Cooter wants emphasis on students, not politics

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Matt Cooter says he wants to eliminate the politics of power that he feels have tainted the Elizabethton Board of Education's decision in recent years.
  "I am a little frustrated with how the process is managed now," Cooter told the Star during a candidate profile interview. "I think some of the decisions made are politically motivated."
  Cooter, 504-C West I St., is seeking one of three at large seats to the city School Board in the Nov. 2 city election.
  Cooter was born and raised in Elizabethton, graduating from Elizabethton High School in 1985. He went on to graduate from East Tennessee State University with a bachelor's degree in business administration. His daughter is a fourth-grade student at East Side Elementary School.
  Cooter works as a sales representative for SSC, a company that sells supplies to school systems in Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas. He said his job of the last 15 years has taken him to school systems in four states where he listens to school board members and system administrators about their financial plans.
  "I know what to expect," said Cooter, who is making his first run at public office. "The thing I see is the need for leadership at the central office and at the (school) building level."
  The Elizabethton City School district has seen a revolving door of administrators during the past four years. Three different superintendents have held office. An entire upper echelon administrative staff departed during the past 15 months following a messy and very public dispute between former superintendent Dr. Judy Blevins and EHS principal Edwin Alexander.
  Cooter said the board's duty was to set policy, not have a hand in the school's day-to-day operations. He said the board needed to forge a better relationship with the Elizabethton City Council and provide more communication with teachers and the public.
  "You have to give the teachers and the parents a platform to say what is on their minds," he said.
  Cooter noted that city funding to the system had essentially remained unchanged in the past three years. He said the system's teachers were once among the best paid in the state, mirroring the system's statewide rank for academic success.
  "In the past years, that has dwindled away," he said.
  Elizabethton City Schools met all federal benchmarks for testing and attendance as set forth by the No Child Left Behind legislation giving more control and requiring increased accountability to individual school systems. Cooter said while standardized testing had some suspect attributes, the system's overall success on both Gateway exams and NCLB requirements cast light on the success of teachers and students.
  "It is a tribute to our teachers," he said of the state and federal reporting results.
  The board voted 3-2 changing existing policy to require all requests for professional leave by central office administrators to be approved by the full school board. The policy has remained intact for several months. Central office personnel are frequently required by the state to attend various programs and seminars if they are involved in administering special education or curriculum programs in a school system.
  Cooter said he favored administrators attending conferences and the present oversight by the board. He also said a report to the board during a public board meeting about the nature of the trip would be nice.
  "You are spending the taxpayers' money to go," Cooter said.
  At their September meeting, school board members discussed altering the system's existing nepotism policy on hiring the family members of the superintendent or board members into the school system. The board tentatively scheduled a discussion of the policy at its Oct. 21 meeting.
  Cooter said he would be reluctant to amend the nepotism policy.
  "I don't really think it is a bad thing," he said. "It takes some of what could be interpreted as a political agenda out of the equation."
  Cooter said he hoped the city's growing commercial base with new retail developments would add dollars to the city coffers, and mean additional funding to the school system. He also said overcrowding conditions at East Side Elementary needed the immediate attention of the board.
  Cooter said his professional and personal involvement with public education fueled his desire to serve on the board.
  "The board needs to work together as a team," Cooter said. "I do think the board needs to be a cohesive group, to be open minded, and listen to opinion."