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Dan Nolan answers some tough questions

All on Georgia (AOG) had a discussion with Dan Nolan (DN) regarding his run for the Board of Education.

First, a little bit about his background in his own words:

I have spent most of my 30-year career in the party rental business. I moved to Atlanta in 1994 from Chattanooga, TN and began work at Tents Unlimited, located in Marietta GA in 1994. After working for a few years in the business I purchased a stake in the company. I grew the business to national prominence, ranking the business in the top 30 event companies in the United Sates while employing over 100 people during high seasons. Along the way I added complimenting businesses, Event Rentals Unlimited, Event Flooring Solutions, and Epic Tents to build a vertical support network.

I have been recognized by the International Live Events Associations, Atlanta region as an event community leader and was humbled to be awarded their higher honor with the associations Lifetime Achievement award. During my career I have worked for over a decade to serve the industry and improve safety standards through service as board member and eventual Chairman of the IFAI Tent Renters Division. IFAI is nationally recognized as one of the two industry associations for tent rental companies for safety guidelines and business resources.

I have since sold my majority stake in those businesses to Gemini Capital and work as a consultant with the company presently. We have expanded into five (5) southeastern states and have seven (7) locations currently employing nearly 400 people.  My owner group has partnered with longtime friends and owners of Governors Gun Club, Bert and Kristian Brown, and I now serve as Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for the company. We have expanded that brand this year and created over 80 new jobs in our region.

Moving to Paulding County in 2005, I have always felt a need to help make the place I live a better place. I have served the community throughout my time here. I started as a voting member, moved to HOA Board member, and eventually was elected President of the HOA at Bentwater, a 1675 home community with an annual budget near $1,250,00.00 from 2011 to early 2016. While that is nowhere near the size of a school board budget, it allowed me to gain meaningful experience in service of the residents. I had to work to build a coalition of people to achieve a positive outcome for a large group of people. Those 5500+/- residents are all potential voters who are currently live in Pauling County and I have had a positive impact on their lives indirectly. I currently serve a Board Member at Large for the Governors Town Club HOA. Lastly, I have worked in the schools where my children attend, and I was instrumental in forming and funding the North Paulding High School Volleyball Booster Club. My company donated much of the equipment that the team uses today in the Gym.

I am a common sense driven leader who tries to follow the important decisions to a logical conclusion and I always make the effort to consider all the unintended consequences. I am a straight shooter and very direct.

(AOG) What experience do I have with complicated budgets? When you are given a 400-page budget for the district, what will be your process to determine if it is a good budget for the school system?

(DN) I have been developing budgets for businesses for over 25 years. In those years of tenure, I have had the good fortune to be successful along the way. Budgets are there to set guidelines and give yourself a way to wisely detail your operation plan, contemplate revenues, spend money, and control money. Those are the essential functions of a budget whether its 4 pages or 400 pages. It is my opinion that budgets are not complex if you understand how they work and how to allocate revenues in the proper way. What is complex is the decision making when there are not enough revenue sources in your budget to achieve the operational outcome you desire. When you must make decision to cut, underfund, or simply eliminate something from the budget, that is the real challenge. You must follow it through to a logical conclusion and consider intended outcome and the unintended consequences. When the budget affects the education of over 29,000 students there is a lot of margin for error in that decision making. I believe my unique ability to problem solve and add a fresh set of eyes to the process can help in the areas to the extent our Central Office would benefit from a different perspective honed through success in business.

Paulding County schools has an excellent CFO. Our school system is the 13th largest in the State of Georgia and our budget for the School District ranks right at 152 of 179 districts in the State. I would submit to you that on the face of it, all the budgets we are given are “not good” based on the funds we have available to operate the school district, but if you consider what the PCSD does with the revenues they are provided, we get a huge “bang for our buck”. If you look at our budgets from years past (available on the county web site) you will find that while expenses have increased steadily, mainly health care that is up triple digits, you will see that there are not many places to cut costs or trim waste. We have some opportunity to improve our outsourced vendor performance but by and large, the budgets were working form are as good as they can get for now with the current state of revenue sources we have for the school budget.

