In defense of Sarah Copelin-Wood

At the board meeting yesterday, Sarah Copelin-Wood came out fighting. Now, I have no issue with her fighting for a cause, but I do have an issue with her coming to that fight unprepared. Sarah, for whatever reason, has missed quite a few board meetings of late and therefore has some holes in her knowledge that can frustrate those who have kept current.  That said, I respect that she is nonetheless unafraid to push the superintendent, staff and her fellow board members to get the answers she seeks.

It seemed on the surface that Sarah asked some rather dim questions, however, when one digs deeper and tries to fill in the gaps in her position statements, one sees that she is indeed fighting for the children and the parents and taxpayers in her district.  She is the only board member who consistently verbalizes her concern for the children’s test scores and educational outcomes. Sarah knows on a visceral level that ‘something’ is not right, ‘something’ is not equal and ‘something’ does not add up. So she pushes. And lo and behold! It is Sarah who asks the question that brings about answers we all seek, such as getting the superintendent to admit that 817 people have been cut from their jobs – and of those, 537 were classroom teachers! And another 56 were music/PE/other coaches who are also teachers! Sarah pushed even more and got the superintendent to promise to provide a full list of those people whose jobs were cut for the next discussion. We look forward to seeing that list as well.

She also pushed the new CFO into admitting that the reserves he keeps saying are in the negative $6 million are in the negative due to our savings being earmarked for upcoming obligations and bills.  That does not mean that ‘today’ we are overdrawn by $6 million in the bank, but that our savings are obligated beyond our fund balance. People need this kind of clarity and Sarah puts herself on the line to get answers for her constituents.

Sarah Copelin-Wood is a true American. No matter how frustrated some may get with what they consider her banal questions and drawn out comments often lacking a specific point, she does represent the voice of her people and we all deserve to have our voices heard at the table.  This is America, a government of the people, by the people and for the people – and Sarah Copelin-Wood is a vital part of the American political process.

Give her latitude. Give her credit. Get a cup of coffee and leave the room if you don’t wish to hear her speak, but please do not mock her in her attempts to do the work of her people.  She is an American and she is bravely participating in the American political process.

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75 Responses to In defense of Sarah Copelin-Wood

  1. Dawg93 says:

    Unbelievable. I think I’m going to be sick. Thanks for the confirmation, though.

  2. I Agree says:

    Makes the case for continued break ups!

    From the Brookhaven Yes! group:

    If Not Viable, Why is DeKalb Fighting?

    Yesterday, DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis issued a press release accusing the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia (CVI) of producing a flawed feasibility study for the proposed City of Brookhaven.

    Voters in Brookhaven have a choice to believe the University of Georgia or the DeKalb County Government.

    It is ironic that DeKalb County has used the county finance department and their $225,000 lobbyist to try to persuade an area to stay in unincorporated DeKalb that they consider to be “unviable.”

    Voters should see this for what it is — an attempt by the county to trick taxpayers in Brookhaven into continuing to send their tax dollars to Decatur.

    When they think nobody is paying attention, the county tells a different story:

    “Stogner said the county could lose $25 million-$27 million in revenue in 2013 with the incorporation of Brookhaven.”

    This is from the county’s top administrator, Richard Stogner. It was published in the DeKalb Champion, a newspaper that doesn’t have much circulation in our community.

    Its significance is that the University of Georgia estimated Brookhaven’s revenues to be roughly $25.2 million. Most of those revenues are transferred from the county to the city.

    In other words, when they thought nobody was paying attention, DeKalb acknowledged that the University of Georgia estimate is on the conservative side of what is likely to happen.

    Now CEO Burrell Ellis is challenging the viability of Brookhaven as a city, saying to the local Brookhaven Patch:

    “I am concerned that citizens now have incorrect data, and I am disappointed that CVI will not adjust their revenue forecast. The feasibility study uses 2010 numbers, but the tax digest has fallen twice since then. The revenue estimates for the city of Brookhaven could be as much as 10 percent too high.”

    Right there Mr. Ellis is not telling you the truth. The CVI study uses the 2011 property tax digest, not 2010. The tax digest has fallen once since 2011, not twice. Also, if the property tax digest for Brookhaven dropped 10 percent in 2011, this would translate into a much smaller loss of revenue because property taxes only account for about a quarter (1/4) of the city’s total revenues.

