Legislature considers action

on Atlanta, DeKalb schools

By Maggie Lee

The squabbling created by the Atlanta and DeKalb County school boards is carrying over to the state Legislature.

Usually, the tweaks to state law that are necessary to change a school board’s rules are easily agreed upon by a county’s legislators. But proposals to cut the size of the DeKalb board and to enable the governor to oust Atlanta board members have ended up so divisive that supporters have had to slip their plans into a Savannah school board bill to get them considered.

That bill is set for debate on April 11. Opponents of any of the plans must aim to shoot down the whole bill.

The Atlanta provision would allow the governor to fire and replace the school board of any system that’s on accreditation probation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The governor already can remove board members elected after July 2010. The new amendment, proposed by Buckhead Republican Rep. Ed Lindsey, would erase the time limit so the practice could be applied to Atlanta’s school leaders.

Atlanta Democrat Rep. Kathy Ashe likes the bill. “I think all of us in the Atlanta delegation are convinced the school board is going to do what needs to be done,” she said, adding, “but this is a safety net … an assurance that one way or another, folks are going to be able to maintain that accreditation.”

But most of her fellow metro Democrats were skeptical. Rep. Rashad Taylor of Atlanta noted that in the city’s case, there’s a search for a new superintendent. If Gov. Nathan Deal does replace school board members, that could put an unelected body in charge of picking a new schools boss who could be in office for years.

Indeed, the House Democratic Caucus has put out a statement opposing Senate Bill 79, calling it a “state takeover” of local schools.

The DeKalb issue is different. The Republican Dunwoody delegation to the state legislature — Sen. Fran Millar, Rep. Mike Jacobs and Rep. Tom Taylor — is determined to cut the DeKalb board from nine to seven members.

Several Democrats, too, agree with a cut. Decatur Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver wrote a bill that would let voters choose to keep nine members or go to as few as five. State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) sponsored a bill co-signed by Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) and Millar to ask voters for a simple cut to seven.

But their bills went nowhere. “I don’t know if we could get this through the House delegation from DeKalb,” Millar said.

So, Millar put the plan in the Savannah bill so it could get a full legislative vote, not just a DeKalb-only one.

Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur) is opposed. He pointed out that the DeKalb Board of Education unanimously opposes SB 79. “I think we ought to give our county time to get in line,” he said.

Countered Jacobs: “There are fewer agendas on smaller school boards … the more members there are, the less collaborative it becomes.”