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Fayette BOE have their say in verbal brawl

Schoolyard brawls usually attract a lot of attention. That would have been the case at the May 4 meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education, except that the meeting was sparsely attended, as usual, and

there was no dirt to kick around. But there was plenty of mud to sling.

Board member Bob Todd, perhaps coincidentally while his opponent in the July primary sat in the audience, was taken to task by fellow board members Janet Smola and Chairman Terri Smith for some of his recently published statements that link to previous ones. It is not the first time board members have bantered back and forth on issues but is was the most prolonged.

The board was in the middle of a discussion of the upcoming budget and the millions of dollars of proposed cuts facing board members. A discussion of the significant fund balance now in place was followed by comments from Superintendent John DeCotis on the things parents expect from Fayette schools and the needed cuts that were made by the board last year.

“We will do well if we don’t cut our employees anymore, and if we can do more for them I think that’s great,” DeCotis said. “But what we need to keep in mind is that we were criticized before for having a lower fund balance because we did absorb the cost rather than cut things that we felt were central for students. We have a lot of good things going for us and that’s why people come here and have been very supportive of the school system and what we are doing.”

It was at that point that Smola initiated a change in the direction of the budget conversation.

“I’m so glad you said that. I really am,” Smola said to DeCotis, noting that she was “astonished” to read what she said were comments by Todd in a newspaper article where he said, “’due to a lack of foresight and planning the school system is one the verge of losing its standing as one of the nation’s top school systems.’”

“You know that’s not true. You absolutely know that’s not true,” Smola then said to Todd, recounting the school system’s many academic accomplishments over the past few years despite the “$40 million in cuts from the state” since 2002 and use of “reserves” to fill in the blanks. “A statement like that is absolutely irresponsible.”

Her statements were followed with those of Todd, suggesting Smola re-read the article.

“I was talking about finances,” Todd said several times, injecting his comments into Smola’s repeated statements of what she said she was reading. “You’re diverting away from the issue. I’m talking about the budget, Ms. Smola. Talking about cuts, Ms. Smola. I know what the accolades are for this system. I was talking about finances.”

The back and forth continued for a short time, with Todd saying his priority will be to continue funding the classroom and Smola saying his published comments concerning the budget make it appear as if she, Smith and board member Lee Wright are making all the decisions.

The display continued with Smola and Chairman Terri Smith weighing in on Todd’s vote last year in opposition to the budget based on an issue with national board certified teachers and the lack of a line item on reserves, which Smith and Smola said are prohibited if a school system accepts federal funds.

Their position on reserves notwithstanding, Georgia law allows a school system, with some conditions, to hold up to 15 percent of its budget in reserve.

The “discussion” appeared to wind down from that point, following comments from Wright that he was glad the “three” had adopted the FY 2010 budget, an apparent reference to the 3-2 split vote that sometimes occurs where Smola, Smith and Wright are on one side of an issue with Todd and board member Marion Key on the other.

Wright, and then Smola, thanked DeCotis for his guidance through the recessionary times.

Apparently believing he needed to drive home another point, Todd referenced comments by school system staff and board members in various meetings about a total of $40 million in state cuts over recent years. Asking when the first year of actual cuts in state funding over the prior year occurred (as opposed to austerity cuts that all school systems experience), Comptroller Laura Brock said that, as far as she recalled, the overall budget went down last year for the first time.

“Everybody in the state got austerity cuts. Right? Poor little Fayette wasn’t singled out, right?” Todd asked, rehashing what he said was the point behind his comments on austerity cuts made at previous board meetings and in the recently published account. “We were treated just like everybody else. So when we say we took cuts we took nothing different than anybody else. It was a cut in a projected increase in money.”

Todd said he would prepare for the media an accounting of the actual dollar increases during the time that “we have been crying about” the cuts.

Smith and Smola asked that while putting the information together, Todd also include figures on unfunded state and federal mandates, additional reporting requirements, mandated reductions to class size and all the many variables that are figured into expenditures for which the board has no control, such as fuel prices and unfunded salary increases.

Todd responded to both, saying his published comments referenced land and buildings, not the quality of programs.

