State lawmakers have reduced the size of the DeKalb school board and adopted new school board election districts — just in time for candidates to qualify for the May 20 nonpartisan election.
“We had to do something,” Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, said. “Qualifying was upon us. … [The districting bill] passed at the last possible opportunity that it could have passed.”
Jacobs said the plan, which he introduced, was approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor in just 17 days. In order to reduce the board from nine seats to the seven required by the Legislature in 2012, the bill eliminates the board’s two “super districts” and leaves the remaining seven single-member districts as they were.
Some DeKalb lawmakers proposed an alternative redistricting that would have divided the county into long, narrow north-south districts.
In an email to his constituents, Jacobs called that proposal “disastrous” and “abominable.” He said it would have put the Cross Keys High School attendance area into five of the seven board districts.
“I would hope that we keep this arrangement as the status quo until the next redistricting [after the 2020 Census],” Jacobs said. “The DeKalb school board needs that kind of stability.”
The DeKalb board has faced a variety of problems. Last March, Gov. Nathan Deal replaced six of the nine school board members after a regional accrediting agency put the DeKalb schools’ accreditation on probation, citing meddling by the board.
Meanwhile, the former superintendent and former chief operating officer of the district were sentenced to prison terms after their prosecutions on corruption charges.
North DeKalb parents began looking for ways to organize their own school districts.
Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, sponsored a bill known as HR 486 that called for an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to allow the creation of new school districts in cities started since 2005 and cities adjacent to them.
Taylor’s bill would affect 16 cities, including Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
But parents who want to start their own school systems will have to wait. Legislative actions in recent weeks chilled Taylor’s bill.
The proposal was approved by a House subcommittee and committee, but Taylor said he decided not to push for a vote before the full House of Representatives this year because he didn’t feel confident there was enough support for the 120 votes, or a 2/3 majority, necessary for the bill to pass.
“This is not a simple-majority bill,” Taylor said. “It requires a supermajority. We had enough undecided to put it in doubt.”
Shawn Keefe, a member of Georgians for Local Area School Systems, or GLASS, an organization lobbying for the bill, said supporters are disappointed that it won’t be approved this year.
“We’re upset but we understood going into this … that it was a steep hill to climb,” Keefe said.
Keefe said GLASS plans to continue working over the 10 months leading to the next legislative session. Members will talk to elected officials about the bill, he said.
“We’re optimistic we can make this bill stronger and educate people and get the support we need next year,” Keefe said.