Cobb school board discord over use of ‘equitable’ in fiscal policy

Leroy Tre' Hutchins at school board meeting

by Rebecca Gaunt

Thursday’s Cobb County school board work session got heated over the removal of the word “equitable” from a board policy on fiscal management and allocation of resources.

“Equity is baked into public education. That is why taking the word out, specifically in a funding policy, is problematic for me,” said Democratic board member Leroy Tre’ Hutchins.

“As a parent of Black and brown children, when I hear something like this, it feels racist in its intent, and I know that’s not our intention here today, but that’s what it feels like…I’m shocked that our educators, our professional staff thought this was okay.”

Darryl York, director of policy and planning, said the word was removed to clarify and improve readability.

Democratic board members Nichelle Davis and Becky Sayler also disagreed with the change during the contentious discussion.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale objected to Hutchins’ comments about racism. A frustrated Hutchins replied that these were his personal feelings on the matter. Chairman Randy Scamihorn interjected to tell Hutchins he was out of order.

Agenda and policy changes can be found on the district website: Board Meeting Agenda (

Republican board member David Banks posited that leaving the word equitable in the policy would violate state law, to which York clarified that was not the case.

“I think the problem with the term equitable is it means something different to different people,” York said.

Board attorney Suzann Wilcox said that her firm had reviewed the policies and the wording was a matter for the board.

“I would like to point out that I did contact you, Mr. Ragsdale, about these words, and you said I could bring up those questions in the meeting,” Sayler said.

Ragsdale responded, “You did email me with a litany of comments. Not a whole lot of questions. And a debate, like we’re having in this board meeting right now is not gonna take place over email.”

Sayler also questioned a change in policy regarding line item transfers. Language stating that “the Superintendent will request Board approval of all budget transfers” was struck through. It now stated that the superintendent will “adhere to state budgeting procedures.”

Ragsdale posed a yes or no question to York: “Do any of these policy modifications give me, as the superintendent, any more power, authority, or rights to move or dispose of funds than I had prior?”

“No, sir,” he replied.

Ragsdale then took aim at social media, where people had posted concerns about the policy updates, calling those comments malicious.

Watching the Funds-Cobb, a parent-led financial watchdog group, and one of the targets of Ragsdale’s frustrations, posted about the proposed policy changes earlier in the week. The language about line item transfers was of particular concern. 

“Perhaps our interpretation of the changes isn’t exactly the way these things will play out, but they created this environment of us getting a policy 48 hours before a meeting that is heavily struck through with no explanation,” said Heather Tolley-Bauer, one of the founders.

She told the Courier that in a perfect world, policies would not be introduced the same day they are voted on, giving people time to reach out and ask questions of their board members.

“Right now we have an erosion of trust,” she said. “Of course we are going to question policies that seemingly remove board oversight and authority.”

Tolley-Bauer said it’s just facts that financial activities and practices are not being discussed with the public.

According to Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson, the district follows an established set of budgetary controls, along with state law. 

“People want to sling mud, thinking I’m going to go out and use district funds to buy a boat for God’s sake. Not that it hasn’t happened at other places, for crying out loud,” Ragsdale said.

Seemingly chastising the board members for asking questions, Ragsdale said the board packets were provided two weeks in advance and that his cabinet is available for questions. Scamihorn also commented that “board members are supposed to come prepared.”

Sayler took exception to those remarks, pulling out a copy of board policy.

“Since we’re getting into territory saying that I’m not prepared for this meeting, I want to point out that [policy] says that the preferred form of communication among board members and the superintendent is via email. All questions and comments should be submitted to the superintendent and board chair via email. Which is what I did…the one sentence response to my litany of questions about these particular issues was, ‘any discussion on policy changes can certainly take place during the board meeting.’ That’s not an invitation to talk to Mr. Johnson. I was recently told that if it’s a negative thing, that I cannot talk to the executive cabinet about it, that I need to go to the superintendent.”

At the evening session, the Democratic members attempted to reverse those two changes. The motions were defeated 4-3 in party line votes.

Multipurpose education center

In a 5-2 vote with Sayler and Davis opposed, the board approved a contract for construction manager at risk with the Atlanta-based Winter Construction Company. The fee will be 0.8% of the cost of the project, which will be determined after bids are submitted.

The estimated $50 million building will be funded by capital outlay reimbursements and land sales. It will be built next to district headquarters on Glover Street on property previously acquired by the district. According to the agenda, potential uses of the 8,000-seat facility include graduations, athletic and academic events, group meetings, and continuing education.

Completion is projected for 2026.

Watch the 3/21/2024 work session discussion in full on the district website. Discussion on the above items begins 20:50  Watch Meetings Online (

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.