Cobb County school board Post 7 candidate Q&A: Wheeler and Cole

Four of the Cobb school board members

Cobb school Superintendent Chris Ragsdale flanked by three GOP school board members (photo by Rebecca Gaunt)

By Rebecca Gaunt

Republican incumbent Brad Wheeler is aiming for a fourth term on the Cobb County Board of Education, but will first have to face Democratic challenger Andrew Cole at the polls in November.

Both candidates completed an email questionnaire. Answers are published as submitted.

The election is scheduled for Nov. 5. McEachern, Hillgrove, and Harrison High Schools are within the boundaries of Post 7.

Brad Wheeler 

Brad Wheeler (from Facebook profile)

Age: 69

Family: Kathy and two sons and one daughter-in-law

How long have you lived in Cobb: 31 years

Profession: Retired educator 

Volunteer/community service: Current school board member and HOA board member


Andrew Cole 

Andrew Cole (campaign photo)

Age: 35

Family: Spouse: Dina, Children: Two (always well-behaved) Daughters

How long have you lived in Cobb: 27 Years Total, I was born and raised here, I lived and worked in Chicago for 7 years and moved home after getting married and having kids so we could be closer to family. We both have family in Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and beyond and when my wife and I were planning our next phase, we discussed various locations and what would be best for our children. Because we both knew the area and because of my experience in Cobb schools and their continued reputation, we chose to land in Cobb.

Profession: Medical Device Project Manager

Volunteer/community service: Cobb Community Care Coalition, Moms Demand Action, Primrose Parent Advisory Council, Additional Community Outreach Groups and Initiatives


 What are the district’s biggest strengths?

Wheeler: Our biggest strength is that we have some of the best schools in the state and country, because of our teachers, leaders, and the stability of this Board. It is not an accident that Cobb students score more highly than their peers in almost every way, and earn more scholarships, with graduates from the highest-performing colleges and universities in Georgia and across the nation. Cobb is one of the most valuable places to live in the country because, for the last decade, our schools have continued to produce incredibly successful students. 

Cole: The Cobb County School District has many strengths but what first comes to mind are our teachers. The commitment and excitement that they have for education is palpable (I know from experience) and you can see it in our students’ outcomes, you can watch it in action (I recently attended my daughter’s orientation), you can feel it at the monthly board meetings when members of the CCSD team are recognized, and you can assess it with objective metrics like retention and credential/certification percentages. 

We also have strong academic outcomes, great arts programs, enriched tech programs, exciting magnet programs, high-achieving athletic programs, and our college and professional readiness scores indicate just how strong our schools are and how prepared our students are when they graduate. As a student here, I took all of this for granted because it was all I knew but after traveling elsewhere, living elsewhere, and working throughout the country, I’ve seen enough to know that Cobb is truly unique.

There’s also a long list of deserved recognitions and quantitative metrics (I’m also wary of proclaiming certain titles, scores, and achievements without providing proper context for each one) from various state and national organizations where Cobb stands out as well. I’m very proud of all that we offer and I want every student in our county to be safe, supported, and successful and have access to the benefits, programs, and opportunities I’ve mentioned and more. As a school board member, my goal would be to preserve and expand what we do well and work with stakeholders at all levels to address our areas for improvement. I want to maximize student and stakeholder experience and eliminate the political posturing.

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 support revising the schedule?

Wheeler: I do. Although how a budget is built is very complicated and time-consuming, the law is simple and we clearly follow it. Other districts are welcome to operate their budgets however they’d like but, again, if you look at our financial positions and theirs, our low tax rate and academic return on the taxpayer’s investments speak for themselves. We also want feedback to be as effective as it can be, not subject to political whims. Anyone who is interested in our budget should reach out to their board representatives and ask questions. That is the most effective way every citizen can have an impact on the budget. 

Cole: As with other higher-level CCSD operational behaviors and decisions, in no way is our current method acceptable or sufficient. If I hadn’t seen the current majority in action for years now, I would wonder how we even arrived here but I’ve routinely observed that the preferred method of the majority is private communication and coordination with a quick public vote (if they must). I still can’t believe so much has become so polarized and acrimonious. It is my hope to undo the sharp veer that’s been taken with our board and district leadership and focus on moving forward (instead of left or right) and providing an area for engagement and service where actions and policy have a basis in reason and logic which work to maximize academic outcomes.

I want to bring the board and the district to a place of highly engaged, apolitical transparency. That will involve a number of changes: clearer district and board communications, banning the use of publicly owned and taxpayer-funded pages and communications platforms for personal meanderings and extremist propaganda, longer lead times, interactive events, feedback sessions, more readily accessible data online, and more. There is so much more we can do.

At multiple board meetings, I’ve seen the current majority make significant last-minute adjustments to policy language in the afternoon session and vote and pass said policy later that day. No one could hope to properly review and share feedback, much less interact with their community and board member, in that amount of time.

