Chapman calls departure ‘bittersweet’
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
January 02, 2013 01:14 AM | 2638 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mike Chapman
Mike Chapman
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CANTON — Cherokee County Board of Education Chairman Mike Chapman said his last 10 years have been about focusing on what’s best for students, not on politics.

Chapman, a Canton resident, passed the gavel to newly elected Chairwoman Janet Read at his final meeting Dec. 6 after electing not to run for the seat when last year’s reapportionment put him in the same district as board member Robert Wofford.

“It’s bittersweet,” the 52-year-old said Monday of leaving his role for the last decade.

After redistricting by the local delegation earlier this year, Cherokee will have six board members elected by post and one countywide-elected chairperson, rather than seven board members elected at-large who previously voted for the chair and vice chair roles.

Read, who served for the last year as vice chairwoman, will be the county’s first elected chair after beating Canton accountant Danny Dukes in the July primary. Read was also drawn out of her post under the new maps.

Throughout the last year, Chapman and Read were both outwardly critical of the move by local legislators, which was viewed by many as an attempt to remove the two from office after they voted to deny district approval for Cherokee Charter Academy.

But Chapman is only looking forward to life beyond politics.

“The reality is I was planning on taking a break anyways,” Chapman said. “Even after all these things have transpired, I’ve always been focused on what’s best for the school system and the community.”

In that respect, Chapman said he’s never had any aspirations to run for another office or use his role as a political stepping stone.

“Now it’s time to move on and do something else,” Chapman said.

Though Chapman said he’s confident in Read’s ability to lead the board, he still believes the local delegation “create(d) a monster” by changing the chair position to a four-year, countywide-elected model.

With the previous model, Chapman said the board was able to elect the people best fit for the position for a one-year term.

“If we would have gotten someone else in there, the system then spins into trouble,” Chapman said.

Chapman said that possibility propelled him to write a letter in March to Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancEd, the international entity responsible for accrediting schools, who in his response opposed the elected, four-year chairman role, calling it “highly irregular.”

As for his advice for Read, Chapman said he believes anyone in her role should stay visible, work hard to keep the public informed, act as a liaison between the board and superintendent and continue to speak out on issues in the school system that affect the community.

“The biggest role a board member has is to advocate for the school system,” Chapman said. “She’s going to be focal point for that.”

Over the last 10 years, Chapman said his biggest highlights included watching students graduate, touring schools, talking to students and teachers and seeing all ranges of children get the help they needed.

“All those kinds of things are what would always bring the job home to you,” Chapman said. “It helps me focus on what I’m really there trying to do. I’m not there to bash the president or debate abortion issues or any crazy stuff I get asked about. I tell people my job isn’t to worry about that, it’s to worry about the school system.”

Chapman said he is proud to have had a hand in helping CCSD become one of the best school districts in the state of Georgia, with the school system posting the highest average SAT scores this year.

“We could compete with any school system in the United States,” Chapman said. “Does it mean we’re perfect? Absolutely not. Look at the diversity we’ve had to deal with, which was self-inflicted by our own state government. My proudest accomplishment is that we weathered all these storms over the past 10 years. It was rough at times, but we continued to stay focused on the kids and that to me is a great thing.”

Chapman listed a few other accomplishments, including the development of the Cherokee Academies initiative, which brought four STEM and two fine arts programs into the district’s offerings this year, as well as the successful capital outlay program that has replaced outdated facilities and built new and needed schools throughout the school district.

“I’d like to say our finances in as good a shape they can be, given circumstances system is under,” Chapman added. “The trajectory is not good… Strictly financially, the board has some very, very tough decisions to make moving forward.”

In regard to less funding both locally and from the state, Chapman, whose wife is a teacher in the school district, said he worries about teacher morale and retaining good teachers who put “their heart and soul” into their work after years of furlough days resulting in reduced salaries.

“Teachers have been reasonably patient, but I have a lot of experience on the labor side dealing with stuff in the private sector and eventually you wear out your welcome and people don’t put up with it anymore,” Chapman said. “My wife and others have taken pay cut for five or six years in a row. They’ve done everything should do… but they keep getting beat on with regulations.”

Plant manager of Morrison Products, a Canton manufacturing facility, Chapman said his job often takes him on the road and keeps him quite busy, so he plans to focus on expanding his professional career.

“I’m sure other (political) opportunities will come up,” Chapman said. “I may or may not get involved.”

As far as his political action committee, Neighbors for A Better Cherokee, Chapman said it “depends how crazy our area continues with the political fight” as to whether those efforts are increased.

“Fantastically great things changed with the resignation of (Sen.) Chip (Rogers,)” Chapman said.

Chapman said he hopes the Jan. 8 special election to fill Rogers’ seat turns elected officials more towards a community focus rather than the recently polarizing issues that have divided the community.

At the final board meeting, Chapman thanked Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo, board attorney Tom Roach and Mike McGowan, district supervisor of strategic planning, for all of their help during his time in office.

“There are so many people who have been supportive and helpful,” Chapman said. “I can’t overemphasize how much support I’ve received.”

Chapman said one of the biggest lessons he’s learned while in office is it’s impossible to please everyone, no matter how well-intended his decisions and actions were.

“You’re elected to do the right thing,” Chapman said.
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