Concerns about school closures and redistricting dominated a public hearing before the DeKalb’s legislative delegation last week. Residents urged the state senators and representatives to intervene in the operations of the county’s Board of Education, which some described as “dysfunctional,” “bloated” and “myopic.”
“Y’all are our last stand,” said Jim Smith, a 21-year resident of DeKalb.
“There’s not a single incumbent worth a damn on that school board,” Smith said. “Unless the school district gets fixed we’re going to see everything we like about DeKalb County go down the drain.”
Rae Varney, who has two children in DeKalb County schools, said she is concerned about a proposal to close one of two schools in the county that has received national Blue Ribbon status in that past eight years.
“Livsey Elementary, under one plan, is being closed entirely rather than serving as a model to the rest of the county with the quality of education that it offers,” Varney said.
Jeff Jackson, a county resident since 1968, said the school district needs to show taxpayers how much money is supposed to be saved by the school closings.
“It’s about getting the best education for our children for the money we’re spending,” Jackson said. “Where’s the money?
“Why are we having to close our neighborhood schools?” Jackson asked. “Everyone wants to keep schools in their communities, keep the neighborhoods intact…and not send the children driving past one school to get to another.”
Some residents asked the delegation to pass Georgia House of Representatives Bill No. 22 which would decrease the number of school board members from nine to five or seven. Mary Margaret Oliver, who represents DeKalb residents in District 83, filed the legislation in November.
Several legislators told the crowd that there was not much the delegation could do to effect change within the school board.
“If you don’t like what’s going on, you’ve got to get involved in the electoral process,” Rep. Billy Mitchell said.
Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, who has two children at Fernbank Elementary, said she was concerned about the school board’s redistricting proposals.
“This is personal to me,” Benfield said. She said she would personally call every school board member to express her “extreme dissatisfaction” with the proposals.
In addition to the school board woes, residents voiced concerns about the county’s $1.345 billion water and sewer improvement project; increasing gasoline prices; and regional transportation development.
Earlier this month, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners agreed on several issues it wants the county’s delegation to support. Among them are:
Annexation: The board believes annexations should be limited when it’s proposed to increase the tax base of a municipality instead of providing new services to an underserved area. In addition, the county supports legislation that will allow property owners to de-annex from municipalities without the approval of the municipality.
Foreclosures: The county commission wants the state to pass legislation filed by Mitchell that would lengthen the foreclosure process from 30 days to 90 days. The proposed law is designed to give homeowners at risk of losing their home more time to save their houses.
State tax reform: County commissioners say the state’s tax code is too complex and the passage of numerous exemptions has placed an increasing burden on the remaining taxpayers. New tax exemptions that affect local government should have a one-year review process before being implemented, according to the county’s proposal.