If I were running for BOE, here's how I'd answer

Wed, 07/02/2008 - 4:00pm
By: sniffles5

I'm not running for BOE, but if I were, here is how I'd answer Cal's questions.

1. The school board is faced with the likelihood of having to increase the millage rate from 18.569 to 19.35, a rate just .65 mills under the maximum allowed. If negative conditions such as Fayette’s economic downturn have not improved significantly by mid-2009, the board might be faced with deciding to either cut programs or expenses, increase the millage again or all the above. How will you handle those decisions? Are you prepared to cut people and programs if necessary? Be specific. (And please explain — if you don’t have any definite position on this, why should anybody vote for you?)
Not afraid to ask the tough questions, are you Cal? Well, unlike the incumbent, I have both a short term, a medium term, and a long term solution.

  • In the short term: I’m not going to cut a single thing related to curriculum activities. I’ve weathered economic downturns before, and they are almost always of short duration. If I have to “rob Peter to pay Paul” in the short term, so be it. Many board members make quote tough unquote choices when the going gets rough “Cut the music program!” “Let the school buses go another 8 months without a brake job!”. These short-sighted “solutions” take away from the very thing that sets Fayette apart from it’s competition: the quality of life in our schools! Some would say “do we NEED to offer 6 foreign languages when 4 would suffice?” I, on the other hand, would say “Hey prospective homeowner, look at US! We offer 6 languages for your kids!”
  • In the medium term:We need to get a better handle on finances, including, horror of horrors, setting up a “rainy day” reserve fund during good economic times. All too often politicians will cut millage rates and brag about how he/she is saving citizens money. That’s a poor way to run a business, in my opinion. We don’t need to run a “bare bones” operation in the education department. We need to establish and wisely manage a financial cushion to avoid being put in a position of reatively lurching from financial “crisis” to financial “crisis”.
  • In the long term:We need to refocus the entire Board of Education on one single goal: educating students. To do that, we need to reengineer the entire department and that means outsourcing every possible thing not directly related to educating students.
    We should have a five year plan with clearly defined milestones to outsource the following “inhouse” functions to the extent the laws allow:
    1. Data processing (Cobb and Fulton county recently did this and saved huge amounts of money)
    2. Food services (Aramark has had a great deal of success running school cafeterias)
    3. Bus fleets (we should be managing educators, not diesel mechanics)
    4. Custodial services
    5. Physical plant maintenance
  • Fayette county has had an uneven transition from a smallish rural school system to a large suburban school system. Sadly, the school system seems to have metastisized into a cradle-to-grave jobs program for county residents. It’s a shame that the school system is the county’s largest employer. I realize that outsourcing is politically unpopular, especially among school employees, but I’m willing to contractually require that existing outsourced employees be given first opportunity to apply for their position with the outsourcing company. Naturally, strict performance criteria (with financial incentives AND penalties ) should be an integral part of any outsourcing contract.

2. A number of students attending Fayette schools actually live out of county, yet not a single criminal case has been carried to trial or resulted in a plea of guilty in the past two years. Some allege that school authorities turn a blind eye to illegal students because those out-of-county students bulk up the attendance numbers, resulting in maintaining state funding even while actual Fayette student numbers decline. Why hasn’t more been done about this problem and what specifically will you do to get illegal students out of Fayette schools?
I am aghast at the haphazard method currently used (hiring off-duty deputies to investigate complaints) at verifying in-county residence. I propose the following method of determining residence:

  • Twice a year to send a mailer (perhaps a student’s class schedule or grades) to the home of record of the student. Instruct the USPS NOT to forward this mail. Any returns automatically go on a watch list, and parents are given 15 days to provide proof of residence. Parents that do not provide this documentation will be referred automatically to the relevant police department for theft of services charges.

3. Recent CRCT results indicate that even when teachers teach the test, a lot of students still don’t do well. What local policies will you strive to change or to implement that will reverse this downward trend?
Simply put, there is not a whole heckuva lot of things we can do at the local level when standards are dictated at the state level. Savings identified in question 1 above can and should be used to 1) make sure every student has the correct up-to-date textbook for EACH class he/she is taking and 2) increase the “local stipend” for classroom teachers so that the average Fayette county teacher’s pay is about 5% ABOVE the metro average. A differential like that should increase the number of qualified candidates for open teaching positions.

