Education, News

Cobb County School District keeps accreditation after special review

The Cobb County School Board met on Thursday, Sept. 24.
The Cobb County School Board met on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Credit Martha Dalton (screen shot) / WABE
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The Cobb County School District’s accreditation remains intact after a special review. Cognia, the accreditor, said Cobb leaders need to make several changes to maintain that status.

Cognia conducted the review in August after three Cobb school board members requested it and 50 community members complained about governance problems on the board. Cognia submitted its report to Cobb officials early this week. The recommendations include following the district’s board policies and Code of Ethics, collecting and analyzing data before making financial decisions, and receiving training on Robert’s Rules of Order to understand how school board meetings should run.

The report raised concerns about some purchases the board approved.

“…The district has made decisions regarding fiscal resources that have caused stakeholders to question the Board’s ability to make sound decisions in a collective manner for the betterment of the district,” the report said.

Those decisions included spending $12 million on ultraviolet handwashing stations and securing $8 million from the county commission to expand a district intranet system.

Heather Tolley-Bauer is a Cobb parent and co-founder of the grassroots advocacy group “Watching the Funds Cobb.” The group was formed in January and has served as a watchdog for the school board. She says the Cognia report is similar to a job evaluation.

“You have an underperforming employee at work, and you put them on a performance improvement plan, and you say, ‘Here’s what you need to work on and if you don’t make improvements in these areas in a year … then we’re going to reassess our relationship,’” she said.

In a news release, Cobb School Board Chair Randy Scamihorn said he disapproved of Cognia’s methods.

“We still have not been provided with the specific allegations against the district, which led Cognia to believe this special review was needed,” he said. “We do not know why so much weight was given to allegations made in public comment, which are often not representative of the community as a whole. It is disappointing the Special Review Team chose not to consider much of the context leading to various Board decisions, and their review of evidence requested from the District appears to be cursory and incomplete. While I am pleased this review is unlikely to have an immediate negative effect on the District’s students, it did serve as a significant distraction for the staff.”

Given Scamihorn’s description of the review as a “distraction,” Tolley-Bauer says “Watching the Funds Cobb” will keep track of the board’s efforts and progress on the report’s recommendations.

“We plan to create a report card of sorts detailing what they’re supposed to be working on and tracking what steps are they taking to remediate these things and then reporting back to the public so that they know,” she said.

In the same release, Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale thanked the staff and community for helping with the review via interviews.

“As is the case with any feedback we receive, our educators will review Cognia’s process and recommendations closely and consider areas of recommended growth,” Ragsdale said. “I am committed to keeping our focus on high-quality teaching and learning and meeting Cobb County’s high expectations for all students.”

Cobb is required to schedule and host a Monitoring Review by December 2022, where Cognia will assess the district’s progress. The school system must also submit a progress report to Cognia within two weeks of the scheduled review.