What is there to hide? What is there to avoid? Public accountability?

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 messages?

Wheeler: While I know this outlet has reported on this topic, I believe that all employees should follow professional protocols that reflect the importance of their jobs. I hope most people know that operational and personnel decisions rest with the superintendent. Many times, these decisions and actions are not allowed to be made public. As always, my commitment always has been and always will be to stand ready to hear any concerned comments, whether it be in the boardroom or any other venue. The bottom line, our parents have the right to be heard. Honest comments can only make our school system even stronger.

Cole: How much time do you have? I’m part of the group of concerned parents and citizens that smelled smoke when all of that happened last fall. We asked for more information and no one answered (truthfully) so an open records request was submitted and after we received the formal evidence, it was very clear that there was fire.

There’s an “us against them” mentality toward anyone who asks questions or makes suggestions that aren’t in line with the will of district leadership and/or the board majority. Actions like the ones you’ve mentioned were completely coordinated and received a lot of time and attention internally. This is what our Cobb tax dollars are funding? Silencing community members and spying on students and unilaterally deciding what should be present and taught in our schools while completely ignoring established policies? And when anyone asks, “why?”, the only reply they get is, “You’re welcome.” Can you show me how these behaviors are helping our employees and students succeed?

When county employees engage in the illegal accessing of student records to use a student and their families as political pawns and intimidate members of the press into providing more favorable coverage, that sounds more like Watergate scandal behavior than (what should be) the normal functions of a school district employee. That’s not the case with our current crew.

It’s unethical and unacceptable behavior and tolerating it (much less encouraging it) sends a clear message about how our current leaders think and feel.

If you don’t want public review, commentary, or criticism, why are you working for a public district? So much of our time and resources are spent on selective, political PR opportunities instead of listening, engaging, and working with the community to create a system that supports and serves everyone. That’s not what I want and I will work to make things calmer, fairer, and more focused on community service and academic outcomes.

To Wheeler: You voted in favor of building the $50 million event/multi-use center. What makes the facility a positive investment for the district, in your opinion?

Wheeler: I am told that the bulk of the money for the new event facility comes from the selling of unused property in the county and some money the state owes the county. Cobb County is the 23rd largest school district in the nation, making a large indoor facility a need for our student population, for a very large list of events. Obviously, this event center will not only be used for graduations but on a very regular basis for all of our students and community members. Our commitment to providing a world-class education helps make Cobb County schools more attractive as a destination for families and businesses, resulting in a stronger community. We cannot be shy about investing long-term into our students and thus our community.

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

Cole: With the shockingly little amount of information that’s been provided to the public, I don’t understand why it’s needed, why it’s a necessary endeavor at this time, and I would’ve voted against it.

If there’s more to it and there’s a mountain of feasibility, long-term maintenance, long-term staffing, and local northwest atlanta suburb large event venue rental demand data available, I’d be very intrigued (and surprised) and would love to learn more.

Many have asked about why this events center needed to happen now and they have asked current graduation costs and event needs to try and make sense of what’s been proposed. No one answered and so another concerned citizen submitted another open records request – I’ve gleaned that CCSD didn’t reply in earnest but the venue we rent from (KSU) did. When you look at the numbers, ~$50K/yr for facilitating graduations (and I know that number is only venue rental information and not the full walkout cost for all graduations), even if you triple that amount, I just can’t see how or why we should spend $50MM on our own building at this time for the few days a year where demand is high. The math doesn’t math and so little information has been provided, I don’t know how anyone could make a fully informed decision. Is there truly nothing else we should be investing in right now?

If that kind of money is available to invest in our district, I’d talk to our principals and teachers first to see what they needed the most and start there. Then, I’d talk to our families. What’s going to improve their experience at CCSD schools the most? What can our students benefit from the most? What can we invest in that has the greatest long-term operational and academic yields? I’d be really surprised if the first thing any of them said was, “Oh, thank you so much, yes, let’s get a big events facility on Glover St.”

To Wheeler: You have stated that you will not support “unproven educational fads” in schools. What fads are you most concerned about keeping out of Cobb’s classrooms?

Wheeler: I believe our students should always be challenged with instruction and provided with materials that focus on state standards. Students already have a lot to learn and teachers have full days teaching kids. I know that lots of people have many ideas on what kids should learn but we are not going to get distracted from the core of what makes students successful. As a long-time teacher and administrator I will not support anything that distracts from that focus. 

To Cole: Your website contains a list of reasons “why we need change” in the district. One is “Altering of Policies to Enrich and Concentrate Power and Fiscal Control.” Can you elaborate on this point and why it concerns you?

Cole: Oh, I can certainly elaborate on that point. Over the last few years, I’ve watched our current board majority share less (literally and metaphorically) and talk less. After speaking with teachers, parents, staff, and students, I’ve learned that it’s been going this way for quite a while and it’s not slowing down. I and many others are justifiably dissatisfied.

