Home > Education > School board blast from the recent past.

School board blast from the recent past.

September 27, 2010

Doing some research about the DeKalb school board and came across this recap of and endorsements in the 2006 elections from the AJC.  It seems that nepotism, questions surrounding spending, and an out of touch board has been standard for years now.  The trend here is  actually worrisome, because it makes you wonder if dumping the present members will make much of a difference. Reading these excerpts showed me how little has changed in four years.I remember asking a friend years ago why would anyone want to run for public office. His response was “ego, thats what drives them”. I hope he is wrong. I thought this would make for good reading. Enjoy.

This from 11/16/2006

District 1 incumbent Chip Franzoni did not seek re-election. so in stepped Jim Redovian, a Dunwoody resident who ran unopposed for this north DeKalb seat.

Another fresh face arrives in January in the form of Tom Bowen, who beat fellow challenger David Anderson for the District 6 seat in Stone Mountain.

While Anderson, ex-husband of board Chairwoman Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn, did not present much of a platform, voters apparently bought Bowen’s pitch that his experience as an attorney and certified public accountant would help the board.

By that same token, however, voters stuck by members who have been around for years….

District 7’s Zepora Roberts, who also sits on the executive board of the DeKalb NAACP, comfortably earned a second four-year term in this central DeKalb seat over challenger Sandra Gistarb.

But the biggest surprise came in District 3, with the most academically challenged schools in the county.

Eight-year incumber Sarah Copelin-Wood, facing three challengers in a race expected to head to a runoff, garnered enough votes to win the race outright.

“I hope the interest [in improving schools] continues, ” she had said before the vote. Now she gets four more years to encourage just that.

Finally, in a race that will decide whether the board gets a third fresh face, 16-year incumbent Frances Edwards faces challenger Jay Cunningham in a runoff for the District 5 seat. The outcome of the Dec. 5 race will largely depend on who mobilizes the most supporters to actually get to the polls, since this will be the only local race on the ballot.

Here are the endoresments made by the AJC from 10/31/2006

In their combined half-century on the DeKalb County school board, Frances Edwards, Elizabeth Andrews and Sarah Copelin-Wood have watched the system decline.

Most recently, board members botched the hiring and firing of Superintendent Johnny Brown, whom they had to pay $410,000 to go away. Charges of meddling and patronage by board members have also contributed to public mistrust. An audit of the $500 million SPLOST-funded school construction program found that neither the school system nor its management firm did its job thoroughly, leading to delays and likely overpayments.

It’s time for a change, especially as the financially strapped system looks ahead to a controversial redistricting, school consolidations and a campaign to persuade voters to embrace a third sales-tax initiative.

Six seats on the nine-seat, nonpartisan board are up for election, but only five are being contested.

In District 3, three candidates are challenging Copelin-Wood, who has been on the board for eight years. The most promising is Hayward Lamar Jr., who offers some management experience. As an involved Cedar Grove High School parent, Lamar has questioned the school system on standards and grade inflation and was on the task force to evaluate block scheduling.

In District 5, two motivated parents — Jesse “Jay” Cunningham and Wendell D. Muhammad — are challenging Edwards. Cunningham offers a peerless record of school involvement, including service as a PTSA president and on several school councils.

A restaurant owner, Cunningham is plain-speaking and direct and spends a lot of time in the schools. He reflects the impatience of many of his neighbors in south DeKalb over the failure to keep pace with growth and calls for better communication between the school board and County Commission.

In District 6, attorney and certified public accountant Thomas Eugene Bowen brings invaluable expertise in law and taxes. Bowen also chairs the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which oversees the HOPE scholarship.

His opponent, David Anderson, is the ex-husband of school board chairwoman Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn. Two years ago, Anderson ran against his ex-wife in a messy campaign that degenerated into a soap opera, and District 6 voters ought to worry about whether their stormy personal history would undermine his effectiveness.

In District 7, voters ought to back one-term incumbent Zepora W. Roberts, who has demonstrated independence in her thinking and her votes. Her opponent, Sandra Gistarb, simply doesn’t make a strong argument to dump Roberts.

In District 9, Andrews has seen county schools change dramatically in her 28 years as a board member, but it’s not clear that she has changed with those times. She has a viable opponent in Colet Odenigbo, who quit his job as a juvenile court probation officer to run for the board.

A 14-year Navy veteran, Odenigbo wants to focus on keeping children out of juvenile court and in school, and he has the background to shape effective programs to do so.

Finally a piece with candidate bios and experience dated 10/26/2006

DeKalb County school board races this year feature 14 candidates vying for six seats on a nine-member board. Come January, newcomers could outnumber veterans on a board facing some of the biggest changes proposed for the 102,000-student system in decades.

