Candidates running to become the next head of Georgia’s schools worked to distinguish themselves from their opponents during a June 30 forum held by the League of Women Voters of Atlanta Fulton County.
All four candidates who will appear in the July 22 primary runoff attended the forum. The Democratic runoff will feature Valarie Wilson, a former member of the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education, and Alisha Thomas Morgan, a state representative. The Republican runoff will feature Mike Buck, the chief of staff to outgoing superintendent John Barge, and Richard Woods, a former high school principal and teacher who currently works in the private sector.
Donna Lowry of 11-Alive served as moderator with guest panelists Carol Sbarge with WSB-TV and Dan Whisenhunt, editor and publisher of Decaturish.com.
Below is the question posed about HR 486 and the push to form new, independent schools and their answers:
Q) As you might be aware, there’s a movement in Dunwoody, Ga. to create an independent school system. Georgia’s constitution limits the number of school systems. Would you support a constitutional amendment allowing new cities to create their own school systems?
Buck: “That’s a new one on me. Before I would consider a constitutional amendment to do other things to education, I would like for us very much to fully fund the educational systems that we’ve got and improve upon our past performance.”
DSW2: OMG. Seriously? This is a “new one” on him? How can someone so uninformed get this close to the top job in education in Georgia? It’s frightening that he has already been second to the top dog in the Georgia DOE and is this much in the dark. He really thinks more money will fix things? Did this guy just emerge from the Okefenokee Swamp?
Woods: “As an individual who has always spoken in favor of local control, I think this needs to be a local decision, and if the people of Georgia decide this is the pathway they want, then I’m all for that. If it’s the people of Dunwoody, if they believe it best serves their children and their community, then I am for that. First and foremost we still have to go through the process. That means following the Constitution and the rule of law, and if we do that and it’s something that the people of Georgia agree on, then it’s the proper step. I have no issues with that at present.”
DSW2: Pretty good answer! Still a bit vague and still somewhat under-informed on the issue, but we do like his open mind! Keep going Mr. Woods – do some digging and some research. This is a game-changer for thousands of Georgia students! Do not be a part of the brick wall at the Capitol that continues to condemn all DeKalb students to the failing status quo. Allow some of us to grow wings and take flight. Hopefully others will follow and eventually all children will be served a quality teacher and education rather than watching helplessly as Educrats stuff their pockets. There is no excuse for the poor results the ‘leadership’ in DeKalb Schools manages to generate with the over $1.2 Billion taxpayer dollars they blow through each and every year.
Morgan: “We considered this legislation this session, and it’s why I want to emphasize tonight the importance of having a state legislator as a state school superintendent, who knows these issues, who has the relationships and the track record of getting things done in the Legislature and who can move over to the state department of education to do that. As a whole, I do not support this legislation currently. Philosophically I think it’s important for local communities to have the ability to choose for themselves if they want a school district, I think with this particular issue though, there are serious ramifications for DeKalb County in particular, and with all of the creation of new cities and new government, I’m deeply concerned about funding, I’m deeply concerned about what that will do to the overall school system, but as a whole I think that this should be something that as a state, we should consider to allow voters to consider for their own communities.
DSW2: This is political BS and rhetoric. No one has shown any kind of proof that break-away school districts would cause any kind of harm to DeKalb county schools. (Jobs from bloat may be harmed, however…) Remember – DeKalb county will no longer have to educate, transport, counsel, protect, coach, or feed any of these children. Or maintain the buildings. PERHAPS the real issue is that the transfer of funding will be harmed — as the Druid Hills Charter Petition proved**, DeKalb county can no longer underfund some schools and the students attending them in order to transfer extra funding to other, more favored schools, their staffs and the central office bloated staff. We think somebody is listening to a certain paid PR shill and the mantra from a certain politician turned superintendent. Wake up honey! You have been played.
Wilson: “While I support local control, I believe it is important that we pay attention to the impact decisions such as this could have to an existing local school district. Being on the ground, working with city schools of Decatur, I know how challenged we are with our budget, and I know how challenged DeKalb County has been with its budget, and I think that we have to be very, very careful when we start looking at creating a separate school system, when the school system that we currently have hasn’t been a priority in the state of Georgia and it hasn’t been funded adequately. I do believe in local control. I do believe that the people should have the opportunity to speak, however I think that we should move very, very carefully on a situation like this because it could have negative impacts to the DeKalb County Schools system.”
DSW2: Spoken like yet another “I got mine” Decaturite. First, DeKalb county schools have plenty of money. Money is not the problem. If a $1.2 Billion annual consolidated budget can’t get the job done, then we are all in major trouble. All Dunwoody wants is what you have in Decatur, Ms. Wilson. But for some reason you are apprehensive about granting that kind of local control to others. That is so elitist. How about this then – Decatur schools rejoin with DeKalb and you too can enjoy the corrupt, inept, lawyer-loving leadership the rest of us endure. Fair is fair!
(ps. Note to Donna Lowery: A better way to phrase the question would be to ask, “Do you support removing or changing the 1943 tenet in the Georgia Constitution (section VII*) that put a stop to the creation of new school districts?” You see, this was ratified during fiscally turbulent times over 80 years ago, and aimed at saving money by combining small districts. No one at that time envisioned a school district with 100,000 students!)
* Section VII, Paragraph 1 of the 1943 ratified GA Constitution linked above states:
Independent Systems Continued; New Systems Prohibited. Authority is hereby granted to municipal corporations to maintain existing independent school systems, and support the same as authorized by special or general law, and such existing systems may add thereto colleges. No independent school system shall hereafter be established.
It has since been amended several times, and now reads:
Paragraph I. School systems continued; consolidation of school systems authorized; new independent school systems prohibited. Authority is granted to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits; provided, however, that the authority provided for in this paragraph shall not diminish any authority of the General Assembly otherwise granted under this article, including the authority to establish special schools as provided for in Article VIII, Section V, Paragraph VII. Existing county and independent school systems shall be continued, except that the General Assembly may provide by law for the consolidation of two or more county school systems, independent school systems, portions thereof, or any combination thereof into a single county or area school system under the control and management of a county or area board of education, under such terms and conditions as the General Assembly may prescribe; but no such consolidation shall become effective until approved by a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon in each separate school system proposed to be consolidated. No independent school system shall hereafter be established.
Removal of those last eight words is all that’s necessary. Changes are made to this document all the time. As stated, the passage about new school districts has already been changed several times. In addition, the state constitution was changed a few years ago when we reduced the school board from 9 to 7 in DeKalb. It was changed in 2012 to add the Charter School Amendment. It was changed in 2004 when voters voted to define marriage as between a man and a woman… Georgia’s Constitution has the most recently ratified version of all the states (ratified last in 1983) yet has been amended more than most other state Constitutions.
In fact, that same original ratified version in 1943 that was first to disallow new school districts, also says the following about education:
EDUCATION. SECTION I.
Paragraph I. System of Common Schools; Free Tuition, Separation of Races. The provision of an adequate education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia, the expense of which shall be provided for by taxation. Separate schools shall be provided for the white and colored races.
And we all know that there was no ‘rush’ to change that one either!