Divided Cobb school board extends superintendent’s contract

Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale speaks before a tour of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, on Thursday, February 13, 2020. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)

Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale speaks before a tour of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, on Thursday, February 13, 2020. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)

Cobb County schools superintendent Chris Ragsdale will continue to lead Georgia’s second largest school district for the next three years.

In a vote divided along party lines, the Cobb County Board of Education on Thursday voted to extend Ragsdale’s contract of employment to Feb. 12, 2024.

Republican members David Banks, David Chastain, Randy Scamihorn and Brad Wheeler voting in support of the extension. Democrat board members Charisse Davis, Tre Hutchins and Dr. Jaha Howard opposed the extension.

District spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the details of the contract, including salary and any allowances, will be finalized over the new few weeks by the board.

Ragsdale said in a prepared statement that it “has been an honor” to serve as superintendent of the Cobb County School District.

“I am proud of what our team has accomplished over the past seven years and look forward to building on those successes,” he said in a news release from the district.

Davis declined to comment on her vote against extending the superintendent’s contract, saying the decision was a personnel matter. Hutchins said his vote against the extension was a reflection of his constituents’ voices. He said he will continue working with Ragsdale and his fellow school board members to make the best decisions for all Cobb students and to ensure the district has high performing schools.

Howard said his vote opposing the contract extension reflects his assessment of the school district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I believe we can learn from the past and emerge stronger together,” he said.

Scamihorn, who serves as board chair, said he’s grateful to have a superintendent and staff who “provide steady, consistent leadership at the helm of one of the largest districts in the country.”

“The common-sense approach to the challenges we face, along with consistently making decisions that prioritize our students and staff, makes our entire county better,” he said in the news release.

Ragsdale has been criticized by parents and residents over the years for not addressing issues of racial inequity in schools. Stronger Together, a grassroots organization made up of parents, students and educators, have charged the district with repeatedly ignoring instances of racial bias in the classrooms and racial disparities in student discipline rates.

More recently, Ragsdale’s handling of the pandemic as it concerns educators and staff often has been unpopular. The superintendent also hasn’t publicly responded to Cobb educators’ pleas to have a choice between teaching remotely and in-person during the pandemic or addressed outcry over the deaths of three teachers — Patrick Key, Dana Johnson and Cynthia Lindsey — who died from COVID-19. That scrutiny came to a peak last month when he and board members Chastain and Banks refused a request to wear a mask to honor Key.

This year’s divided vote on Ragsdale’s contract was in stark contrast to last year’s unanimous decision to extend his contract by a year. The three-year time span is the maximum allowed under state law.

In 2020, the superintendent’s base salary was $350,000. He also received a monthly car allowance of $1,200. The contract also called for Ragsdale to undergo a yearly evaluation.

Ragsdale began his career in the Paulding County School District where he served in leadership roles in the system’s Technology Department. Before he was named superintendent in Cobb County schools, he served as the district’s chief technology officer and deputy superintendent for operations.

He was tapped to serve as interim superintendent in 2014, and the school board named him to the post on a permanent basis in 2015. The superintendent has a bachelor’s degree in information systems and master’s degree in educational leadership from Kennesaw State University.