School Board Applicant List "Represents a Great Concern"
There are 134 people from the Stone Mountain and Lithonia areas applying to replace recently-suspended members of the DeKalb school board. Many other local stakeholders are also weighing in on the issues.
Of the 403 applicants for the six DeKalb school board seats, 134 are from the Stone Mountain and Lithonia areas, together making up 33 percent of the total.
Those are just some of the many local stakeholders hoping for a better future for the DeKalb County School System, which in December was put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and could face loss of accreditation.
"I think that list represents a great concern," said Calvin Sims, president of the Chapman’s Mill/Redan Park Homeowners Association off Redan Road.
The applicant list, which is attached to this article (to the right, under "PDFs") was made public Thursday, Mar. 7, by Gov. Nathan Deal. He suspended six school board members in February: Jay Cunningham; Donna Edler; Eugene Walker; Nancy Jester (who resigned on Wednesday, Mar. 6); Sarah Copelin-Wood and Pamela Speaks.
In January, after SACS put Dekalb schools on probation, Sims organized a discussion of the possible effects of DeKalb losing accreditation.
"I think the public was really educated on what impact the loss of accreditation would mean to the community as a whole. People really care about their children’s future," he said.
Jack Sartain, one of the Stone Mountain applicants and co-founder of the DeKalb Council for the Arts, said: "All over this county, people want to do something. One of things they can do is put their name in the hat."
Of the number of applicants from Stone Mountain (74) and Lithonia (60), attorney Tanya Graham, a parent and president of the Arabia Mountain High School PTSA, said, "I’m not surprised. We have a lot of parents that are concerned about our school system."
Sims agreed. "I believe there are a lot of people who want to see a turnaround in our school system," he said.
Graham said the six school board members should have been given the chance "to work together to eradicate some of the problems," she said.
"I don’t appreciate the way it was done," she said of the suspension and replacement process. "You did not afford them the opportunity to do a better job. They did not have the opportunity for people who elected them to say yea or nay."
State Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick, whose district 93 includes Lithonia, also takes issue with the process of removal. In a recently-published opinion piece, she wrote:
To sum up my thoughts, it is this: "Buyer beware!" Beware, Georgians, when your vote is being usurped and those that you DID NOT elect and probably DO NOT even know are being placed in places of power, over your children, your county and your school system. It's a slippery slope and I understand the frustrations in DeKalb County.
Some don't see the argument quite the same way. One Patch reader's response to Kendrick's op-ed piece, in part, was:
The right to vote is one thing. The incompetence and poor performance of the DSS Board is another. The State has to have some oversight and responsibility to the Citizens in a case like this.
On Stone Mountain-Lithonia Patch's Facebook page -- after Gov. Deal's announcement about the suspensions -- Patch reader Sharon Daugherty wrote:
No problem with removing the board members...BIG problem [with] stripping the parents/voters/taxpayers of our right to choose their replacements. We need to hold a special election, and if not, a protest is in order. Handing the selections over to the Governor is a bad idea.
Speaking to Patch on Thursday about the turnout of local applicants, Kendrick said a lot of people in south DeKalb are concerned that the school board is not going to reflect them. And although replacing the six and resolving the school system's problems (including governance and finances, according to SACS) are pressing issues, she said people also want to make sure there's due diligence in selecting new members and getting the school system back on track.
Kendrick said the governor spoke with the DeKalb delegation, and informed them that they would have an opportunity to meet with the nominating committee.
"With over 400 applicants, the nominating committee has their work cut out for them," she said.
Whether or not they agree on the way (or if) the six board members should be replaced, local leaders say the first concern -- and the bottom line -- comes down to the nearly 99,000 children in the DeKalb school district, and providing them with the best education possible.
"I believe in good neighborhood schools and good theme schools," said Graham, who graduated from Avondale High School in 1983 before moving on to Vanderbilt University. "Education is key. It means everything to me."