In a clear victory Tuesday, political newcomer and 20-year Powder Springs resident Brad Wheeler will take over as the West Cobb representative on the county Board of Education.
“The schools are the heart of your community,” the 57-year-old Republican and retired teacher and coach told Patch by phone shortly before midnight, “and I care a lot about it.”
With all 26 of the seat’s precincts reporting, roughly 60 percent of voters sided with Wheeler over incumbent Democrat Alison Bartlett, who, at 50, is wrapping up her first four-year term. Bartlett’s 40 percent equaled 15,931 votes, while Wheeler grabbed 24,145.
“There are some great things that happened (while I was on the board), and I hope they keep moving forward,” said Bartlett, a Marietta resident who will finish out the calendar year before Wheeler takes over in January.
The Cobb Board of Education is made up of seven members representing seven posts. West Cobb’s Post 7 will be drastically different for Wheeler thanks to 2010 Census-induced redistricting.
Post 7—a chunk southwest of the Marietta city limits that includes Osborne High—is the only post not touching county borders. But because of redistricting, it will be pushed westward to the Paulding line and will be scrunched between Northwest Cobb’s Post 1 and South Cobb’s Post 3.
The change will start in January, and the post will drop Osborne while picking up Harrison, Hillgrove, McEachern and some of their feeder middle and elementary schools.
Bartlett recognized in April that the redistricting, which led her post into a redder section of the county, could affect the election. Then and late Tuesday night, Bartlett emphasized that she believes school board races should be nonpartisan.
That would make the elections “more equitable … because people look at the people they’re voting for rather than the party line,” Bartlett said. The new Post 7 is about 60 percent Republican, she said, “and that’s what he beat me by.”
Wheeler said the new borders “didn’t hurt, but we did pretty well in some of the eastern areas, too.”
He pointed to the growing backing he’s got from not just this race but the two prior: the three-candidate GOP primary in July, and when there wasn’t majority there, a two-person runoff in August.
“They’ve supported me through the last three races, and we continue to grow our support each time,” he said. “It’s been a long road.”
Wheeler’s only political experience is serving as a three-year president of the Amberton subdivision’s homeowners’ association. But his education experience stretches far deeper.
He was a teacher and coach in Paulding County for three years, Cherokee County for five, and Cobb for 17 at Pebblebrook High in Mableton. Then for nine years, he served as an administrator at McEachern.
The father of a Hillgrove graduate and current Lost Mountain Middle student, Wheeler said he had noticed “dysfunction” on the board and thought about running for school board “for years.”
“I’m not a magic man, but I think we can do better,” Wheeler said, noting he didn't have any immediate actions in mind but that he would tackle each issue case by case.
On what he learned from the campaign: “Like anything you do, you look at what you did and evaluate it. ‘Could I have done this better? Could I have done that better?’ We try to improve things, make things better, make things work better.”
Meanwhile, Bartlett reflected on her impact in four years on the board: adjusting the approach to the proposed SPLOST IV, which, if passed next year, would continue the current 1 percent education sales tax; influencing how the district approaches academics; and the superintendent search that resulted in the 2011 hiring of Michael Hinojosa.
With three of her four children still in Cobb schools, she said she will remain active in the district by returning to things from before her term.
“I was stunned at what I couldn’t do once I got on the board,” Bartlett said. “I worked a lot of cultural arts and did a lot volunteering in the schools. I wasn’t allowed to do that once I was on the board.”
As for the next step in her career, which has included management, teaching and being a stay-at-home mom, Bartlett said it’s up in the air.
“As my girlfriend says, I reinvent myself every 10 years, so now I get to figure out what I want to do now.”
Also on Tuesday, three other school board seats were on the ballot, but, since the candidates’ only opposition came from their own parties in the July primaries, they were unchallenged.
Republican newcomer Randy Scamihorn, a retired military officer turned educator, will take over in Northwest Cobb for Lynnda Eagle, who didn’t seek reelection after her first term.
Democrat David Morgan will continue representing South Cobb’s Post 3, as will Republican David Banks in Northeast Cobb’s Post 5.
New terms start in January for all the winners.