New school board member raises questions
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
February 09, 2013 12:00 AM | 4565 views | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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CANTON — In Post 1 board member Kelly Marlow’s second Cherokee County Board of Education meeting, she ruffled more than a few feathers after objecting to board association memberships and raising questions about other typically routine agenda items.

Marlow asked to discuss several items, including the board’s annual fee for National School Board Assocation and Georgia School Board Association memberships; the December 2012 financial report and sales tax update; and out-of-state and overnight field trips.

All of the measures were approved unanimously, except for the association fees, which only Marlow opposed. She questioned why the item was not itemized in the agenda and whether it was absolutely necessary.

“I would like to also have it noted for public record what it is the school board association does and I’d like to investigate as well if there are any other organizations besides the Georgia School Board Association that does what they do in regards to training,” Marlow said.

In accordance with board policy, the board must annually vote to maintain membership of both organizations, which allows members to attend the associations’ conferences, training opportunities and also provides the board with legislative updates.

District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said Friday the funds for membership to both organizations as well as for board training and conferences are included in the district’s operating budget, which was approved by the board in July. She said budgeted GSBA membership fees were $15,325 and NSBA membership fees were $9,575.

Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo told Marlow that her requested information is available on the GSBA website, which was included in the required new board member orientation Marlow participated in before taking office.

He said the district has worked hand-in-hand with GSBA over the last 15 years and added tabling the vote would send the wrong message to GSBA, as it simply allowed the continuation of the partnership.

“I really think it would be at this point an insult to suggest that somehow the GSBA needs to pass some standard based on some questions that you may have on what perhaps has been their historic contributions and what their contributions are currently,” Petruzielo said. “We consider our relationship with GSBA to be a very constructive and responsible relationship.”

Both he and Chair Janet Read also noted questions can be asked prior to meetings so more research and documentation can be provided, if necessary, as the agendas are posted a week in advance.

Marlow thanked district staff for their help in that regard, but wanted to have open discussion on the matter.

“I do think that there comes a time during the school board meeting that it’s important for the public and the record to state and to understand some discussion,” Marlow said. “Although we (board members) can get a lot of our questions answered, I think it’s important for our school board to engage in meaningful dialogue on some of these issues.”

Read also reminded Marlow she had participated in required board training, which uses GSBA materials, and Marlow confirmed she also attended an additional advocacy training conference sponsored by GSBA.

Marlow also questioned the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collection being $2 million over projections in December and asked what the district plans to do with the money, asking whether these funds were considered a surplus.

“A lot of people look at this and think we’ve got extra money,” Petruzielo said. “The fact of the matter is, we’ve got projects we’ve wanted to do and needed to do and can’t accomplish because of the effect of the economy.”

Petruzielo said the funds are not a surplus and one would have to look at the past five years of SPLOST collections to understand the impact of the reduced collections of the penny sales tax. He added the funds can only be used for capital outlay purposes and where the money goes is determined by the board-approved Five-Year Facilities Plan and projects approved under the SPLOST vote.

Marlow’s final concern was with out-of-state and overnight field trips, a monthly agenda item that requests board members to approve district staff-reviewed trips. She said she would like to see a cost estimate with the agenda item and requested a financial cap be placed on student travel.

Assistant Superintendent Letitia Cline explained the trips are funded by student fundraisers, parent donation or booster clubs and no funds are expended by the school district to pay for them.

Additionally, Jacoby said Friday these requests are presented to the school board for approval as far in advance as possible to allow students enough time to raise funds.

No action was taken to place a financial cap on the student trips.

In the vote for vice chair, Usher voiced his nomination for Michael Geist, which was seconded by Marlow. Patsy Jordan also submitted a nomination for Wofford, who was elected for his first term in 2010, which was seconded by Rick Steiner.

Geist gave a speech asking for the board to consider his nomination, in which he referenced political dialogue last year that led former Chair Mike Chapman asking him at the November board meeting to justify actions Chapman believed violated school board policy. Geist defended his actions at the December meeting, Chapman’s last, and did so once again at Thursday’s board meeting

“It seems that it is becoming a rule that any statement between two political individuals with differing viewpoints is not only negative but wrong and offensive,” Geist said.

Geist said he typically votes with the board and respectfully supports all board decisions whether or not he agrees with them, and voting him vice chair would be an opportunity to show some in the community who view the board as “intolerant of the opinions of others” that the board is willing to bridge their differences and work together.

Following the motions, Board Attorney Tom Roach passed out the ballots with only the two names listed. After the vote, Roach announced Wofford’s win.

The council also:

* Approved unanimously the selection of Steiner as the representative as the board’s delegate for the 2013 Georgia School Boards Association Delegate Assembly held this year in Savannah;

* Approved unanimously the first reading of revisions to school board policies;

* Approved unanimously a resolution proclaiming Feb. 17 as “PTA Day in Cherokee County Schools;” and

* Met in executive session for a student discipline appeal, but took no action upon returning to open session.

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