The Forsyth County Board of Education and members of the local state legislative delegation held a candid conversation Wednesday on a variety of education topics, including sales tax money and Common Core standards.
For the school system, priorities include flexibility, funding and technology.
“One of the ways we’ve been able to survive financially is because of IE2,” said Superintendent Buster Evans of a program that has provided the county with flexibility in exchange for more accountability.
Evans said that flexibility has led to about $10 million in savings and has helped raise the county’s high school graduation rate.
The system’s request for additional state funding, or to restore previously cut financial support, was not met with open arms.
District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy said Georgia is “still digging our way out of this economic mess we’ve been in.”
“I wish I could paint over it with a nice brush and say everything is going to be hunky dory, but we’re still digging and we’re still going to have to find a way to keep funding things,” he said.
Murphy, a Republican from Cumming, also asked about the new Common Core standards, a politically divisive issue, and how the school system has adapted to them.
Board member Ann Crow responded that the system has been “very supportive.”
“We’ve been heading to that for years,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of misinformation about Common Core out there. It’s just standards. It’s an increase in a level of standards that includes critical thinking, which we get criticized all the time about not having in our public schools. Well, this is heading in that direction. So I would hate to see us change direction.
“All the teachers and administrators are 100 percent behind this.”
District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth, a former member of the local school board, was sympathetic. He noted that educators he’s heard from want Common Core and that it would be an insult to teachers to reverse course on the new standard for political reasons.
“If y’all don’t want political backlash, you need to help sell it. You can’t be quiet about it,” he said.
“If this turns into a battle at [the legislative] session, there needs to be wild support coming from board members and educators, because [all we] hear is the other side, with the general Assembly getting e-mail after e-mail ... from the people who hate it and think it’s the worst thing ever.”
Fellow Republican District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville told the board it was losing the war over the standards to the public, which doesn’t support them in polling.
He said this likely was largely to a “mistrust of the federal government,” and a misunderstanding that the federal government is mandating the standard.
“Politically, you’ve got to rebrand it, you’ve got to establish it as a Georgia curriculum,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be dictated from the federal government and I think that’s the real concern people have.
“We don’t like the federal government, we don’t trust the federal government, and we don’t want the federal government educating our children.”
Parents have been understanding, Evans said, when the system has explained Common Core to them. It is working on focusing on the aspect of logic over emotion, noting that curriculum is a state issue, not something passed down from the federal government.
According to Evans, the rebranding of Common Core should be Georgia’s standard.
“Let’s set an exceptional curriculum for the state of Georgia and call it Georgia’s Exceptional Curriculum Program,” he said. “It can have those same Common Core standards that exist, but then build in a higher level of standards for all districts across the state of Georgia.
“Build your assessments around the Common Core standards that Common Core states use, but then let’s do better ... I think that’s the way we rebrand it as a state.”