    At other times Mr. Ellis has complained about the incorporation of Brookhaven as a “cherry picking of the choicest commercial districts and neighborhood amenities.”

    Sometimes Brookhaven is the “choicest” of areas. Other times, Burrell Ellis and the “No City” Campaign would have us believe that cityhood is not feasible.

    And when nobody was looking, a top county administrator admitted that “$25 million-$27 million in revenue” will be shifted from DeKalb County to our local community.

    If cityhood was not feasible, DeKalb County wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep us in.

    Vote YES to seize this opportunity to protect your wallet from DeKalb County.

  3. Dawg93 says:

    Thanks – full disclosure – I’m a CPA, so I’m used to explaining financial concepts to clients in language they can understand. I’ll give Mr. Perrone the benefit of the doubt on his hemming & hawing because he may not have been expecting that question at that point from a board member, given that they’ve all known the relevant data & issues for a while now. May have simply caught him off-guard.

  4. He’s not just any CPA – he’s the CFO of a billion dollar+ a year school system. He should know these answers even though he just started recently. It really looked like he just wasn’t sure what he was legally allowed to reveal.

  5. In our opinion, Perrone and Atkinson and other top-level administrators should come to EVERY meeting prepared to discuss that for which they are responsible, regardless of what they think the board should know.

    Further, we believe that, in the interests of transparency, the DCSS board should make a policy that every request for information from a board member:
    1. must be answered in a timely manner (within the 3 days prescribed by the Open Records Act)
    2. answers must be provided to every board member, regardless of who asked the question (it takes no more time to e-mail 9 as it does to e-mail 1)
    3. answers must be published on the DCSS web site (within the 3 days prescribed by the Open Records Act)

    Therefore, DSW is sending an e-mail to the whole board asking for them to establish just such a policy. We will keep you informed of their answer(s) — if any.

  6. worried_about_the_numbers says:

    I did not say she should be ousted or singled out for criticism. I said she should be criticized for not be doing a better job, along with the others, and I see nothing that warrants her for special praise given her role in the mess we are in. My issue is with your line of reasoning.

    I am disappointed by the way you are conducting this discussion. “They are not impressed by you”. Are you saying “they” are the supporters of Sarah Copelin-Wood and “they” read my blog comment and “they” have all contacted you to express their disappointment in me as a commenter? Otherwise it’s just an attempt to derail the actual discussion with cheap shots. This blog previously has had substance, if it’s just going to be an exchange of zingers, I will take my attention elsewhere.

  7. queenb4real says:

    I live in Sarah’s district. I despise her for her role in destroying this once great school system. She is illiterate, incompetent and unprepared. She is in no way a reflection of many of the people in her district. We are just as befuddled as many of you as to how she continues to win.

  8. You don’t have to try to convince those who are currently voting for the status quo. Anyone in sales can tell you that it is much harder to convince someone to “buy” your product when they already have their minds set another way. It’s the “undecided” buyers who is the best sell often because he / she may not even be aware that there is a “need” for him to buy at all. In other words, convincing someone they need to vote is easier than convincing someone to vote in a different way.

    These “districts” are school-related… we do not have to let these imaginary lines divide us as taxpayers, or as human beings. You likely know people from all parts of the county if you have lived here for any length of time. Maybe business associates, co-workers, customers, etc. You would probably be surprised to find out how similar many of us are in terms of our thinking and in how we are all tired of being ripped off. The power to change this system will come from getting out of your normal circles of people who are already informed on this topic and start talking to the massive number of people in this county who do not vote. THEY can stop the corruption.

  9. Dr. DeKalb says:

    Someone should check into what SCW said about being threatened if she didn’t vote a certain way. Was she talking about other board members threatening her? Or angry parents calling to threaten her? Sounds like she is being bullied into going along with the plans and is starting to realize that her constituents are continuously getting the short end of the stick. This is not a racist system… there is black on black crime being committted.

