By Christopher Smith
Dr. Pablo Perez said it was in a rural town in Mexico where he learned the most important thing for his medical career — and now his campaign for a seat on the Dalton school board.
“Communication,” Perez said.
And that’s what he said he is offering to parents and teachers if he is elected to the board.
Early voting begins Monday with the general election set for Nov. 5. Perez is running against Steve Laird for the seat currently held by Mark Orr. Orr did not seek re-election.
Perez, originally from Peru, served in a poor neighborhood outside Mexico City as a means to pay back the Mexican government for funding his medical education, he said. He continues to participate in medical missions around the world.
“I became passionate about underserved communities,” he said. That passion is what took him from Mexico to New York City on a student visa and ultimately brought him to Dalton in 1999, a place he now calls “my own home.”
His children — Dalton Middle School student Christian, 11, and Westside Elementary School student Kevin, 9 — are his motivation for running for office.
“Our children are going to be our caretakers,” he said, “so we have to put a lot of time and resources into their education.”
Which means setting a “higher standard,” Perez said.
Perez said he wasn’t impressed by recent College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores for the school system. The CCRPI grades schools on how well students are learning and graduating through a 100-point scale as part of an accountability system that state educators used for the first time in 2012. Morris Innovative High School received a score of 34.6, while Dalton High School got an 82.4.
“When we see performance like that we have to have this perception that we can do better,” Perez said.
That means organizing constant talks among parents, teachers, students and school administrators to foster better learning, Perez said. It also means bringing in more motivational speakers and looking at schools with better CCRPI scores to see what they’re doing right, he added. And that search has to be wide, not limited to the state, “because we are an increasingly global economy,” he said.
Improving the school system also means better financial planning, Perez said.
He said school board members need to “prioritize” spending after they voted in May to spend an estimated $1.35 million on a new field and track for Dalton High that sit across the street from Perez’ office on Waugh Street.
While sports are good to keep students “active and healthy,” they are “complementary to the core that is education,” Perez said.
He said school officials should try to broker support from private industry and the city government to stave off the possibility of a property tax increase, looking for creative funding options. Several board members have said a tax increase or major budget cuts seem more and more likely as the gap between revenue and costs continue to rise.
A budget projection provided by the school system assumes $59.6 million in revenue and $64.2 million in expenses for fiscal year 2014, which began July 1. An estimate for fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014, assumes about $64 million in revenue and $75 million in expenses.
School officials have been relying on a rainy day fund — expected to be down to $4.52 million after this fiscal year — to stave off a tax increase, but that option could be exhausted next year if projections hold.
“Private industry needs to start looking at how they can help the schools,” Perez said, “because educated students are good for the economy and good for jobs. We need to have that conversation.”