Problems in Cobb County Schools

December 5, 2013 11:00 am

by Eric The Younger · 16 comments

I recently came accross this letter in a newsletter from David Banks, a current School Board member for Cobb County. The letter is unsigned in the newsletter, however there is enough detail that it would not take a whole lot of digging to figure out who wrote the letter.

Some of you may be wondering why I would post an anonymous letter from some bitter teacher. Well it’s not just one teacher that I have heard many of these same complaints and shortcomings from. I have many friends that are current and former Cobb County educators. I also am the child of a Cobb County educator. I have heard many, if not all, of this particular teacher’s critiques from the various teachers I know. I also know educators that have left the Cobb system or even the profession for many of these same reasons.

As many of you know, spanning more than a decade I have been everything from a room parent to a teacher at Murdock Elementary School. The Murdock Elementary School Foundation was formed at my kitchen table 9 years ago and has since raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit Murdock Elementary. I formed the Instructional Writing Committee and serve on the Leadership Committee. I created the Birthday Book Club, one of my most treasured contributions to the Murdock community. I have worked tirelessly for Murdock staff and students because I live in this community, because my children were educated here, and because I am a teaching professional. So, it is with a heavy heart that I share with you that I have resigned my position and will not be returning to Murdock next year.

I am sad and disappointed by the circumstances that resulted in my decision to leave the school that I hoped would be my teaching (and second) home for the remainder of my career. Things have changed at Murdock and in Cobb County. Let me explain.

For the past few years, more and more responsibilities have been put on the shoulders of teachers while, at the same time, more and more support has been taken away. At first, we summoned our strength and resolve, ready to handle the increased burdens, hoping they were temporary and understanding the tough economic times. But one can stand strong for only so long as educational conditions worsen without support. To continue to say, “I can only do the best that I can do,” is not fair to the children I am supposed to be educating. It makes me feel complicit in failing my students. Though always receiving top performance evaluations, I am only doing so in an educational environment that, itself, is below expectations. This is not good enough.

The job of teaching WELL in Cobb County right now is impossible. Class size explosions mean that no single child can get what he/she needs and is entitled to. Decreases in support staff mean that students with additional needs are not served in the manner that is best for their learning. Increased demands for ‘accountability’ have resulted primarily in additional paperwork and administrative tasks. We lurch from curriculum to curriculum at exactly the time when all support has been deeply cut. All of this takes even more time away from the business of teaching. I can honestly but sadly say that, of my professional time this year (I regularly work 10 – 12 hour days during the week and about the same combined over each weekend), more was spent pushing paperwork than concentrating on the instructional planning for and needs of my students. Testing expectations invade classrooms, stealing larger and larger amounts of valuable instructional time and doing little to benefit students. Teachers are largely on their own to figure out curriculum and find materials to support instruction as the County provides insufficient training and, most recently, the School Board even refuses to purchase materials for teachers and students! Teachers are not being supported as well as they could be…as well as they must be. This, in turn, means students are not being served as well as they could be… as well as they must be.

When I started teaching at Murdock, I had 18 students in my second grade class. In 2007, the Georgia Department of Education set the class size maximum at 21 for grades k-3. Since then, dire financial circumstances caused the state to “allow for flexibility for school districts to adjust class size to meet the financial and staff constraints school districts are experiencing.” (GA DOE, 1/16/13) This released local districts to increase class sizes as needed.

This past year, Cobb County used this flexibility to set its maximum class size for second grade at 25. As you know, I currently have 27 students.
Teachers cannot effectively meet the educational and individual needs of that many seven and eight-year olds, particularly with increased administrative duties, an avalanche of time-consuming paperwork, decreased support and myriad encroachments on instructional time, including unsuitable testing.

I have tried to sound the alarm. I have expressed my concerns to administration, department chairs, superintendents, and the School Board. The truth is, sad to say, that my one voice is not loud enough. And so, I encourage you to speak up and be heard. Now more than ever, your child needs you to advocate for his/her educational well-being. I have to believe that, if enough demand action, someone will start listening.

