Cobb school board member says colleague ‘spews racist trash’

After an East Cobb representative to the Cobb Board of Education accused two of his fellow members of stoking racial antagonisms, one of those colleagues has fired back.Cobb school board member Charisse Davis

Charisse Davis, who represents the Walton and Wheeler clusters, issued a lengthy broadside at Post 5 member David Banks on her official board member Facebook page, saying that “while I usually ignore the ignorant remarks made by some of my board colleagues, today I cannot.”

She was referring to comments Banks made in an East Cobb News candidate profile last Thursday about racial and cultural issues in the Cobb County School District.

Among them were criticisms that Davis and Jaha Howard, both black Democratic first-term members, were making race an issue “where it has ‘never been before… I think they feel like they can get votes that way.’ ”

Banks, a retired technology consultant and business owner, has represented the Pope and Lassiter clusters for three terms. He is one of three Republican incumbents running for re-election in November and is facing first-time Democratic candidate Julia Hurtado.

The board’s vice chairman this year, Banks has said the district doesn’t have the racial and cultural issues that Davis and Howard have raised. They’ve called for the district to create the position of chief equity officer and wanted language in a now-failed anti-racism resolution to include the reference to ‘”systemic racism.”

Banks objected to that term, and said later in the East Cobb News candidate profile that he thought the Cobb district’s biggest challenge was avoiding “white flight” that he said has adversely affected the Atlanta, DeKalb and other metro school districts.

Cobb, with nearly 113,000 students, has become a majority-minority district, with roughly 60 percent of its student body being non-white.

In her Facebook message posted a few hours after the East Cobb News story, Davis said that “it seems as if my colleague, although on this Earth much longer than me, has forgotten a bit of the history of our dear Cobb County.”

She linked to a 2011 story in Patch noting that the Cobb school board didn’t vote to integrate until 1965, 11 years after the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation in schools. It wasn’t until 1970, Davis said, that “the schools were fully integrated. Y’all, that’s 1970! Ten years before I was born. We’re not talking about some ancient time ago.

“Any critical thinker can recognize that this level of racism would have a long-lasting impact.”

(Blackwell Elementary School in East Cobb was the first school in the Cobb district to enroll black students, during the 1966-67 school year.)

Davis also cited the 2011 article about a meeting in 1960 of group called the Cobb County White Citizens for Segregation. They gathered at Sedalia Park Elementary School in East Cobb—currently in Banks’ post and where Hurtado’s daughter is a student—and worked to boycott businesses that didn’t support keeping public schools all-white.

The group took out an ad in The Marietta Daily Journal, which Davis didn’t mention by name but referenced as “the kind of paper that would gladly run that type of ad (you know who!).” 

The newspaper has been occasionally critical of Davis and Howard in its editorial pages. In July, columnist Dick Yarbrough wrote about open turmoil on the school board during discussion of racism in Cobb schools, saying that “if there is anything noteworthy emanating from these squabbles, it is that arrogance is colorblind.”

He referred to Howard, who is a dentist, as Dr. Frick, and Davis as Madame Frack.

As for Banks’ comments in the East Cobb News profile that there are “black-on-black” issues that are more cultural and socioeconomic in Cobb today, Davis wrote that “my colleague goes on to spew racist trash that I won’t include in my post.”

She said that “the diversity of this county is one of its greatest strengths. This is no longer the county you may have fled to because you wanted to get away from black and brown people, and if that’s your thing…you may need to pack up your hate and keep it moving.”

Davis has signed an online petition to change the name of Wheeler High School, which opened in 1965 and is named after a Confederate Civil War general. Another petition has been created to keep the Wheeler name.

When asked by East Cobb News to describe her working relationship with Banks and if she had discussed racial issues with him, Davis said she would have no further comment. The school board will meet in person Thursday for the first time since February.

Many commenters to Davis’ post were in support of her remarks, including Howard, who wrote that “sometimes deep rooted bigotry throws rocks and doesn’t feel like hiding its hand, visible for all to see. Often times really nice people witness bigotry, but won’t be bothered to boldly reject it. Every time, it’s hurtful to its target audience.”

But a reader named John Hubbard said Banks “is 100% correct here. This is a new low. East Cobb schools are the stars of the county. Accusing people of moving to East Cobb to send their kids to a great public school only because they are ‘racist’ and scared of ‘brown people’ is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. We don’t need you renaming and ruining our schools.

“You should be ashamed of yourself as an elected official for posting something this stupid and incendiary.”

