Chief Assistant Disrtict Attorney Shannon Wallace kicked off the evening. She is running unopposed for District Attorney Garry Moss’ seat that he plans to vacate after 24 years. Wallace was allowed 15 minutes to address the crowd.
Wallace, who has lived in Towne Lake with her family since 2007, said she hopes to continue to focus on crimes against women and children.
She said she hopes to have a felony drug court running by the end of the year and plans to create a specialized task force focusing on identity theft.
Moderated by Jeff Duncan, candidates Kelly Marlow and Kyla Cromer stuck to the night’s theme of “local control” and what it means to them as potential school board members.
The candidates were not asked outright whether either supported the upcoming vote on House Resolution 1162, a statewide constitutional amendment that would allow a state agency to create and fund charter schools without the consent of local school boards.
However, they made their opinions clear on what government agency should be able to make the call on the creation of schools.
“I have always voted for less government oversight (and) local control for the school board,” Cromer said.
Cromer said she plans on working with the local delegation to implement policies that would benefit the school district.
Marlow also expressed that she wants to work with local delegation, but had a different view of the matter.
“The Republican Party platform is very clear: the ultimate local control is in the hands of the parents, whether that be through charter schools, home schools, (or) vouchers,” Marlow said.
An audience member asked the candidates what they planned to do about the district’s planned eight furlough days for the 2012-13 school year and whether they supported laying off teachers or salary cuts instead.
“They’re not good,” Cromer said of furlough days. “But right now, there is no other way for us to balance the budget. We could take a look at laying off teachers, which is what some of the counties are doing, but that does not help in the long run.”
Cromer said furlough days affect all district employees and their incomes.
“It saves the county about $1.1 million every time there is a furlough day,” Cromer said. “Laying off a few teachers is not going to make up that kind of money.”
Marlow said she did not support having any furlough days and suggested making cuts in the school district’s central office.
“I think we could also look at extending the school day (and) look at various partnerships with homeschooling, cyber schooling,” Marlow said. “There are ways we can find that money. Cherokee County has almost a half a billion dollar budget for our schools. I think we can sit down, roll up our sleeves and find that money to make sure we keep the teachers in the classrooms.”
Cromer said the district has the seventh-lowest administrative costs among school systems in Georgia.
“You cannot cut that part of the overhead,” Cromer said of CCSD’s administrative costs. “We’re talking the people that are in charge of doing the payroll; we’re talking the people that are in charge of looking at making sure that we are on top of all of the state and federal mandates for special education. We’re the largest employer in Cherokee County—you have to have people that are running the school district.”
Cromer also refuted Marlow’s point regarding extending the school day, as the BOE has already discussed increasing instructional days by eight minutes to comply with state law during their May 17 work session.
“We are having a longer school day this year because of the furlough days,” Cromer said. “We’re technically not going to be missing quite as many days as it looks like.”
Cromer said that she was aware the district is looking at making additional transportation cuts, but hopes that state-level funding through the Quality Basic Education formula will increase.
But Marlow said Cherokee should not have problems with funding.
“Let’s make sure that we’re clear on the funding issue: the per-student funding for Cherokee County has increased every year since 2004,” Marlow said. “That’s a fact. The other fact is, when the rest of the state was receiving cuts over that same period of time, Cherokee County received a 24 percent increase.”
In Cromer’s rebuttal, she argued that the district has “tightened the ship.”
“In the last six years, every year they have taken a look and made cuts in areas that have the least impact on student achievement,” Cromer said.
But Marlow said district officials should be able to find funding somewhere with their half-billion dollar budget.
“I would love to be able to find that money,” Cromer said. “We’re not just going to snap our fingers and it’s going to be there. The money that we’re getting from the state, while the percentage looks the same every year, it is decreasing.”
Both candidates were asked what they would look for in a superintendent, as there is a possibility that Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo could be replaced during their time on the board.
While Cromer said she would look for a leader, a great communicator, someone with knowledge of school funding and someone in touch with Cherokee County issues, Marlow took the opportunity to take shots at the current superintendent of schools.
“First of all, I’d like to see a superintendent who would come to the debates of the school board,” Marlow said, referencing Petruzielo’s absence at the debate.
Marlow said she’d also like to see a superintendent that worked with state lawmakers, listened to parents and allowed questions at school board meetings.
“He is hired by a school board and he answers to a school board, not the other way around,” Marlow said.
Petruzielo’s methods came into question again when an audience member asked how each candidate felt about the superintendent’s political emails.
Cromer said Petruzielo sends those emails because it’s part of his job.
“His job is to stay on top of the political pulse of Cherokee County,” Cromer said. “He needs to take a look at what’s going on, analyze that, and come up with a position on how Cherokee County stands on that issue.”
Marlow disagreed, saying she thought that was the job of school board members rather than the superintendent.
“I don’t think Dr. Petruzielo should be using taxpayer dollars to send politically-bent emails,” Marlow said.
To end the evening, each candidate asked a question of one another.
Marlow asked Cromer whether or not she was on the committee to renew the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and whether she was aware of the projects on the proposed list that would be built using the money.
“I did vote for the Ed-SPLOST, personally,” Cromer said. “I did campaign for it and it was a successful Ed-SPLOST campaign.”
Marlow argued that there was serious opposition within the county to the penny sales tax.
“I support dollars for education but what I did not support is a project list that is completely out of control,” Marlow said.
The debate ended on a fiery note when Cromer posed a question to Marlow. She asked why Marlow wanted to be a part of a board she has voiced opposition toward in the past, referencing a news story where Marlow was quoted as saying: “They didn’t give me my charter school, so I’m not going to give them their SPLOST.”
Cromer said Marlow has also blogged about her disdain for Cherokee County parents, teachers, school board members and the superintendent.
“Have you had a change of heart? Do you like what you see going on and want to help improve it or do you still feel the way that you felt in many of those blogs and in the AJC?” Cromer asked.
Marlow said she has in the past been vocal and critical and that she stands by her previous comments.
“I disagree that I’ve been disrespectful to parents of this community,” Marlow said. “I am here because I think Cherokee County schools are great, but they don’t work for everyone and the one-size-fits-all, ‘you must agree with us or you must move’ mentality of this school board is not acceptable to me.”
Cromer said anyone would be hard-pressed to find anything negative she’s said about teachers, parents or students in an email or blog post
“I don’t think Mrs. Marlow can say the same,” Cromer said. “I think we need to take a look at and see what the motive is behind Mrs. Marlow. Why does she want to sit on a school board she has expressed such disdain for?”
Marlow said she has an email from her opponent asking parents to oppose Cherokee Charter Academy at a school board meeting.
“If you want to talk emails, we can talk emails,” Marlow said. “But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about ideas.”