Cornelius (Neil) Sullivan, Jr., Board of Education District 3, Republican Primary

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NEIL SULLIVAN

QUESTION: You are asking to be hired (or re-hired) by the voters of this county. Give five reasons why they should vote for you and not your opponent.

Financial Leadership: I am the only candidate that is a Certified Public Accountant who brings 30 years of financial leadership in a business setting.

[The incumbent] Mr. Scott Hollowell is a financial planner who helps people plan for their future, but does not make budgets, hold leaders accountable for their results, provides analysis and solutions to problems like the one we have now where the state of Georgia is going to cut our funding 14%, and connects the “dots” between financial decisions and operational results.

As a Controller, it is my responsibility to manage the financial controls for the company, this includes the budget. Over the years, I have had more than one colleague complain that I act like it’s my money when they ask for additional spending.

In the case of the FCBOE, it is not only my money, all of our hard-earned tax dollars and we need to make spending decisions with that in mind. An example of a good control is during ESPLOST 1 (2008) Superintendent Dr. John DeCotis held a quarterly meeting of concerned citizens to hear presentations from the various departments regarding coming plans to spend ESPLOST funds. This group was a cross section of the community and not just an echo chamber of selected insiders. The committee voted on its recommendation to the FCBOE.

After Dr. DeCotis left, these meetings stopped while Mrs. Marion Key was on the board and did not resume under Mr. Hollowell. If elected I will press the superintendent to bring them back. In 2013, when Mrs. Key was on the board, the decision was made not only to close 4 schools which I agreed with, but also to bring class size to state maximum and greatly reduce K-1 parapros. This decision was not made to balance the budget but to instantly build a rainy day fund in bad economic times which she has stated was her priority.

That year, my son Jackson was one of 29 5th grade students in a class room built for 24 in Peachtree City Elementary. This was neither educationally optimal, nor right. To the teacher who still gave her best, providing interactive instruction which often made her look like the Little Lady in the Shoe with all those kids, you are still among Jackson’s favorites and you are a hero.

Close to teachers – My wife Jennifer is an 18-year veteran of our excellent Fayette County Schools with 10 years at McIntosh and 8 at Sandy Creek teaching history and AP Psychology. Mrs. Key has an educational background and is married to a retired educator as well. However, we already have an educator on the FCBOE, the impressive Mr. Roy Rabold who was not only a classroom teacher, but also Principal at both Sandy Creek and Whitewater.

My advantage is that I hear plenty at home and traveling in “teacher circles” that I know enough to ask others for more information to check out. It’s important to have a board member who is connected to the frontline teachers and staff but knows better than to interfere in the day to day running of our schools.

Leadership – As the leader of all three successful ESPLOSTs, the last one which paid for the Chromebooks we have used to navigate the current crisis, I am the only candidate for this position that has partnered with people across the county, between political parties, and spanning every demographic to build a coalition to support our wonderful schools with the necessary funding to keep them great.

Both of my opponents have shown a propensity to discount the opinions of those they disagree with, focusing more on being right than doing right. In my ESPLOST journey, I have met many people who felt the schools “had enough money” and that money was “wasted.” I listened to their argument not to answer but to understand. During the first ESPLOST, each week, I had a letter in [The Citizen] explaining the facts for ESPLOST. Mr. Claude Paquin, a local economist, and Commissioner Steve Brown argued the other side.

While it was not quite to the level of a Lincoln-Douglas debate, I was proud that our community had that debate play out in public regardless of the result. I believe that is how we should treat every issue.

Problem Solver – Throughout my career I have made it my focus to overcome problems with a simple approach. Instead of looking at starting with “can we or should we”, but rather “how do we get this done.” As the current situation unfolds over the next few years, we are going to face new and difficult challenges. It is imperative that we attack the situation with urgency, audacity and resolve. But most important we work these issues with public input and well communicate them.

