The Cobb County Board of Education voted 4-3 tonight to switch to its third calendar in three years and start the 2011-12 school year Aug. 15.
That's two weeks later than called for under the balanced calendar the school system implemented this year. The plan had been to test the balanced calendar, which spreads weeklong breaks through the school year and finishes the first semester before the winter vacation in December, for three years.
But with three new members on the seven-member board, Scott Sweeney, Tim Stultz and Kathleen Angelucci, and with a new chairwoman, Alison Bartlett, the board reopened the calendar issue last month and quickly moved to adopt a version of a traditional calendar.
That four-member bloc pushed the board to run an online survey with three calendar options, starting Aug. 1, Aug. 15 or Aug. 17. Overall, 72 percent of the survey participants opted for the balanced calendar, but the board voted 4-3 against sticking with the balanced calendar for the planned three years and 4-3 to adopt the Aug. 15 calendar.
The board later voted to move ahead with the West Cobb ninth-grade academy at Harrison High School, which should open in fall 2013, and to buy the three required parcels of land and hire an architectural firm for the new elementary school in Smyrna.
Scroll down for the best we could do with a wonky Internet connection to report live from the boardroom, which wasn't nearly large enough to hold the crowd. But first, here's a run-down of what the speakers had to say during the comment period. If the speakers identified themselves as teachers, we note it.
Betty Arnold: A teacher, she called on the school board to honor the decision of the previous board, show integrity and stick with the balanced calendar, thus putting students' best interests first. She also said the board offered a choice between a balanced calendar and an arbitrary calendar, not a traditional one. "Going to school on Dec. 23 isn't traditional."
Sandra Riedesel: A teacher as well as a parent of two, she called on the board to "put the public back into public education." She said the people had expressed their will, even if some people considered that expression to be "jacked-up e-mails," drawing a roar of approval from the crowd watching a video monitor in the lobby. That was a reference to Angelucci's comment to Patch last week that the amount of e-mail messages in favor of the balanced calendar had been "jacked up" by the board debate. Riedesel argued that the balanced calendar had played a vital role in cutting teacher absences by 8,700 so far this year, saving roughly half a million dollars.
Marchelle Studstill: A paraprofessional in the school system and a parent, she accused the traditional-calendar proponents on the board of having a "playground-bully mentality" because they refused to listen to the majority or to stand by the previous board's decision. She said she thought the school system had a no-tolerance policy for bullies.
Patty Yohn: The parent of a 10th-grader at Campbell High, she expressed anger at Stultz's comments against the balanced calendar at a public forum the previous night. She backed the balanced calendar and asked the board to take the time to get real feedback from students, parents and teachers and to focus on budget problems instead of calendar issues now.
Gina Ulicny: Noting that she's not a teacher, she pointed to the survey results as a reason to keep the balanced calendar. She noted the drop in the need for substitutes under the balanced calendar. She also warned the traditional-calendar proponents that people don't vote for candidates for one issue and drew laughs when she noted that sometimes they vote for a candidate because no one else is running.
Dave Drabik: The first traditional-calendar supporter to speak, he criticized the anecdotal evidence other speakers had cited to support the balanced calendar. He defied anyone to offer data supporting a balanced calendar anywhere and offered his own anecdotal evidence, pointing to the success of the school systems in Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., which start around Labor Day. After Stultz came under repeated attack from earlier speakers, Drabik took aim at Banks, complaining that Banks had vowed never to change his position on the calendar no matter what the public wanted.
Mike Sansone: He took no sides on the calendar decision but criticized the process as not allowing enough time to gather data and community feedback. He urged the board to table the issue at least until March but, as a last resort, to endorse the balanced calendar.
Beth Phillips: A marketing professional, she praised the board for launching the online survey but said the results of such surveys could be skewed. With a lack of data on which calendar works best, she pointed to irrefutable data: The board has three new members, and they campaigned on a promise to revert to the traditional calendar. "Represent the voters. Follow through on what you said you would do. Come together logically and without emotion and do what’s best for our children" by dropping the balanced calendar.
Catherine Busse: She expressed frustration at the whole debate and urged the board to make a decision tonight, then move on to bigger issues, such as the serious economic challenges facing the school system.
Beth Kriebel: A Ford Elementary School parent in favor of the balanced calendar, she said most Cobb parents had made plans in good faith based on the calendar available for almost a year. She said the public didn't have adequate notice of the possibility of a change, which comes during budget woes and the search for a new superintendent. "It feels like a power play and sneaky politics."
Abby Shiffman: She expressed frustration that the calendar debate had arisen just when the school system should be focused on budget cuts coming from the state. "Let's get over it and move forward."
Karen Hallacy: She echoed the previous comments, urging the board to make a decision and move on so it could focus on the "big elephant" of the budget and academic achievement.
Jerry Bontrager: He argued that the board couldn't ignore the overwhelming majority in favor of the balanced calendar and that doing so would be "arrogant and close-minded." He said of 33 school districts in the Atlanta area, only five start school Aug. 15 or later. He also said narrow majorities can be wrong sometimes, such as the small majority that elected Stultz and the 4-3 majority expected to vote against the balanced calendar.
Dara Fairgrieves: She said it was wrong to raise the calendar issue now because the board had no new data on which to base a decision after less than one year with the balanced calendar. She urged the board to be "factual rather than emotional" and postpone a decision.
Vivian Jackson: In the midst of the state's worst budget crisis ever, she said, the school district couldn't afford to let the experiment of the balanced calendar run its course. She said other school districts had abandoned the balanced calendar and realized millions in savings. "Be less concerned about vacation and more concerned about education."
Amy Ryan: She agreed that the discussion should be about education, not vacation, but she came to the opposite conclusion and endorsed the balanced calendar to set a good example for students and keep them on a consistent schedule.
