By Sen. Emanuel Jones
ATLANTA (October 14, 2010) – How long can we ask students to tolerate an inadequate education system? I’ve attended several public debates on DeKalb’s Board of Education and have raised questions about changing the size of the board and instituting an independent ethics commission. After listening intently to the response of incumbent members and candidates, I believe we cannot wait and that now is the time to reorganize the board.
As co-chair of the DeKalb subcommittee that’s addressing the board’s governance issues, I believe the dysfunction at the school board level has put the success of DeKalb County schools and its students at risk, and it’s time for the legislature to take action. Ultimately, the legislature’s responsible for overseeing a school board’s organizational structure. We control the size of the board and have the authority to make necessary changes.
The challenges facing DeKalb’s school board call for immediate action, including the ethical issues surrounding various board members and their lack of unity and direction in choosing a clear leader for the system. However, the true catalysts for change are the criminal investigations surrounding the system and a pending investigation of the system by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
There are several options available that will help put this school board back on the track to success. The first is to change the number of board members from nine to seven. DeKalb’s board had functioned with only seven members since 1963, until 2002 when it was expanded to nine members for pure political reasons. A smaller board encourages a spirit of unity and cooperation and can still meet the needs of the entire district. The state’s largest school system, Gwinnett County, has only five board members.
We can also institute an independent ethics commission, rather than the one currently governed by the board. Through local legislation, we can also clearly define conflict of interest provisions as it pertains to board members, as well as practices regarding nepotism.
The legislature already took action earlier this year by passing a school board reform bill that addresses many of these issues. Under Senate Bill 84, the legislature saw fit to limit all school boards in the state to no more than seven members. However, the bill grandfathers many existing boards that are already over the limit. The grandfathering provision can be nullified for a particular system by local law. Once this change is made, DeKalb’s board can never be changed to exceed seven members.
We have choices to make. If SACS puts the system on probation, SB 84 will trigger a process that may result in allowing the governor to step in and remove board members who were elected or appointed on or after July 1, 2010. If the governor does remove board members, he can appoint new members to serve out the remaining terms or reinstate individual members after conducting a public hearing.
This county has a storied history of achieving triumph over challenges and producing some of the best students in the country. I’m proud that my wife has chosen to make her life’s work as an educator in the DeKalb County school system. I’ve dedicated my political career to fighting for our school children and by passing landmark legislation that changes schools’ zero tolerance discipline policies in Georgia. It’s an honor to have been selected by the Organization of DeKalb Educators as legislator of the year for two consecutive years. As an elected an official, I’m committed to doing my part to restore confidence in DeKalb County schools.
Our community faces a critical election on November 2, and we have the opportunity as elected officials, community stakeholders and parents to change the direction of this board. We must elect a school board that is responsive and receptive to developing a rapport with state legislators and the State Board of Education to ensure successful academic outcomes for our children. We need school board members to be responsive to the specific needs of our county concerning curriculum, administration and staffing, and who will be assertive in advocating for state educational policies that best suit our schools. Now is the time to restructure the school board and establish a clear vision for the system’s future.
Sen. Emanuel Jones represents the 10th Senate District, which includes portions of DeKalb and Henry counties. He may be reached at 404.656.0502 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Immediate Release:
October 14, 2010
For Information Contact:
Natalie Strong, Deputy Director
Kallarin Richards, Senior Communications Specialist