Held at the Holly Springs Depot, Marlow was introduced by political consultant Robert Trim and said she was excited to hearing from the community about their concerns.
“I don’t have an agenda to just come up here and talk to you, I really want to hear from you,” she said.
Marlow, a mother of two students at Cherokee Charter Academy who recently served on the CCA Parent Teacher Organization, has so far served at two board meetings since her election last fall and said she’s still learning the ropes.
“I’m learning,” she said. “I pulled a bunch of agenda items (during the last meeting.) I didn’t necessarily mean to pull all of them. So I’m still learning about Robert’s Rules of Order.”
As the only school board member to recently hold a town hall-style meeting, Marlow said she hopes to have more in the future to continue open discussion among community members.
While the state of Georgia is in the process of adopting a new set of educational standards, the Common Core curriculum, several residents wanted to discuss how the implementation would impact their children.
“If you were going to ask me what the three hottest topics are right now with the education system in Cherokee County, it would be the budget, Common Core and school safety,” Marlow said to the audience of about 30. “People really want to talk about Common Core.”
While some residents like Jack Staver, a conservative activist from Woodstock, voiced their opposition, several others saw the potential in the program for maintaining the same curriculum throughout most of the country.
“It’s a program that, bottom line, it keeps everybody the same,” Staver said. “It keeps everybody down. You can’t excel.”
However, Kelly Poole, a Cherokee County School District teacher, said she sees the benefits of a countrywide set of standards.
“It’s a very global and mobile society these days, and one good thing about the Common Core standards is that if you move from Georgia to Washington to New York, if there’s a Common Core, your child can easily move from one school to the other,” Poole said.
Marlow said she saw the reasoning of both sides, that she appreciates the “apples to apples” comparison of the new standards but also recognizes concerns she’s heard from both parents and teachers about the overall curriculum.
“We all need to make sure we get educated on this,” Marlow said, adding she plans to add links to her website that provide more information on the standards.
Marlow asked the audience their thoughts about what could be done to increase the safety of students and teachers, noting the number of bills presently under review by the Georgia General Assembly in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Resident Matt Hamby of Woodstock said he would like to revisit the idea of schools as gun-free zones and having security guards at each school.
“We can’t afford to lose our students or our teachers,” Hamby said.
Capt. Frank Reynolds, commander of field operations for the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, said not much has been done in recent decades to prevent school shootings and incorporating gun training into school “culture” is key to keep schools safe.
“We’ve talked a lot about gun safety, gun prevention and gun free zones; they don’t work. What we need to do is mandate training and trigger training so that teachers, students, faculty and staff, they know what to do to minimize that risk,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said he would like to see state lawmakers require schools to have safety drills in addition to their required safety plans. Jennifer Hall, a teacher at Chapman Intermediate School, clarified that the school system has drills for different kinds of emergency situations, including code red and code yellow drills, as well as tornado and fire drills.
Marlow said she hopes to discuss possibly setting up a program for teacher certification for returning veterans, which would allow those former military members to perform duty as school security members during that process.
“I would imagine that the concern would be primarily budgetary, but they are already trained to be military experts and we could get them to do it at a fairly reduced rate,” Marlow said. “I think there are some really good ideas out there like that.”
District 4 School Board Member Michael Geist said he appreciated the school district’s measured response to the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“I think the fact that the school system did not take extreme measures to change what they did and how they did it and recognize that maybe it was a time to look at how our policies and our safety procedures, but not necessarily to reinvent the wheel was the appropriate step,” Geist said. “I commend (Superintendent) Dr. (Frank) Petruzielo and the administration on their efforts for that.”
Marlow said she’s heard many rumors about various budgetary concerns, including the amount of furlough days for the 2013-14 year and how the State Health Benefit Plan will affect all school district employees.
The board is to discuss the tentative 2013-14 budget at its Thursday work session prior to its monthly meeting.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “We definitely have our work cut out for us, but we can do it.”
“My priority as a school board member and what I believe I was elected to do is to prioritize the classroom over everything else. Once we have our 180 days and we have our kids back in the classroom for 180 days, then we can take a look at what else we need, but we must prioritize the classroom.”
Marlow referenced Rep. Calvin Hill’s claim at the recent meeting between the BOE and local delegation that from the state coffers, per-student funding has actually increased each year.
“While we’re not getting an increase, it’s not necessarily the same as a cut, and there’s a lot of different opinions on that,” Marlow said.
Marlow reiterated that her job as a school board member is to get students back into the classroom.
“A balanced budget does not include a furlough day,” she said.
School district spokeswoman Barbary Jacoby said Thursday that Georgia has a funding formula, referred to as Quality Basic Education that it is required to fund by state law and the state is not fully funding schools in accordance with that law.
“Instead of sending that amount, they are subtracting what they are calling an austerity cut,” Jacoby said. “For the budget we’re currently in, that’s more than $26 million and we’ve been experiencing that level of cuts every year for the past three years. The budget the state Legislature is considering for next year shows no plans to restore that funding. We’re anticipating that we’re going to have to continue all of the cost-cutting measures that were put in place because of this continued underfunding of education by the state government. Statewide, it’s still more than $1 billion short-changing traditional public schools.”
Jacoby also stated the school district budget is balanced, as revenues and expenditures are the same.
“Using furlough days as a strategy to balance the budget is a common practice in school districts statewide suffering from state austerity cuts and the use of these strategies does not invalidate calling the budget balanced,” Jacoby said.
Jacoby added the district uses other strategies, including zero-based budgeting, reviewing expenses and looking for cost-containment measures, including using vendors that provide the same quality of services for lower cost. The district also delayed STEP increases for teachers for another year, increased class sizes, eliminated positions through attrition and has left many positions in both the central office and throughout the district vacant.
To end the meeting, Marlow said she is forming a budget focus group and will send out an announcement via her website, www.kellymarlowga.com, for those interested in participating.
“As the district releases the numbers and makes their recommendations, I think the community should be included on it,” she said.