Hancock’s decision to not run for reelection
Dear Editor, it was with a heavy heart that I decided not to run for reelection to the Troup County school board.
My wife and I have plans that will require us to move from District 2 before the next term expires, so knowing that, I could not run for re-election in good faith. However, I would like to offer some perspective on what the TCSS School Board (Allen Simpson, Joe Franklin, Cathy Hunt, Brandon Brooks, Tanya Jones Cameron and Becky Grubbs) and the rest of TCSS have accomplished in the last three years.
The last three years have been tumultuous for TCSS. Six of the seven board members are in their first term. The board has worked with three superintendents. Dr. Shumate and Dr. Nichols have installed new leaders in most of the central office leadership positions, including the Chief Financial Officer, Assistant Superintendent – Academics, Chief Human Resource Officer, and the Assistant Superintendent of Operations.
The Board approved and the system has operated at a budgeted loss for several years. There were two critical factors occurring over this period of time. The first was a change in leadership at the superintendent level and the second was an interim superintendent who, working with the board reduced the deficit from the prior year.
From 2016-2018, the system’s scores were falling dramatically. The board asked Dr. Pugh what was needed to stop this dramatic decline in scores. He proposed a significant investment in key positions to, in his opinion, address the problems. After a lengthy review process by the board, his original budget request was reduced significantly resulting in an investment and deficit of $5.2 million in 2018-19. Several months later, the leadership changed and Dr. Nichols stepped in to serve as the interim superintendent.
Working with Dr. Nichols, the Board reduced the operating deficit to $1.8 million in 2019-2020 and set the stage for Dr. Shumate to reduce it to zero in accordance with his vision and strategy. This was clearly communicated during the recruitment process.
This significant investment of deficit spending has been proven to be effective. Two key metrics, among others, are the ultimate benchmarks for a school system:
- The system’s letter grade improved from a D to a C in 2019. We reversed the dramatic decrease in scores. While below where we want it to be, this represents a huge turnaround from the downward slide the system was experiencing and is the start of increasing the system’s trajectory. For perspective in 2019, there are 4-A, 35-B, 103-C, 57-D and 10- F rated systems in the state.
- TCSS’ graduation rate has increased from 78% to 86.6% from 2017-2019. We are now above the state average.
That is where we are today. We know and agree with many in our community that we need to make significant cuts in our operating structure to get to a balanced budget and operate at the highest effectiveness and efficiency.
Dr. Shumate has been here nine short months, and, in that time, he has had to
gain an understanding of our system, evaluate key personnel, make key personnel changes, spend several months addressing the senior tax entitlement issue, share his vision for the system and community, deal with the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, tart the hard work of preparing an effective and balanced 2020-21 budget aligned to the board’s and his vision.
I am thankful for this board and Dr. Shumate for the way it has led TCSS in these incredibly challenging times.
I am also proud of the way the board handled the senior tax entitlement issue. When we were presented with this issue in the fall, the board was moved by the desire to help low income seniors with tax relief. It soon became clear that the organizers wanted complete tax relief for all seniors and even soon-to-be seniors at the age of 62. This was a significant departure from relief from those who truly need it. It became an entitlement for those who no longer wanted to pay to fund the schools. The Board came up with a compromise that will offer significant relief to those who need it (income below $40,000 per year). This creates a manageable decrease in funding for the schools. The entire senior entitlement (62 and above) would have blown a hole in the budget at the very time the coronavirus is about to wreak havoc with state funding to TCSS in the future. Had we accommodated this group, it would have been a disaster.
The system’s overall rating has increased, the increasing graduation rates and the amazing response by the system during the coronavirus demonstrates that it is working. We have the opportunity to continue this effort and build on this momentum.