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A look back: DeKalb Year In Review
by LaTria Garnigan
December 24, 2012 10:39 AM | 2299 views | 1 1 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DeKalb Year In Review
DeKalb County Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson holds up a netbook during the State of the System Address in which she talked about how students learn digitally as opposed to using textbooks.
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DeKalb County has had its fair share of newsworthy events in 2012. From the incorporation of Brookhaven, to the school district being placed on probation — there has been no shortage of news. Below are a few of the highlights.

On the Hot Seat
After an audit showed the DeKalb County School District with issues of in fighting among board members, being top-heavy and mismanagement of funds, the district made strides to improve their standing. However, in October AdvancEd — parent organization of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools — sent a team to visit the school system to conduct an analysis. That visit resulted in the system being placed on accredited-probation until Dec. 31, 2013. In a statement, the school district said it would work collaboratively to review the findings and begin to address the required actions.

Loss in Revenue
With the incorporation passing with 55 percent of the vote July 31, DeKalb County soon after realized it needed to make up a projected $25 million loss in taxes. While Brookhaven residents are content about more local control, the county is searching for ways to make up for that loss. DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis’ projected 2013 budget would call for an increase in the property tax rate of 1.69 mills and possibly refinancing debt. The commissioners are expected to vote on the budget in February.

City of DeKalb
Another sidebar related to the incorporation of Brookhaven is the revitalization of talks on a possible city of DeKalb. District 55 State Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, spearheaded a senate committee to discuss the issue. Several meetings were held in the fall, with a representative from the Carl Vinson Institute saying a city of DeKalb would not only prevent new cities from incorporating, but also would restrict new cities from expanding via annexation.

State of the Schools
At her Dec. 3 State of the School System address, DeKalb Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson explained the school district’s plans to go digital in 2013. As part of that plan, more than 8,200 middle school students would transition from using textbooks to using Lenovo netbooks next school year. By the fall of 2014, the plan is to have all middle and high school students fully transitioned. Teachers will also get laptops, and there are plans to have 100 percent of the facilities wireless by next fall.
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December 25, 2012
You forgot a couple major items in your year in review: In July, DeKalb County became the first voting district in the nation to have a question added to an official ballot that asked voters their opinion about telecommunications towers (aka cell phone towers) on school grounds.

Lobbyists prevented an outright ban and instead agreed to the non-binding, advisory referendum, expecting it to fail. However, true grassroots efforts spread by parents, homeowners and concerned citizens mainly through word of mouth yielded a victory against the big money of T-mobile, perhaps foreshadowing the defeat of Mitt Romney for President in November. 62% of DeKalb's voters (more than 75,000 people) voted NO to the cell towers while calling attention to the inept decision-making of the county Board of Education.

Also in July DeKalb voters helped defeat T-SPLOST, a referendum to add a one cent sales tax to support transportation infrastructure and mass transit.

November's election was chaos for many with voter suppression laws taking effect and confusion over zoning maps that would reduce the BOE from 9 to 7 members. Few choices unrelated to the current system were available, yet voters still managed to throw out three of the four incumbents up for re-election to the BOE, including long-time political lobbyist and former school board member H. Paul Womack.

November also marked the passing of controversial legislation that allows the Governor to establish a state charter school approval board to approve applications that might be against the wishes of locally elected board members. Millions in out of state dollars were spent in an attempt to persuade the public into voting yes, while questionable wording on the ballot has the fate of the commission tied up in a legal battle.

And, Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, DeKalb School's Superintendent, retained a former state attorney general as her own personal legal council to represent her against charges that she illegally RIFed employees and then offered a few their jobs back in order to avoid complying with an Open Records Request for her text messages.

Georgia was also named the worst state for corruption while legislators stalled on a bill that would limit their political gifts to under $100.

In the SACS report to the school system regarding the Probation status of DCSD, it was stated that the school system and board of education is operating amid a "culture of corruption" where the decision makers operate based on the needs of adults and rarely focus on the needs of the children. A culture that took many hands and many years to create will be difficult to change in the year it has been given, especially since the board chair and others involved state they do not think they have done anything wrong.
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