None of the nine members on the DeKalb School Board has ever set a public budget and property tax rate before. But as the brand-new board began the process of public meetings to decide exactly how much the school system will levy and spend next year, questions about the board’s legal status remain unresolved.
The status of the former member from Dunwoody and Brookhaven, Nancy Jester, is uncertain. And then there is the matter of elections next year that might feature all or a few of the former board. In next year’s elections, the board will shrink to seven members, with two at-large seats eliminated.
Five of the six former board members suspended by Gov. Deal have re-applied for their positions on the school board, and former board chair Eugene Walker has also filed a lawsuit challenging the law that gave the governor the authority to remove them in the first place. Read more >>
Parents of Dunwoody public school students got an update Sunday from the group that is pursuing three potential paths to greater independence from the DeKalb County school system. One of them, they learned, has been delayed for a year.
Allegra Johnson, speaking for the effort to petition the school system for a charter cluster, said the failure of one school council to sign the letter of intent means no letter will be submitted this year by the eight schools envisioned in the cluster. The Vanderlyn school council raised questions that delayed the effort at the April 30 deadline.
Johnson and Pam Tallmadge said the Dunwoody schools will have another chance to submit a petition in February. In the meantime, the Druid Hills and Lakeside high school clusters have petitioned the school board and will be the test cases.
Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education is farther along in its quest to seek dual accreditation for Dunwoody High. The effort led by City Councilman Terry Nall has been stalled by the interim school superintendent Michael Thurmond.
”It shouldn’t be a political battle,” Nall said, “but unfortunately it is.”
Nall explained that accreditation for Dunwoody High is a safety net for unforeseen events. He said that while the head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has told the DeKalb board loss of accreditation is highly unlikely, the Georgia Supreme Court could overturn the law that cost six members of the DeKalb board their jobs (see related story page 1).
While SACS told Nall verbally and in a letter that it had no objection to high schools seeking dual accreditation, “the superintendent has not acted and is an unresponsive mode.”
Nall said board members representing Lakeside and Druid Hill are trying to pass a resolution for dual accreditation or declare it a formal board policy change, a maneuver that takes two months. The Georgia Accrediting Commission meets Sept. 8 and March 9, 2014.
The ultimate goal of the parents’ group is an independent Dunwoody school system. Robert Wittenstein spoke of progress on that front.
With the Dunwoody City Council agreeing to pay for a feasibility study, the parents’ group has solicited proposals and has chosen one from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation in partnership with Dr. Christine Reis, a professor of economics at Georgia Tech. A contract with the city and the parent group was to be signed this week.
Wittenstein emphasized that passing a constitutional amendment through the General Assembly with a two-thirds majority was a tough row to hoe. But a feasibility study ready by late fall would be a major step. If it passed the legislature, it would go to voters statewide in November, 2014.
Under repeated questioning, primarily from a Vanderlyn representative, Wittenstein summed up the group’s three-pronged approach.
“These are insurance policies for our students, one against the other.”
Town Hall Meeting
by Parents for Quality Education in Dunwoody
Dunwoody United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall
5 – 6 PM
- Get the latest info on accreditation, legislation for a city school system, and charter cluster school system option
- Sign up for working committees – let’s build a framework for quality education in Dunwoody
- Share your ideas for quality education solutions
Since February, community volunteers, public education advocates, Dunwoody City Council, state representatives, and Dunwoody School Councils have discussed ways to improve the quality of education in Dunwoody. Volunteers have gathered information about dual accreditation, charter clusters, initiatives by other high school clusters in DeKalb County, and the legislative process for creating a new school system, and other options.
During meetings with each School Council in Dunwoody, volunteers shared information about Charter Clusters, presented a Letter of Intent to petition DeKalb County to approve a Dunwoody Charter Cluster, and listened to School Council concerns.
This idea has moved very quickly. A May 1 deadline for the Letter of Intent and Fall deadline for the charter petition have driven a sense of urgency.Nonetheless, the charter cluster option is too important and complex to press forward without a community forum.
During a Town Hall meeting, let’s discuss the Charter Cluster option, the pros and cons of a Charter Cluster structure for Dunwoody schools, and the Letter of Intent.
