Cobb school board candidate spotlight: Matt Harper, Post 5

Three years in the classroom gave Matt Harper a whole new perspective on the value of education.Matt Harper, Cobb school board candidate

It also fueled his desire to do something more than be the typical involved parent.

After serving as a science lab instructor at Murdock Elementary School—where he once was a student and where both of his daughters have attended—Harper felt a stronger desire to make a difference.

That’s why he said he’s running for the Post 5 seat the Cobb Board of Education as a first-time candidate for public office.

(Here’s Harper’s campaign website).

“As a teacher, I saw on a daily basis the grind—and the joys—that teachers go through, and what we ask of them,” said Harper, who also has served on the Murdock School Council.

“Before that, I’d say I fell into the category of clueless dad.”

The former environmental planner-turned information technology consultant is one of three Republican candidates on the June 9 primary ballot, along with Delta pilot Shelley O’Malley and three-term incumbent David Banks.

Post 5 (see map below) includes the Pope and Lassiter attendances zones, and stretches into portions of the Wheeler cluster.

A graduate of Walton High School, Harper and his wife Sharon have daughters who attend Murdock (3rd grade) and Dodgen Middle School (6th grade).

As someone who grew up in East Cobb, Harper is clearly playing up his local ties, as well as his background as an educator.

He said he thought about running four years ago, “but the timing just wasn’t right. I just feel called to serve.”

Providing greater support for teachers in the classroom while maintaining a fiscally conservative approach to taxes and budgeting are among Harper’s priorities, but the COVID-19 crisis that closed Cobb schools since March 13 will prompt some difficult and dramatic decisions.

“Things are going to continue to change,” Harper said, “but things aren’t going to change about how schools work” and the roles they play in their communities. 

When Gov. Brian Kemp closed public schools statewide for the rest of the current school year, the Georgia Department of Education also cancelled standardized testing.

Harper thinks standardized testing should be suspended for the 2020-21 school year as well. 

“Teachers are going to have to be catching students up across the board,” he said. 

Massive business closures also will impact the Cobb County School District’s Education SPLOST (Special Local-Option Sales Tax) collections that fund school construction, maintenance and technology projects.

The district’s pending fiscal year 2021 budget formulation also is in limbo because the Georgia legislative session was suspended before school funding was determined.

Cobb gets roughly half of its $1 billion budget from the state, and Kemp is proposing 14 percent 14 cuts at all departmental levels to address the shortfalls.

Cutting that much from Cobb’s upcoming budget would be around $70 million.

“That would be a big hit,” Harper said.

Cobb BOE Post 5

When, and how, Cobb schools would begin the next school year also factors into future funding issues that the school board will have to wrestle with. 

“The biggest concern that I have is how do we do best with the funding we have while keeping our school staff healthy and bring children back so their parents can go back to work.”

Harper does not favor doing away with the Cobb schools senior tax exemption, which comes to around $100 million a year. It’s an issue that caused some flare-ups on the school board in the last two years, largely along partisan lines, with Republicans opposed to touching it, and Democrats wanting at least to study the matter.

In his teaching work at Murdock, Harper developed an environmental club at the school, and rebuilt its school garden.

He strongly favors a 30-minute recess period in all Cobb elementary schools, something that exists now at the discretion of principals.

Even though he’s a “self-proclaimed digital pack rat,” Harper thinks that recess should be technology-free. “It’s a no-brainer,” he said. 

As for what awaits Cobb school students in the coming months, Harper said that while starting a new school year online-only is a very possible option, “no one wants that to happen.”

The personal connections students make with one another, their teachers and principals and bus drivers is vitally important, he said especially at the grade-school level.

“The stability that the school environment offers students is more than reading, writing arithmetic,” Harper said.

“Those baseline needs of school and community have not changed.”

 

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