DeKalb school board is all business—just not business as usual

Notes from the first meeting of the new board

Even with routine agenda items, there was nothing routine about the first meeting of the new DeKalb County school board.

When Stephen Wilkins, the district’s chief operations officer, detailed a list of ten surplus properties he wanted to sell or lease, new board member John Coleman posed a question. Three of the properties had zero-dollar-a-month leases dating back to 1964 and 1972, he noted.

“I’m just wondering what the rationale was for that?” said Coleman, who has master’s degrees in business administration and public administration from Harvard University and works as strategic planning manager for Invesco, a global investment management company.

“I don’t know if we can go back that far to determine why that decision was made,” Wilkins responded.

“Zero dollars? That’s stupid!” Tucker parent Debra Carlson whispered to her husband, as they watched from the audience.

Later, the board drilled down on the renewal of a contract for copier services. Karen Carter, chair of the Business and Social Science departments at Georgia Perimeter College, asked about satisfaction surveys of the teachers and administrators who use the copiers. Joyce Morley, a new board member who has a PhD in counseling and works as a mediator, echoed that the board would want evidence of user feedback in the future.

“Much more business-like perspective. Not the same old thing,” Tom Carlson whispered to his wife.

Yes, it was a new day in DeKalb, as it appears that the people who applied for the job of school board member are more qualified than the folks who have previously been willing to run for office.

Even John Evans, president of the DeKalb NAACP, found a few good words for the new members. “It seems the board members are not shy,” he said after the meeting. “They’re going to ask some questions and make sure things happen right.”

But Evans is adamant that the proper way to remove and replace the old members is through the ballot box. He said the NAACP will ask the U.S. attorney general to look into whether the state law allowing the governor to remove board members violates the Voting Rights Act or is unconstitutional.

“It may wind up in the [U.S.] Supreme Court, but it’s worth it,” he said. “Blacks have fought too hard, died, for voting rights. We don’t intend to give them up.”

Meanwhile, the board voted 9-0 to stop paying legal fees in the court case that seeks to overturn the state law that allowed governor Nathan Deal to remove the old board members and select these new ones.