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UPDATED: Cities and Schools in DeKalb: What is at Stake for Our Children?

There is a well known public education advocate named Diane Ravitch who writes for major newspapers, mainly the Washington Post.  She has reported about the issues that are dogging our American school system from high stakes testing, to the reliance upon technology as a replacement for quality teaching to the charter takeover by big time corporations.

Here is an excerpt from a recent article that ran in the Huffington Post:

"If present trends continue, the U.S. will have a dual system of education in another decade. Some cities will have few public schools, only charters that choose their students and exclude those with disabilities and those who can't speak English. The few remaining public schools in urban districts will enroll the charter school rejects. The great irony is that privately managed schools don't get better results than public schools on average for poor students yet they are a gold mine for their founders. What is at stake is the great tradition of public schools, open to all, supported by all, controlled by the public, not corporations. This is a principle worth fighting for, yet the public cannot fight if they are uninformed."

Think about the alert that Ms. Ravitch and others are sounding across the country and then think about what is going on in our own area right now.
  1. There was a major upheaval in our public school system in DeKalb County;
  2.  It was immediately followed by a push for new cities to form; and 
  3. There was an attempt to change the state constitution to allow new city school systems to be formed if they met certain criteria pertaining to how long they have actually existed as cities.
It seems pretty clear that the push for cities and city schools were linked to the failure of the larger system and an attempt to break away from it.  Making it even more clear was the fact that those pushing for the cities were the leaders in the community known to most for their involvement in the schools.  

For Lakeside, you have the former PTA President and School Council Leader who eventually pulled her own child out of Lakeside High School, yet still pushes for the city of Lakeside. So, it's not good enough for her own child, but it is good enough for you.

At Briarcliff  you have leaders who have homes immediately adjacent to Lakeside High School, convincing you that they are offering some sort of "different" solution to the city debate that they helped originate.  And, Briarcliff leadership is even on the E-SPLOST review board, although oddly they do not have their names listed in the original list of appointees.

For Tucker you will note the advocates for the city of Tucker are also leaders of the Tucker Parent Council, which has remained very quiet on the topic.  And, the advocates are all from the Livsey school district.  Livsey is an elementary school that is zoned for Tucker High but would be located inside the city of Lakeside if it is approved.  It also borders an entrance to Henderson Park, which is also included in the Lakeside City plan even though it has always been known as a "Tucker" park and is maintained by Tucker Civic leaders and other volunteers.

We know that Livsey parents were desperate to save their school from closure in 2011-12 when it was on the chopping block.  What we don't know is what they had to offer up in exchange in order to win that battle.  After all, it was a deal that was struck when the audacity of the now-removed school board was at its highest and they always played a behind the scenes, you scratch my back/I'll scratch yours type of game with parent and community groups.  To gain something favorable under the operation of the former board typically meant you would have to keep quiet about someone else's school or community being thrown under the bus.

In opposition to these groups is "Neighbors for Lakeside" which is also headed by someone who has been active with the Tucker Parent Council and in the Save Livsey fight.   We believe it was this group that submitted petition signatures to Sen. Fran Millar for use in his presentation to the House Governmental Affairs Committee.  It was later discovered that the petition signatures were obtained under false claims that signing would be the ONLY way that the resident would be able to cast a vote either FOR or AGAINST the city of Lakeside.  It was presented, however, as being all signatures of those in favor.

We know exactly what "Neighbors for Lakeside" did during the "Save Livsey" effort, because the leader, who was also a leader in the Tucker Parent Council, discussed it openly at a TPC meeting once.  She said she essentially sold her vote on the E-SPLOST because she was more inclined to vote no until she was promised a new roof for her school.  She then encouraged others to vote yes for the SPLOST tax as well, rather than refusing to vote for more money to go into the corrupt board's possession (which, by the way, is what we chose to do*).

