trying to actively dodge and violate the Open Records Act and they also have a broad mind when it comes to how education is delivered overall and how it can be made better.

I wish the FC BOE had some of these same types of people seeking office. Hell, FC in general for that matter.

BLACK HAWK
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Where are Mr. Harrisons remarks?

hammerattack
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Harrison

The article says that "Responses by Harrison are not included because his remarks were not submitted."

I do know that Harrison will be at the forum in Senoia. It's Monday night, 7:00 at the Freeman Sasser building in Seavy St Park. There was an article here in the citizen about it, but I can't find it today.