Incumbent Kim Cochran, elected in 2008, and her opponent, Patsy Jordan, a former district teacher who retired in 2010, mostly agreed on their tactics for handling issues facing the district except for one — the statewide constitutional charter school amendment that will be on the November ballot.
Cochran, who was redistricted from Post 7 into the redrawn District 2 by new reapportionment maps, said she supports House Resolution 1162 that allows for a state agency to approve and fund local charter schools without the approval of local school boards. She contended the amendment would not take away local funds.
“My stand, personally, is that I support charter schools,” Cochran said. “I support parent choice and I believe that the issue (of funding) … has been revised. No local funds go in to a state-approved charter school.”
Cochran said charter schools provide another avenue toward reaching the goal of giving the most effective education for each student. She said the claim that the money would come from state funding could be said about any state expenditure.
“While I understand and feel the frustration of unfunded mandates and feel the austerity cuts, I feel it’s quite a leap of faith to suddenly say that money right there that they’ve allotted obviously came from public schools,” Cochran said. “We do have incredible schools… but I think it’s dangerous to stand back and say there’s no room for improvement because we’ve done it all.”
Jordan said she was not opposed to school choice, but could not support any measure that took money away from the school district.
“The public education system … is already in a financial hardship as we stand now,” Jordan said. “I am definitely not for pulling funds from public schools.”
Jordan lauded the schools already in Cherokee County, including the six new Cherokee Academies that will begin in the fall, and the capability of the well-qualified teachers throughout the district.
“There’s just no reason, no fix for the school system,” Jordan said. “We have a great school system.”
As for strained relations with the local legislative delegation, both candidates said they would work toward building communication.
Cochran admitted the relationship between the board and members of the local delegation is strained and will require more understanding from all parties.
“We need to work to find common ground,” Cochran said. “I think the immediate starting point for that is not to cast blame, but understand the difficulties facing not only Cherokee County, but the state,” Cochran said.
Jordan said she felt the impact of the weakened relations at the classroom level prior to her retirement as number of students in the class increased, and that she would work on communication with state lawmakers.
“The most important thing is that if everybody works together, there will be a difference made,” Jordan said.
Both candidates also advocated for more vocational training opportunities within the district, as they saw it as one of the biggest challenges the district faces aside from funding. Cochran said she has spent her last four years as a board member working on that very issue.
“The technical degree was discontinued in the state of Georgia,” Cochran said. “Not every job requires college. It’s nonsense to require post-secondary education for something that we could be providing some training for, if not to replace … then at the very least to supplement it.”
Jordan said she would like to see more work training as well, as she was given an opportunity in high school to work at the former Citizen’s Bank in Ball Ground, where she realized banking was not her calling and moved on to become a teacher.
With eight furlough days facing district staff next year because of lack of state and local funding, the candidates both said a focus on funding and managing the budget should be a top priority.
Jordan said she had four furlough days her last year as a teacher and was in favor of them because they prevent layoffs. The school board has so far avoided layoffs despite the $26.5 million Quality Basic Education funding shortfall anticipated for next year.
“Now (furlough days) have doubled and it’s difficult for the school board to do anything,” Jordan said. “But furlough days are temporary; when you lay people off you are looking at a whole different ballgame.”
Cochran said furlough days are the softest way to take a financial hit and said she has, in the past, suggested the district work with ideas such as pay-to-play sports and looking at extracurriculars to lessen funding gaps.
“These things add to educational value but are not our main job,” Cochran said. “I’m open to whatever methods will lessen the impact of these furlough days for teachers and reduce the impact of high classroom size.”