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State, local representatives discuss education issues

State Rep. Brooks Coleman of Duluth, left, speaks at a listening session for school superintendents on Thursday at Georgia Gwinnett College. Coleman, the chairman of the House education committee, was among 13 legislators who listened to school officials, school board members and community members as part of a series of listening sessions about education issues around the state. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

State Rep. Brooks Coleman of Duluth, left, speaks at a listening session for school superintendents on Thursday at Georgia Gwinnett College. Coleman, the chairman of the House education committee, was among 13 legislators who listened to school officials, school board members and community members as part of a series of listening sessions about education issues around the state. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Sen. Renee Unterman learned something that surprised her on Thursday during an afternoon discussion about education issues.

Many school officials, including superintendents and school board members across Gwinnett and the state, support Common Core, a set of national academic standards. Unterman said she’s received hundreds of emails and letters from constituents and no one she knows supports it. That changed at Georgia Gwinnett College when Unterman and members of the state House and Senate Education Committees met with school officials and community members.

It was the third in a series of listening series around the state to receive feedback from the public about important issues related to education. Thursday’s session was divided into three sessions where legislators met with superintendents, school board members and community members.

Representatives from Gwinnett, Barrow, Clarke, Cobb, Madison, Newton and Walker counties attended the session, along with Marietta City Schools and members of the State School Board.

More than 40 people signed up to speak to the 13 legislators who attended the evening session, more than half who represent parts of Gwinnett County. Common Core was only rivaled by funding as the most talked about issue at the forum. Legislators previewed two upcoming funding proposals.

The first proposal introduced a one-cent sales tax as a referendum to fund education, and offer a 30 percent tax relief for property owners. The other was to offer flexibility to the existing education special local option sales tax for capital projects and operations.

Gwinnett County School Board member Robert McClure said the board and Gwinnett residents would oppose the first proposal. McClure said it puzzled him to ask for another penny when many people don’t trust the school board with the penny it’s been given.

Legislators also previewed an upcoming proposed bill that would provide by law the election of local school superintendents as an alternative to appointment of local school superintendents, if local voters choose to vote for the constitutional amendment.

Rep. Mike Dudgeon, who moderated the unprecented discussion, said more people who support Common Core need to speak out. Dudgeon said more than 40 superintendents in the state who were surveyed said they support Common Core.

“If you believe in it, you’ve got to get people to tell it because the politics are skewed,” Dudgeon said.

Common Core received mostly positive comments from community members, but one former Hall County teacher said she quit the teaching profession because the standards were “developmentally inappropriate” for students.

Several school officials said the public is often informed by misinformation and rumors about Common Core being “driven from Washington.”

“It’s not a curriculum,” said Frances Davis, the chief human resources officer for Gwinnett County Public Schools. “It’s a standard.”

McClure said Common Core is long overdue, in part because of our mobile society. The concept of Common Core is what needs to be pursued, McClure said.

“If you really don’t like Common Core,” McClure said, “don’t complain when we don’t catch up with the rest of the world.”

Rep. Brooks Coleman of Duluth, the chair of the House education committee, said the members of the committee would take these messages to Gov. Nathan Deal and Gold Dome leaders.

“We’re on the verge of getting what we want,” Coleman said. “I promise you we’re going to sit down with the governor, and say, ‘This is what they’re saying, this is where we want to go.’”