The SPLOST pushers made a big issue out of the 'fact' that due to the passage and (unclear) wording of SB 79, voting "Yes" on SPLOST was the only way to flip the entire board! Well, that was oh so two weeks ago my friends. The smoke has cleared and things have changed.
Mary Margaret Oliver (one of my favorite legislators)... is introducing a bill that attempts to clarify the election process for the DeKalb school board. Certainly, this is something the DeKalb Delegation supports, right? Or maybe they're just chuckling over in the corner as they watch legislators wriggle out of the mess they've created. (The Delegation did not approve or participate in the original bills.) Here's the reading right out of the gate:
First Reader Summary A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend an Act establishing in DeKalb County districts from which members of the county board of education shall be elected, approved April 12, 1963 (Ga. L. 1963, p. 3424), as amended, particularly by an Act approved April 2, 2002 (Ga. L. 2002, p. 4536), so as to provide for a reduction in the members of the board of education from nine to seven; to provide for education districts for such members; to provide for the manner of election and terms of office; to provide for the continuation in office of certain members; to provide for related matters; to provide for submission of this Act under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended; to provide for effective dates; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
Read the entire bill here.
To us, it says odd seat numbers stay, even ones are at risk or gone. This has us keeping Cunningham, Walker, Edler, Woods and Jester--and puts McChesney, Speaks, Bowen, and Womack out unless they run for one of the new districts after they're redrawn (which is done every 10 years according to the U.S. Census). Jay and Gene would both keep their seat--but since they're practically neighbors, it would be pretty easy for the district to be drawn in such a way that they both can't represent it. Oddly, Gene holds a 'super district' seat, one of two that we were told would disappear in Mike Jacobs original bill, but here it looks like he's secure. Pam holds the other super district, but doesn't live near anyone else, so she might wind up competing for one of the new districts. Bottom line--all seven board seats will not be replaced in 2012 as promoted to pass SPLOST. We are going to have to get out of this either in baby election steps, or bold administrative gambits on Atkinson's part--which depends on Atkinson's character and priorities.
Add to this the fact that barely 24 hours after the passage of SPLOST, the head of construction, Barbara Colman, submitted her retirement papers. She's done. We now have to find a new construction manager for SPLOST through 2017. Wonder who that will be? I would suggest hiring an owner's rep as the staff liason and then contracting the construction management. Except, that is what we did in SPLOST II and it got us involved in a $100 million lawsuit (always say that with at upturned pinkie at the corner of your mouth) - costing us over $15 million in legal fees and committing us to another $20 million (and mounting) in legal fees to be paid after the 'trial'... all paid from the general operations budget, the budget slated for school operations. The budget from which we pay our teachers. The budget that ironically - needed major cuts in school staff in order to remain in balance (gee, I wonder why!)
So, here we are. Threat #1 for not supporting SPLOST is about to be taken off the table. How long until Threat #2 (the one where the board will have to raise property taxes if you vote "No") will also be a broken unspoken promise of the past? Gene Walker has been chomping at the bit to raise property taxes since he set foot on the board. How long until they announce "We can't use SPLOST for general operations, so we'll need to raise your property taxes or we'll have to start cutting teachers." Mark my words. Gare - own - tee. The county just raised their portion of the property taxes due to steep declines in values in some parts of DeKalb. And county taxes are only 40% of your tax bill - just how much more will you have to pay when the next promise is broken?
Time to clean house.
I noticed the #1 word of the Merriam Webster's People's Choice Favorites is "Defenestration". It's appropriate here.
Defenestration: a throwing of a person or a thing out of a window; or a usually swift expulsion or dismissal
Get going Atkinson. You are really going to have to hang tough in order to truly run this school system and not become a puppet of this very controlling board as our last two supers. Time's a Wastin'!
UPDATE: Below is a map we received a while ago showing the 'proposed' (not final) new board districts, evenly divided according to population numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census. The proposed legislation above recommends keeping the people in the 5 seats in green and the remaining two 2 seats (totaling 7) will be up for election in November, 2012. However, as you can see from the map, the 'saved' board members overlap in their new districts and we have a gaping hole in the middle with 3 open districts and 1 in the SE but only 2 seats available on the board. (The pink area is Decatur City Schools I believe.) Additionally, Tom Bowen lives in the new district 5 so if reelected, he could take up one of the two available seats, and Pam lives in new district 2 possibly taking the second available seat, while Don and Paul could each win the seat in their home district. Now you have 4 board members competing for only 2 available seats. How do you do that? They each legally live in one of the new districts and are up for reelection - is it fair to place someone from outside their district in that seat?
One option is to assign the board reps from the south end to these new districts (negating the rule that you must live in your district), or create strangely shaped, wobbly semi-vertical districts. However, this still creates for unfair competition, these 5 will never have the political challenges the others will have to fight for a seat. Additionally, going this route leaves us with electing 5 board reps every other election and only 2 the others, rather than a more balanced 4 and then 3.