I got an e-mail recently from Lee May’s office concerning the lack of rail service into South DeKalb. What was nice to see was his lack of enthusiasm for an additional penny to fund transportation improvements in the metro. Here are a few excerpts. Though he has not come out against it, it seems the tone of this e-mail suggests that we should take a long, hard critical look at what is being asked of us versus what we are getting in return.
First his argument against “Bus Centers”
It is also noted that one of the residents, though disappointed about the rail projects not being funded was quoted as saying “…I think it would have been much more beneficial than premium bus service because it’s already harder to provide an incentive to get people on a bus than it is with a rail line.” This has been one of the many reason for supporting funding for the I-20 East Rail project. Bus service, albeit, bus rapid transit service, is still buses —- which equates to still sitting in traffic.
The promise of rail decades ago
Proponents of the project list will say that DeKalb residents are getting $1.6 Billion from the total $6 Billion allocated for the region. On the surface this might sound like a great deal: for a mere additional one cent tax you get $1.6 Billion in roadway projects (minus the $700M for the Clifton Corridor project) — but no rail. You will receive Bike/Pedestrian improvements. But no Rail. And you will receive bus rapid transit — but again, no rail. Over thirty years ago, an agreement was made with the taxpayers of DeKalb and that agreement was in short, “pay the one percent sales tax and rail will be constructed throughout DeKalb.” Thus far no new rail projects in 20+ years have been constructed in Central and South DeKalb — Central and South DeKalb have been left alongside the road.
His question to residents
Review the list. Yes, there are roadway improvement projects in Central and South DeKalb but the crux of the issue is: does Central and South DeKalb continue to pay a one percent tax and not get rail?
Road improvement projects, in effect, are road widening projects and intersection improvements are to accommodate more traffic. South and Central DeKalb will have great roads that will continue to be clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic. South and Central DeKalb will not be in a position to get people out of their cars and on to rail for another 40 years
These seem like reasonable grievances to me. Buses must be complimented by other forms of transportation including light or heavy rail. Buses are at the mercy of traffic conditions like any other road vehicle. Unless the buses have an exclusive right of way that no other traffic can enter into, then it is not a solution. I don’t need to speak about the promise of rail. If rail (light or heavy) goes out into Cobb or Gwinnett, we are truly being shafted. And to me that what this penny boils down to. Are we getting our money’s worth?
See the full text here of the May’s mailer
Why am I not surprised by this? This was DOA and anyone with half a brain knew it. No one on that roundtable was interested in helping marginal folks in South DeKalb. Whats worse is that the member we had who was suppose to look out for our interest caved. CEO Ellis made a bold statement wanting to yank funding from the GA400/I285 area, but I bet he knew that was going nowhere and can hide behind the fact that he did offer up an alternative. It pisses me off that I have to live North of the Stone Mountain Freeway to get decent schools, decent roads, clean streets and transportation alternatives. We are a marginalized people who are being asked to give 1 cent of every dollar spent here to citizens in Cobb who don’t even want rail and have historically been downright hostile to it. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is just redistribution in the other direction. Take our tax dollars and spend them on projects that people don’t want just because they can. If they rely on my vote to help pass it, then we all we be stuck in 20th century transportation options.
I must commend Commissioner Larry Johnson. He has taken the rail for South DeKalb issue and brought it front and center. The AJC which tends to only report about crime, corruption and the horrible schools in South DeKalb has had no less than three stories in the last month or so that talks directly about the rail issue in South DeKalb.( here, here and here) I think this is a testament to the power that South DeKalb wields in the upcoming vote for a penny sales tax to cover various transportation projects around the metro. It is a common belief that without Atlanta, Fulton and Dekalb this thing is dead on arrival. If South DeKalb feels it is getting slighted in all of this, which would not be surprising, then you might see a backlash with few voters willing to pay an additional penny on top of the one we already pay. For many of us in South DeKalb, it is a slap in the face to ask us to pay another penny in sales tax only to see other areas get transportation options and we remain gridlocked with 20th century options. I have previously written in support of the 1 cent, mainly because it was my belief that transit options would come to South DeKalb. Now I have become a fence sitter. I still believe the penny will help push transportation options for hundreds of thousands of residents all over metro Atlanta, but what disturbs me is that of those hundreds of thousands, few will live near or south of I-20. I fear that my lack of political influence and lack of money will ultimately have me paying an extra cent for goods and services and that money will go straight to Cobb or Gwinnett or one of the other far flung areas that do not have any of my interests at heart.