That did not satisfy Smola or Smith.

“You opened up this creation of a campaign of fear,” said Smola. “Is that what you’re doing?”

Words between Todd, Smith and Smola continued to be bantered back and forth. Smith proceeded to account for Todd’s votes on the land purchase for the Rivers Elementary site, bond resolutions and other items. Smith was also prepared for the occasion, reciting a litany of votes, both during Todd’s time on the board and earlier, where there was no 3-2 split vote on issues such as budgets and land purchases.

“You can prepare all you want to for the press about the numbers going up and down, But I guarantee you I’ll spend more time digging in the computer because I can and I’m going to call you out on it because it’s lies and you know it,” Smith said.

“Do you want to talk about the property behind Whitewater?” Todd asked.

“Yeah, let’s,” Smith responded. “We had an offer from somebody who was willing to buy it, who wanted to buy it for wetlands and it’s not sold.”

“No, the original proposal was to sell it as swamp land at $2,000 per acre,” Todd said.

“So, wouldn’t that have been $2,000 an acre that we would have had that we don’t have?” Smith questioned.

“The wetland is worth at least $2.5-3 million. Maybe that fits the pattern of why we bought all this extra land. I don’t know,” Todd returned.

“We bought the land that was for sale,” Smith said. “They weren’t going to sell us the land in front and keep the swamp land.”

“I’m not talking about that. We could have sold it for wetlands but that was not the original proposal,” Todd answered, saying later he was referencing the Kiwanis land that was purchased for $1.6 million. “The plot was on giving it away.”

Smola and Smith both responded briefly, insisting that such was not the case.

The back and forth conversation continued for a short time until DeCotis essentially ended the verbal brawl with comments on issues like equalization and mid-term budgeting. Aside from general comments from DeCotis and the board the budget discussion ended.

The board at a subsequent meeting will get back to the budget and the millions of dollars in cuts they face. The budget must be approved by the end of June.

A few school system staff after the meeting said they were embarrassed at the board’s display. Aside from central office staff and a very small number school system employees, usually the only adults at school board meetings are the parents of children receiving awards. Those presentations are made at the beginning of the meetings, after which the parents and children almost always leave.

But Fayette’s school board meetings, in terms of citizen attendance, are no different than most others. Here in Fayette County, as in other locales, the majority of property taxes paid by homeowners goes to the school system, yet school board meetings are the most sparsely attended of any governmental or tax levying body.



Dr. Todd's comments in the newspaper were obviously part of his announcement to run for the school board again. He honestly answered that he felt the system needed to handle finances better. What a horrible idea, right? Aside from Smola violating board ethics policies by attacking Dr. Todd in public, didn't she violate the board policy that prohibits campaigning on school grounds?

Just Asking

suggarfoot's picture

somehow, Smola and ethics, don't belong in the sentence.

As far as Dr Todd trying to have a 'campaign of fear', he wasn't one of the two, raving like loons! He was the only voice of reason, in a 'bully pulpit'!

suggarfoot's picture

I read the article in the Fayette county news too. What it stated was Dr Todd had strongly considered not running for re election because of the strangle hold of Smith, Smola, and Wright. That he wanted more financial planning and a better use of our money.

Dr Todd has a great background, so does Marion Key, but time and again, they have had to watch all their wisdom and knowledge thrown under the bus by the 3 to 2 vote.

Dr Todd said the board's "lack of foresight and lack of planning " has put Fayette on the verge of losing its standing as one of the nation's top school systems.

Smola, always taking the ‘bar room brawl’ approach, states, she just can’t believe Dr Todd is inferring our little Johnie INS’t smart anymore, and rattles off all the awards the schools have gotten.

Sorry Janet, Dr Todd never called our kids dummies, or that their IQs were suddenly degenerating. He said, we need the money in the classrooms, not in the cowpastures.

Wake up Smith and Smola, the teachers don’t work for free. The money that was spent on extra schools could have done us a lot of good if it was still in the bank.

At the meeting, Smith n Smola go on whining about people just wouldn’t sell us the land if we didn’t buy it all, I think of how developers DONATE land for schools in Coweta. It is obvious they know they don’t have to here.

