Cobb County is one of the few metropolitan districts in Atlanta that still has partisan school board races. Currently, the council has four Republicans and three Democrats. But the upcoming Post 4 election could change that. Democratic newcomer Catherine Pozniak takes on Republican incumbent David Chastain.
Cobb natives face off
Pozniak returned to Cobb County at the start of the pandemic. She had worked as an assistant superintendent of tax operations and federal support for the Louisiana Department of Education. She currently works as a consultant for Watershed Advisors.
“I’ve been to schools, actually, to the position I’m running for,” she says. “I live in the same house that I lived in when I grew up.”
A graduate of Sprayberry High School, Pozniak earned a doctorate in instructional leadership from Harvard. She began her teaching career on a reservation in South Dakota. She is certified as a K-8 teacher and has a superintendent’s endorsement.
“I felt like the combination of [growing up in Cobb and working in education] was a way to contribute to my community and that’s what made me come forward,” she says.
Pozniak opponent David Chastain has served on the board since 2015 and is currently its chairman. He works as an analyst at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. In a video on his Facebook campaign page, he touts his ties to the region.
“As a longtime resident of Cobb County, well 55, and a graduate of Cobb County Schools,” he says. “My wife graduated from a Cobb County School. Our adult children graduated from Cobb County Schools. Their spouses graduated from Cobb County Schools. We have four grandchildren and it looks like they will be all graduates of cobb county schools I am invested in the county I grew up here.
Some of the council’s spending has come under scrutiny, including the purchase of $12 million in UV hand-rinse stations which apparently does not work and spending $5 million on a security system that the district has now replaced after it malfunctioned. Such purchases have been criticized by Cobb Accreditation Agency and a monitoring organization and reviewed by a Cobb County Grand Jury.
“Some of these purchases [parents are] see in their children’s schools and really have questions about them,” says Pozniak. “I think a lot of that is due – or these current circumstances – to a lack of oversight from the board.”
David Chastain did not respond to multiple requests from WABE to be interviewed for this story. He publicly deflected questions on council expenses, but voted in favor of allocating funds for hand-washing stations. He has made student success a focal point of his campaign, pointing to the district’s SAT and state test scores as signs of the school board’s success.
“Our schools, teachers and students continue to show why Cobb is ranked among the best despite some naysayers,” reads a post on Facebook campaign page. “Please vote for stability, proven results and safety.”
Pozniak disagrees with Chastain’s assessment of Cobb’s test performance, pointing out that the high SAT average is driven by a handful of high schools. She also thinks the district should devote more resources to teaching literacy.
“I think that’s a real pain point for parents,” she says. “Many Cobb parents pay thousands of dollars every month to find tutors for their children, they donate hundreds or even thousands of dollars to school foundations that sometimes raise six figures a year to pay for teacher training.”
Duel of accusations
There are a lot of differences between the two candidates, and they have each made accusations against each other.
Poznyak filed a complaint against Chastain for accepting campaign donations over the legal limit. Donations are capped at $3,000 for each election cycle, primary and general. Dark blond accepted two donations greater than this amount. He said he later tabled an amendment to show that the amounts were supposed to be split between election cycles. He said Pozniak also took advantage of the amendment rule.
“These were campaign contributions that exceeded the limit,” Pozniak said, explaining why she filed the complaint. “We continue to fundraise for this race, and … it kind of creates limitations for each of our campaigns. So, for me, that was the distinguishing factor.
Chastain supporters and state representatives Ginny Ehrhardt and John Carson accused Poznyak to illegally claim a homestead exemption on his father’s former home, thereby avoiding paying property taxes. Pozniak replied that her family could document that she had legally settled her father’s affairs.
Ehrhart, a Republican from Marietta, also sponsored a redistricting bill favored by Republican board members instead of the one recommended by the Cobb delegation. The other over-the-limit donation was made by a member of the law firm who designed the new map.
While Chastain has the support of some local business leaders, Republican state lawmakers and a group called Educators First, the Cobb County Educators Association has endorsed Pozniak for the seat. CCAE President Jeff Hubbard said Chastain pulled out of the race after refusing to go through the interview process. He says the organization did not have to endorse anyone, but chose to support Pozniak after reviewing it.
“She literally has the qualifications from day one to fill 90 percent of the jobs in the school system,” Hubbard says.
Chastain called the CCAE “liberal” and “radical.” But the organization has endorsed Democrats and Republicans, including State Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Marietta and Republican State Superintendent Richard Woods. Hubbard says Pozniak’s political affiliation has nothing to do with the endorsement.
“It wasn’t a slap in the face to Mr. Chastain,” Hubbard says of the endorsement. “It was a look at Dr. Pozniak’s qualifications. Look at his career. She not only knows how to speak, but has come a long way in serving children and public education.
Hubbard says having an “R” or “D” next to a candidate’s name shouldn’t matter in a school board race. But the partisan split on Cobb’s board resulted in party votes.
Three of the seven school board seats are up for election this year. Whoever wins, perhaps the board’s greatest test will be whether members can set aside political issues and come together to govern the second-largest school district in the state.
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