Melanie Evans: Representing the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, she did not endorse any calendar but did say she thought the issue was settled last year when the school board enacted the balanced calendar. She criticized the rush to inconsistency.
Kara Gold: She expressed disgust that the calendar issue was back, that the board was rejecting the majority preference for the balanced calendar and that teachers' desires were being ignored.
Ed Labra: He broke the string of calendar discussions, speaking instead as a Harrison parent urging the board to move forward with the West Cobb ninth-grade center at the high school.
Lauren Cargile: The freshman-class president at Campbell High, she said she appreciated the importance of democracy and listening to the majority, and all of the students who talked to her wanted the balanced calendar.
Avery Kemp: Another Campbell freshman, she also spoke in favor of the balanced calendar, saying the regular breaks help keep her fresh by giving her chances to catch up on her sleep.
Amy Cargile: Lauren's mom criticize Stultz for not being the schools to see what teachers, staff and students want. She said she's at Campbell all the time as a volunteer and did an informal preference poll that found unanimity among teachers, administrators and staff and near-unanimity among nearly 400 students in favor of the balanced schedule.
Matthew Riedeman: Fresh off a stint as principal for a day at Kennesaw Elementary, the businessman expressed a preference for the balanced calendar but urged the board to base any decision on what's best for the children.
Holli Cash: Stultz's predecessor representing the Smyrna area in Post 2, she signed up to talk about the need to move ahead with the Smyrna elementary school and to criticize the makeup of the board's Facilities and Technology Committee. Closing out the comment period, she said she had nothing to do with the efforts to recall Stultz and was happy being part of the public again. She said she voted for the balanced calendar despite a personal preference for a traditional scheduled, and she warned Stultz to listen to his constituents.
Our Live Blog of the Meeting
9:25: The meeting is over with no further excitement. We'll have a roundup of the comments up, along with photo highlights, later this evening. Given a real Internet connection, it should be by 10:30 or 11. Thanks for playing along at home.
9:20: As mentioned in the comments, the calendar survey has been posted at http://www.cobbk12.org/centraloffice/communications/news/2011/Calendar_Survey_Board_Report.pdf
9:19: The architectural deal also passes unanimously for the Smyrna school. Full speed ahead for that project.
9:15: The board unanimously approves the purchase of the three land parcels needed for the new Smyrna elementary school, then moves on to the architectural services contract.
9:13: Concerns are raised about any environmental issues arise; there's a 60-day approval period. Sweeney asks about comps and appraisals; he's told it's hard to get meaningful appraisals in this commercial real estate market. But the school system is confident in the appraisal.
9:10: On to the land purchase for the Smyrna elementary school.
9:07: The ninth-grade center wins approval to be built at Harrison on a 4-3 vote, with Scott Sweeney proving to be the swing vote in joining Eagle, Banks and Morgan against Bartlett, Stultz and Kathleen Angelucci.
9:01: The center has to go at one of the four high schools in the west or be freestanding, which the board rejected in the past as less efficient. If approved tonight, the center will be ready in fall 2013.
8:57: Chairwoman Alison Bartlett repeats her argument that she thinks the growth isn't in West Cobb north of Macland, so Harrison is the wrong place for the school.
8:55: Eagle makes the motion to move ahead with the acceleration plan to do the ninth-grade center while Harrison goes through its renovations, both with SPLOST III funds. The board is warned that inflation is starting to return, meaning it's now or never to lock in recession-depressed construction prices.
8:53: The $14 million Harrison ninth-grade center is up for discussion now, with the architectural contract on the table.
8:47: If you were hoping for a memo of understanding to send your Cobb children to Fulton charter schools, well, you're out of luck. The motion, made by Stultz, failed 5-2 (Stultz and Morgan are the two).
8:45: Calls of "Recall!" rang through the room when the vote was complete.
8:40: The Aug. 15 calendar is approved 4-3.
8:38: Calendar debate is on. Eagle's motion to table the issue until the three-year period runs out fails 4-3, with Eagle, Banks and Morgan in favor of the motion.
8:25: We'll hear later, but the talk has been that 72 percent voted for the balanced calendar in the online survey.
8:22: Stultz sounds a bit shaken during F&T Committee report, including saying a 7-6 vote to delay the ninth-grade center was 8-7. Lynnda Eagle corrected him; it was 7-6, and one of her appointees who missed the meeting would have made it 7-7. Now discussing Smyrna elementary school.
8:18: The invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance bring us back. Still a while until calendar action.
8:15: Still waiting for the restart. A few folks left, but at least as many poured in from the lobby, where they were watching the video feed and cheering.
8:10: I'll try to catch up on posting the highlights from the speakers, but here are the raw numbers: 13-3 in favor of balanced calendar, with about four others who leaned toward the balanced calendar but were more concerned about making a decision and moving on.
8:05: Ex-board member Holli Cash wraps up the speaker portion. Calls for support for Smyrna. Says she's not behind Stultz recall efforts.
And that's all for comments. Five-minute break.
8:02: A lot of anger at Stultz. Two consecutive Campbell freshmen and a mom attacked him for not listening to the people in the schools.
7:55: We started about 7:27; we have 24 speakers. W're on 17 now. Majority for balanced calendar.
7:20: Did I mention it's SRO? Trying to keep up with one-handed typing. We just recognized the county's top school counselors.
7:17: Working our way through recognitions.
7:14: Serious tech problems, but it's a packed house. A few anti-Tim Stultz signs.
6:50 p.m.: We're live tonight from the Cobb County Board of Education's regular monthly meeting at the Central Office. The hottest topic is whether the will drop its new balanced calendar, but the agenda also includes the planned elementary school in Smyrna and the proposed ninth-grade academy at Harrison High.
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