Cobb school board candidate spotlight: Julia Hurtado, Post 5

Julia Hurtado, Cobb school board candidate

Julia Hurtado said she had never considered running for public office when she noted a familiar name on the ballot for the Cobb Board of Education post that includes her daughter’s school.

David Banks has represented Post 5 since 2009, and four years ago was re-elected without opposition. Hurtado, a physical therapist with a busy schedule balancing her career and family, thought to herself “that it’s time for a change.

“Once they’ve been there for so long, people are asking for something different. And I don’t think anyone should run unopposed.”

With that, Hurtado decided to toss her hat into what’s becoming a crowded ring to challenge one of the board’s most senior figures.

Hurtado, the mother of a daughter who attends Sedalia Park Elementary School, is one of two Democrats running in the June 9 primary for Post 5, which includes the Pope and Lassiter clusters, along with some of the Wheeler cluster.

The other Democrat is Tammy Andress, current co-president of the Lassiter PTSA. Three Republicans, including Banks, are running in the GOP primary. The challengers there are Shelley O’Malley and Matt Harper.

(Hurtado’s campaign website is here.)

Hurtado cited what she claims is a lack of transparency and vision, especially in light of quite a bit of economic and cultural diversity in the Cobb County School System, which has 112,000 students.

“There are people who feel they don’t have a connection with this guy,” Hurtado said, referring to Banks, who’s been extended an interview invitation by East Cobb News.

Like Andress, she’s been critical of the school board’s four-Republican majority’s vote to banish public comments from school board members during its public meetings.

She also pointed to increasing parental concerns over facilities at Eastvalley Elementary School, which will soon get a new campus at the former site of East Cobb Middle School.

But they’ve long complained about aging portable classrooms to handle overcrowding.

“Their kids are going to school in dangerous buildings, and nobody’s listening,” Hurtado said.

“The biggest thing we need to do is to communicate and collaborate. In East Cobb, we do a good job of that, because for so many family the center of the community is the schools.”

Hurtado supports the idea of having an equity officer in the district floated by two current board Democrats, including Charisse Davis of the Walton and Wheeler cluster.

That would include not just racial and ethnic minorities, but would attend to the needs of special education students and others in non-traditional situations.

“We need to give these families a platform,” Hurtado said. She advocates a greater distribution of resources for those students, as well as those in an Individual Education Program (IEP).

Hurtado said the current situation of “distance learning” has been challenging for her, homeschooling an elementary school student, and calls teachers “full-blown super heroes” for how they’ve handled online instruction.

“This has shined a light on some of the weaknesses in our system,” she said, referring to students who don’t have computers or other devices to learn from home.

“But it’s also shown how innovative we can be.”

Hurtado said her main advocacy would be “to offer teachers a platform for what they need,” regardless of learning circumstances to come.

School board Democrats also have raised the issue of examining Cobb’s senior school tax exemption, something else the Republicans, including Banks, have not wanted to revisit.

They rejected a proposal by Davis to study the issue, including possible financial impacts by tweaking the exemption.

Hurtado said the county has grown and changed tremendously since the exemption became law in the 1970s.

“Anytime a question is raised, it’s worth collecting data,” she said. “We can’t even ask questions? There’s never a reason to turn down a chance to find out more information.”

If she’s elected to the school board, Hurtado said her budget priorities would be to provide the resources “so that our teachers stay” in the Cobb district.

“Our school district is defined by the strength of our teachers, and in listening to what they need.”

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