(AOG) How will you enlist support for bond issues or public-school spending from conservative voters or taxpayers with no children in the public schools? How can the school board prove itself accountable to those citizens?

(DN) I believe there is a better answer than bonds and that is economic development.

If we get the economic development engine revved up in our county with a master plan that includes continuing to prepare students for college, but also supports an expansion of the Technical and Agricultural education pathways in our county for those students who aren’t college bound, we will provide fuel for that engine to thrive. This will stimulate the creation of a properly educated work force that in turn attracts good companies and good jobs to the county. This additional expansion of the exciting new curriculum coming out for these concentrations will provide the students who either can’t, or do not want to go to college, a path to a good paying job. That economic engine will provide the much-needed shot in the arm that Paulding County needs to grow and relieve the tax burden on the homeowners. That’s going to appease the residents without children and make it much easier to pass bond referendums for the cost to build and modernize schools when that need arises in the county. I want to see economic development ease the tax burden on those homeowners. I don’t like my property tax any more than the next person.

I believe the School Board conducts almost all its business, save personnel and disciplinary decisions, out in the open. The accountability needs to be in how the school superintendent and the central office performs. They are a board and as such they are responsible for hiring and supporting the CEO and his staff. If they make a bad hire, they should be held to account.

(DN) What do you see as the opportunities and challenges in this district?

At the School Board meeting recently, the growth of the county over the coming years was outlined. (That information can be found on the School Board TV channel) The residential growth in our county is going to continue and based on those projections, our population could grow to the size of Gwinnett county in the future. Will that happen, I don’t have a crystal ball, but if it does, we must have a solid 10-20-25 year plan that can be reviewed consistently and adjusted accordingly. Dr Otott is working to make that reality and I believe that is a big opportunity to do the right thing over the long term. The challenges in the short term are going to be dollars for the needs. We have a unique issue in this county. Our median home price is $165,000.00 with the school taxes assessed on the average home we are about $1,200.00 per home. That’s about 65% of the home’s value less the homeowner’s standard exemption to get there. With an average in Paulding of just under three (3) kids per home were already operating at a deficit of roughly $6,000.00. How did I get that number you ask? Our local per student spending (Prior to QBE) for the three years ending 2016 was an average of $2,395 per year and is up slightly to just over $2,500.00 per year now. If we have three (2.9) kids per home average and only $1,200.00 coming in, we are severely “in the hole” so to speak to the tune of about $7500.00. $1200 per home – cost to educate 2.9 kids = $7250 (2.9 x 2500 = 7250) gives us a deficit of close to $6,050.00 per home) Without the states QBE funding we would be in a terrible position. We must have commissioners who will work closely with the School Board that support the economic growth of the county to solve this.

(AOG) In your view, what has the district done well over last 5 years? What has the district done poorly that you would change?

(DN) I believe the district has done a great job of managing the school system and working the budget to squeeze every dollar out they can.

My only criticism would be that they should have done more to address the issues, straight on, coming out of the media about the recent issues at North Paulding High School.  I’m not sure Dr. Crowe was given a fair shake. To be clear, I did not have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of that from the districts perspective, but in my opinion, it was handled poorly, and we may have lost a gentleman and a fine educator to that lack of support and open discussion of an explosive issue.

(AOG) To what degree are students in this district on track for postsecondary readiness? How do you know?

(DN) If voters are unaware, Georgia school systems have what’s called a CCRPI rating given by the GA Department of Education. The CCRPI includes five main components each scored on a scale of 0 to 100: Achievement, Progress, Closing Gaps, Readiness, and Graduation Rate (high school only). These components, encompassing multiple indicators, are combined for a total CCRPI score on a scale of 0 to 100. The CCRPI also reports other information, such as the performance of student subgroups, school climate, and financial efficiency status.

