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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Zero. Nada. Not Going to Happen.

Schools and the City of Tucker, Part II

Much of the interest in forming a new city is focused on the idea that a new city, or group of cities, could form a new, independent school district, wholly separate from the DeKalb County School District (DCSD).  It has been routinely and repeatedly stated by all the new city advocates that, under current law, there is absolutely no possibility of that happening.  To rephrase that, the new cities will have absolutely no effect upon the how the schools are managed, how attendance lines are drawn or how DCSD chooses to use its resources.

Zero. Nada.  Not going to happen.

So, if anyone’s interest in supporting the formation of a new city is mainly because of their hope that this could make a major difference in the local schools, they need to look elsewhere.  This thought has surfaced so many times, and has been so thoroughly discounted at every opportunity, it is difficult to understand why this issue will simply not go away.

Cluster Charter – Autonomy and Flexibility.

That doesn’t mean there are no other options. The one option available today is the Cluster Charter. The . . .
General Assembly enacted this approach to local control as of July 1, 2010.  Senate Bill 457 can be found here. The intent of the law is to allow a single high school and all the elementary and middle schools that feed into that high school to file one petition so as, together, they can convert to a cluster of charter schools.  That single cluster would contract with DCSD as a unified group, and all the member schools would be governed by an autonomous non-profit board of directors.  In the process, they would become relatively autonomous and have flexibility, in the form of waivers, from certain state and local rules and regulations in exchange for a higher level of accountability.  Charter cluster schools can use this flexibility to implement programs designed to provide innovative options to students and parents not normally found in the traditional public school.  Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition.  They will have open enrollment and no admissions requirements.  The organizing charter will define a particular attendance area for all member schools, and a public lottery will be held if there are any open seats.

Both the Dunwoody and the Druid Hills High School clusters are actively pursuing becoming cluster charters.  Druid Hills has made considerable progress already; their web site can be found here.    An informative FAQ and information sheet for clusters can be found here.

But Can a City Make a Difference With Our Schools?

Our new City may be precluded from forming its own independent school district, but that shouldn’t mean we can’t do anything at all.  I have to believe that a proactive City, committed to serving all its citizens, including our children, must have the right, perhaps the responsibility, to be very active in the life of our schools.  I can think of any number of ways for that to happen:

  • Create a City of Tucker Office of School Affairs, tasked with working with DCSD, our local school principals, teachers, parents and students to improve each of our schools
  • To encourage our local school administrators, teachers, parents and students to form a Charter Cluster of Tucker schools, and to provide financial and technical support to the Cluster board of directors
  • Provide college scholarships for deserving students, resident in the City
  • Provide additional financial resources to our teachers, in the form of pens, paper, books, copy machines, etc. to allow them to be more effective in their teaching
  • Provide a free, tutoring program in all our schools
  • Provide additional security at our schools, to control illegal drugs, weapons, awol students and strangers who do not need to be in the school
  • Promote and finance visiting lectures and good citizens’ presentations to teach our children about drugs, smoking, bullying, pre-marital sex and good citizenship
  • Help our most needy families financially, to help pay for supplies, fees and the per student cost for classroom fieldtrips
  • We can bring back the Tucker High School Homecoming parade down Main Street
  • We can bring our students into City Hall to see effective local government in action
  • We will allow certain select students leaders and teachers to be on a Citizens Advisory Committee, along with other Tucker residents, to review and complement the process of city government
  • We can provide for and finance a Youth Development Sports Program in our improved local parks to encourage athletic involvement at an early age, and prepare them for athletic competition at the high school level 
  • Perhaps eventually build a civic center and recreation facility, to include a city football stadium, natatorium and tennis facilities that can be made available to Tucker students for practice, competition and development.

Simply put, we can have a City of Tucker that cares about each and every one of our children, a City which will make our children our highest priority.

