By Joe Earle

Challengers seeking seats on the DeKalb County school board are calling for significant changes in the way the board and school system operate.

Nancy Jester

“I’m very concerned about the trajectory of our schools,” said Nancy Jester, a candidate for the District 1 seat that represents the northern end of the county, including neighborhoods in Brookhaven and Dunwoody.

Jester told Dunwoody residents during a candidates’ forum on Sept. 28 that 44 percent of DeKalb’s schools failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress measure of the No Child Left Behind law.

“We are going in the wrong direction,” she said.

Jester and Bobbe Gillis of Dunwoody, also a candidate for the District 1 seat, called for reform in the way the school board handles its budget.

“DeKalb County schools have become a very large corporation,” said Gillis, who lives in Dunwoody. “Other corporations have revamped [how they budget]. We should start at the bottom and work our way up.”

Jester, who lives near Chamblee, said budgetary reform was necessary to reform the system. “We can’t have education reform unless we can reform how we spend that money,” she said. “You put your money where your mouth is. We can’t just talk about reform.”

Bobbe Gillis

Gillis and Jester are challenging incumbent board member Jim Redovian of Dunwoody, who did not attend the forum.

Dist. 9 candidate Ella Smith, a special education teacher in Fulton County who is challenging incumbent Gene Walker, said the DeKalb district “needs to stop being and employment service.”

“Our children deserve the best,” she said.

Several candidates were more explicitly critical of the current school board.

“The DeKalb County board of education is in a mess,” said Dist. 7 candidate Willie Mosley Jr. “We have to change it. We cannot become another Clayton County.”

Clayton County lost its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2008 because of problems created in part by infighting among school board members. The county regained its accreditation within a year.

SACS recently asked the DeKalb school system to explain its hiring practices, conflict of interest and nepotism policies and about other matters the accreditation agency showed concern. Earlier this year, former DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis resigned. He and former chief operating officer Pat Reid were indicted on charges including racketeering and theft related to school construction contracts. They have not yet come to trial.

Mosley faces incumbent board member Zepora Roberts in District 7, the sole incumbent o attend the Dunwoody candidates’ forum.

The forum was sponsored by eduKALB, a new nonprofit group created to promote education in DeKalb County. Donna Edler, who attended the forum, and Richard Gathany, who did not attend, also seek the District 7 seat.

Edler, an accountant, said she had the background to understand audits and to identify inefficiency in the system. “I have the knowledge and skills to be a good board member,” she said.

Roberts responded that she offered experience. “Let’s keep proven, effective leadership on the DeKalb school board,” said Roberts, who said she first was elected to the board in 2002. “Experience does help.”