With all of that said, I must respectfully disagree with how some want to fund a rail line to South DeKalb. CEO Burrell Ellis, who sits on the roundtable that will decide the fate of rail in South DeKlab, wants to yank money from a GA 400 project. That idea won’t fly. GA 400 is a main artery between the wealthy and powerful North Fulton suburbs and the city of Atlanta. Polticians and business leaders who saturate that area will never allow that to happen. And a proposal by Lee May to strip some funding from the Clifton Corridor line is less likely to happen though it is more feasible than the GA 400 idea. I don’t like this idea because it would hurt residents throughout DeKalb. A third option floated by Decatur mayor and roundtable member Bill Floyd is to make the Clifton rail and South DeKalb rail one big project. This is less likely to happen given the price tag, but it has merits. If the Clifton segment is built to hook into the Avoondale station, and the blues line is extendided to Wesley Chapel, you would not have to travel all the way downtown to go to Sandy Springs or Dunwoody. That would make the Wesley Chapel idea much more attractive than one that only sends you to downtown.
So where does that leave South DeKalb? Well I think it leaves us in a sticky situation. If we vote for the tax without rail to South DeKalb it is highly likely that South DeKalb will be paying for improvements in transportation that will not directly improve our transit options. In fact we could be one of only a handful of geographic regions in the 10 county area to get little or no improvements for the 1 cent sales tax. On the other hand, I fear that if the referendum fails not only will we not get anything now or in the future, those areas that are clamoring for road inprovements and wider freeways will eventually get what they want through some other means. It’s the old classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The only win for South DeKalb would be a sales tax approved and a rail line.
A young family member of mine was visiting us after school recently. When I came home, my wife was working with my son on writing his name and coloring inside the lines. I asked the young family member if he had done his home work and he said he had. So I proceeded to ask him a question; convert the fraction one-fifth to a decimal. Now, I have been asking the young people in my family and my wife’s family that same question for more than a decade. And during that time few if any have been able to answer the question without some guidance. What is distressing is that I ask them at a time in their educational development where they should know the answer, as well as know how they arrived at the answer. So I have to ask the question; how is it that an 8th grader in middle school cannot convert a fraction to a decimal and vice versa? And when I say he could not do it, I don’t mean he attempted to work through the steps and came up with a bad answer, he actually had no clue how to tackle the problem. How do you get to the eighth grade and not know basic math concepts. There is something wrong with that. If a student cannot do basic math how is it possible for him or her to understand complex mathematical operations later in their education. He is behind, an will likely never catch up. When I look at the CRCT scores for schools, I tend to zero in on the math. If you look at math scores they generally get worse across the board starting around the fourth grade and never rebound. I know there tends to be a general dislike of math in our society, but math is the driving force behind so many, if not all, of the advancements we enjoy today. Things as widely available as the internet in its foundation is based on mathematical concepts. Software that run the myriad of sites we spend hours at a time on are based in large part on mathematic principles. It is disturbing for me when I see middle and high school kids unable to solve basic math problems. This problem should be a concern for parents as well as presidents. The educational morass that our children are in cannot bode well for our country’s future.
