Tuesday was Barge’s first time to Cherokee County School District since his election in 2011. Barge told district officials he wanted to see the progress being made in the district and learn how Cherokee earned the highest average SAT score in all of Georgia’s 180 school districts.
Dr. Frank Petruzielo, the county superintendent of schools, said Barge was “very complimentary” of teachers and students throughout his visit to Woodstock High School, Woodstock Middle School and Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy.
Petruzielo said the praise comes at a time when eight furlough days and years of budget cuts are weighing heavily on teachers and district staff.
“If you’re not getting the dollars you deserve, at least if you’re getting recognition, it goes a long way,” Petruzielo said. “You’re not going to improve morale for teachers until you stop raising the class size, you stop giving them furlough days and you stop treating them as what they’re doing is not important.”
Petruzielo said the numbers are clear when it comes to state lawmakers’ commitment to funding public education, citing a staff-produced financial fact sheet from the May 17 work session and data reported by the Georgia Budget and Public Policy Institute claiming student success throughout Georgia is threatened by declining state support.
“When (legislators) say they have increased the funding ever year, obviously they are using some kind of new math in order to get to those numbers,” Petruzielo said.
He also said a common misconception of Cherokee as a “sleek, suburban” school district is misguided.
“More than 30 percent of our kids are living at or below the poverty level,” he said. “Which I think makes the SAT results, and all of our test results, even more dramatic.”
Petruzielo said legislators who continue to demand high performance while continuing these cuts can’t have it both ways.
“If you want to have a robust, vibrant economy in the state of Georgia, you have got to educate the kids in public schools across this state…and if you think you can do that for free, then you better think again,” Petruzielo said.
When discussing their legislative and budget priorities, board members shared similar outlooks.
Vice Chairwoman Janet Read said her desire was to keep the focus on the classroom and continue to fund professional development and technology.
Board member Kim Cochran said she would like to see the development of a high school STEM Academy.
“I know that will take time to set up, but I think it’s something that has to be prioritized,” Cochran said.
Petruzielo said he agreed and that a technical high school is part of the Cherokee Academies vision as well.
Board member Michael Geist asked Petruzielo whether the vision will follow the students in the six elementary school Cherokee academies.
“Within the limits of available resources, yes,” Petruzielo said. “It’s a little bit like a game of chicken because when you get kids interested in this stuff, you can’t just all of a sudden say, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re out of elementary school. The party’s over. Get out your literature books.’”
Usher said he agreed with Read, adding safety was another priority of his alongside the focus on technology.
“Technology I think is number one,” Usher said. “These kids are going to get bored if they have to pull out their No.2 pencils after using iPads.”
Also during the work session, Petruzielo addressed an email sent by board member Rick Steiner last Monday, a copy of which was included in the work session packet alongside the response from district spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby.
Steiner said in the email he had seen letters “in the papers and elsewhere” comparing CCSD’s costs to Cherokee Charter Academy, a state-approved charter school, and requested data and comparisons because “the numbers (didn’t) sound right to (him.)”
Jacoby’s response on behalf of the superintendent said total per student expenditure for the school district in 2011 was $7,917, ranking 141st out of 180 school districts, as can be seen on the state Department of Education’s website. The current budget year, which Jacoby provided as it has not been posted on the state site, is $7,072, despite serving 500 additional students.
In comparison, Jacoby said Cherokee Charter Academy spends $7,419 per child.
“Our calculation includes transportation costs of about $395 per student, whereas the charter school does not provide transportation,” Petruzielo said.
Thus, the letter states CCSD is spending $347 less per student while providing more services, the letter states.
“This is an apples to apples comparison,” Petruzielo said. “These are actually the state’s numbers and if anybody has an argument with these they need to go see the state.”
Geist, who has two children that attend Cherokee Charter Academy, said people often confuse the numbers when comparing the district to the charter school and commended district staff on their calculation.
“Our operational costs are a smaller percent of our budget (when compared with) CCA,” Geist said. “It’s great that we are where we are among the school systems in the state.”