Cobb County school board Post 5 candidate Q&A: Cristadoro and Judge

Wheeler High School

By Rebecca Gaunt

The Post 5 seat on the Cobb County Board of Education will have a new face next year for the first time since 2009, when longtime Republican board member David Banks steps down.

Republican John Cristadoro and Democrat Laura Judge both announced their candidacies last year. To read Cristadoro’s first Q&A from June 2023 click here. To read Judge’s first Q&A from May 2023 click here.

Both candidates completed a second email questionnaire. Answers are published as written.

The election is scheduled for Nov. 5. Wheeler, Walton and Pope High Schools are all within the boundaries of Post 5.

Current events (same questions for both candidates):

Cobb County School District has a very condensed timeline for budget approval. For example, in 2024, the budget was given to the board hours before the first legally-required public hearing. The second required public hearing will be held directly before the vote takes place. Other metro school districts spread the process out, separating the budget introduction, public input sessions, and vote. Do you believe CCSD provides sufficient time to receive and consider feedback, or would you support revising the schedule? 

Cristadoro: I am told that building a budget of 1.8 billion dollars takes up to 18 to 20 months to complete. So while the approval time is over the course of a month, the actual priorities must be formed well in advance of the actual fiscal year. Thus, the actual budget-building process seems to follow accepted industry protocols in the private and public sectors. In almost every school board meeting I have attended or listened to, I hear the CFO of the school system regularly tell members of the school board that they can literally call any time to discuss the budget on a one-to-one basis with him or his team. Well, I plan on taking him up on this offer! Obviously, this type of board engagement takes a significant amount of time and a lot of homework before the approval process officially begins, but I believe this is the charge a board member accepts when they are elected to office. I hope that I can then act as a conduit to our community when they have questions about our budget throughout the year and not just when the final document is being presented. 

Judge: I believe that the Cobb County School District needs a more comprehensive discussion between the community and financial services. While I support spreading out the process to allow more time for public input, it’s crucial that it still enables the Superintendent and his executive cabinet to meet legal deadlines. There should be ample time between the tentative and final budget votes for public hearings and genuine consideration of community feedback. The current condensed timeline is too tight, making it challenging to incorporate changes based on public input.

Documents from an open records request showed that district employees engaged in an attempt to prevent critics from speaking at the September 2023 meeting by moving the line for public comment. Documents also showed they discussed preventing a student who had written an op-ed for the AJC from speaking. Do you have any concerns about the conduct of the employees who were involved in those Microsoft Teams exchanges? 

Cristadoro: I have not spent much time looking at the internal messages that were released by the district. I do know that the waiting room, outside the boardroom, has become very crowded in most of the evening meetings I have attended with large numbers of students and employees receiving well-deserved recognitions. However, without seeing the full unfiltered messages and knowing what the superintendent may or may not have done, I am going to refrain from making comments.

Judge: I have serious concerns about how district employees spoke about families in the Cobb community and students. Professionalism should be consistently upheld by the Superintendent’s staff and those who fail to meet these standards must be held accountable. With the board and district responsible for over 100,000 students, we must act as role models, remembering that students are always watching and learning from our behavior.

How would you have voted with regard to the $50 million event/multi use center and why? 

Cristadoro: While I think a large event center holds great promise, I need to review why it was approved with a board vote of 6 – 1 in favor of building the center. The large number of events mentioned at the monthly board meeting does seem to reflect a serious shortage of large indoor space that a district of Cobb County’s size constantly needs.

Judge: Given the way the $50 million event/multi-use center was presented to the current board, I would likely have voted it down. While the previous board seemed to have received more discussion on its purpose, currently this project has limited information available to both the new board members and the public, making it difficult to see it prioritized over and talked about more than repairs needed for existing buildings. I would want a feasibility study or analysis, clear zoning information, and insights into scope, projections, and innovations to ensure the project aligns with community needs and provides lasting value.

Individual campaign questions:

To Cristadoro: One of the four basic promises of your campaign is that you will not support “untested fads” in the classroom. What fads are you most concerned about keeping out of Cobb’s classrooms? 

Cristadoro: Historically, educational fads seem to sweep through public schools with great fanfare but many times these ‘new and improved’ ideas do not yield promised results. For example, teaching students to read by sight memorization was an abject failure. Other fads, like ‘open classrooms’, were equally flawed. In fact, the old Walton High School building was first constructed using this flawed fad. Apparently in ‘open classrooms’, schools had very few walls allowing students to listen to other classes, when they became bored with their own teacher under this crazy educational fad. Other untested fads include presenting material that has not been vetted for student consumption including Critical Race Theory and Project 1619. My vote on the school board will always be to support programs that increase student mastery, like the phenomenal initiatives that I am now seeing in a program called “The Science of Reading” and am looking forward to reviewing the Immersive Virtual Reality program that challenges students to solve real-world problems plus the math program called Prisms So yes, I do not believe Cobb County should embrace every new fad that is introduced. Rather, our students deserve a learning experience that is intentional and well-founded on proven methods/curriculum. 

To Judge: One of the key pieces to your platform is student success for all. On your website, you state, “We can achieve that together by advocating for the removal of structural barriers to success in our schools.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by structural barriers?

Judge: When I refer to structural barriers, I mean obstacles that prevent students from reaching their full potential. These include inequitable access to quality educational resources, lack of comprehensive support for students with diverse learning needs, and policies that limit opportunities for certain groups. By advocating for removing these barriers, we can ensure that all students, regardless of their background or circumstances, have an equal chance to succeed in our schools.

Removing those barriers requires a comprehensive approach, including providing equitable funding, ensuring schools are staffed with skilled educators, and giving every classroom the necessary resources. This also involves reviewing policies that limit student opportunities and implementing changes that all board members can agree on, such as expanding special education programs and increasing support staff. While addressing these barriers is crucial, it’s equally important not to overlook the needs of on-level learners, ensuring that all students receive the support they need to succeed.

Judge’s website:

Cristadoro’s website:

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.