4. Why shouldn’t school board meetings be videotaped and uploaded to the BOE website or put on the dedicated cable TV channel in a timely manner for viewing by those who cannot attend the meetings? What will you do about that?
Glad you asked. Quite frankly, if truth-in-advertising laws were made to apply to this school board, it would most likely require renaming the FCBOE to the “Fayette County Skunkworks”. For whatever reason, the current school board insists on keeping the public at arms-length. “Transparency” and good faith Open Meetings need to be implemented as the absolute highest priority item in the short term. USE the Eboard software the way it was designed to be used, minimize these closed-door “working sessions” and work WITH the public rather than AGAINST the public. Videotaping will be required and meeting minutes provided in a timely manner.

5. The Fayette school budget is nearly $200 million a year. What experience do you have in either making payroll in a small business on a regular basis or in managing and overseeing budgets containing more than five zeroes in the expense line?
I’ve managed budgets greater than the net worth of most Fayette county businesses. No problem there.

6. In a similar vein, what makes you competent to oversee a nearly $200 million budget?
See above answer.

7. It looks like we built too many classrooms for declining student numbers. That’s a lot of local tax dollars. Who should be held accountable for that miscalculation?
The secret shame of Fayette county has been the placement of schools. We build extra capacity in areas that do not need schools and shortchange overcrowded areas. The current school board, with the exception of Marion Key, should be held to task for their poor decision to build the Inman and River elementary schools. These school board members would have us shrug our collective shoulders and “move on” but the simple fact is that we will be paying for their multimillion dollar mistakes for the next two decades at a minimum.

8. Few people like redrawing school district attendance lines. This year, several candidates seem to focus on that process. Give the current board a grade from A to F for the most recent redistricting plan adopted. And, by the way, should voters elect a single-issue candidate, even if that issue is redistricting?
The school board went at the last round of re-districting with the best of intentions. From a planning standpoint, they did all the right things, including hiring a very highly respected consultant. Their execution of the redistricting plan was downright sloppy. Their secretive nature worked against them when the public rebelled about being shut out of the process. This was not helped by the Citizen newspaper’s grandstanding about the “$200 an hour consultant”. The simple fact of the matter is that in a redistricting some people are going to be genuinely unhappy. Any time you upset the status quo you’ll have upset people. Nonetheless, decisions had to be made. The current school board took the path of least resistance, pleasing the largest number of people, at the expense of knowing that 3 or 4 years down the road they’ll have to go through the same exercise all over again.

9. With respect, do you know what you are doing? Can we trust you with our money and our children?
I know what I’m doing. Trust me.

Seriously, if elected I’ll provide you with a scorecard of specific goals you can manage my performance against….or if you like, just bookmark these answers and refer back to them from time to time to see how I’ve kept my promises.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to explain my agenda. A vote for the Sniffster is a vote for a school board as great as its students!

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Submitted by Spyglass on Thu, 07/03/2008 - 7:20am.

All good answers, although you sure do ask for a lot of trust. Smiling

That said your answer to #2 is so simple, that it is brilliant. Kudos!

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Thu, 07/03/2008 - 7:40am.

Does this mean you'll vote for me? Sticking out tongue

I found a couple of more "best practices" that I also want to implement:

1. Put in an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system to get real-time access to financial information. I know it sounds wonky, but financial information is the coin of the realm. I've got a hunch that certain factions are witholding certain financial data to advance their own agendas. Mere speculation on my part, but still...

2. I looked at Fulton County's redistricting process and was BLOWN AWAY at how they do it. They have a five month process and they detail exactly what goes on in each month, PLUS they have an "online community" where you can make your voice heard and it goes into the formal documentation (along with people who appear in person). I shake my head and wonder why can't WE do this??

Submitted by buckstopshere on Wed, 07/02/2008 - 6:35pm.

Have you checked to see if you live in Lee Wright's post? We sure could use for the next election in 2010!!!
Let me know where to send a check!

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Wed, 07/02/2008 - 5:25pm.

I always knew that you were a Republican. Smiling Heck, I'll vote for you. If you are elected please fix the BOE's website.
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

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