Got your attention? This is no joke. And the real question is: How many Georgia legislators does it take to improve DeKalb County students’ education?
The answer: As many as it takes to vote to change Georgia’s state constitution to allow the creation of additional school systems.
Fortunately, there is legislative precedent!
The first State of Georgia Constitution, in 1777, created eight counties carved out of the coastal areas that were settled when Georgia was a British colony. Since then, multiple revisions of the state constitution have increased the number of counties until today’s total of 159, the limit specified in the Constitution of 1983.
Having a large number of smaller counties has served Georgians well. More counties gave Georgians more direct representation in state government and more towns that became county seats, thus increasing cultural and business activities in those towns.
Now there is a need to serve DeKalb County’s children better. Those children are trapped in a too-large, unwieldy, low-performing, out-of-touch school system with a culture of corruption. A smaller, more manageable school system, closer to the point of service and more accountable to stakeholders, is the answer. And there is precedent in the Georgia General Assembly to change the Georgia Constitution and make that happen, just as the General Assembly did when, pressured by citizens, repeatedly increased the number of Georgia counties. As history has shown, never say, “Never” to Constitutional changes wanted and needed by voters.
Of the 180 public school systems now in Georgia, 159 are county systems and 21 are city systems. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Georgia’s school systems have fewer than 5,000 students. In fact, 89% of Georgia’s school systems have fewer than 20,000 students. Only 4 school systems – Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett – have 89,000 students or more.
Most of Georgia’s 180 school systems are of a manageable size – under 20,000 students – however, the Atlanta core metropolitan area contains Georgia’s four largest school systems, including DeKalb County Schools. These metro school systems have only a few representatives out of the hundreds elected to the Georgia General Assembly, one of the largest state legislatures in the nation. So as far as the majority of Georgia’s large pool of state legislators are concerned, an outsized school system is not a problem – and therefore not on their radar.
Yet, “America’s top performers [in education] are states well known for their abundance of small towns and small schools” noted Larry Frase and William Streshly, authors of Top 10 Myths in Education.
Frase and Streshly also conducted a study of organizational climate involving more than 600 Californiaschool administrators from large and small school districts. They employed Halpin and Croft’s Organizational Climate Description Questionnaire, modified for upper echelon school district administrators. Frase and Streshly’s analyses “revealed that large district organizational climates tended to be ‘closed’ while small districts tended to be more ‘open.’ Big district central offices exhibited generally closed organizational climates and fostered those closed climates in the bulk of their schools. This means [according to Frase and Streshly’s research into open and closed organizational climates] that large school districts are less flexible, less productive, less innovative and less responsive to the needs of the community.”
Can you spell “DeKalb County Schools”?
Frase and Streshly go on to say, “Public schools are a function of the legislature of each state. These governmental bodies have the responsibility [for] creating and dissolving local districts and [for] establishing rules and guidelines to ensure that high-quality education is delivered to the children of their states.”
Clearly, before another legislative session is convened, it is up to our local state legislators to explain to their legislative peers the need to allow very large school systems to divide into smaller, manageable school systems – and to allow cities and towns to establish their own school systems – as desired by the stakeholders. It is up to us – all of us – to give our state legislators the necessary nudge – preferably in writing – to speak to their legislative peers about enabling DeKalb County Schools to divide into smaller school systems.
Click here to find your state legislators. Write them!
Meanwhile, can anyone explain why the number of school systems in Georgia should be a function of the state constitution?