As Superintendent Crawford Lewis readies those proposals, which include systemwide redistricting and a third sales-tax-funded construction program, all four incumbents running for re-election — including one in office for nearly three decades — face opposition.

The incumbents all tout their experience as a bonus. The challengers’ theme? Out with the old, in with the new. Most come from a reinvigorated south DeKalb, where crowded schools and construction needs spur parents to speak out at board meetings nearly every month. A local community group promoting the ouster of board members and the superintendent has endorsed challengers in four of the board races.

DeKalb as an urban school system has some of the best and worst schools in the state, a dichotomy it has struggled with for years. However, most onlookers point to the ouster of Superintendent Johnny Brown in 2004 as a catalyst for this year’s election interest.

In the two years since, an independent audit criticized both the school system and the management firm it contracted with for problems in the system’s school construction program, including delays and probable overpayments for work.

The system is still stinging from the hiring of a human resources director who was then found to have a criminal history. It also recently agreed to repay the state teacher retirement system more than $280,000 because six retired educators over the last two years worked more hours than legally allowed.

A breakdown of each race follows. The election is Nov. 7.

District 1

Two words: Jim Redovian. With incumbent Chip Franzoni deciding to move on, Dunwoody resident Redovian is the only person in this north DeKalb district to throw a hat into the ring.

District 3

Eight-year incumbent Sarah Copelin-Wood faces three challengers — Ann Brown, Hayward Lamar Jr. and Jonnathon Mason — in a race expected to lead to a runoff. District 3 in south-central DeKalb is the county’s most challenged. None of its middle or high schools met federally required academic goals last school year, although the problems have as much to do with poverty and social inequity as with learning.

Copelin-Wood probably will be helped by her longtime community activism, although she has angered parents over her handling of construction issues such as the new Leslie J. Steele campus as well as for what some consider her micromanagement of school staff. But her challengers say she’s no longer accessible to the community.

“It doesn’t seem like [area schools] are getting the attention they need, ” said Lamar, a father of three DeKalb graduates who was an unsuccessful board candidate in 2002. Mason, a DeKalb graduate and a student at a local Bible college, said people are “tired of seeing slow progress.” Brown, a grandmother active in community issues, substitute teaches in local schools and said all three challengers have a similar theme: “the failing schools.”

None of the four candidates boasts a bachelor’s degree. Lamar has been endorsed by Our Kids, Our Schools, Good Government — Georgia, the local anti-board group spearheaded by organizer and activist Harry Ross.

District 5

The southern corner of DeKalb represented by 16-year incumbent Frances Edwards is home to some of DeKalb’s most explosive growth. Here, crowding and construction nearly surpass academics as concerns. Delays and rising renovation costs at Southwest DeKalb High School have riled parents and students, while crowding at Martin Luther King Jr. High has resulted in the system’s commitment to building a high school at the nearby Arabia Mountain nature preserve.

Most parents understand the system is addressing needs as fast as it can as the area grows, said Edwards, who often takes a public role as a voice of moderation on the board. “I’ve been working in this community long before I’ve been on the board, ” said Edwards, whose two grown children work for the system. “My concern is not one that started 12 months ago. My concern has been over the last 24 or 25 years.”

But challengers Jay Cunningham and Wendell Muhammad both say Edwards has communicated poorly with parents. “She’s a good person, but she’s out of touch with what’s going on, ” said Muhammad, a father of five school-age children and a former campaign official for U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney. He has been endorsed by the Our Kids, Our Schools, Good Government — Georgia group.

Cunningham, a DeKalb graduate and high school basketball star, points to his experience as a “native son, ” former PTA president and local businessman. “You’ve got to be out in the community to hear what the parents are saying, ” said Cunningham, who has two of his four children enrolled in local high schools (the other two are in college). He said the system has fallen short in long-term planning.

District 6

Board member Simone Manning-Moon gave up this Stone Mountain area seat in May to spend more time on family issues, leaving the door wide open for challengers David Anderson and Tom Bowen.

Both have a past when it comes to school board races.

Local businessman Anderson failed in a bid for the board two years ago when he lost to ex-wife Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn in a race marked by finger-pointing dramatics. Active with their two school-age children, Anderson now downplays any conflict and said he would have no problem working on the same board with Anderson-Littlejohn, who is board chairwoman. “People want results, ” said Anderson, who’s been endorsed by the Our Kids, Our Schools, Good Government — Georgia group.

Bowen, an attorney and certified public accountant, lost to Manning-Moon four years ago in an election runoff. He’s also been unsuccessful in bids for the state Legislature and the DeKalb County Commission. “I think I’ve gotten better gauging what needs to get done, ” Bowen said of his current race. “There’s a lot of good I can do. We have a board that is completely unsophisticated when it comes to financial matters.” He and his wife have a 3-year-old son.

