Fifteen years ago, Cherokee County schools were in a rough spot — because of a school board member’s actions, the district was put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
The district didn’t lose accreditation at the time. That board member resigned, the school board brought in a new superintendent and the district worked hard to keep its accreditation.
All has gone pretty well since then. The Cherokee County School District is one of the top districts in the state, it boasts the highest SAT scores in Georgia, and the teachers, staff and administration have done all of this while the state has cut funding and more students have enrolled.
Now, we have a single board member acting on her own, and she has gone as far as filing an official complaint with SACS (now also known as AdvancED).
With District 1 Board Member Kelly Marlow’s actions, we are traipsing down a road to destruction. State law says school board members are not allowed to act individually. They act as a governing body. They also must follow policies, which include directing questions to the superintendent.
Last week, we published an article, which included information about a June 11 letter to SACS calling for an investigation. Marlow handed out the letter to board members after the June 13 meeting. On June 17, SACS hadn’t received the complaint. Marlow refused to return our messages via e-mail and phone on June 17, asking if she had sent the complaint. Instead, she issued a press release last Tuesday (June 18) night saying she sent the complaint the previous Friday.
The news report also detailed information provided at the June 13 school board meeting: Marlow acted individually as a board member by giving the district’s auditor permission to speak with her political consultant, Robert Trim. According to campaign disclosures (Sept. 30, 2012), Marlow paid Trim about $2,000 for campaign work. She and Trim reportedly have a close relationship — she has asked via e-mail to have her school board stipend checks mailed to the same P.O. Box used for Trim’s consulting firm, according to open record e-mails.
Also in her June 18 press release, Marlow accuses the superintendent of being “belligerent” with a staff member at a board meeting. She alleges that Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo told the assistant superintendent of finance to “sit down and shut up, Candler.” The video shows Petruzielo saying, “Sit down, Candler.”
According to board policy, board members are expected to address the superintendent, not staff, and it is Petruzielo’s job to intervene if he feels employees aren’t being treated appropriately.
That, to me, is Petruzielo’s way of trying to protect the district’s accreditation, by trying not to allow board members to violate policy.
Despite his efforts, Marlow continues to violate policy by giving directives to staff members.
Recently, she directed the director of public information, Barbara Jacoby, to inform her any time someone files an open records request, including the date, time, name of the person requesting and specific information requested, as well as Jacoby’s justification for releasing the information and the amount charged for the request.
That directive is a veiled threat to anyone filing open records requests — should those seeking public information fear retribution for asking for public records related to Marlow?
According to e-mails obtained by the Ledger-News under the Open Records Act, Marlow has been asked repeatedly to stop giving directives to staff members.
This behavior is similar to what got the district in trouble more than a decade ago. The Oct. 1, 1998, SACS report said the district has caring and committed employees but their efforts are “negatively affected by some members of the Board of Education, whose behavior and actions blatantly conflict with their policies.”
I don’t understand why Marlow wants to repeat this history, unless it’s to destroy the school district to allow more room for charter schools, which she has adamantly supported. She was quoted in the AJC, “They wouldn’t give us the charter school, so I’m not giving them their SPLOST.” (AJC: Aug. 11, 2011).
But, I would like to believe that Marlow’s true intentions aren’t that ill. I believe her personal intentions — with no swaying from others — are about saving money and being transparent, but her actions don’t show that.
She doesn’t seem to work well with others, including the office of public information for the district, the board chairman or the media. Working well with others partly is about respecting others and abiding by the policies set forth for the job, and, while she routinely uses “please,” her tone is condescending.
Her e-mails, through which she gives directives to a school employee, speak for themselves.
Marlow has been reminded numerous times, in writing, to respect the board policies – one of which includes allowing the superintendent to manage the day-to-day operations.
I’m not worried about Marlow, the school board or the superintendent and what their actions cause themselves, I’m worried about the almost 40,000 students in the Cherokee County School District — mainly those in high school. They have worked hard and are working diligently to earn their diploma. Marlow’s action of filing a complaint with SACS, instead of trying to work well with others, could be putting students in a precarious spot.
What’s done can’t be undone, but I encourage Marlow to follow board policy, learn to work well with her counterparts and the superintendent (and I encourage them to try to work well with her).
It’s only six months into her term, and already there is way too much discord on the board and with staff. Marlow is putting politics first when she should be thinking of giving the best education to Cherokee schoolchildren.
If she doesn’t make an effort to work with her counterparts for the betterment of the CCSD students, then her 180 days are almost up, and I sense a recall petition coming.