The Dunwoody Constitutional Amendment

Dunwoody leaders have convinced their local legislators to begin the process of enacting a Constitutional Amendment to the Georgia State Constitution that would allow the formation of local, city managed school districts.  House Resolution 486, filed by Rep. Tom Taylor (R), Dunwoody, and Rep. Mike Jacobs (R), Brookhaven, among others, calls for:

     Proposing an amendment to the Constitution so as to authorize any municipality created
     on or after January 1, 2005, and any municipality which is contiguous to a municipality
     created on or after January 1, 2005, irrespective of whether such municipalities may be in
     different counties, to establish individually or collectively by local law an independent
     school system; to provide for related matters; to provide for the submission of this amendment
     for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it.  Short, sweet and simple.  Makes perfect sense.  A no brainer.  No one could possibly object.  But wait.  No one is taking it seriously.  That’s right, the chances for this Amendment, let’s call it the Dunwoody Amendment (DA), to ever be enacted are practically nil.

Zero. Nada. Not going to happen.

Why, you ask?  Well, first of all, when the resolution was filed, nothing happened.  It wasn’t assigned to committee, there were no hearings, no speeches, no grandstanding, just silence.  It went over like a lead balloon.  If nothing else, it was an empty gesture by a few (not all!) North Metro Republicans pandering to their voter base.

So, let’s take a look at the process, to see what the chances of passage might actually be.

The first step, the easiest, has already happened.  A legislator filed a bill, or in this case, a resolution, calling for the Dunwoody Amendment to be enacted.  It now has to make its way through both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Once the resolution goes to committee, it’s going to be modified and rewritten.  Maybe rewritten beyond recognition.  Some representatives, who actually understand the DA’s chances of ever being passed, will try to do us all a favor and kill it in committee.  If it makes it out of committee, it has to be passed by the entire House.  Then it goes over to the Senate, and the process starts all over again.  Although the Republicans dominate the General Assembly, I don’t think it’s a given that all Republican will be supportive, particularly those Republicans outside of the metro area.  I DO think it’s a given that all Democrats will oppose the resolution.  So it will only take a handful of Republicans to vote against the resolution for it to fail.  Remember, a Constitutional Amendment requires a two/thirds vote for approval in both the House and Senate.  I think the chances of it ever being approved by the General Assembly are remote.

Let’s assume it is passed by the General Assembly.  At that point it would be placed on the ballot statewide for voter approval.  It does not require the Governor’s approval; the Governor cannot veto the resolution.  However, the Governor can control the language used when the Amendment is placed on the ballot.  This is actually a big deal, as the language used could be so convoluted that an uninformed voter may not actually understand what he may be voting on.  It’s been done before.  It can even be written in such a way that a NO vote would actually mean approval, and a YES vote would be against the measure.  Stranger things have happened.

So, at this point, the entire State must vote to approve the DA.  That’s not a given and will actually prove to be a formidable challenge.  The rest of the state outside of the metro area has no love for anything Atlanta centered.  If it’s only going to help Atlanta, they might just be inclined to vote against it for that reason alone.  Add to that the fact that every county government, every city government (save Dunwoody and friends), and every school board across the state will be against the DA.  Every one of them.  This is a Pandora’s box no one else in the state wants to open.  It does no one any favors.  All of the political forces outside of north DeKalb and north Fulton will be against the measure.  Every local newspaper across the state will be against the measure.  Dunwoody, and maybe the other north Fulton cities (keep in mind that north Fulton’s eggs are all in the Milton County basket), will have to finance a statewide campaign all by themselves.  And, outside of the metro area, who in their right mind will want to ally with them?  No one.  Dunwoody won’t even win the DeKalb County vote.  The odds of it passing statewide are less than zero
Zero.  Nada.  Not going to happen.

If it even gets that far.  Many will argue that this is a racially motivated, desperate act on the part of the white, wealthy over-entitled residents of Dunwoody , north DeKalb and north Fulton.  They may be right.  DA supporters will certainly deny that is their motivation, and they will be sincere in that position.  They may be right.  The problem is that if it sounds like a duck, walks like a duck and looks like a duck, then it’s a duck.  The racial dynamics in play simply cannot be denied.  South DeKalb residents, their representatives and the NAACP will mount a massive, maybe nationwide, campaign against the measure.  At some point, the Federal Department of Justice will review the measure for compliance with the Voting Rights statutes.

And it will fail.

Zero.  Nada.  Not going to happen.

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