1. Should Dunwoody school councils press forward with the Fall 2013 deadline?
2. Or should our community slow down, wait a year, to work more deliberately toward a Fall 2014 petition presentation?
3. How might the charter petition process provide structure to a possible City of Dunwoody school system?
We will also share updates of the dual accreditation option for Dunwoody High School, the feasibility study for a City of Dunwoody School System, and other information.
We are inviting representatives of each School Council to join the volunteer steering committee as we begin to build critical bridges among our elementary, middle, and high schools.
Sign-up forms will be available for volunteers to form working committees that will begin to define what a Dunwoody school cluster or system should be.
If you can’t attend the Town Hall meeting, let us know where you’d like to volunteer and any concerns or questions you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please join us.
The great news is that people in Dunwoody are deeply engaged in the issues affecting quality public education in our community. Dunwoody Talk, one of many local blogs, engaged in a discussion about the pros and cons of the charter cluster option, one of several considered in the community.
Knowledge is power. And getting up to date information about the various initiatives keeps us all in the loop. Here’s what DunwoodyParents.org had to say in response to posted questions and concerns (read the entire response by clicking the link below):
We are pursuing multiple avenues for Dunwoody educational independence. These are not separate groups with competing agendas. And, rather than sabotage each other, these two initiatives are actually complementary. Let us explain why.
Getting the legislature and the voters of Georgia to give us the opportunity to form our own school system is a long process with a very uncertain outcome. Our state reps have told us that this is a huge mountain to climb and that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in this basket. That said, we are fully committed to pushing forward with this as the ultimate goal.
It is worth noting that in the hearing on Representative Taylor’s constitutional amendment that took place in the House subcommittee on Education on March 20, one of the skeptical members of the House asked us why we hadn’t pursued a Charter Cluster designation and pointed out that state law already provided a mechanism for granting autonomy. Our chances of success in the House improve if we can point to attempts to avail ourselves of the avenues that already exist.
Those of us working on the Charter Cluster concept are agreed that the governance model must include a structure that has the Cluster non-profit corporation as the employer of the teachers and principals. We will not be satisfied with, or push for approval of, a Charter Cluster contract that does not give us true educational autonomy. We must have (as you put it) a checkbook. The Cluster needs to be able to hire educators, reward great ones, and remove lousy ones. The DeKalb teachers in Dunwoody will have a tough decision about whether or not to leave the County’s employment and accept jobs with the Cluster. We expect the good ones to welcome the change, which will be empowering and rewarding.
We don’t know if we can get five members of the new DeKalb Board of Education to give us this autonomy, but that is what we will ask for. If they say ‘no’, then we have an answer for the skeptics in the Legislature.
We need to make three other points. First, the community discussion and work that would be required to submit a petition to the County for a Charter Cluster is the exact same effort we would have to undertake to start our own school system. Getting community-wide work groups together to define what—and how—to teach in an autonomous Dunwoody must be done regardless of whether or not we are asking the County for a Charter Cluster or the Legislature and the State Board of Ed for an independent system. Everything we put into a Charter Petition is reusable when we get our own system.
Second, our current efforts to submit a Letter of Intent are entirely non-binding. We are not committing the community to anything, only trying to secure an opportunity for us to decide whether or not to pursue a Charter Cluster Petition. We will only go down the petition path if there is strong community support, but to get to that point, we need a Letter of Intent.
Allegra Johnson (President)
Robert Wittenstein (Steering Committee Representative)
Happening this week: DunwoodyParents.org is researching the dual accreditation option, reviewing Druid Hills’ charter cluster application, providing information to the group presenting a Dunwoody charter cluster option to School Councils in our community, and preparing a budget for communications and research.
Parents and teachers are working hard to support quality education in Dunwoody. And DunwoodyParents.org is staying on track to create a better public education environment for our community.
The quality of Dunwoody schools affects our students, taxes, economic development … everything that makes Dunwoody a wonderful place to live and work. What can we do to strengthen the quality of public education in our community? Stay engaged and connected with DunwoodyParents.org.