District 7

Currently the board’s vice chairwoman, four-year incumbent Zepora Roberts has shown both an independent streak and strong loyalties in a system educating three of her grandchildren. In 2004, she was the only board member to vote in support of Brown before his ouster. Brown, who was the first black DeKalb superintendent, has supported her in turn, including a $500 campaign contribution in August. Roberts, in this central DeKalb seat, has also backed the current superintendent. A county resident for more than 35 years, she sits on the executive board of the DeKalb NAACP.

Sandra Gistarb has lived in DeKalb for 16 years and would be a newcomer to public office. Her four children have all graduated from college; two went through Redan High School. She previously served on the board of a private school in Seattle. “I really felt the board wasn’t being effective, ” Gistarb said. “I think they’ve lost sight of their real goals, ” she said.

Gistarb has been endorsed by the Our Kids, Our Schools, Good Government — Georgia group. Its leader, Ross, charged her a $130 consulting fee in August, but she said he advised her on how to get her campaign going and she did not know his group would endorse her.

District 9

One of the longest-serving school board incumbents in Georgia, Elizabeth Andrews touts her 27 years as invaluable. She was the first woman to be chairman of the board and has been active in system and county leadership roles. Serving in an at-large seat, Andrews, who is white, for years represented an overwhelmingly black area in south DeKalb. She’s been attacked in past elections, and a challenger’s 1998 flier calling her “witch-like . . . callous and cold-hearted.” But supporters say she calls it like it is. “Tenure equates to experience, ” Andrews said. “We want experienced teachers in the classroom, ” and the same goes for a school board, she said. “You never take anything for granted.”

Her opponent, Colet Odenigbo (pronounced O-de-nee-bow), is a native of Nigeria who quit his job with the county juvenile court system to run for office. “I just got tired of locking kids up, ” said Odenigbo, who said he came to the United States in 1986 before serving 14 years in the U.S. Navy. That Odenigbo is serious can be seen in his fund-raising efforts, which have surpassed the $33,000 mark. He has drawn support in the Nigerian community from Texas to California, although he is also pledging to limit any time in office to three terms. “There’s a cultural, generational change that takes place in schools, ” he said, adding that current “board members don’t have any relationship with their community except at election time.”

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  1. Ella Smith
    October 3, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Things really have stayed the same in DeKalb County. I hope that voters go out on November 2, 2010 and tell the current School Board enough is enough and we want change now.

  2. Just Watch
    September 30, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Jester believes in vouchers. Did you know that? Are you ok with that?

    • September 30, 2010 at 10:09 pm

      The short answer is I have never asked , nor has it been brought up. Now that you have brought it to my attention I will definitely ask her. As to the second part of your question, I have no problem with the voucher system. It will not hurt public school education like people think. Tuition vouchers for private schools will not take away any substantial funding from the public system. Also, many people talk about how public schools need more money to be effective, yet spending per pupil has risen every year for the past 30+ years, yet by any measure, the results have not kept pace. If this were a business, it would have failed 20+ years ago. Thanks for the read

  3. Just Watch
    September 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    DeKalblite,

    We had an awesome chance 4 years ago and two years ago of getting a higher calibre school board. The voters of DeKalb consistently don’t come through, though it isn’t just in DeKalb.

    Perhaps people are paying attention, but I think most people aren’t.

    • Dekalbite
      September 30, 2010 at 1:30 am

      We’ll see. I’m retired, but I grab every person I see – at the gym, at my church, my neighbors – I tell them what’s happening in the DeKalb Schools. I tell them it doesn’t matter if they know the names involved – just make sure if they see the word Incumbent, don’t vote for them.

      I’ve donated to a candidate who isn’t even in my district (unfortunately, Paul Womack is not up for re-election), and I’m actively working for her.

      We have great kids in DeKalb. We need to make sure people pay attention for their sake.

  4. Dekalbite
    September 28, 2010 at 12:56 am

    I was teaching in DCSS when Jim Cherry was the superintendent of DeKalb Schools (early 70s), and yes we’ve always had cronyism and nepotism problems. But these problems really got big when Hallford (late 90s) was superintendent. Hallford added 16 area directors each with their own large group of highly paid coordinators. Overnight he doubled the Central office. Johnny Brown tried to trim it, but the BOE let him go and installed Lewis. Lewis learned from Hallford (they were close), but brought it to new levels when he was hired by the DCSS BOE.

    For the first time in “forever” I think we have a shot at getting a decent BOE that puts kids first. Mainly, this is because of the unprecedented (except for the Great Depression) difficult economic times we find ourselves in. This economy will either wring out the huge non-teaching group that Hallford and Lewis built or we will have an educational system that fails most of our students. This economic “squeeze” has shown taxpayers what’s behind the curtain, and it’s not very pretty.

    We have some excellent BOE candidates this time around – I’m pulling for them because I’m pulling for the kids of Dekalb.

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