Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) sent his brother, John Rogers, communications director for Georgia Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, to speak on his behalf.
About 50 people sat in the gymnasium at Macedonia Elementary School with the event moderated by PTA Vice President Amy Upchurch asking questions submitted by audience members.
The exchanges remained civil, but each candidate made his or her stance known regarding charter schools, vouchers and state and local budget woes.
For the Senate race, the incumbent’s brother and Rogers’ challenger, Brandon Beach, president and CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, kicked off the debate with several questions geared specifically toward their race, including transportation and health care.
But most of the PTA members, parents and teachers came out to hear each candidate’s stance on issues related to education.
Upchurch asked the Senate candidates what “grade” they would give the Cherokee County School District for the last three years, noting that the school system has added 5,000 students since 2006 yet is operating at the same budget level.
“I would give them an excellent grade for doing what they’ve done with the resources they have,” Beach said. “One of the things I think we have to do is not continue to keep funding other school systems.”
Beach said he would work on capping the amount Cherokee County gives into the Local Fair Share system, which provides the poorest counties throughout the state with a portion of the district’s property tax millage rate. The district, which is considered a “donor” county, will pay $39 million to the fund this year alone.
John Rogers also said the district is doing a “great job.”
“As far as the levels that we were at in 2006, that’s pretty common across the board,” John Rogers said. “In our department, we hear a lot from teachers and school systems about how to make the dollar stretch a little bit more.”
John Rogers said the Legislature has allowed districts to have flexibility in their 180-day class schedule, among other measures to lessen the burden of reduced budgets.
“Brandon’s right, the Local Fair Share is a terrible situation,” John Rogers said, going on to explain how the system works. “Sen. Rogers two years ago offered a bill to get rid of that. Unfortunately, what you’re going to have regardless of who you send back there, you’re going to have the metro legislators versus the rural, and the rural legislators still want that money.”
Upchurch then asked how the state reconciles control over local school systems, citing the push for state-approved charter schools, despite the state government only paying 38 percent of the cost for public primary and secondary schools, according to the 2010 Census report.
John Rogers said the 821 students at Cherokee Charter Academy last year and the 995 students who will attend next year are from tax-paying families.
“Their local share of dollars will be going into the Cherokee County School District, which means the (CCSD) students actually should have more local funds per student for education,” John Rogers said.
The candidate’s brother went on to say the state charter commission has received more than 70 applications and has only approved 16.
“The state getting involved in this will see what works, know what works, and can continue to do that,” John Rogers said.
Beach said he respectfully disagreed with the “Washington-style” approach from the state.
“We need to keep local control and let the local school boards, principals, parents, teachers make those decisions,” Beach said. “If you want charter schools, that’s fine, but I also think you need to have safeguards in place from a funding standpoint.”
Continuing with the concept of local control, Post 2 incumbent Kim Cochran said she agreed with Gov. Nathan Deal in that “parents are the ultimate local control,” while her opponent, Patsy Jordan, opposed the governor’s sentiment.
Jordan said if parents have a problem, the board should address that rather than “go and create another school.”
“For me, local control absolutely has to start with the parent,” Cochran said.
Janet Read, Board of Education vice chairwoman and candidate for chair, said the district’s Cherokee Academies initiative came in response to the call for more choice.
“I am in favor of (having) local control and I am in favor of parents having choices,” Read said. “But I think you need to make sure the choice of the few doesn’t affect the choice of the many.”
Her opponent, Danny Dukes, said he had difficulties with PTA members and teachers when his son struggled with reading in Cobb County Schools.
“At that point forward, I realized I knew my son more than anybody on the face of the earth,” Dukes said. “He and I became soulmates and I’m in control of his education up until he graduates next year. The parent has the control and should exercise the control.”