During her primary campaign in her first bid for public office, Julia Hurtado said she was encouraged by the level of engagement with parents and the various school communities that make up Post 5 on the Cobb Board of Education.
During an anxious summer with questions about how the school year would begin, Hurtado had plenty of uncertainties of her own.
“We had a lengthy family meeting,” said Hurtado, a physical therapist and mother of a Sedalia Park Elementary School student.
Her daughter was among those elementary students returning to school classroom learning this week as the Cobb County School District began a phased-in reopening of campuses.
“She misses her friends,” said Hurtado, the Democratic nominee who is facing three-term Republican incumbent David Banks in the Nov. 3 general election.
Hurtado defeated Lassiter PTSA co-president Tammy Andress in the June 9 primary, receiving only 543 fewer votes than Banks, who defeated two GOP contenders without a runoff.
Hurtado said while she was meeting parents and school families, she met “people who weren’t paying much attention to this race” who were eager to hear her thoughts on the school restart.
“It’s an all-consuming topic,” she said. “There has been a lot of fear of the unknown.”
Hurtado’s campaign website is here. East Cobb News has interviewed Banks and will publish his campaign profile shortly.
Post 5, which includes the Pope and Lassiter clusters and some of the Walton and Wheeler attendance zones, has long been considered strong Republican territory.
It’s one of three school board races in which Republican incumbents are facing Democratic challengers with party control of the seven-member board on the line.
Banks is the vice chairman of the four-member GOP majority, and Hurtado said that “I think that Cobb County has outgrown him. I’m the opposite of him.”
Hurtado said he’s getting by on name recognition and that “I have made it a point to have a campaign where everyone feels included.”
She understands she needs to appeal across party lines—her husband is a disaffected Republican—and has pledged what she calls a “platform of transparency.”
Hurtado said she was dismayed the school board didn’t have a special meeting this summer to discuss back-to-school options, as proposed by Democratic member Charisse Davis, who represents the Walton and Wheeler clusters.
“It was a wasted opportunity because we’re having so much engagement from our community now,” Hurtado said. “Some of it might be politics, but this is bigger than politics.”
As she outlined during her primary campaign, Hurtado supports greater efforts at equity in the Cobb County School District, and not just related to racial and cultural differences as Davis has advocated.
For Hurtado, that also includes special-education and other non-traditional students.
“Some of the things we’re doing well are isolated,” she said. “A student might be sent to a different school” that has a teacher or program to suit a particular student’s needs.
“We need to stop operating in silos,” said Hurtado, who has suggested that the district expand partnerships with community organizations suited to address those needs.
Hurtado said she supports a proposed anti-racism resolution that the school board couldn’t agree on—and that was split along partisan lines. She is one of four Democratic school board candidates to sign a resolution condemning racism.
Since the primary, online petitions have been created to rename Walton and Wheeler high schools, due to the racial backgrounds of their namesakes.
Hurtado supports those changes, and said as an example that as a Jew, she could understand students who might be uncomfortable going to a school named after a Confederate general.
In an online advertisement, Banks claims that’s part of what he calls Hurtado’s “radical” and “left-wing agenda” and that “Democrat school candidates put our Community at GREAT Risk.”
The YouTube video includes footage of Hurtado answering questions during an online candidates forum, including revisiting Cobb’s senior tax exemption.
Republicans on the board are sternly opposed to efforts by Davis and Jaha Howard, another first-term Democrat, to ponder the possibility of closing loopholes.
Hurtado said she doesn’t think it would hurt to examine the issue, and noted that she differs with Davis and Howard on some issues.
But she said she’s noticed a cultural shift in the county that also includes how educational matters are addressed.
“That’s not radical,” said Hurtado, who said she’s been talking to more Republican voters during her campaign. “I know I can work with anyone.”
The racial consciousness that’s been going on in the country since this summer, Hurtado said, demands a more proactive response from the school district.
“This is the moment that we’re in,” she said. “There’s a reckoning going on, and we have to prepare our children to better understand the world they’re growing up in.”
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