With Cobb County students, parents and businesses waiting for the results of the Cobb School District’s accreditation audit, the MDJ asked a few of the players who may be involved in changing how school accreditations are done in Georgia in the near future about their thoughts.
The occasion was the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club’s Friday luncheon, where Gov. Brian Kemp was the keynote speaker. Among those in attendance were state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, R-west Cobb, and Scott Sweeney, chair of the Georgia Board of Education.
Ehrhart said legislation is coming to rein in Cognia, which has a virtual monopoly on school district accreditation in the Peach State. As residents wait for Cognia’s decision, “We should know to look at everything that comes from them with a very discerning eye, and regardless of what the outcome is. I’m going to question the motivation of the fact that they even instigated this audit to begin with,” Ehrhart said. “There’s no question that there needs to be a legislative fix to an out-of-control accrediting agency in the state of Georgia, and it’s not just one fix, so maybe a multi-bill approach.”
Tippins said regardless of who the accreditation company is, the majority of any accreditation audit needs to be on the strength and effectiveness of academic achievement of students.
“So much of what Cognia does and their observations have to do with the behavior of the adults,” the senator said.
As readers may recall, Cognia’s investigation of the school district was launched when the three Democrats on the school board, riled that they couldn’t get their leftwing agenda adopted, wrote Cognia to ask for an investigation. Cognia claims it also received 50 letters of complaint about the district from various people, but then, it also refuses to disclose those letters in violation of Georgia’s Open Records Act, according to David Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association. Keeping to the theme of academic achievement over school board politics, Tippins said, “Cognia did an academic assessment the latter part of 2019, and Cobb County passed with flying colors. I mean, Cobb’s one of the premier school districts in the state of Georgia and in the South. That being the case, it’s hard for me to see how you take letters from 50 people and bootstrap it into a full investigation into the district when we have the kind of academic achievement in Cobb that we have been noted for for a long time.”
This is why Tippins believes the scope of accreditations must be limited to the basic business of what education is all about: student achievement. Tippins would also like to see Cognia have less of a monopoly on accrediting Georgia’s school systems than it does.
“Cognia far and away has a vast monopoly on ours. I think if you had some competition and you had some perimeters of what the accreditation process is actually looking at, that would go a long way in fixing the dilemma that we’re in,” Tippins said. “You know, you’re always going to have people that are dissatisfied in the political realm. I figure if I don’t have 15% of the people mad at me at any given time I’m probably not doing my job. But the fact of the matter is 50 letters out of 107,000 students (in Cobb Schools), statistically, that’s less than a rounding error.”
Tippins also intends to hold a meeting with people who participated in the Cognia audit and who told the Journal they thought the audit was a kangaroo court.
“Anytime you have a monopoly I don’t think you have the depth of analysis that you need to have. And it’s often very easy for people to lose sight of the objectives that should be done in all these operations,” he said. “I intend to take an in-depth look at this and if legislation is necessary, I intend to sponsor some in the Senate.”
Asked what he thought, Sweeney, the state school board chairman, said, “I’m open to any opportunities or proposals that will improve the process. It’s a deep concern of mine that you have an unelected agency that has this level of authority and control over a public agency.”
Critics of Cognia have accused it and its leader Mark Elgart of pushing left-wing activism.
“When it comes to review processes, they should be absolutely neutral," Sweeney said. "They should not be bringing any political bias of any kind to that conversation. What they should be evaluating, what they should be reviewing is, 'Is the district managing its finances properly?' Most importantly, 'Is it managing the education process, and is the district achieving the goals it sets for itself with regard to academic achievement?'”
At the end of the day, what’s most important is that Cobb School District maintains its accreditation, Sweeney said.
“So they're given a certain set of rules today and the district doesn't have the opportunity to change that. I think there are legislative impetus that may be looking at seeing what they can to address the level of control that one unelected agency has over a public entity. We’ll see what happens in the next session.”
The MDJ asked Gov. Kemp what he thought about the concerns Ehrhart and Tippins have concerning Cognia.
“I’m always open to talking to Rep. Ehrhart and Sen. Tippins about education policies or anything else, and we look forward to doing that,” Kemp said.
NEW HIRES: Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens has continued his string of high-profile hires, tapping a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to lead the department's criminal investigation division.
Arthur Peralta, formerly a special agent in charge at the ATF — a position in which he oversaw all of the bureau's operations in Georgia — will hold the rank of lieutenant colonel at the Cobb County Sheriff's Office.
“Lt. Colonel Peralta brings more than 30 years of federal law enforcement investigatory experience, including supervision of large-scale investigations, and relationships at the local, state, and national level,” Owens said in a prepared statement. "His investigative career with the ATF will be a tremendous asset to the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division.”
As you might recall, Owens hired former Cobb Public Safety Director Michael Register to serve as his third-in-command.
Peralta began his career in law enforcement in 1982 at the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a law enforcement specialist. He later joined the Santa Fe Police Department in New Mexico.
During his 20-year career with the ATF, Peralta has been stationed in California, Washington D.C., Texas and Georgia.
IN THE BLOOD: Leave it to John Loud, president of Loud Security to always be cheerleading for the Cobb Chamber, a group which for the last two years he has served as chairman.
In closing remarks at the chamber’s Marquee Monday luncheon, Loud once again put on his salesman’s hat in describing chamber CEO Sharon Mason.
”I’ve been wanting to share this for a long time. Sharon Mason …. We all know and love Sharon Mason …. Anybody want to guess what her blood type is?” After no one in the audience took a shot at the question, Loud answered. “B positive …. How crazy is that? She was born with ‘be positive’ blood type. That’s pretty incredible.”