‘Just the Facts’: Cobb school board members, community differ on what that means

Screenshot of Cobb school board member Randy Scamihorn pointing his finger

by Rebecca Gaunt

In a message disseminated county-wide last week via CTLS, the district’s communication system, Cobb County school board Chair Randy Scamihorn, a Republican, announced he will be penning a twice-monthly editorial called “Just The Facts.”

“Despite distractions from some folks who are trying to make your child’s school into a social playground, I will not accept it on my watch,” he wrote. 

He continued, “Unfortunately, all too often these days, much of it comes from adults who have clearly stated their intention to ‘turn over the Board’ and ‘fire the Superintendent,’ all in an attempt to change your child’s school. Like so many public schools around the country, Cobb is under attack by those who are trying to change what your child learns and make decisions for your child, which we believe are best made by parents.”

Scamihorn is up for re-election this year.

Read Scamihorn’s message in full here.

The message wasn’t well received by the parents who have been openly critical of the board and district leadership on social media and during public comment at board meetings.

Cobb parent Melissa Marten, and member of Cobb Community Care Coalition, a group critical of the current leadership, responded on the school district’s Facebook page, “There needs to be an opt out for this. If we’re the customers as you say we are, then we have every right to call for new leadership in our PUBLIC school district. After a great day chaperoning my child’s field trip, I do not appreciate being disparaged through a communication system I pay for!”

The school board is the last elected body still under Republican control in a formerly red county. In 2019, the 6-1 Republican majority was reduced to four. The tense division on the board has frequently been apparent regarding issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic response, arming personnel with guns, and the handling of racism and anti-semitism

Becky Sayler, a member of the Democratic board minority, posted her thoughts about Scamihorn’s message on her Facebook page.

“How might things look with a different board? In ‘Just the Facts’ our current board chairman envisions it as ‘turning over the board,’ ‘firing the Superintendent’ and ‘changing your child’s school’ and ‘changing what your children learn.’ When I look at the changes I have tried to make on the board that have been defeated along party lines, however, I see something different,” she wrote.

Sayler, elected in 2022, listed five Democrat-supported initiatives that have been blocked by the Republican majority over the past year.

One was the attempt to add measurable goals to the strategic plan in accordance with the Georgia School Board Association’s standards for effective governance. The plan was passed by the Republican members without doing so.

Sayler also proposed a specific policy on book removals, but “the Republicans moved to end discussions before agreements were reached,” she wrote.

The Democrats were also unsuccessful in their attempt to end the district’s voluntary involvement in the school board maps lawsuit , for which CCSD has spent at least $1.3 million and rising. 

The Democrats similarly failed to get any of the Republicans to support changes to the board meeting schedule with the goal of allowing time for public input and consideration. Nor did any Republican members support adding a poverty weight to the school funding mechanism on the list of legislative priorities.

Heather Tolley-Bauer, a founding member of Watching the Funds-Cobb, a financial watchdog group of parents, posted a scathing video calling Scamihorn’s message propaganda.

“We said, wait for the district to use all of its multi-million dollar’s worth of platforms and resources that we have paid for to find a way to campaign for Randy Scamihorn, and hello, this is it,” she said.

She compared his message to the letter disseminated on CTLS last year from the district’s attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary that drew fire for its inflammatory and partisan language.

“For Randy to use this to disparage parents who are only trying to hold the school board accountable, who are demanding that their parental wishes be honored by this school district, and that their tax dollars also be respected and honored, he has just made it very clear that he has no interest in listening to that constituency,” she said.

Tolley-Bauer also criticized the process by which the board hired the Taylor English law firm to draw maps for redistricting in 2021 when Scamihorn was serving a separate term as chair. When asked, Scamihorn denied being aware of former state representative Earl Ehrhart’s involvement and did not disclose a meeting that took place months before the matter was brought to a vote.

Read more here: Secrecy dominated Cobb school board redistricting process, court documents show 

In December, a federal judge ordered the maps be redrawn, finding they were “likely to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.”

“The bottom line is Randy has a real loose definition of what it means to be factual,” said Tolley-Bauer. “If he wants to send this kind of language out on his campaign dime and through his campaign portal and through his own campaign newsletter, be my guest. But we at Watching the Funds find this to be yet another egregious misuse/abuse of taxpayer funded money.”

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.