Meeting Minutes, January 23, 2013

Emory LaVista Parent Council
Minutes of Meeting
January 23, 2013

Legislative Update

Guest Speakers:

Mary Margaret Oliver, State Representative
Fran Millar, State Senator
Scott Holcomb, State Representative
Melvin Johnson, School Board Member
Jim McMahan, School Board Member
Marshall Orson, School Board Member

Mary Margaret Oliver

DeKalb County School Systems will not lose accreditation. The Consent Order between the State Board of Education (BOE) and the DeKalb County School Board (DCSB) includes a complicated series of steps. The SACS report triggered a 2010 State statute that allows the BOE to receive, report and make recommendations to the Governor, included a recommendation to remove all members of DCSB.

February 21 is the next BOE hearing on this matter. After that, BOE will report to the Governor. Then the Governor may remove all (or none) of the members of the DCSB. The Governor can reappoint some members of DCSB.

If Mary Margaret Oliver were the Governor, she would remove all members of DCSB and reappoint the three new members. In 2014 there DCSB will be downsized to only seven members. The Governor can tie his appointments to the DCSB to certain expectations regarding whether the individuals will run or not run for re-election in 2014. Mary Margaret Oliver is interested in hearing from people who are willing to serve.

Fran Millar

The State had no opportunity to intervene in DeKalb schools until SACS put the system on probation. It is impossible to legislate against fraud and criminal acts. If someone is going to be dishonest, he or she will find a way.

Some other states (Texas and Indiana for example) don’t use SACS. The SACS report did not contain any new information. SACS waited too long to act, which is unfair to the children and citizens of DeKalb County.

Fran Millar was not proud watching the BOE hearing. It is his opinion that the three new DCSB members are not responsible for the current situation and should be reappointed if the DCSB is removed by the Governor, which Millar believes should be the course of action. He does not believe the DCSB can work together effectively in the time required. He also believes that SACS is under pressure to act.

Senator Millar thinks this is an opportunity to change the DCSB’s role and functions. He is guardedly optimistic. If the Governor replaces the school board, the Governor will consult with the DeKalb legislative delegation and ask for names of potential new Board members. People in the affected areas will have input on who replaces their Board members. If DCSS loses accreditation, it will negatively impact economic development in the region. No one will allow this to happen.

Questions and Answers

Q: What can we do to influence the Governor?
A: Write letters (snail mail) to the Governor.

Q: Why not use the recall process?
A: Elections for the new seven member board will take place in 2014. The people will be able to change whoever the Governor appoints at that time. Discussions with leaders in South DeKalb are underway to find names of potential Board members to give the Governor. The Chamber of Commerce, business community and people involved in schools are being consulted.

Q: What is the worst case scenario if we lose accreditation?
A: Students would lose eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship but it won’t happen. The General Assembly will act to protect children if DCSS loses accreditation, which it won’t. Colleges won’t base admission decisions on accreditation. The bottom line is: 1) we won’t lose accreditation, 2) if we do lose accreditation the General Assembly will protect the students, and 3) there are ways around any rules that are triggered by a loss of accreditation.

Q: Can the Governor do anything to make the future DCSB more responsible?
A: People have had enough. People want change. The Charter School Amendment wasn’t about charter schools, it was a vote for change.

Q: SACS report did not include anything about the budget, money or corruption.
A: The Supreme Court ruled that education is the exclusive domain of local school boards. The State Government can’t intervene. The question should be whether corruption came from DeKalb County School System on its own, or was there collusion with member of DCSB. It is important to elect people with quality and character.

Q: Should DeKalb be divided into districts with local school boards?
A: There is no appetite to create more school systems. The rest of the State doesn’t care about what is happening in Metro Atlanta, and the State legislature would need to approve the appointment of new school districts. Gwinnett County is a large school district that does well right now, although it might not in the future.

Q: The current problems are not just because of DCSB. If we replace the DCSB will things change?
A: People from the State BOE will work with the new school board to make sure everything works properly. The difference if there is a new board is that the State will be allowed to be engaged.

Q: The problem might be bureaucracy, not the school board. What can the state do?
A: Did the former CFO of DCSS act on his own or was he in collusion with members of the school board? Or was he instructed by a school board member to act? It should be OK for the DCSB to believe the information they are given by the school district administration. The new School Board should require a complete forensic audit.

Scott Holcomb

The state of the school system is the most pressing issue facing the county. Scott Holcomb is disappointed with the Superintendent and Dr. Taylor. Even if his report wasn’t plagiarized, it wasn’t worth $10,000.

People should contact the BOE in addition to the Governor. Scott Holcomb predicts that if the DCSB doesn’t make progress, they will be suspended. The problem now is that the DCSB is spending time preparing for the hearing instead of fixing the problems facing the district. We have to get competent and capable people on the school board. He does not have confidence that the people who caused our current problems can fix them.

Melvin Johnson, Jim McMahan, Marshall Orson

Q: Are new districts set for the new seven member school board?
A: The existing seven districts will be used and the super districts will be eliminated. There are supposed to be four year terms that are staggered, but that hasn’t been worked out yet.

Q: At the BOE hearing, there was discussion of undue influence and lack of training by the new school board members?
A: New members of the school board were not notified of training. They asked for information about training and were told it would take place in December. They attended an organizational training, but were not notified of or scheduled to participate in state wide training.

When the new board members asked about training at the state level, they were told they had to go through their superintendent. It made sense to defer training of the new board members while the old board continued to serve their roles. New Board members did not take office until January, even though they were elected in July. The School Board policy is that Board members can visit schools but not give directives.