On my trip home from work recently, I overheard a conversation that involved about five twenty-something’s. The conversation involved an EBT card(food stamps for those who don’t know) and the fact that the cardholder was having some issues using it recently. She was obviously upset, and she should have been. after all, from my perspective, she could not purchase food for herself nor anyone she was responsible for. But it was a statement she made later that upset me. She went on to say that she “earned’ her “stamps” and “how could they “screw her —- up”. the others around her, another young lady and three guys all lamented her situation and echoed her belief that she had earned her “stamps”. How could “they” do this to me. One guy even chimed in that he had recently experienced issues with his card. All of this sent my head a spinning. How does one “earn” an EBT card? I always thought “they” gave you an EBT card. After a few moments digesting what she had said, my thoughts turned to frustration. How dare she say she earned her card considering it was our tax dollars that provided the funds for the card. Then that thought went away quickly as I realized my frustration should be directed at the system that allows such attitudes to perpetuate themselves. I started to think about not what she said specifically, but what her statement meant for us as a society as a whole. What I gleaned from this group of young people was that they felt they were entitled to that card. They felt that just being alive entitled them to have that EBT card so they do not have to spend any money on a basic necessity. By the time I got to my stop, I had come to the same conclusion that many others before me had; we are producing a society of men and women, and by extension children, who feel they are entitled to things. Nothing has to be earned, but it should be given. It has become a popular notion that just being born entitles you to food, housing, insurance, and even a diploma. All at no cost to the individual. The prevailing belief among a large number of people is that you should not have to work to pay for food and shelter, and other necessities. When you work you should be able to use that money for leisure activities, or so it is believed. No need to study hard, because they are going to have to let me walk across that stage, because I was born and I have a right to walk across that stage whether I met the requirements to walk or not. Why should I take care of my children when the schools and the state can do it for me. By the time all my thoughts had finished swirling around in my head, I settled back and realized that what is wrong with South DeKalb and with our society in general is that we have become a nation that feels entitled to things as oppose to working for them. It is obvious from our schools to the streets to our prisons. Successful individuals do not feel entitled to anything. They work hard and reap the rewards of that hard work. It transcends social standing, economic status and racial identification. It is a learned behavior and until many of us unlearn that entitlement mentality we are surely never going to be successful at anything.
The short answer is no. The more in-depth answer is we do not know. I have poured over the available data of her district in Ohio, and what I saw was not surprising. An urban, poor school district struggling to teach its kids. This is not an anomaly. There are issues like poverty and race that cannot be solved by superintendents. Those are societal issues that filter down and affect many levels of our society. As outsiders we are looking at data and trying to determine what our outcome may be based strictly on test scores from a district that we have no intimate knowledge of. No administrator is a miracle worker. All they can do is put in policies and procedures that foster a healthy environment that will eventually produce success. Lets face it, minority districts with large numbers of students living in poverty take time and resources. No one should expect her to turn around her district in four years, and they should not expect it here either. In all professions, be it school systems, private companies, or even sports organizations, decisions based on who to hire is much more complex than raw data. We need to judge this candidate as a whole and not via pieces and parts based solely on numbers. What concerns me more than the test scores of the students in her district, is the fact that she has moved around a lot. That makes me wonder if she will stay committed to DeKalb for the long-term, say a decade or so. If she could stay committed and turn around the system without cheating like what happened at APS, then she will be able to write her own ticket. I am not going to let test scores be the primary reason for not accepting her as superintendent. We do not have to settle, but we do need to move forward. I am sure there are better candidates out there, but who can say that those candidates want to be here. Time is running out a decision needs to made real soon. Unless something shockingly gross comes out, I would be willing to give her a chance. That’s just one mans opinion though.
On another related note, I am not hearing much from my brethren down here in South DeKalb. Whether you agree with the boards choice on this or not, you should let your voice be heard. It’s pointless to cry after the fact. And please attend the meet and greet.
School started this week, and I have resisted writing about my experience taking my son to his first day of Pre-K at R. McNair DLA. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised but that’s all I will say. I want to wait and see how things go for the first few weeks before I formulate an opinion of the school. So with that said, the folks at the DeKalb School Watch blog have posted a poll wanting to know how parents feel about the school system. I have added my input and I hope you would do the same. Those guys over there really have their act together, and I bet the info they get from that poll will show up at a board meeting one day. here is the link to the post.
And here is a direct link to the poll