Cobb school board to consider scrapping online sign-up for public comment

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Jan. 19—Seven months ago, the Cobb County Board of Education switched to an online registration format for the public comment portion of its board meetings.

This Thursday, the board will consider whether to revert back to its old practice, of having members of the public sign up in person to address the board.

The policy, if approved, would require residents to sign up on a physical sheet, which will be made available starting 30 minutes before each meeting. Board Chairman David Chastain said the online sign-up had created problems with participants signing up and not showing up, creating confusion about who was to take their spot.

If the board returns to in-person registration, it'll be first-come, first-served.

"You show up, you sign up, you speak," as he put it.

Added board member Randy Scamihorn, who was chairman at the time of the policy change, "As an individual board member, I think there was some confusion maybe, for lack of a better word, as far as signing up and who got to sign up and all that."

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said in June shifting to a virtual registration would be "a lot more convenient for the public." But the measure was approved over the objections of the board's Democratic members, including Leroy "Tre'" Hutchins, who said the online process was less transparent.

"With people actually coming to the building, showing their ID and signing up, we actually have allowed for a process that is transparent and in the front — is front facing," Hutchins said last summer. A digital signup process, he continued, is one "no one can see."

Hutchins told the MDJ Tuesday he's waiting to hear more information about the reason for the policy change before weighing in on it.

In other business, the board will consider approving a loan of up to $100 million to fund its various SPLOST construction projects in between the cycles of the sales tax. Known as a "bridge loan," the cash will keep projects moving forward until the county's new sales tax — known as Ed-SPLOST VI — begins generating revenue in 2023. At that point, the loan will be repaid from sales tax revenues.

Members will also consider tweaking the attendance zones for north Cobb's Pitner Elementary School on Wade Green Road. The school currently feeds into nearby Palmer Middle School. Some Palmer students then move onto Kell High School, while others feed into North Cobb High.

The change would feed all of the Pitner and Palmer students into Kell High.

"This was done years ago," Chastain said of the current arrangement. "The idea being is, we're trying to balance out student populations to accommodate the growth."

The board will meet for its work session at 2 p.m. Thursday, followed by its regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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