Here, we are in the land business. We just build schools out in the cowpastures, knowing the developers own most of the land around it. Then the developers build their little developments, and fill up the schools. The extra land we are stuck with? Well they buy that for what they want to pay, and of course, build houses on that too.

So, in the end, we have built a school for future children. Children who’s parents, nor the developers, have put a cent into. Our children are no better off for all this. Only the people who move into the new communities and the developers profit from all this, but hey, Smith’s husband a developer, she knows all this.

Back to the ‘bar room brawl tactics’ … no one appreciates watching that. The Citizen stated people said they were embarrassed. I have heard that so many times. People who have come to the meetings telling others how disgusting it is to hear Smola and Smith tear into Ms Key just for meanness.

They aren’t fooling anyone, it is obvious to all that they enjoy this kind of behavior. They also enjoy controlling the vote. It is killing them that maybe the voice of reason will soon prevail. I can tell you, it would be a packed house the 1st night the vote swings in the other direction. We would all pay to watch Dr Todd and Marion Key turn the tables on them. The problem is, we will never see that show. Dr Todd and Marion Key, as much as we would like to see them do it, would NEVER stoop to their level when they are in the majority. The reason is something these guys will never understand. It is called upbringing and class!

ginga1414's picture

Dr. Bob is a good, honest, intelligent educator. I would trust anything he had to say when it comes to the education system in Fayette County. He has had a hard row to hoe when it comes to dealing with the "three muskateers" and a "loose cannon" but the man is still in there slugging away for Fayette County students. Way to go, Dr. Bob. Fayette County parents are behind you. You saw my two through Fayette County High and I was thankful everyday you were there.

grassroots's picture

Wow. The cat's out of the bag.."It was a cut in a projected increase in money.”
We can stop crying now. Nobody got hurt. I like the guy that wants an honest budget. Another statement stands out "Todd’s vote last year in opposition to the budget based on an issue with national board certified teachers and the lack of a line item on reserves, which Smith and Smola said are prohibited if a school system accepts federal funds." Spoken like true government hacks that can't go outside of the Federal box.
I'm guilty as charged. I'm putting some meetings on my calender and looking forward to quoting Mr Todd in our school budget sections at www.SPLOSTPOLL.com
see the CARTEL movie trailer and read "They Spend What?" Very eye opening about our money "for the kids."

I believe that the citizens in Fayette county are the top executive according to what Kathy Cox told me the order of authority was. We need to get rid of the 3 musketeers. I think it's very sad that Dr. Todd has someone running against him and the others don't. I say the citizens step in and fire them. This one running against Dr. Todd is probably in with the 3 too - where is that going to get us? In deeper trouble I'm sure. I think it's a shame the board has as much control as they do anyway. I know good people have lost positions in areas at local schools where these members reside, just because they stood their ground on issues too. Shame, that's all it is.

We get a vote at each election. That's about it for us! Seems to me that competition for every elective job would be good. Most things are lost due to the fact that they "stood their ground on issues."

The voters in Fayette had better wake up. Smith & Smola were elected as Republicans, but they are in fact liberal spending Democrats.

Smola should be a female boxer because she has always been very pugilistic. She is a known street fighter, both to the police and courts as well as a BOE brawler.

Her lack of conservative fiscal restraint on the BOE puts her in the flyweight division. But from her picture it appears that as a pro-boxer, she would qualify as a heavy weight. Look out Mr. Todd, Smola will come after you.

JeffC's picture

Your comment that "Smith & Smola were elected as Republicans, but they are in fact liberal spending Democrats" made me laugh out loud. Your equating Republicans with fiscal restraint shows that you must be as old as I am. In the far distant past that equation might have been true, but that train left the station in the early 80s.

suggarfoot's picture

I think there might be some confusion here with Ted Turner's, "World championship Wrestling", or a corn fed heavyweight, laying in the feed trough, who won't go away!

ginga1414's picture

The way to at least break-up the terrible threesome is to vote for Dr. Sam Tolbert and Dr. Bob Todd in the upcoming election. That and that alone will cut the terrible threesome down to size. It is rumored that Cave is a close personal friend of Smola. So a vote for Cave will just mean the same old, same old.

suggarfoot's picture

I understand the pedigree was checked, and certified by the kennel club 100% Smolite!

