By: Jim Redovian Writer for Georgia Weekly Post
The DeKalb County School system has a very storied and long history. Considered one of the Nations best in the sixties and a model to be followed, to a troubled, inefficient giant, facing inefficient management, indicted chief administrators, probation of accredidation and low student success today.
Why has this happened, and what can be done to change the direction?
The first question is much easier to answer, than the latter.
Let's take it one question at a time.
In the early forties and early fifties the Legislature in Georgia felt that
it would be beneficial for school systems in Georgia to be governed by its Counties rather than local and city control. The thought was as the Counties grew they could benefit by the consolidation of local schools to achieve the economics of efficiency created by such consolidation.
The Constitution was change to allow only for County Systems.
The city systems that were already established were grandfathered from this legislation and were able to keep their city system status.
Somewhere around 20 such systems exist, notably in Atlanta area, Marietta, Atlanta, and Decatur.
It worked well for many years, however, no one foresaw that systems like DeKalb would grow from 6,000 students to 100,000 students as it has today. If you look around our state today you will find the most successful systems are in the 6,000 to 30,000 range. The answer to these problems lie between these numbers.
Georgia's urban systems have become just too large and complicated to be managed effectively. Numbers alone make it a gargantuan task, but throw in that the system covers 25 square miles of real estate, 22 high schools, with a total of over two hundred school buildings. and a cultural and economic diversity second to none in the country.
Although Cobb County and Gwinnett have more students than DeKalb, they have less schools and their diversity has not yet caught up to the likes of DeKalb, Atlanta and Fulton County. To be able to handle such a task, fueled by the regulations from the State and Federal Governments, the bureaucracy continues to grow and grow. Funds needed to teach and educate students are eroded by expenses to comply. Administration gets farther and farther away from the stakeholders, and ability for the stakeholders to have input becomes more and more difficult.
Most people in the central office are qualified and capable of doing a great job, however, the system by its nature does not allow them the freedom to use their skills.
In the past 8 years funding has become a major factor in developing budget woes. When I was elected to the school board in 2008, 60% of our funding came from the state which covered most of the general education cost. The other 40% came from local funds raised through local taxing on real estate. This money was used to supplement the State funds to add the extras the people DeKalb wanted for their students. When I left office in 2012, 40% was coming from the State and 60% from local funds, which has dramatically changed the quality of DeKalb Schools.
Another problem which drastically affected funding in DeKalb was the twenty plus years DeKalb had court required bussing. Although the county was required to follow the court orders, they were not given a revenue stream to fund the order. Funding came out of the general budget, and eliminated any Capital improvements except for those that were immediately necessary, putting us years behind in facilities.
I think it is time that our Legislature takes a close look at the burden that the county system is putting on or school systems. So many areas of our county have different needs and problems to address, and they are so diverse it is impossible to bunch them altogether under one umbrella.
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