The Cobb County School District is in a grave state right now, and things are only getting worse. Please, please, please – for your children –be aware and do some research to educate yourself and take a stand on the issues facing education in Cobb County right now. Talk to teachers. Class size, Common Core battles, testing practices and their price tag, budget items – these issues and more are impacting your child each and every day. Know what is at stake as analyzed through your own research and knowledge. After understanding the facts, take action! It takes minutes to make a phone call or send an email. Contact administration, the superintendent, the School Board, legislators, the state – let everyone and anyone know where you stand on issues and demand they act on behalf of children.

In spite of the challenges this year presented, I have loved every single minute I have spent with your children. They are amazing – smart, caring, funny, curious, sweet, kind, and passionate about learning. They deserve more.

peachpundit (@peachpundit) December 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

New post: Problems in Cobb County Schools http://t.co/ZTzfNke74T #gapol

South Fulton Guy December 5, 2013 at 11:45 am

Is the solution to this issue competing with dollars for the Braves Stadium?

Eric The Younger December 5, 2013 at 11:50 am

My understanding is that they are from two separate budgets. Though admittedly, I have not yet delved into the numbers part.

Napoleon December 5, 2013 at 2:51 pm

They are two separate budgets. More than that, they are two separately elected boards. In addition to the comments made by Ellyn below, Cobb’s school budget is also supported by a capital improvement fund that comes from the 1% SPLOST. The county also has 1% meaning there is a 2% county sales tax on top of the 4% state sales tax. However, as the SPLOST can only be spent on capital improvements, you get things like new turf on sports fields while teachers are furloughed.

The operating fund comes from various revenue sources, but Cobb is a donor county in school dollars. It gives more to the state than it gets back.

I also have a Cobb County teacher in my family and I hear these complaints too.

Eric The Younger December 5, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I believe you are correct.

There were some numbers and commentary here, however I had misinterpreted the data which caused a serious problem with my previous argument.

Ellynn December 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I didn’t want peoples eyes to glaze over it I got REALLY techical on funding streams.

The main killer to public school budgets in the last ten years has been the slow decline of funding from the federal level. Starting with the 2002 US budget, the combinations of the increase of military spending and the effect of the Bush tax cuts lowered the rate of increases in items the government funded. In some schools, the US Department of Ed is not the largest funding stream of federal dollars. It you have a military base in your district, your going to get funding to offset the cost of educating children who parents are not required to be legal residents of the district. Head-Start is Health and Human services. In the last 10 plus years of reviewing funding streams, I have seen federal non- grant sources from Homeland, FEMA, Justice, Transportation, EPA, Interior, Energy, NFS, NEA, USDA, and many more.

Most public school funding by the USA is not a directly line item, but grants. This can be anything from security camras in high crime areas to helping fund rurial schools with heating assitance. I know of a school in this state that has it’s first new science lab in over 50 years due to a D of Inter. grant.

When the federal dollars started to dry up, the state could have started to pony up, but instead the started to cut funding too. Then the local systems started loose funds with lower home values.

Additionally alot of the stop gap items and Stimulas Act packages from 2009 have either ended in the last year. A lot of captial ungrades (new HVAC, Early Head Start classrooms, Fire alarms, restroom updates) were paid for by the stimlas packages. If they had a scaled pay out for that grant, it ended September 30th.

benevolus December 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Is funding schools primarily through property taxes the big issue? Is there a better way?

Ellynn December 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm

School funding as multiple funding streams. A working school budget receives funds from local propery taxes, state income taxes, additional line items in state bills, and anywhere from 1 to 2 dozen federal departments.

Stay with me here. Let me run some makebelieve numbers at you.

If 10% of the working yearly budget is from federal programs , the 5% cut of national budget in March lowered your budget by .5% without doing a thing.

If 30% of that budget is from the standard state funding (not including the per captia adjusments based on the tax rates of the system) is cut 10%, you are losing 3 % of your budget without doing a thing.