I have found that we have so many thoughtful people who care about our schools and we should connect together to shape our future. Mrs. Key’s time on the FCBOE, was marred by several public fights between board members and even a public spat between the superintendent and the board across these very pages. To solve problems, we cannot just complain about them, nor can we just assign blame to others, we must come together in the interests of our community, schools, students, teachers, and administrators.

Fortunately the current board has not had the problem of public blood feuds but rather the need to hide the simplest of facts in explaining decisions to the public. A recent example was the curious decision to spend $6.5 million of ESPLOST funds to rehabilitate “old Booth’ that is set to be abandoned in just two years.

Those were the only facts given other than spending this money now enabled FCBOE to earn additional state funds bringing the total to approximately $13 million.

This week [School Board Chairman] Mr. Hollowell launched a Facebook post where he informed us there are letters of intent with two colleges for “old Booth” to be the new “Center of Innovation.” Some may focus on the fact that a new center of innovation was also not on the ESPLOST project list, but I will submit that if the facts were this simple why not just communicate that?

Some others may ask why isn’t the FCBOE making the official communication instead of the Chairman running for re-election? All of these deeds erode trust whether intentional or not. Without trust, it is much harder to come together to solve problems facing our excellent schools.

Communicator — The last point above leads me to my next point. It is very important to me that the public be well informed, as issues arise and during decisions are made, As the three-time ESPLOST chairman, I have had many letters printed on these pages to inform the public on the facts regarding the ESPLOST as well as other issues including teacher pay and the state of Georgia underfunding its obligation to our schools. I have posted many times in the former Citizen Forums, as well as public Facebook pages both informing the public as well as answering questions.

However, I was always careful to present the most accurate facts for people to make up their own minds. If elected, I plan to continue my personal interaction with the public who I would represent. Not only on the various social media platforms, but I would like to develop a quarterly in post meeting where the people who are in Post 3 can come, get an update and ask questions.

QUESTION: How are you different from your opponent(s) in your philosophy and your approach to this elected office?

This brings me full circle to the first question the Editor of this paper asked when I submitted my first letter supporting ESPLOST 1. He asked me “what axe I had to grind?” My answer is the same now as it is then. I am a taxpayer who, like the rest of the community, wants great schools that are financially responsible and serve our children well.

I believe my special set of skills, experience, and leadership ability set me apart from my opponents. My approach to this elected office is to serve our community as a servant leader. That means not only asking for the votes of the people in Post 3, but then promoting the views and interests of this community as a whole as their representative.

I believe that our entire community should be connected to our schools in every way possible. As I said in the other question, I hope to hold quarterly in-person meetings within the boundaries of my post in PTC. I strongly believe in open, proactive communication. As a Certified Public Accountant with 30 years of operational finance business experience, you can imagine I am a data guy. I believe in using facts to evaluate all decisions.

But as I have shown on the three ESPLOST campaigns, I believe in openly sharing data with the public, providing analysis where appropriate and then stepping back so our community can evaluate the data. We have a CFO; my experience gives me the ability to ask the right questions to go deep into the numbers. Not to micromanage, as others have in the past, but also, partner with them to dig through the information and develop plans for great education at better cost. Sometimes its knowing what questions to ask, but sometimes is also the willingness to look under every “rock” to find win/win solutions.

I do not care who gets credit, or who is to blame, I want to solve problems and secure our schools for the future. As I stated above, I believe it is vital to be careful with our taxpayer money and be mindful that it is the community’s money. For years, our tax millage has been at or near the maximum for too long. We need to set lowering the millage, within reason, as an imperative.

In closing, I hope to serve our schools as guardian of our tax funds, a steward of our schools, and servant to my constituents. Many people say they support our excellent and quality public schools, but many fewer have acted as boldly and transparently. If elected I hope to restore the trust of our entire community in our board of education. I ask for your vote for Neil Sullivan CPA for Post 3 of the Fayette County School Board.