A controversial Cobb County school board map clears its final hurdle at the Gold Dome

A Cobb County School bus moves down a street on Friday, March 13, 2020, in Kennesaw, Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp approved a controversial Cobb County school board map on Tuesday, punctuating a contentious spell of wrangling and legislative hardball. The governor’s signature is the map’s penultimate hurdle; it will now head to U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross for review. 

Ross charged lawmakers with redrawing the county’s school board map in December 2023 after ruling that the previous map was likely to have been unconstitutionally gerrymandered. 

The December injunction was a win for the group of Cobb residents who sued county officials. They claimed that officials diluted the voting power of people of color, using census data to “pack” districts with Black and Latino voters to preserve a white majority on the school board. Ross agreed, preliminarily. 

Ross initially gave lawmakers until Jan. 10 to return a new map, but that deadline has been pushed over and again, until now.

Republican state Sen. Ed Setzler championed the new map in the capitol and said it remedies Ross’ concern about racial discrimination. 

“This plan addresses the issues raised in the federal court order and also follows standard best practices for re-apportionment,” he said about his map. “We looked at that issue of … what percentage of Black voters are moved from one district to another district, what percentage of Hispanic voters are moved from one district to another, white voters and so forth.”

Much like the previous Cobb school board map however, the new map has shouldered hefty criticism. 

For Democratic state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, the problem is not just the map itself, but how it made its way to the governor.

Anulewicz previously told WABE that local delegations are typically responsible for making local maps; these maps are then pooled and rubber-stamped by the General Assembly. 

Anulewicz is chair of Cobb’s legislative delegation and has introduced a different school board map that is following the usual process now. Though Setzler is also a member of the delegation, his map did not follow the usual process. 

“There is not consensus of the local delegation for this Senate bill,” Anulewicz said about Setzler’s map. “There is not the majority support from the local delegation for this Senate bill.”

The previous Cobb school board map — that Judge Eleanor Ross struck down in December — also did not follow the usual local process. But it passed anyway; so did Setzler’s new map, backed by Republican majorities in the House and Senate. 

Anulewicz said that this has been a concerning departure from the norm.

“Because we are a majority Democratic delegation in a majority Republican General Assembly, precedent was discarded,” she said, adding that this is especially concerning because Cobb County has steadily moved away from the GOP. 

Cobb is one of Georgia’s most rapidly diversifying counties and has swung blue in all federal and gubernatorial elections since 2016. Today, the seven-member school board is the only governing body in the county where Republicans retain a majority: four to three.

To Setzler, debate over the new school board map is disappointing. He said officials who cannot get behind his map are feeding into divisive rhetoric. 

“It’s sort of naked partisanship by opponents of this,” he said. “They think a plan should accomplish their Democrat partisan objectives.”

“[The new map] is something I think everybody who understands Cobb County and wants something that’s fair and balanced and compliant with the federal judge’s order can be proud of,” he continued. 

If approved by Judge Ross, Setzler’s map will be used for Cobb’s next school board elections. Three of the four Republicans on the board will be up for reelection. 

The primary for those races will take place in May.