On Thursday, more than 100 community members arrived at the Bartow County College and Career Academy to hear from State Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, who serves as chairman of the House Education Committee, during the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce 2013 Legislative Dinner, sponsored by AT&T.
Coleman shared with the business leaders and educators in attendance areas of concern presented by communities across the state during a recent listening tour held by the House and Senate education committees.
“We hit over 180 school systems, over 150 superintendents and we sat down ... and talked personal with them,” Coleman said. “We had between 175 and 200 board members, we had over 1,000 parents to come.
“School systems are saying we are hurting, we are dying, we need to be funded, [that] you cut us. We have cut education over $1,800,000 over the last five years and a lot of that needed to be cut ..., but these school systems have gotten to the bare bones right now and they are hurting.
“Our budget has gone from $22 billion to now, I think, $17 billion and education gets 51 percent of that budget, [at kindergarten] through higher ed. What the superintendents are saying, as money becomes available ... they were saying the [Quality Basic Education] funding formula should start restoring some of that money, not all of it, but cut away what you can.”
Coleman said school system representatives also had shown interest in having more flexibility for using educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds and for greater local control in general.
“Too many state rules, too many state laws, too many policies, too many procedures ..., they said if we’re doing well, turn us loose and leave us alone,” Coleman said. “Give us flexibility with class size, flexibility with spending. One thing they proposed, and I think it’s a brilliant idea, is that in colleges you have adjunct professors ... [so] if we need to hire a physics teacher for one period, why make us go out and hire a full-time teacher.
“Let us hire a banker or an IBM guy or an AT&T guy who knows physics and let him teach one period. ... Give us some options and let us have control and if we don’t do it, take us over and put us under control.”
During the listening tour, Coleman said the Common Core State Standards Initiative also became a topic of discussion among school districts across the state.
“Let me give you some facts: 150 superintendents, every superintendent and board member but two ... wanted to keep it,” Coleman said. “They said Common Core, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a set of standards we have done as to what we should do.
“... They were started in the ’90s by Alvin Wilbanks in Gwinnett County and Sonny Perdue, who was head of the governors’ association, brought eight Southern governors together at Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett County and said we need some common standards. They involved some other states, they hired some people and they got it done.
“Common Core are only the standards. The curriculum they keep complaining about ..., that’s what local boards decide.”
Following his presentation, Bartow County Board of Education member Fred Kittle spoke to Coleman about budget flexibility.
“We have to always come up with our budget before we know how much money we get. If we could get two-year [flexibility] or something like that, we might be able to plan better,” Kittle said.
Coleman said budget planning also was addressed by board members throughout the state during the tour.
“They said what’s so ridiculous is we have to come up with our budget and then when [legislative members] go ahead and adjourn, we don’t know what we’ve got,” Coleman said. “One thing we pledged to them — no unfunded mandate bills will be passed. We’re not going to have them.
“If they come through and they are unfunded, we’re not going to pass them ... and another thing they slapped us on, we said we had been doing that but then we come around with this non-[certified employee] insurance, you got that after you got your budget and that cost you a couple million dollars. We’re trying to get with the governor and commit to try to have ... [for] you superintendents what your money is going to be and what you’re going to get before you do your budget.”
Beyond his role with the house of representatives, Coleman also has served as a longtime educator both in the classroom and as an administrator.