As Cobb has evolved and grown, our needs have evolved and grown and our elected leaders and stakeholders deserve a place to share what they’re seeing, what they need, and what they recommend in an established, public capacity. That cannot be done right now because of policies that have been implemented by our current board majority. 

When board minority members started proposing topics of discussion at board meetings that weren’t rubber stampable and could risk actual discourse, the board majority created and passed a rule that required four or more (out of seven total) votes to add an item to the agenda. The current majority has been moving in tactical lockstep for years and then they made a rule to make it officially difficult to discuss ideas and needs. I want to note that there are plenty of completely legitimate items where all seven members agree and add it to the agenda. But the issue remains: many unique needs and ideas from other board members and vital parts of the county are trounced. They can’t see the light of day, much less evolve into policy and receive a vote.

I’ve heard some say this majority requirement for mere public discussion is democratic and while that might be correct mathematically, effectively, and by design, it’s autocratic and was done to continue an “everything’s fine, move along” tradition at the board. Everything is not fine. Satisfied citizens and counties don’t create multiple watchdog and community oversight groups because their local school board (and some district leadership) is routinely out of control.

The same majority has changed rules that affect school safety decisions, large investments, approval thresholds, salaries, roles, and more. There’s no reigning them in because, with the current 4-3 structure, they can’t be. If they want it, they get it. If citizens want it, well, that’s a different story – it depends on what kind you are. We’re left at a place where the only way to course correct is to change the board via public election.

Citizens are asking for help and they’re not getting it. While avoiding discomfort may be a tradition for some, I think that’s where we can help the most. Listen to people. Have the conversations. Justify actions. Justify investments. Justify policies (maybe even explain and train on them). Justify spending. If you can’t…then why are you doing it? Why do you think a certain way? Reflect. Analyze. Prove it. I was taught to do that in Cobb schools to arrive at truth and reality. Our county deserves truth and reality.

Our current board methods and district leadership behaviors do not represent proper leadership and public service to me. Could you imagine being on a public board and creating a rule that says “You can speak to us but you cannot address us directly and we will not reply.”? Why…be a public board at all? They have lost the mission, somewhere along the way, and now the board literally does not represent Cobb. Cobb is better than this and it deserves better than this. The full public is not being served. It’s being steered.

The same majority has also continued to resist the implementation of rules that would promote greater transparency and public interaction while whittling away at the existing rules that do: shortening public speaking time, moving public comment waiting lines outside (even in the winter), adding multiple rules of engagement for speakers, removing any responsibility to meaningfully interact with the public, not requiring complete quotes and feasibility studies for multimillion dollar decisions, the list goes on and on.

At almost every turn, the current majority and some of the district leadership work to reduce measures for discussion, review, accountability, proof, approval, inclusion, evidence, justification, and interaction. That doesn’t feel very…public to me.

What have I not asked that you would like to address?

Wheeler: My focus has been community involvement, supporting a school system that respects the rights of parents and prepares our students to succeed after they leave the 12th grade. I attend many events in our schools, not because it is required but rather because I care. We must support a strong teaching staff and keep our schools as a top-performing district that ignores the political agendas that some would impose on our schools. Our parents have continuously thanked me for maintaining this mission. Parents constantly say they want their kids to attend Cobb County schools because it is just better here. If Re-Elected, this view will continue to guide me in all my votes. 

Cole: I’m the son of a public elementary school teacher and the father of two. I’m going to be an active CCSD parent for the next 14 years. I’m passionate about public education and this is not a flippant endeavor for me. I’m leaning in because I want to make things even better. I grew up here and I love and care about this place. It’s my home. I’m who I am because of what I learned and experienced at CCSD schools and I want great experiences for everyone. I will work hard to steer our county and district to even greater success.

I’d also like to say what a privilege it’s been, already, to simply be a candidate here in Cobb. I’ve heard from people of all backgrounds and political persuasions and I have had very productive and enlightening conversations. That’s what I’m about. Listening, learning, and serving.

I’ve learned about so many data-backed methods and opportunities (like investing even more heavily in Science of Reading initiatives to improve literacy outcomes and exciting ways we can update and enrich our math, science, technology, and languages curricula) that we can provide here which will make our community even stronger and more successful. I want our entire team to be safe and supported and there’s even more we can do to accomplish those goals with greater nuance and effectiveness. I’d much rather spend our time talking about those opportunities but first, we have to keep the car from swerving off the road because its drivers are distracted by flashy political billboards.

Seeing so much community and student engagement at board meetings has filled me with pride and hope for our county and our future. I don’t want autocratic rule, extremist behaviors and biased policies steering our district operations. Somewhere along the way, our current leaders lost the mission but I’m confident we can update our school board and update our district operations and priorities so our school system listens to and works for all of Cobb. I’m excited and I can’t wait to make things even better for our team, our students, and our county.

If anyone has questions, ideas, concerns, or suggestions, I welcome them all. I’m available at and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss and serve.