If 10 % of the budget is based on the magic formula the state assembly fools around with every year calculates your are going to get only 3/4 of what you got last year, you are losing 2.5% of your budget without doing a thing.

Without even bring into play the roller coaster of what the system will or will not get from the current rate on all the property in your school system, the system is already work with a 6% lose of funds.

Dave Bearse December 8, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Georgia school operations are primarily funded via local property taxes. Georgia relies on local funding a little more than most states. The link below to 2007 Georgia school funding (and what you may find an interesting explanation of Georgia funding), admittedly a little dated, indicated 9% federal, 44% state and 47% local of schools. I understand the state’s 44% includes a 5 mill local property tax, in which case local property tax funding is actually about 62%, assuming a 15 mill property tax for schools (or in other words about a third of the state’s overall funding is dependent on property taxes). The link indicates nationwide school funding is 9% federal, 47% state, 44% local (though I don’t know what fraction of other state’s funding is local property taxes).

http://georgiaeducation.org/documents/Basics%20of%20GA%20School%20Finance_2007.pdf

SmyrnaModerate December 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Reducing a schools funding and shoving more kids into a classroom reduces the quality of education the child receives, in other breaking news water is wet

Eric The Younger December 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm

If I remember correctly, Cobb is the only metro system left with furlough days. This after the administration continues to get more for doing less and hiring a superintendent with a questionable background. It’s been a steady decline in performance since the AF Academy commandant. Cobb used to be one of the best school systems in the state, now it’s a sad shell of what it was when I went through.

One more fun fact is that of all the school board members in Cobb, only one of the bios includes having been an educator.

SmyrnaModerate December 5, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Don’t worry there will be all that school tax money from the braves to fix everything, oh wait the land will technically be owned by a government authority so the the millionaires who own the braves won’t be burdened with having to pay property taxes on their new palace…

xdog December 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Jason Carter’s remarks last weekend as reported by Flagpole:
“Sixty thousand students have dropped out of the technical college system, 140 school districts hold class fewer than 180 days out of the year, there are 9,000 fewer teachers in the state than there were four years ago, and college enrollment is down for the first time in memory because HOPE reform has put higher education out of reach for some, he said.”

The state has backed off of funding but not of passing on to local communities the need and in some cases the legal requirement to fund. It’s not just Cobb. Think Carter’s views might resonate with teachers?

http://www.flagpole.com/news/city-dope/2013/12/04/democrat-jason-carter-might-actually-become-governor

Eric The Younger December 5, 2013 at 2:03 pm

If we treated teachers like real human beings or even better, as the professionals that they are, we’d be able to retain the good ones. They aren’t babysitters, but that’s how they are often treated.

Anyone But Chip December 5, 2013 at 4:14 pm

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify that there has been a coordinated effort of defunding public schools by our State and many others.

The cry for school “choice” has been blaring from Republican leadership for many years and fallen on deaf ears of most Republican households who saw it for what it was: a means to create a semi-private system that funneled money to for profit companies.

Seeing that they couldn’t motivate the base through this methodology they have strangled the schools revenue stream through austerity cuts, re-routed money from donor districts to other districts, created a completely new funding source for State Charter schools AND created a maybe we will / maybe we won’t Common Core boondoggle and several unfunded state mandates.

This is done in coordination with the Tea Party spewing “Federal Government Takeover” of the education system whenever schools desperate to keep class sizes down and educational quality high take money from programs like “Race to the Top” or suggest a SPLOST for handling explosive growth or technology initiatives.

On this particular subject, I no longer consider myself a Republican. It’s simply stupid what is happening and I can’t help but see it for what it is…a coordinated effort to defund schools to such an extent that a quality education is no longer an option and parents are forced to flee to for profit charter schools for a “basic” education.

mpierce December 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

OMG! The thought of someone making a profit by providing desired services! Next thing you know, they will be expecting to hold these schools accountable for their results.

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