School board races vary by county. Some, like Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett have partisan elections. Others, like DeKalb, Fulton, and Atlanta Public Schools have nonpartisan elections.
If there are enough candidates running, partisan races hold primary elections in the spring. Nonpartisan races hold general elections at the same time. School board candidates facing off Tuesday are competing in partisan races.
For example, the Cobb County school board has three seats up for re-election. Jaha Howard, a Democrat, won his primary race for District 2. He’s running unopposed in the general election. In District 4, Incumbent David Chastain (R) will face Cynthia Parr (D).
Scott Sweeney (R), a former chair and vice chair of the board, currently holds Cobb’s District 6 school board seat. His opponent is Charisse Davis (D), a former teacher and librarian.
Sweeney, who has represented District 6 since 2011, has a background in business, commercial real estate, and banking. He says he’s proud of his record on the board. During the economic downturn, the Cobb County school district saw tax revenues shrink, as most local districts did. Sweeney says the board balanced the budget despite those financial challenges.
During Sweeney’s tenure on the board, the district received a strategic waiver from the state. The agreement gives the school system the flexibility to let schools make their own decisions in some areas, like staffing and class sizes. Sweeney says the program has worked well for Cobb. Being on the school board is a part-time job for most members. But Sweeney says it’s a huge responsibility.
“The most important thing is you have to make sure the school district’s accreditation is preserved in that you’re doing everything that you possibly can to make sure that students are set up for success, the teachers have the resources that they need, that families have the confidence that their children are getting a quality education,” he said.
Sweeney says he’s proud of the schools in Cobb, and believes the district is performing well as a whole.
Davis, his opponent, sees it differently.
“It’s definitely time for some fresh voices on our school board,” she says. “A lot of our board, they’ve been there. We certainly have a lot of families who love our schools and are doing great, and we also have a lot of families who feel like our school system [is] not great for everyone.”
Davis taught Kindergarten for 15 years. She then became a media specialist, working with kids in grades Pre-K through 6. Now she’s a youth services librarian. She says the board needs someone like her, who has taught recently.
Cobb has some board members who are former educators, but Davis says education has changed quickly, and the board would benefit from her recent experience in the classroom.
School board elections tend to draw fewer voters than races at the top of the ticket, like the contests for governor or lieutenant governor. However, if overall voter turnout improves, local races could benefit.
While school board races may not have the tension or energy of some high profile races, school board members have a lot of responsibility. In Cobb, the board will oversee a budget of $1.2 billion this year.