Dec 17, 2021 - News

Contract tweaks give Cobb superintendent more control over exit

Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale
Cobb County Schools superintendent Chris Ragsdale reads to children. Photo courtesy of the Cobb County School District

Contract revisions approved by the Cobb County Board of Education last month allow superintendent Chris Ragsdale to play a greater role in negotiating his exit.

Why it matters: It could give Ragsdale a hefty payout — and some critics are raising concerns the changes may silence the board.

Driving the news: The board's four Republican members voted in favor of the changes at a Nov. 11 meeting, while the three Democrats opposed the request.

  • Details of the revised contract were not made available to the public at that time of the vote. Axios obtained a copy of the new contract through an open records request.

State of play: Ragsdale has been Cobb's superintendent since 2015. His base salary is $350,000 and he's entitled to the same raises teachers get annually.

  • He receives a $1,200 monthly car allowance, and the school board makes a 12% contribution to a retirement fund.
  • The contract is effective through Feb. 11, 2024.

Details: The revised contract says the school board can opt to terminate Ragsdale's contract without cause.

  • Yes, but: The board can only do so with 90 days' notice and an agreement to pay the monetary value of his remaining salary and benefits through the contract's expiration date.

Of note: Should the board believe Ragsdale is being insubordinate, it cannot take action if the superintendent believes his actions are in the district's best interest.

  • The status of his employment must then go to a resolution panel.

Between the lines: If the firing is without cause and the panel finds that the board or one of its members violated its policy related to Ragsdale's employment, breached the contract or committed other "uncorrected work-related infractions," the superintendent can initiate another panel to take up the issue.

  • If an issue was identified, the panel would be able to recommend how to correct behavior, which the board would either approve or reject.
  • If the board agrees to it, Ragsdale will have the final say on whether those terms are sufficient. If there's no agreement, the board will pay out the rest of Ragsdale's salary and benefits.

What they're saying: Ragsdale, through a school district spokesperson, declined Axios' request for comment on the revisions.

  • "The superintendent is focused on running the school district, not contract decisions made by the board and is happy to talk about schools and students any time his schedule allows," the spokesperson said.

Axios reached out to Republican school board members for comment, but they also did not return phone calls and texts.

The other side: Democratic board member Jaha Howard told Axios he feels "very strongly" about his vote opposing the revision, but he didn't give any further details.

Stacy Efrat, a parent who is a member of grassroots organization Watching the Funds – Cobb, told Axios that the school board could be forced to pay at least several hundred thousand dollars to Ragsdale depending on when and how his employment ends.

  • "It effectively silences the board members for speaking up about any concerns they have," she added.

Another Watching the Funds member, Laura Judge, acknowledged that some jobs have severance policies, but said she doesn't understand how an employee can disagree with their employer and get to choose the people who should settle the conflict.

  • "I think it benefits one side heavily, and that would be the superintendent," she said. "It doesn't take into account the board or the stakeholders who pay into Superintendent Ragsdale's salary."

Go deeper: Accreditation agency puts Cobb school district on notice

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