Dems hit back at board meeting, Ragsdale calls out MDJ and CCAE president

Screenshot of Cobb school superintendent Chris Ragsdale

by Rebecca Gaunt

Tension reared its head at the Cobb County Board of Education’s evening voting session Thursday.

Upon return from executive session, Democratic board member Becky Sayler made a motion for the district to end its voluntary involvement in the redistricting lawsuit and end the legal representation of Freeman Mathis & Gary.

An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published this week revealed that the district has spent more than $1 million dollars on the lawsuit so far.

Republican board member David Chastain called the motion inappropriate, saying Sayler was endorsed during her campaign by attorneys at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was involved in filing the lawsuit.

“She has an interest here,” Chastain said.

Interim board attorney Suzann Wilcox said she had the legal right to make the motion.

It failed 4-3 along party lines.

Chastain, for his part, has his own campaign-related connections to the lawsuit.

Last year, he was fined for campaign finance violations after two of his contributions exceeded the legal limit. The donations came from state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-West Cobb) who sponsored the map alleged to be racially gerrymandered by the lawsuit. Her husband, former state representative Earl Ehrhart, was involved in the creation of the maps and is now a managing director at Freeman Mathis & Gary. 

The other donation was from attorney Jonathan Crumly, who is also an attorney at Freeman Mathis & Gary.

“I’m proud of the endorsement I received from the SPLC when I ran,” Sayler told the Courier, but declined to comment further on the exchange with Chastain.

School board member Becky Sayler

Then Democratic board member Leroy Tre’ Hutchins made a motion for the board to condemn the controversial letter written by FMG that was sent out to the entire school district via CTLS.

“I move the Cobb County School District condemn the statements made in the Freeman Mathis Gary legal update that references the honorable Stacey Abrams and the Democratic party who have nothing to do with this local issue, and would ask that this board request a correction to said statement removing any reference of the honorable Stacey Abrams and the Democratic party specifically from any correspondence on behalf of the school district,” he said.

That motion also failed 4-3. Shouts of “shameful” came from the audience and Chairman Brad Wheeler informed an audience member that she was out of order.

During superintendent remarks, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale called out the Marietta Daily Journal for publishing an article with a headline about hundreds of books being removed from school libraries.

“A grabby title to be sure. Unfortunately for readers expecting a grand conspiracy, briefly reading into the article showed the facts were a bit more bland. The 62-page list of items removed from the district library was nothing more than items that were removed, or weeded, to make room for new items,” he said.

Ragsdale described the article as saying dozens of books related to gender, sexuality, and the banning of books were removed. Fourteen specific books were listed to support that premise. 

“This was a wonderful opportunity for those wanting to agitate, and wildly and unhelpfully speculate, arguing that it is part of some sort of secret culture war, or political attack,” he said.

Ragsdale went on to call out Jeff Hubbard, the president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, for his comment in the article that book removals are part of a larger and targeted campaign in Republican areas.

“Unfortunately for Jeff, one of the books replaced was “Webster’s New Book of Facts,” Ragsdale shot back. 

Although the district informed the Courier in 2021 that it would no longer comment or participate in its stories, district spokesperson Nan Kiel did assure the Courier that the district would “continue to communicate to our community, directly and through reputable media outlets who act in good faith, including the MDJ.”

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.