Then, of course, there is "Save Tucker!" which is the group site you are reading right now.  We originated with parents who were upset about decisions being made in the school system that reportedly were being headed by a group calling themselves "Lakeside."  One big decision was that of the school board to put cell towers at schools to help with Lakeside's "dropped call" issues.

The DeKalb County School Board member who now represents the entire area covered by Lakeside and Tucker is Jim McMahan, a college drop out who made his living in the finance and mortgage broker business and who has been the PTA Representative for the "Lakeside Cluster."  He lists the Tucker Parent Council / Tucker Together / Tucker 2015's Michelle Penkava as his finance director in 2012.   He now sits on the CEO's task force for city formation and she is one of only three board members for the Tucker 2015 group, recently announced.  He also misses a lot of meetings.

She comes to many meetings, but often talks to those around her in a disruptive manner and does  not appear to pay much attention.  It's hard to imagine this person is the most caring or concerned voice we have.  It's easier to believe that most people are unaware of what has transpired and how they might be affected.  But, when they do find out, there will be a lot of upset people!  And, the newest member of the pro-city of Tucker team is also the current TPC secretary.  She banned us from the TPC Facebook page for asking when they were going to hold their elections.  

Why are all these pro-city folks ALSO involved with the school system?  And why are they denying the fact that the school system is their main "claim to fame" in the first place?  Are they turning their backs on their first set of responsibilities in favor of other positions that offer more power or have the potential to pay off in some way?   Don't they have enough on their hands already?We nearly lost accreditation and are not out of hot water with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, but here these school leaders are sticking their noses into new endeavors and completely forgetting about the kids and schools at perhaps the most critical time in our county's history?

Shouldn't the Parent Council leaders stop messing around with starting a city and try instead to focus on the biggest problem we have in DeKalb County right now - our failing school system?  Shouldn't they be warning others about the SACS comments which said that further divisions in our area would only harm the school children more than they are being harmed right now already? 

The racial divides, the economic divides, the geography divides.... never have these types of separations been proven as advantages for a community that must learn to live together and build each other up to a higher level.  Diversity can be a great strength when it is embraced and not feared.  The Lakeside City Alliance or Lakeside YES group is not working toward building a city that will include everyone.  They want to build a city that will grow their own investments by taking what is not theirs and shutting out those who disagree with them.  

When someone tries to steal from you, do you ask them to join you for dinner to negotiate an arrangement that will be mutually beneficial?  When someone lies about their intentions, do you look for ways to work together so that your reputation for integrity will be intertwined?  Of course not.  But that's what the city groups of Briarcliff and Tucker expect us to believe.  They want us to think they are standing up for us, the taxpayers, but they have to work together with Lakeside in order for everyone to win.  But, who wins, exactly?  Who profits from all this "work" they claim to be doing on our behalf?  

If you really believe that these cities have nothing to do with our schools, you're fooling yourself.  Don't let them take advantage of you.  Look again and get ready to vote for a new Governor in Georgia who wants to improve educational outcomes for all students.  If we want  a better  result in our own communities, we won't get it by bringing harm to those around us.  To be better means to behave better and lift those around you up with you on your journey to better days, not to step on their backs to get yourself there.

When the people with money hoard it all for themselves, they will leave the poor with no choice than to find a way to take it back.  Personally, I don't want to live in that DeKalb.  Let's hope it does not come to that at the end of all of this.

*Here  is an example of a different approach that could have been taken by Livsey/Tucker Parent Council leaders rather than choosing to encourage a yes vote in exchange for a promise of a new roof (which, to our knowledge, was never received):
 By the way, the "pro-SPLOST" comments in the above-referenced news story are from Marshall Orson, who is now a school board member.   He ran against the incumbent, Don McChesney, in the next election and won.   It should also be noted that the pro-SPLOST claims being made were false.  Orson believed, at the time, that voting yes would allow a "clean slate" opportunity for voters to gain all new board members.  That belief, as it turned out, was incorrect.  

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