“Both of my boys, they really enjoy the show ‘Mythbusters,’” Janet Read said. “While I rarely watch it myself, they’ll come and tell me all the myths and beliefs that were actually busted on that show. So today, I’d like to talk about the myths in the Cherokee County School District and in the state of Georgia.”
Read, vice chairwoman of the school board, said one of the many myths she regularly hears is that Georgia ranks 47th in education among all states.
“That ranking only applies to where Georgia students rank overall in SAT scores,” Read said. “About 85 percent of the students in Cherokee County actually take the SAT and that’s because in the state of Georgia, if you want to apply for the HOPE (Scholarship) you must take the SAT.”
* Editor's note: Read told the tribune Wednesday that she misspoke. It is not required for students to take the SAT to qualify for the HOPE Scholarship. Additionally, her statistic represents the percentage of students in Georgia who take the SAT. Cherokee County's percentage is about 60 percent.
Read suggested considering the top 5 percent of students’ SAT scores would provide a better insight as to the state’s ranking, as many other states have a lower percentage of students taking the SAT.
Still, Read said CCSD students in the class of 2012 beat the national SAT average by 89 points.
Another myth she said she often hears is that CCSD high schools are not preparing students for college, but that results of the Advanced Placement exams prove otherwise.
Of 2,200 exams taken by district students, Read said 78 percent of students passed the test, which often allows students to receive credit for college-level courses.
“Many of our students enter the doors of (the University of Georgia) or (Georgia Institute of Technology) with 10 to 12 hours already of college credit,” Read said.
Read said her “personal favorite” myth is that since the high school graduation rate is 74 percent, the dropout rate must be 26 percent.
“Those two numbers are not inverse numbers,” Read said.
She went on to explain that figure, which was released by the state education department earlier this year, does not take into account a student who takes an extra summer, year or two years to graduate high school.
“That doesn’t mean they drop out; it just means it took them longer than four years and three summers to graduate,” Read said.
She said a better measure would divide students into several cohorts.
“This county has multiple options for our high school students — Polaris (Evening Program), ACE Academy and online opportunities for course recovery,” Read said. “I would really like to see us celebrate the successes that our students who graduate, even though they didn’t graduate in four years and three summers, that they did graduate. Let’s celebrate that and not label them because it took a little longer.”
Another myth Read addressed was that the district could eliminate the eight furlough days it has scheduled for this year. She said each furlough day saves the district $1.1 million.
“Someone suggested we could decrease all the central office staff,” Read said. “Even if we eliminated every person at the central office, we would only save about $4 million and by the way — who’s going to run the office, do the payroll, work on security, transportation, answer the phone when you call for a question, those sorts of things?”
The last myth she addressed was that the school district keeps all 19.45 mils of the local property tax.
Read said the first 2.5 percent, or .49 mils, which equates to about $2.9 million goes to fund the tax assessor’s office. She said the next 5 mils go to a central fund, called the Local Fair Share, which is redistributed to poorer counties throughout the state.
“This is not supposed to exceed 20 percent, although it did last year, and it was over $39 million alone last year that went to other counties,” Read said. “And that $39 million would certainly eliminate those eight furlough days that we talked about.”
Read said that amounts to CCSD using only about 14 mils of local property taxes, with the added hit of $145 million in state budget cuts over the last 10 years.
“So I think you get my drift — there appears to be much misinformation floating around out there,” Read said. “Some of these myths make way better sound bites than the facts. I would just encourage you to check out our website or contact one of your local school board members anytime you want information.”
Read shared a story she said she read several years ago about how a teacher changed the lives of many poor male students who claimed they succeeded because of the teacher’s influence.
“I’m confident that we have teachers like this, ones who love their students, believe in their students and want the same successes like I do — and that’s not a myth,” Read said.
Larry Woolard, a commercial real estate broker, asked Read how the charter school issue would be resolved.
Read said a lot of information is being disseminated by both those in support and in opposition of the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The amendment would create a state-level, appointed commission that would be charged with considering charter school petitions from applicants who were initially denied by their local school boards. The commission would also allocate state tax dollars to the approved schools.
“The folks that are in favor of it, they have a lot of out-of-state money coming to them, so there’s a lot of people outside the state of Georgia that are really watching this and wanting to be involved in that,” Read said. “Education has really become a big business.”
Read said there are people who know they can make money off students, but she wants to make sure those involved in education are there for the kids.
“I would just encourage every person to do their research and just ask around so you really know what’s involved,” Read said.
Read also said she took issue with the amendment creating an appointed board rather than an elected one.
“When it’s someone that’s appointed, they’re not really accountable to you,” Read said.
She added that according to the enabling legislation for the amendment, House Bill 797, the bill won’t take money from local school districts.
“However, there’s only so much money in the state coffers,” Read said. “If the pie is this big, and they say we’re going to pull (money) out for charter schools, that makes the whole pie smaller and our portion would be smaller.”
Dennis Burnette, president and CEO of Cherokee Bank, asked about whether the trend of increasing furlough days would continue next year.
“I would like to say we won’t have eight, but I’m afraid that unless things really turn around in the economy and as far as money from the state that probably eight is going to be the minimum again, just because we don’t know,” Read said.
Burnette also asked whether those furlough days would reduce state funding.
Barbara Jacoby, district spokeswoman and Canton Rotarian, said the district is not penalized by the state for furlough days because state funding is based on a headcount of students at certain points in the year.
She said the district estimates receiving $7,000 in state and local funding for each student, which is less than the district has ever received in previous years.
Burnette also asked whether members of the local legislative delegation are correct in their claims that school districts are getting more money each year, and how they rationalized that when the districts are suffering cuts.
“Number one is we’re getting more because we have more students,” Read said. “A lot of that is the teacher salaries but we are needing more teachers because we have more students.”