The government in DeKalb County has failed its citizens again and again. We've read about it in the news and heard about the waste of taxpayer dollars. But, somehow, that has not been enough for any widespread protest or talks of succession. Sure, neighborhoods get upset here and there when they believe their tax bill is too high. But, they file their appeals and sooner or later the whole thing blows over. Sure, we hear about a water main break here or there, but there has yet to be a citizen-led protest against the outright theft that has taken place in the Watershed Department or recognition of the names of the players involved. At least, not to the extent that we all know the player involved in the school system crisis.... Crawford Lewis, Pat Reid, Tony Pope. The trial of the APS leader Beverly Hall is probably better known than the county scandals that have been taking place for years.
The school board and administration of DeKalb County's School System has failed our children for a decade, according to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Most parents will attest that it has been particularly more difficult in just the past five years. That issue was enough to finally lead to enough protest and angst among residents across the county that change was necessary. It was a "bottom up" call upon the leadership to do something. And they did.
After outrageous acts of fiscal mismanagement, angry and upset parents, failing schools, overcrowded classrooms, unhappy teachers and dismal graduation rates, the outcry that elected officials were hearing eventually became more than they could deal with on a "case by case" basis. North and South DeKalb families were waking up and beginning to understand how they had been unfairly pitted against one another for years, believing that their own school's failure was someone else's fault, someone who lived outside of their own community and didn't share their outlook on education.
But, a facade like that one could only last for so long. As residents looked around at every school board meeting and listened, really listened, to one another, they started to see that the "other side" was really a figment of their own imagination, created by some stories and rumors spread by the very people whom they had trusted to lead them. The PTA leaders were being fed lines by their principals who were receiving juicy gossip from their school board members. The teachers were used against one another or blamed by parents for instruction that was being mandated by "the top" - a group known mainly as "the Palace" staff and who changed frequently whenever there was sign of trouble.
If any of this nightmare sounds familiar, it's probably because it is exactly the same way the city advocacy groups are behaving in Central DeKalb because many of the same players who were involved in the school system are the ones involved with the push toward municipalization. Lakeside is a proposed city named after a school, based on a school district and supported by former school leaders. For them to claim that it is not about the schools is as absurd as a lawyer telling you that they aren't in it for the money. You might want to believe them, but you both know the truth. They aren't fooling anyone.
So, the way it worked, based on my observation of the school system and from what many other parents have discussed with me, is that parents are dragged into the corrupt system based on the fact that there is always some kind of crisis, real or fabricated. And, for the uninitiated, it can feel like you are the only one who can help set the ship back on the right course. There are never enough volunteers. It is always up to you and you alone.
When dealing with only one issue, it is easy to feel that you are the only one who has ever faced it or your community is being treated unfairly and it is up to you to save yourselves. When that happens, you might be willing to negotiate or make deals that, on the surface, will solve your issue but, in reality, will create a problem for someone else. When that happens, you are guilted into keeping quiet for fear that your "offer" from the "powers that be" will be rescinded if you talk about it or have questions about it later when there are things that arise that you didn't expect.
When it comes to our children, we all act in our child's best interest first, as we should. But, that's not always the best thing for the system as a whole, or even our own community. This is the problem with a system that works on an underlying "back room deal" power structure. It places too much power in the hands of unknown leaders who serve themselves first and foremost. It always comes back around to bite you in the end if you try to play on their unfair, unlevel field. Their game is never one that is intended to give you what you want. It is only to keep you quietly feuding with yourself and those whom you are led to believe are the problem. You're so busy with the "fight" that you don't clearly see the entire system falling apart at the seams. A small victory for your own child is still a part of a major failure for every taxpayer in the entire county. Because without a quality, legitimate school system that focuses on EDUCATION (not power, control, construction, sports scores, federal dollars, privatization, telecommunications, school to work or even home values), we will never escape the rut we are in with the corrupt running the show.
The corrupt are likely influenced by the fact that our county's tax base keeps declining.
Rather than seek real solutions, the leaders are more concerned about keeping everyone paid so they will continue winning elections.
That does not help the children. I believe that Jason Carter understands this problem and wants to fix it. He wants the education system to work for every child. And he sees the problem from the unique perspective of an elected state Senator, a father of two young children in public school here, the husband of a DeKalb public school teacher and a homeowner in Central DeKalb County. He has seen the way that the school system has helped some communities maintain their home values even in the face of the deep recession and how devastating the failure of the school system has been in portions of the county where schools have been closed due to the endless lawsuits that have taken up so much of our system's general fund for education. He has seen the way local communities have had to make up for the cuts that Governor Deal has made to education year after year. And, he has a plan to stop the shell game of taking funds approved for education and shifting them somewhere else.
Governor Deal stepped in to help DeKalb only when the law required him to take action. Jason Carter, I believe, is stepping up now because he feels the same urgency that most all parents in DeKalb County feel right now. We know the school system is failing. We know it is vital to our future to have an educated work force, reduce our crime rates and improve on home values, especially in South and Central DeKalb.
The Republican plan is to form cities that will make education an easier issue for them to handle. By keeping out the most difficult kids to educate, such as the poor or non-English speaking ones, they can keep telling businesses that all the other schools in the county are the problem, but their schools are okay. That helps them with their own home values because they have created a supply and demand situation based on school zones. Their proposed cities are just one example of how they continue to push the blame for failure off on "others" whom we are led to believe are people who don't act, look or think like us. But, reality is setting in for residents in DeKalb, I hope.
Go to a school board meeting, or talk to someone who doesn't live in your portion of the county. You might be surprised to find how much you have in common, instead of how much you have to blame one another for. In fact, most people don't know that the school with the highest graduation rate is also the one in the most Southern portion of the county possible - Arabia Mountain High School. Yes, it is a magnet school, but so is Chamblee Charter High School. And so is Kittridge, or the DeKalb School of the Arts. The location is not what matters. It is the fact that some children are being very well served and others are being left behind. That is the definition of failure when it comes to the purpose of a public school system.
Anyone can allocate funds for the construction of brand new buildings to keep homeowners fooled into believing that quality learning is taking place behind those doors.
It takes real leadership to understand that the learning is what is most important and even though it is a less flashy political platform to run on, it is what will save our state from being dead last on every list from unemployment to graduation rates. Jason Carter has my vote today. And, unless you can tell me a good reason why you are choosing otherwise, I ask you to please consider the children today and, for once, vote for what is right - not just for the party lines you have always followed.
DeKalb needs Jason Carter to win that race today. Thank you.