Candidates Mike Chapman and Susie Tlacil, both from Canton, are facing off May 20 in the Republican Primary, when four school board seats are up for election. The winner faces no Democratic opposition in November.
Chapman, 53, and Tlacil, 42, have differing opinions when it comes to the possible qualifications for a new superintendent, but both noted positive actions the school board took in the past year.
In his vision statement, Chapman said he would work aggressively to reduce long-term debt, work to open a career/technical high school, expand Cherokee Academies, work to improve the graduation rate and improve the school system’s efficiency.
Tlacil said in her vision statement she would reject Common Core standards, provide pathways for students to pursue the American dream and reach out to the community and engage professionals to share with students to provide real world experiences.
When asked about what qualifications the candidates would look for if they were charged with hiring a new superintendent during their time on the board, Tlacil said she wants a responsible candidate.
“A new superintendent in Cherokee County should be fiscally conservative and understand how to make difficult decisions when the economy is challenging,” Tlacil said.
Chapman said a new superintendent should have a record of success.
“The new superintendent needs to be a leader who not only understands the inner workings of public education, but can also work well with stakeholders in our community. Certainly, a clear record of success and responsibilities would also be an extremely important requirement,” Chapman said.
Tlacil added a new superintendent shouldn’t have bias.
“The superintendent should not have any personal interests within the district, such as family members employed by or business investments in the bank, investment firm or other financial institution holding interest in the school system,” she said. “A new superintendent should similarly hold no interest in any firm that provides contract services for the county. The new superintendent should be willing to work with the parents and teachers to create an open and honest place for information sharing to grow our students.”
Chapman said the district’s superintendent has done a lot for the school system, but said there’s always room to improve.
“Dr. Frank Petruzielo has done a wonderful job as our school system’s superintendent. He came to our system at a critical time when drastic change and organization were required. That, in fact, became his strength,” Chapman said. “Today, our system is arguably one of the best in Georgia and consistently performs at a high level. There is also much room for improvement, and the pressure on public education to adapt and change has never been greater.”
Tlacil said the most beneficial thing the school board did for students in the past year was improving transparency.
“In the past year, our school board has created policies to improve the transparency. Through the addition of financial impact on each agenda item, as well as including attachments and handouts in the meeting minutes,” Tlacil said. “I would like to continue this push towards transparency through the addition of public participation handouts in the meeting minutes, as well as the reading of agenda items prior to consent votes.”
Chapman said students in the district most benefitted by the school board’s academies initiative.
“Despite the distractions related to the Kelly Marlow situation, the board has continued to address choice and instructional opportunities,” Chapman said. “The board continues to push forward with the academies initiative, working to expand offerings around the county, thereby providing more choice for parents and children of Cherokee County. There has been a focus on returning as many instructional days to the calendar as possible, increasing the seat/instructional time our students have in school.”
When asked what the most pressing issue facing the district was, Chapman said there were a few major priorities for him.
“There are three primary areas that need addressed: Replacing the superintendent when he retires with a very capable replacement is very critical to our system’s continued success. Leadership is a key ingredient to maintaining high performance and morale,” Chapman said.
The other primary issues Chapman noted were eliminating teacher furlough days and improving the graduation rate.
“Restoring the 180-day calendar — and 190 for teachers — to maximize the time our children have in school. Coupled with this would be adding more teachers with the direct goal of reducing class size,” he said. “Increasing the graduation rate through the reinstatement of graduation coaches, as well as ensuring our third-graders are at grade level, since that particular data set has shown a strong correlation to the eventual dropout rate of that class.”
Tlacil differed from Chapman and said the most pressing issue the board faces is debt from Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
“The current SPLOST bond indebtedness in Cherokee County schools exceeds $550 million and will take 20 years to pay off. For the next 15 years, the average debt service payment exceeds the yearly collections, and this assumes no further debt is incurred. Two years from now, the voters of Cherokee County will once again be faced with the choice of renewing the Ed-SPLOST and authorizing additional debt or freezing the debt and increasing their school property tax 20 to 30 percent,” Tlacil said.
Tlacil said voters should have a board member who is willing to make tough decisions.
“I will propose a five-year SPLOST that does not include a bond referendum to amass more debt, but instead focuses only on paying down the $550 million dollars that may prevent us from spending any further capital dollars for the next 15 years. I will propose that capital expenditures for items that rapidly depreciate such as computers be paid for with short term financing that expires within the voted term,” Tlacil said.