Davis replied, “sounds like you will also be one of the ones packing up!”

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Candidate profile: David Banks, Cobb school board Post 5

David Banks, Cobb school board candidate

He’s become a frequent target of criticism from political opponents and some school parents, but veteran Cobb Board of Education member David Banks has proven difficult to dislodge.

The Republican who represents Post 5 (the Pope and Lassiter clusters plus part of the Walton and Wheeler attendance zones) defeated two primary opponents without a runoff in June as he seeks a fourth term.

A retired computer and technology consultant and business owner, Banks said that given the dramatic change that’s underway in a very different school year, retaining an experienced school board voice is important.

“I’ve been on the board long enough to know how to get things done,” Banks said, citing his push for a concert hall at Lassiter High School and support for expanding STEM instruction at the middle- and grade-school level.

Banks does not have a campaign website; here’s his school board biography page.

His opponent in the Nov. 3 general election, Democrat Julia Hurtado, said Cobb County has “outgrown” Banks in a number of respects, especially in response to growing calls for equity.

She’s calling for a more “inclusive” advocacy for the school board that oversees Georgia’s second-largest school district, which effectively has a majority-minority enrollment.

Banks said he’s not concerned he collected only 543 more votes in the primary than Hurtado in what’s been a strongly Republican area, and that he’ll soon send out campaign materials to identified Republican voters.

Banks is the board’s vice chairman this year, and opposed language in a proposed anti-racism resolution that acknowledged “systemic racism” within the Cobb County School District.

The board, which has four white Republicans and three black Democrats, couldn’t come to a consensus on any resolution after several tries this summer.

Banks said the Cobb school district doesn’t have the racial issues that two of his colleagues and others have alleged.

Those board members, first-term Democrats Charisse Davis of the Walton and Wheeler clusters and Jaha Howard of the Smyrna area, have pressed the Cobb school district to hire an equity officer.

Howard also has scrutinized district school disciplinary data along racial lines, and Davis supports changing the name of Wheeler High School, named after a Confederate Civil War general.

They would not support an anti-racism resolution without the “systemic racism” reference.

Banks said they “are trying to make race an issue where it has never been before. . . . I think they feel like they can get votes that way.”

Banks contends there are “black-on-black” racial problems in the south Cobb area, and that it’s really “a cultural thing. When 70 percent don’t have fathers in the house, that’s a problem.”

When asked if he could understand why some might consider those racist remarks, Banks said, “no, that’s not true. It’s more of a socioeconomic situation” that’s beyond the limits of what a school system can address.

In August, Banks came under fire for referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” in his e-mail newsletter, including a parent in the Lassiter area.

Banks did not respond to a request for comment from East Cobb News before publication, and afterward sent a note saying those who criticized him are Democrats who “are racists and you carried their water.”

Hurtado also supports an equity officer position and school name changes at Walton and Wheeler. In an online advertisement, Banks claims that’s part of Hurtado’s “radical” and “left-wing agenda” and that “Democrat school candidates put our Community at GREAT Risk.”

Among those issues is Hurtado’s support of revisiting the Cobb school district’s senior property tax exemption. Banks, who takes the exemption that’s available for homeowners aged 62 and over, said he still pays for schools through sales taxes.

He advocates a local education sales tax (LEST) to provide additional revenues, and said changing the exemption would require a constitutional amendment.

“It’s not going to happen,” Banks said. “I don’t know a legislator who would commit political suicide.”

Banks also took issue with Hurtado’s claim that the Cobb school district could be doing more for special-education students.

He said the Cobb school district “has one of the best special-needs programs in the country and “we have allocated more money than a lot of other districts have.”

Banks also downplayed criticism that the school board is out of touch with parents and constituencies in the school district pining for change.

“I would prefer to concentrate on doing things to make the educational process better for all students,” he said.

Continuing the extension of STEM programs into grade schools is one of those priorities, as is addressing what could be an evolving learning environment.

Roughly 60 percent of Cobb elementary students returned to campuses this week while the rest are learning remotely. Middle school and high school students whose parents chose the classroom option will be coming back over the next three weeks.

“This has been a real learning curve,” said Banks, who commended the district’s handling of reopening. “It’s how we’re going to define education in the future.

“I think you’re going to have a hybrid [model], but we don’t yet really know what it’s going to look like.”

Banks said the most significant challenge for the Cobb school district in the long run is for it “not to become a school system like Atlanta, DeKalb and Clayton” that he says have declined due to “white flight.” He said he thinks similar trends are taking place in Gwinnett and Henry.

