Cobb County Board of Education member David Banks has been at the center of several issues that have sparked controversy in the community since three new members joined the board in January.
Banks, whose East Cobb district includes the Lassiter, Pope and Sprayberry high school districts, has kept the controversial calendar issue in the public’s eye since the board voted 4-3 to revert back to a traditional calendar and an Aug. 15 start date for next year.
Banks, along with board members Lynnda Crowder-Eagle and David Morgan voted against the calendar at the Feb. 17 board meeting. Chairwoman Alison Bartlett and new members Scott Sweeney of East Cobb (Walton, Wheeler), Kathleen Angelucci and Tim Stultz voted for the traditional calendar.
Banks requested to change at the March 9 board meeting by placing it on the meeting's agenda, but Sweeney made a motion to “postpone indefinitely” any further discussion of the calendar. Bartlett, Sweeney, Angelucci and Stultz voted to affirm postponing the calendar issue indefinitely, while Banks, Crowder-Eagle and Morgan voted against it.
At the March 24 meeting, Banks of Sweeney’s motion and other things. Earlier this month, he also raised concerns about the legitimacy of the when he alleged that the new board members and Bartlett had met with one of the candidates last year.
Banks is in his third year of his first board term. According to his biography on the Cobb County School District’s website, he is an information technology consultant for the McKesson Corporation and previously owned his own computer hardware and software business for 25 years in Marietta. He has resided in East Cobb since 1969. Banks and his wife, Kay, have been married for more than 40 years and have four adult children.
Banks, 71, sat down recently with Patch education writer Ethan Fowler for a question and answer session. (Editor's note: The interview was prior to Bartlett being hospitalized after last Wednesday.) What follows is a transcript of that conversation.
Q: What motivates you as a Cobb County School Board member?
A: I think I can make a difference. I can advocate and support the direction, and with the achievement that the school system has already attained, enhance the skills and techniques in the system to achieve a higher level of achievement. Plus, create a working environment in which employees like to come to work every day. With the Grapevine (e-newsletter) I have a method to let the community know the achievements and the recognitions that schools are making. And while I know the individuals, I try to recognize their achievement like teachers, principals, assistant principals, coaches and fine arts teachers, and even cafeteria and custodian workers. My post has high-achieving expectations from teachers and staff and this is what’s expected from the community. The community is made mostly of high achievers.
Q: How do you get along with other board members?
A: Since the three new members have been elected, I asked them to meet with me on multiple occasions. I’ve had three meetings with Scott Sweeney that I initiated and one with Tim Stultz that initiated, but I never had a phone call with them that they initiated. Her (Angelucci) e-mails have always been no.
Q: How do you think Alison Bartlett is running the board as a chairperson?
A: I personally think her leadership has been the worst that Cobb County has ever had. Every major decision that’s been made has been made in secrecy or collusion. It’s true. We’ve never been in this kind of turmoil ever. The laptop was a controversial issue (in 2006), but never like this.
Q: Why have you focused so much on the calendar issue?
A: When I came on the board in 2009, that current calendar was expiring. We asked the current superintendent (Fred Sanderson) for calendars that he had presented to the board and he presented four different calendars. He presented those in May of 2009 or somewhere in that neighborhood. We did an employee survey and out of the four calendars, the balanced calendar had 51 percent that favored the balanced calendar. That was teachers and non-teachers on the staff. Thirty-three percent preferred a calendar with a February break. So it left you with 84 percent favoring some form of a balanced calendar. We also started getting e-mails from the community. I had the Grapevine going at that time and had about 1,000 and got another 500 plus or minus. The majority was still in favor of the balanced calendar and a few that wanted the late start date, so I felt like I had a good feel for where the community was at. But that changed dramatically after the September break. Those who weren’t sold on it were now in favor of it. I mean hundreds of them. When I met with Scott Sweeney I said don’t bring this issue up because it’s very sensitive. I basically told him (Stultz) the same thing. I told them whoever brings it up loses. I said you make some people happy and a whole lot of people mad and that’s what has happened.
Q: Didn’t you first think a later school start date would work?
A: After I made this statement a couple times, a few teachers came up to me and told me how it would affect AP courses and student achievement. After a while I asked what are they really talking about so I delved in it and understood the situation.
Q: Can the school board get past this calendar issue?
A: I don’t think it can because the community can’t get past it. The community has lost its trust and respect for this board.
Q: Can they get it back?
A: I don’t think so, not with the public so enraged. What are you going do to compensate? If they had rescinded the Feb. 17 vote, which I asked them to do, and let the calendar go one more year and spend that time analyzing, evaluating, debating and asking for public input, then there possibly could’ve been trust restored. But the four (majority) members (Bartlett, Sweeney, Angelucci, Stultz) decided not to do that. And they all had over 2,000 e-mails and they all were running 72 percent for the balanced calendar.
Q: What’s been your take on the media coverage on the school board since January?
A: A sound bite is not the whole story. It’s more important to know what the community is saying than what the board is saying.
Q: Some would say you have a vendetta because you’re now in the minority for board decisions. Is this true?
A: Not at all. I feel like as a board member representing 15 schools and the school community and knowing their preference -- overwhelming preference for the balanced calendar -- it’s my responsibility to represent those views. Otherwise, I would be doing a disservice to the school system and the community. Personally, it makes no difference to me. I can see the potential damage being done to the school system and to the community.
Q: How do you think the likely state budget shortfall of an estimated $50 million will affect the school system?
A: That’s a substantial amount and that will likely affect employees. Our number of students basically hasn’t changed, but we need a number of teachers based on class size. We may have to increase class sizes again.
Q: Do you feel that you follow the board’s Code of Conduct?
A: I think I do, but I think those four have violated the Code of Conduct.
Q: How is the superintendent search going?
A: We’re in the middle stage right now.
Q: Are you happy with how it’s going?
A: I’m kind of neutral right now. What really floored me was the revelation (of alleged collusion). I think they had intentions of voting that person in until Ms. Eagle questioned them on it. That was a shock.
Q: How would you describe yourself or personality?
A: Pretty easygoing and interactive with the community. With my Grapevine letter, I inform with things they wouldn’t normally read about.
Q: Do you still like being a board member?
A: Yeah, oh yeah. This is just my personal feedback from the community, but I feel I’m doing what they want and I’m always trying to get more money for them. If I’m right and if I’m wrong, I’m open to be corrected. This whole calendar (issue) has done more damage to this whole school system in two months than has ever occurred in the past. The easiest thing to do is just let them (the majority board members) have their way. But, when it’s not right, it’s just not right.