Cobb schools: No timeline set for review of complaints about district

The Cobb County School District is expected to spend several thousand dollars for an accreditation team to conduct a special review of the system — on top of more than $100,000 it pays towards its membership. Credit: AJC file
The Cobb County School District is expected to spend several thousand dollars for an accreditation team to conduct a special review of the system — on top of more than $100,000 it pays towards its membership. Credit: AJC file

The Cobb County School District is expected to spend several thousand dollars for an accreditation team to conduct a special review of the system — on top of more than $100,000 it pays towards its membership.

That’s according to a letter Cognia Accreditation Services recently sent to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announcing its plans for the review.

Cobb schools will be responsible for all costs associated with the review, including Cognia’s $9,000 fee.

A Cobb schools spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the district has not been told how long the review will take and when it will begin.

The district is responsible for coordinating dates and times when Cognia’s special review team will visit, help arrange interviews with school board members and others as well as provide any documents related to the investigation, Cognia’s letter states.

The district pays Cognia, formerly known as AdvancED, $133,200 each year for membership. Previous on-site visit for Cobb schools’ accreditation review cost about $70,000, the system said.

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Cobb’s three Democratic board of education members — Charisse Davis, Jaha Howard and Leroy “Tre” Hutchins — sent a letter to Cognia in January asking for the review, saying they were being silenced.

The Democrats took action after they receiving no response to a request made in December to place three items on an upcoming meeting agenda: employee safety and morale during the COVID-19 pandemic, early literacy and governance training for board members.

The school board consists of seven members. Last November, the Republican majority approved a policy that requires each board member to get support from four colleagues ― including themselves — before an item is added to the agenda.

Agendas for meetings are prepared by the superintendent with input from the board chair, school board policy says. Republican board members did not respond to an AJC request for comment.

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The Democrats on the board released a statement last weekend that, in part, said: “As we undergo Cognia’s review process, we are hopeful that the district and Board of Education will partner with our accrediting body to make any recommended improvements and come out stronger.”

Cognia initially notified Ragsdale in February of concerns raised about the school system, saying it received “numerous complaints,” according to a letter made public by the district.

In a statement issued last week, Ragsdale said Cognia told him the concerns “centered upon allegations of political disagreements and intra-personal behavior within the Board of Education.”

But Cognia’s letter to Ragsdale says the complaints also revolve around board members not understanding their responsibilities, failing to provide fiscal oversight of the district and making decisions that “seem unethical, discriminatory or inhumane.”

Ragsdale responded in a 10-page letter in March that included dates when board members participated in training, an overview of the district’s learning support programs and information about the district’s graduation rate as well as scores on state-mandated tests.

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Last week, Cognia told Ragsdale that it would move forward with the review and that it received “additional complaints” since its initial contact with the district. The organization declined to identify the number of complaints or the sources when asked by the AJC.

Mariama Tyler, a spokeswoman with Cognia, previously told the AJC the review could affect the district’s accreditation status, which Cobb schools said was extended through 2024. Institutions accredited by Cognia can be classified as either accredited, accredited under review or accredited under conditions.

One parent, Millicent Phinizy, who lives in Mableton, said she the Republican members’ not taking up issues by proposed by the Democrats is driven by prejudice and racism. The Democrats on the board are Black, while the Republicans are white. She thinks the review by Cognia is needed.

“Our [Democratic] board members are doing exactly what we elected them to do, which is to … represent the desires and the needs of their communities,” said Phinizy, who is represented by Hutchins and whose children attend Clay Harmony Leland Elementary School.

Heather Tolley-Bauer, an East Cobb parent who is a member of Watching the Funds-Cobb, said the special review “is not something to panic over” because the district will be given an opportunity to correct any problems raised by Cognia. Tolley-Bauer, who lives in Republican David Banks’ district, said

“Our destiny of the district rests squarely on the district itself,” she said. “All they have to do is make an honest attempt at improvement and be responsive.”

Focus of Special Review

Cognia says the special review will focus on complaint allegations in relation to the following accreditation standards:

Standard 1.4: The governing authority establishes and ensures adherence to policies that are designed to support system effectiveness.

Standard 1.5: The governing authority adheres to a code of ethics and functions within defined roles and responsibilities.

Standard 2.1: Learners have equitable opportunities to develop skills and achieve the content and learning priorities established by the system.

Standard 3.8: The system allocates human, material, and fiscal resources in alignment with the system’s identified needs and priorities to improve student performance and organizational effectiveness

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