We also understand it was there, front row, grinning like a Cheshire, when Smola and Smith pulled their stunt. (Not too classy)

Common sense would tell anyone, VOTE TO BREAK THE TIE! We know what the death grip of the Smolite/Smith/Wright, python has done for us.

Why another cat with Smolite/Smith spots?

The joke in her neighborhood is, if in doubt about your vote ..ride by her house.
Whomever's sign in her yard...VOTE AGAINST!

She seems to has wised up in recent year, (or anyone who wants to win has, and distanced themselves)...then again.. it might be, all her attention is on sitting in the Publix's parking lot watching her own signs across the street!

It would be funny if she wasn't making decisions involving helpless children's welfare!

You are exactly right on that count!!

I agree with what you say JeffC, but I’m only 45 and am recently learning the facts about Republicans in hindsight. To me and most younger voters Republican in Fayette meant conservative. It is a fact that a Democrat can’t get elected in Fayette. That’s why liberals like Smith & Smola run as Republicans. In the last election Smola did not mention her intention to support the Splost, but it was her first act shortly after being elected. I’m just trying to get voters under 50 to pay attention to wolves in sheep’s clothing.

grassroots's picture

Fayette County is not immune because these same narrow minded thinkers are running the BOE across the country. It's not the money stupid...it's where it goes. See the Movie trailer "Cartel" and 'Waiting For Superman" exposing these education czars and how to defeat them at www.SPLOSTPOLL.com

Is the Fayette County BOE headed in the same direction that brought down Clayton County? That all began with board members with personal agendas and political axes to grind. Fayette does not need that kind of behavior.

Board members Smola and Smith continue to have personal agendas and use strong arm tactics. Quite frankly they have moved from boardsmanship to back door administration by whatever means are at hand. If their control tactics continue, it ultimately bring our school system.

Board members Dr. Bob Todd and Marion Key are trying to do the right thing by questioning the academic, financial and personnel decisions of the BOE to insure that we have the highest quality school district in Georgia. They are trying to insure that our school district survives the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is necessary to reduce cost, salaries, staff and programs under these circumstances. Fayette can make it through these times. Students will learn and good teachers will survive.

Each board member needs to be reminded that the voters of Fayette County are active and very savy. We have long memories when it comes to the election process and will remember the mis-steps and actions of any elected official. That applies to all BOE members.

ginga1414's picture

Concerned, you are absolutely right. I couldn't have said it better. I really am not sure what Smola and Smith have in mind with their tactics but they don't have the parents and students welfare at heart. It seems as though they are on a personal power trip. The "I'm right and you will do as I say" attitude will surely bring the school system down. And, that attitude will surely be noted by the rest of the State just as Clayton County's problems have been publicized.

A lot of people feel Smola and Smith are the main reason that Dr. DeCotis retired. What a shame!

Hopefully, things will start to turn around after this year's election.

Not sure how anyone could question Ms Smith's or Ms Smola's intentions..if they have ever bothered to check into the back ground of either of these women...What you will find is years and years of dedication and concern for Fayette County's Education system and the children they serve...not those that can vote but those that can't...Ms Smola and Ms Smith have never had any agenda other than the best interest of those they serve....in fact Ms Smith still has children in the school system and it is crazy to imagine that she would want anything but what is best for her children and ours...

You have got to be kidding. Both Smola and Smith are control freaks! Their attitude is that it is their way or no way! They get in a Board Meeting and act like two teenagers in a pillow fight. They can not stand to be questioned and attact fellow board members who dare to question board actions, policy or procedures. They even get Smiley Face to run against Dr. Todd in an attempt to keep control.

Where is their profesionalism? Don't talk to the Citizens of Fayette County about their innocence. They have fractured the trust of the other board members, school employees, parents and citizens.

We voters will remember and take care of this in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

suggarfoot's picture


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