Paulding County Schools are higher than 168 of the 180 school’s districts in the State. That puts our schools in the top 7 percent of all school districts in the state. Both in preparedness and dollars spent. I would like to see us at number 1!

(AOG) What is the current per-pupil spending rate in the district? What does that mean?

(DN) That is a simple calculation of total budget divided by total students. In our case, about $8,800.00. This is a little bit of a moving target because there are movements to the number of students throughout the year.   It is a simple measure to tell you from year to year what it costs to operate the school district per student. It’s a quick and meaningful benchmark for measuring if expenses are moving and which way they are going.

(AOG) How should teacher performance be measured? What are some of the challenges inherent in evaluating teachers? What training do school leaders need to perform fair teacher evaluations? How should the district balance using evaluations for accountability and using them to help teachers improve?

(DN) Wow, that’s a doosey set of questions. I’m not sure how to answer this because there are a lot of different schools of thought and none are really any better than the other. This seems to evolve with the times.

To my opinion… I believe that there are teachers that mail it in just like any profession but by and large, most teachers want to be good teachers and work hard to be good teachers. I also agree there needs to be accountability for success. Test scores alone are tough and don’t provide the vehicle for the total experience that a teacher should provide. Every time a new student engages with a teacher, that teacher is earning trust. Trust that what they say and do will lead the student to success and continue to evolve in their education and be accurate. It hard to measure the intangibles that successful teachers bring to the table. If the teacher doesn’t believe in the curriculum then you’ve lost before you start. That said, the measuring stick must be clear, and the teachers must be bought in. Teachers will rise to the standards set in most cases. Strong administrators that are fair and engaged should assess teachers in their schools just like any other boss and have the leeway to make changes where necessary.

(AOG) In your past professional experience, what criteria do you use to make decisions about hiring people, retaining goods and services, or the effectiveness of a course of action? How will you use these criteria when making decisions as a school board member?

(DN) My criteria for hiring people or companies to provide services is simple. Past performance is a solid indicator of future output. I believe that making the right hire is more important than hiring someone quickly. I look for articulate and persuasive leaders to guide employees and in most cases those people exist within the organization, if you’re developing your bench…

With Companies,  it is market leaders. That doesn’t mean the biggest and/or the cheapest. Having the least expensive product isn’t always the best deal. I always ask the companies I hire to give me access to the client that’s going to give me the worst story. Then I ask if they were able to salvage them as a client. The answers are always enlightening and give me a solid gauge of honesty and ability to solve a mess because no company has a 100% success rate.

To affect the ongoing positive change that business or any organization needs to thrive takes a relentless approach. It’s never compromising your standards and doing what is right, even when no one is looking. I apply these principals every day in everything I do, the school board will be no different.

(AOG) What are your views on open data and transparency of information? What kinds of school district information should be made public?

(DN) I believe that we are elected by the taxpayers. We are accountable to our boss, the tax payers. I don’t hide things from my boss because it’s never a good practice to have to explain yourself after the fact. I believe that you must be honest even if your boss doesn’t like what you have to say and sometimes your boss is going to get upset until you deliver what you promised. It’s that simple. If I am asked and legally able to answer, I will answer truthfully and honestly whether you like what I have to say or not. As a matter of course, I think all information, except to the extent that it would create security concerns for our students, should be public. Government for the people by the people, that’s the premise, correct?

(AOG) What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?

(DN) My previous answer is clear. There should be no reason, except to the extent it would create a security concern or be illegal for some reason, all information should be made public.

Matt Lowe was born in Helena, Montana and grew up in Austell, Ga. He attended South Cobb high school and Chattahoochee Tech. He is an avid outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and 7 children in Dallas, GA. If you’d like to follow more of Matt you can find him on Instagram and Facebook.

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