Criminal charges add to Cherokee school board drama

A Cherokee County school board member and two associates have been charged with filing a false police report after they accused the school superintendent of trying to hit them with his car.

It’s the latest drama in what locals have dubbed “As the School Board Turns.”

Board member Kelly Marlow, her political adviser Robert John Trim and secretary of the local Republican Party Barbara Knowles were arrested over the weekend.

Since being elected last year, Marlow has gotten into several spats with Superintendent Frank Petruzielo and her fellow board members, according to local media reports. She’s also called on the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to investigate the district.

Marlow, a full-time mother of twins and a substitute teacher, ran for Post 1 after Cherokee Charter Academy, a startup charter school she pushed to have built, was rejected by the board. She won by 24 votes.

During a June 13 school board meeting, Marlow and Petruzielo got into several testy exchanges over the board’s budget, parliamentary procedure and the district’s participation in Common Core, a new set of academic standards adopted by Georgia and most other states and supported by the Obama administration.

After the late-night meeting, Marlow told police she was crossing the street in front of the Painted Pig Tavern in Canton with Trim and Knowles. Suddenly, Marlow told police, a vehicle that belongs to the superintendent charged toward them.

Anthony Morgese, a lawyer who is representing Trim, Knowles and Marlow, said the school board member never said she saw the superintendent, only his car. However, in a 911 call obtained by several local media outlets, a panting Marlow is heard saying, “The superintendent of the school raced right by me in his white BMW and did not, did not stop, nothing. … He just accelerated past me.”

Knowles pushed Marlow out of the way, preventing her from being hit, said Morgese. A video of the incident was obtained by police.

Arrest warrants were issued for Marlow, Knowles and Trim on a charge of making false statements to the police. They have all turned themselves in and since posted bond.

Knowles has since acknowledged the group was not in a crosswalk at the time, said Canton police spokesman Pacer Cordry.

“As I indicated when I was informed of the report being filed against me, this is a very serious allegation that has no basis in fact,” said Petruzielo.

But Morgese said the three made truthful accusations and are being unfairly targeted by the superintendent and police. He said he will fight the charges.

“I don’t know why they’re going after her, other than the fact that they have a hostile relationship since she’s been trying to change things in the school system,” Morgese said. “There are a lot of things we disagree with. But you don’t go out getting people arrested.”

Marlow has used her website, www.kellymarlowga.com, to build community support for her school board actions, especially among local tea party activists.

“What Kelly did is what the rest of us have been trying to do: ask questions,” said Cherokee resident Jack Spaver. “That’s a school board that’s letting a superintendent run them. The employee is telling the boss what to do rather than the boss telling the employees what to do.”

But Linda Flory, a Cherokee resident, said “She’s got to go. She’s single-handedly destroying an excellent district. She has a vendetta against the superintendent, and she’s trying to find a way to get rid of him.”

Last month, Marlow wrote a letter to SACS saying the board chairman has “lost control of superintendent and staff” and the “public’s confidence in the chair is eroding.”

“This Superintendent is not only insubordinate to the board, but he is belligerent to the staff,” Marlow wrote in the widely circulated letter to SACS. “I can no longer sit back without the help of the Board Chair, so I was forced to take this action.”

She also complained that the board didn’t act on her request that it appoint a committee to study Common Core standards.

A group called Smart Citizens Rally Against Marlow (SCRAM) has created a petition to rescind the letter. On Monday evening, the group held a rally where more than 100 people called for her resignation. Wearing bright yellow “SCRAM” shirts, parents, teachers, local politicians and students spoke of the growing district’s academic success and the risk they said Marlow’s recent actions posed to its future.

“I trust the administrators and teachers,” said Julie Olvin, a local parent. “I don’t trust Marlow. There comes a time when we have to stand up. Don’t let Marlow drag this district into the mud.”

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