After the board conducted strategic work sessions on March 14 and May 17, the board tabled the tentative budget at its June 28 meeting to receive public input and advertise, as required by Georgia statutes.
At the June 28 meeting and during a debate last month at Cherokee County Republican Headquarters, board member Kim Cochran suggested the board consider a pay-to-play model for all or most extracurricular activities.
The plan did not make it into the budget, but several of those in attendance still spoke out against it.
During recognition for his Georgia Lacrosse “Man of the Year” Award, Woodstock High School Coach Dennis Conway urged the board to steer away from the payment model.
“Most every kid in the county is in the band, or sports, or is into athletics, they pay to play,” Conway said. “Their parents… pay anywhere from $150 to $500.”
Conway, who also sits on the Cherokee County Board of Tax Assessors, said over 100 girls and boys play lacrosse at Woodstock, keeping them in a safe environment rather than “out there doing something stupid.”
“And that’s our rule, don’t do anything stupid,” Conway said as he was met with a round of applause.
Conway thanked Woodstock Principal Bill Sebring and Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo for their support for the lacrosse program.
Four other community members, including Michelle Dodge, a district teacher and parent, also opposed the idea as a cost-saving measure during the public participation portion of the meeting.
“Although I appreciate an attempt to create a solution for the budget, it would be detrimental to students who attend CCSD. Now, I know that charter and private schools may charge extra for their extracurricular activities, the public school serves all students regardless of their ability to pay.”
“CCSD has fallen on hard times,” Dodge said. “But so have the citizens of Cherokee County.”
Dodge said she heard there was a suggestion of not making the needy pay for extracurriculars.
“There is no way to make pay-to-play equitable,” she said. “The middle class is hurting as well.”
Christina Brown, a single parent of three children in the school district, told the board her oldest son is the captain of Etowah High School’s lacrosse team and a member of the school’s track team.
“I’m sure that I represent one of the many thousands of single-parent households in Cherokee County that struggle to make ends meet,” Brown said.
Brown said she hopes her son will earn a college scholarship through his athletic involvement at the school, but said he would not be able to participate if a pay-to-play plan is enacted.
Cochran said she appreciated everyone’s input and reassured them the budget approved that evening did not include any pay-to-play plans in it.
She said she had no dislike for sports, noting her family’s history with college sports including her father-in-law’s position as a player for the the Miami Dolphins and later as coach and administrator in Georgia public.
“I myself played two varsity sports,” Cochran said. “This is not some disdain for sports any more than our research into half-day kindergarten a few years ago was a hidden disdain for kindergarteners. This is just research. This is the board doing its due diligence just as far as I suggested it.”
Cochran said it was important to her, as she knew it was for the rest of the board members, to make budget decisions responsibly and with as much information as possible.
Board Chairman Mike Chapman agreed that it was a serious situation and that every board member took it as such.
“We have to turn over every stone,” Chapman said. “It’s not as easy as just finding money, so we need to look over everything.”
Board member Michael Geist commended Cochran for being willing to take the “political hit” of asking about other ways to reduce the budget.
“It’s hard to get up here sometimes and ask the controversial or the tough questions,” Geist said.
Petruzielo said the only action regarding pay-to-play sports taken thus far per the board’s request was having next year’s ad hoc budget committee “(pour) over every single budgetary item, every single thing.”
“You’ve got to make the tough decisions, no matter how hard they are,” Petruzielo said, reflecting on the $121 million in state budget cuts in the last five years and saying the district is “down to the bone.”
“I guess if there’s good news for the people who came tonight, there’s nothing the board’s going to vote on in the budget for the 2012-13 school year that would (be) characterized as pay-to-play,” Petruzielo said.
In other business, Read applauded Ball Ground Elementary School for hosting the district’s first community open house prior to the school opening last Thursday.
“Hats off to Principal Doug Knott for managing that,” Read said. “Great job and it was so nice to see the community so involved and once again, just thankful as I know the other board members are that we were able to actually build the school in the city of Ball Ground.
Board member Michael Geist asked if a video regarding the district’s financials he heard about would be available to board members. School spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the video included information that had already been presented to the board, but would be available for board member’s viewing upon appointment.
Jacoby said the district’s technology department has had difficulty reducing the size of the file, which contains about 55 minutes of footage, and has been unable to upload it to the district’s website or any type of video sharing website.
Also during the meeting, the board:
* Approved 7-0 the technical modifications to the school board policies on final reading
* Approved unanimously Petruzielo’s recommendation of the annual tribunal hearing panel for certificated personnel recommended for employment contract termination or suspension
* Went into executive session to discuss a student discipline matter