by Mpaza S. Kapembwa
As the DeKalb County School board deals with its deficit, I hope they don’t give in to political pressure. Politics, not mismanagement, played the biggest role in getting us here.
Times are tough in the school system but times are always tough at some schools because they are politically weak. At the politically powerful schools, I doubt times are tough.
Fernbank Science Center, which is not a school, but a center created to enhance the science curriculum, was on the chopping block but lo and behold it is saved once again. Let’s not forget the force behind them and the potential for similar forces to influence decisions by board members.
Every parent wants what is best for their own kids. However, when power groups like the Fernbank Elementary PTA instruct their members in PTA correspondence to dominate public meetings and to be sure to “control the pen, control the mike, or better yet both,” drowning out the voices of others in order to ensure that their school does not get redistricted, we have moved beyond parental involvement to political bullying. There are other groups out there that come to the table only to advance their own interests and bully their board member into supporting their causes.
The school board is charged with creating balance throughout the county, but too often has to try to make right decisions in the face of great resistance and pressure to do what is not in the interest of DeKalb. When it comes to capital allocation and equity in spending, it shouldn’t matter which parents are more organized, which parents wear coordinated t-shirts, which parents have dozens of PTA committees or which parents show up to every board meeting and dominate the public dialogue. The allocations should be fair in spite of political pressure.
Politically powerful parent groups do not represent the will of all of DeKalb County and as a former student, I can tell you they never represented my interest. We are too focused on discrediting the system we have forgotten about the parents, the driving force behind it all.
I trust the board to represent those with no voice in the process of public education. Public education stakeholders include more than loud PTA parents. My community is full of thousands of parents who defer their judgments to their public servants out of public trust. It includes many parents and children who are simply intimidated by the process and the aggressive competition for limited resources.
I hope the board will have the courage to tell some groups, “NO. Not this time.”
Their decisions have to be financially sensible-not politically sensible. The school system has 151 facilities. With our financial situation, it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep them all in good shape.
No schools should be having track replacements and other gold-plated athletic facilities when some of our classroom ceilings are crumbling and too many of our elementary schools look more like prisons than a place of hope and of learning. I am assuming that taxpayers are more concerned about classroom than tracks. If I am wrong in this assumption, please forgive me.
Some schools that should be closed are open because of politics. Some parents won’t let their kids attend school with “those other” kids therefore we often have two schools where only one is necessary to serve the public interest. This makes political sense not financial sense. We are broke so we have to go back to financial sense. Perhaps this financial crisis will force DeKalb Schools to put classrooms ahead of tracks and leave no children in “prisons” while others are in resorts. Then again, it may only mean that the crumbs left behind for the unlucky and unheard will simply get smaller while politics continue to rule every decision.
Mpaza S. Kapembwa, a student at Williams College, is a 2011 Cross Keys graduate, Gates Millennium Scholar, Coca Cola Scholar, Dell Scholar and Bank of America Student Leader.
Check out his website for help with scholarship opportunities.