DeKalb NAACP rep challenges DeKalb Board of Education to improve school quality

DeKalb County School District Administration and Instructional Complex on Mtn. Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse

DeKalb County, GA — At the most recent meeting of the DeKalb County Board of Education on May 17, Lance Hammonds, who is the first vice chair of the DeKalb NAACP, spoke during public comment.

He told the School Board he is seeing families with school age children choose neighboring counties such as Gwinnett rather than move to DeKalb County. Hammonds, who is also a realtor, stated that the comparative report on school quality provided by the state of Georgia is affecting those choices. Relatively high quality ratings boost property values which in turn bring new business into the area. Conversely, poorer ratings have a depressing effect on property values.

“I do not believe it properly reflects the hard work and dedication of our teachers and staff, but this is the information that the state of Georgia posts on their website regarding the quality of our schools,” said Hammonds.

Hammonds acknowledges that some factors affecting student achievement, such as the number of families living in poverty and the student turnover rate which is also linked to economic stress, are not under the board’s control. He stated that the NAACP would continue to work with government officials on all levels to address those problems through attracting good jobs to the area.

Hammonds suggested that there were several things that the board does have the power to do, such as halving class sizes in the schools identified as most at risk and improve community engagement.

“We’re with you on this. Let us help,” said Hammonds.

Also during public comment, several parents asked for virtual options for their students next fall, due to uncertainty about when younger children will be eligible for vaccinations. Wendy Hamilton said that she preferred a fully virtual class rather than hybrid classes which had proven challenging.

“While my husband and I are vaccinated, my daughter is not. Because of that and her health problems, she needs a virtual option for next year. It will hopefully not be for the entire year, because when she is eligible she will be getting a vaccine and getting back in school as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Hamilton.

The board voted to hire a parliamentarian to consult when the board found it necessary.  Dr. Joyce Morley objected, saying that she had not been informed of this and other decisions in a timely manner.

The board approved a tentative budget for Fiscal Year 2022, presented by Chief Financial Officer Charles Burbridge. The budget preserves step increases in salaries and includes an expansion of instruction, maintenance, and student services budgets. The projected budget is $1.163 billion, while projected revenues are $1.143 million. $20 million will be drawn from reserves, leaving the reserve fund balance at $110 million.

Board member Marshall Orson pointed out that based on current Quality Basic Education formulas DeKalb is expected to contribute $150 million in tax revenue to the state while the district has a significant portion of students under the poverty level. He suggested that the board work with state legislators to examine the way those calculations are made and make alterations to the policy.

Interim Chief Human Resources Officer Dr. Michelle Jones reported that the district currently has a total of 211 job vacancies, after 61 recent separations at the end of the school year and 41 new hires.  This puts the district on par with other large metro districts such as Gwinnett County School District and Atlanta Public Schools.

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