By Rep. Mike Jacobs
In 2001, the DeKalb County Board of Education saw its membership increase from seven to nine seats. The current size of the school board is a major impediment to its operating at a high standard. That is why I have proposed House Bill 63 to reduce our school board back to seven members in order to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.
Experts agree that smaller school boards provide higher quality governance than larger boards. The Commission of School Board Excellence, a group of leaders that wrote Georgia’s school ethics law, has recommended that boards consist of no more than seven members, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
DeKalb, Clayton, and Atlanta Public Schools are the only districts in the metro area that do not meet this standard. Of the latter two districts, Clayton lost its accreditation in 2008 over alleged corruption among board members, and APS has been placed on probation by the accrediting agency known as Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). SACS is in the process of reviewing school board governance in DeKalb County as well.
Mark Elgart, president and CEO of SACS, recently told the AJC that “all of the problems in these systems are about board governance, power struggles, and unethical behavior – not teachers or lack of funding.”
Reducing the size of our school board can help eliminate these problems. “As you increase the number of actors that are on the board, you sometimes end up with an inability to act in conformance with anybody’s set of standards,” former State School Superintendent Brad Bryant told the AJC.
Even Tom Bowen, chairman of DeKalb’s school board, told the AJC in September that the nine-member board is unnecessary and that he would support a change.
My hope is that this necessary change can be made through local legislation, approved by a majority of the 19 representatives and 7 senators from DeKalb County working together to do what’s right for our school system and our children. State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver has proposed House Bill 22, local legislation that could address this issue from a local perspective.
Some of my DeKalb colleagues are suggesting that they will not support any changes to the DeKalb County Board of Education. If we cannot secure a smaller school board through local legislation, then I am prepared to move forward with general statewide legislation, HB 63, to reduce DeKalb’s school board to seven members. Those who favor the status quo for DeKalb County are enabling poor governance. This is not acceptable. The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) regularly selects Georgia’s best school boards as “Distinguished Boards of Education” after a review of their performance and organizational structure. More than 90 percent of the boards chosen for 2008 through 2010 have only five members, according to GSBA’s website.
Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) has the largest student enrollment in Georgia. It also has an award-winning board of education with only five members – two less than I am proposing for DeKalb County and four less than comprise DeKalb’s current board.
Of the four largest school districts in the state (Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett), DeKalb is the only one with a board of more than seven members.
Reducing the DeKalb school board to seven members is a necessary first step toward a better-run school system. Let’s make it happen.
State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) represents District 80 in the Georgia House of Representatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (404) 656-0152.