Banks said if Democrats gain control of the Cobb school board, among other priorities there would be an effort to force teachers to transfer to underperforming schools.

That’s another charge he has leveled at Hurtado, and Banks is unflinching in making that claim.

“I can back up everything I’ve said,” he said.

He chuckles at other criticism that he occasionally falls asleep during school board meetings.

“People like to make fun of that, and that’s okay,” he said. “I can take a picture of you and tell you the same thing.

“I don’t fall asleep. I’m wide awake.”

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Candidate spotlight: David Banks, Cobb school board Post 5

Near the end of his third term on the Cobb school board, David Banks said he’s seeking another four years because “I just feel like there’s more to be done.”David Banks, Cobb school board candidate

A retired computer and technology consultant and business owner, Banks has lived in East Cobb for 50 years and has represented Post 5, which represents the Pope and Lassiter clusters, since 2009.

He said that kind of experience is vital during a time in which the Cobb County School District, the second-largest in Georgia with 112,000 students, is undergoing rapid change.

“It takes a few years to get acclimated to how the system works,” said Banks, who’s serving as the school board’s vice chairman this year.

(Banks does not have a campaign website; here’s his school board biography page.)

He ran unopposed four years ago, but Banks has drawn a crowd of opposition in both parties, including Matt Harper and Shelley O’Malley, whom he’ll be facing in next Tuesday’s Republican primary.

O’Malley has been openly critical of Banks (as have Democrats Tammy Andress and Julia Hurtado), saying that “I hope voters recognize that when an incumbent is being challenged by other people there ought to be a reason for that.”

Other Post 5 candidate profiles

To which Banks asks of the others on the ballot: “Why are you running?” He said from what he’s read and learned about his opponents, “it tells me nothing about what they want to do.”

In addition to some of his most impassioned topics—advancing STEM and virtual reality instruction in schools—Banks said he hasn’t heard those trying to unseat him discuss such items as the education SPLOST, which funds construction and maintenance projects.

Nor does he think they’ve said much about how they would address what could be an $80 million Cobb schools budget shortfall due to heavily reduced state funding from COVID-19.

(The board hasn’t yet adopted a fiscal year 2021 budget because the legislative session was disrupted before it finalized education funding.)

“Where’s the meat?” Banks asked about his opponents’ campaign platforms. “What have they proposed that I’m not already doing?”

As for what he would do with a fourth term, Banks said more of the same: Advance more technological learning opportunities for students at every possible level, and broaden Capstone and AP curriculum.

He said he’s proud that more Cobb elementary schools are becoming STEM-certified. He wants to see more virtual reality and robotics options for students at the younger grade levels as well.

Emerging virtual reality fields “can open up a lot of doors for young people,” Banks said. “We’re just getting started with this.”

Among his initiatives would be to set up a test and demonstrate a proof of concept that could be expanded across the district.

Andress and Hurtado have advocated that the Cobb school district hire a chief equity officer to address inequities including race and ethnicity and special needs, but Banks said he is opposed to that (as are Harper and O’Malley).

“We have one of the best special ed programs in the state,” said Banks, who thinks the notion of an equity officer is “a buzzword, something the Democrat party uses a lot. But it doesn’t work.

“What’s it going to accomplish that we’re not doing already?”

He’s also against changing or even revisiting the Cobb schools senior property tax exemption (which he takes), an issue that also has come down along partisan lines.

Democrats, he said, “actually want to get rid of it,” which would require a change in state legislation. “Which representative or senator [in the Cobb delegation] is going to commit political suicide?”

A legislative idea he’s pushed before, and is advocating again in times of economic distress, is a 10-year local education sales tax (LEST), which would be one penny on the dollar to help fund Cobb schools operations.

Banks floated a measure during the recession, and it went nowhere. He says now, as he did several years ago, it would raise more than enough money ($150 million by his count) to overcome budget deficits, and return 30 percent of that funding to taxpayers in the form of a millage rate reduction.

“We need another source of income,” Banks said, admitting “it’s not easy to change a constitutional amendment. But if you can it frame right, and it shows the public benefit of having it, it’s a win-win.”

Should Cobb schools have to make dramatic cuts in teaching positions due to a reduced budget, Banks advocates laying off high school and middle school teachers in elective subjects, then rehiring them as paraprofessionals and have them teach students at multiple schools via teleconferencing.

“I might be an older person,” Banks said, referring to an opponent’s mention of his age, “but I try to find what’s coming and visualize what’s not even there now.”

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