Fulton County school board member Julia Bernath says she doesn’t see a public clamor for a new city school district in Sandy Springs despite legislative efforts that would allow such a school system.
“I have not heard any interest in the city schools of Sandy Springs becoming their own schools, but that does not mean we can’t discuss things,” Bernath told members of the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs during their meeting Feb. 24.
Responding to a question about the H.R. 486, a legislative proposal that would allow cities created in 2005 or later to start their own school systems, Bernath said she thought Fulton County’s school system “is doing a good job” and that Fulton residents were not calling for breakaway school districts. “I don’t see any interest right now in anyone in Fulton County wanting to pull out,” she said.
Backers of the city schools proposal, she said, appear to be centered in DeKalb County, where county schools have dealt with scandals and controversies in recent years.
Former school superintendent Crawford Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for obstructing an investigation into the district. That investigation resulted in the conviction of the district’s former chief operating officer, Patricia Pope, who was accused of steering contracts to a firm owned by her husband at the time.
Also, Gov. Nathan Deal last March replaced six of the nine members of the DeKalb school board after a regional accrediting agency put the district’s accreditation on probation and cited board interference with school operations as a reason for the move.
H.R. 486, introduced by Dunwoody Republican Rep. Tom Taylor, calls for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to allow cities created in 2005 or later to start their own school systems or to join with surrounding cities to start a system. If approved, the legislation would apply to 16 cities, including Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Chamblee, Taylor has said.
Bernath spoke at the Rotary meeting as chair of the Sandy Springs Education Force, a nonprofit that supports after-school programs for students at risk of dropping out of school, mentoring programs, science and technology events and other activities.
Irene Schweiger, executive director of the education force, said the organization’s work is needed because 60 percent of Sandy Springs’ public school students are disadvantaged. Disadvantaged students are seven times more likely to drop out than other students, she said.
“Some of you may ask, ‘How can that be, that 60 percent of our students are disadvantaged … when we live in a very affluent community?’ Private schools. …” she said. “Fifty percent of our students in Sandy Springs go to private schools.”