  10. momfromhe11 says:

    I thought she was referring to Womack and McChesney…

  11. Thank you queenb4real for speaking up. That is exactly what we thought might be the case. In any election, if the voters do not know the names on the ballot, it is a known fact in marekting research (my field of expertise) that the tendency is to vote for the incumbant because when facing a choice between the “known” and the “unknown,” people instictively fear change and will default to voting for more of the same, even if they are unhappy. They must have a reason to vote for change and feel comfortable that it is the right thing to do. There is also research that shows that people will vote for names that appear in some way to stand out from the others (Jim, Jim, Tom, H. Paul). Hence, the titles, the cute little “nicknames” in quotes (“Jay”), the letters before their name (H. Paul), the Jr.’s, the III’s, or even the most recent name they read off a sign before walking into the voting booth (hence the reason petitioners cannot have signes within a certain distance of the polling place). It’s kinda scary to think how some folks get elected and then remain in office for so long!

  12. Dr. DeKalb says:

    Yeah, calling people stupid isn’t really a good idea if you want them to trust your advice. Actually, calling people morons isn’t really a good idea, either. You sure make a lot of assumptions about other areas of the county when we are only separated by a few miles from each other. How are you handling this whole “global economy” stuff?

  13. Dr. DeKalb says:

    yes, but you are talking about a handful of people … her district is much larger than that. Don’t let the friends and family fool you!

  14. Dr. DeKalb says:

    No, we have a problem with corruption… the incompetence is actually something we can work around. (kidding)

  15. Dr. DeKalb says:

    It doesn’t matter if you think it was meaningless… it was a question and he should have answered it. It’s not up to him or you or anyone else to assume you know why anyone else is asking a question and then decide on whether or not it should be answered … she asked about the cash in the bank. He should know that or else he is hiding something.

  16. Have you considered asking for a vote-by-vote recount and a confirmation of the accuracy of the registered voters in Sara’s district the next time Sara runs for office?

  17. She likely knows far more than we do about how much USED to be in there and how much they are saying is in there now. Don’t forget… we have a trial coming up and lawyers to pay. Where did the reserves go? Who authorized the spending of them? How much WAS that? And, you shouldn’t have to go to an ATM to find out how much money you have… if you are in charge of your own finances, you should know. Just as he should have.

  18. spoken like a product of a DeKalb County school… assume what you are being told is true, don’t question authority and keep your mouth shut for fear that your question might sound stupid to someone else… Didn’t anyone ever teach you that there is no such thing as a stupid question? Only stupid answers. In this case, she got the answers that many people were seeking about the layoffs, etc., so good for her!

  19. breaking up into smaller districts means a lot of people will get screwed over… those of us who live in the middle of the county will be left holding the bag, so to speak, with paying large taxes for the worst schools and supporting the greatest number of those in poverty. No thank you.

  20. DSW, do you know anything about how the votes went down last time for Womack? How many were running for office? How did it end up in a run-off?

  21. This blog is run by unpaid volunteers who all have families and real jobs elsewhere. If this blog doesn’t suit you, you are welcome to go elsewhere and/or start your own blog.

  22. The runoff was between Paul Womack and Shayna Steinfeld; Womack won 51% to 49%, squeaking by with 200 more votes. In our opinion, Shayna Steinfeld was the far stronger and better candidate.

  23. Nope. No zinger intended. They are not impressed with anyone who criticizes Sarah. They see you as trying to squelch their voices. They really do think that ‘north’ DeKalb ‘gets’ more than south DeKalb. Sarah has stated before that over 80% of DCSS students live in the ‘southernmost part of the county’ yet don’t get the same resources. How do they know? Because the test scores prove their point. That’s really what they say. You (or anyone else) criticizing Sarah’s methods, her ill-preparedness, her inability to understand complex issues has no effect on them. They are not impressed by someone pointing out that basically, everyone else is smarter than their rep. They will not believe you, not ever. So answering Sarah’s questions is imperative. Communicating well with her community is imperative. Ensuring that we don’t ‘graduate’ another generation of people who struggle with concepts – any kind of concept – is imperative.

  24. lpdekalb says:

    For the sake of transparency, we want the monthly DCSS check register to be posted online for anyone to see. A first step in this direction would be for the Board to require that THEY get a copy of the check register each month in a computer spreadsheet file that they can analyze. I know this would be a lot of data, but they can develop ways of breaking out the data into graphs and reports. Transparency for the board!

  25. no duh says:

    I have said it before. We can beg someone else to run against any of these people, but until the State of Georgia agrees to remove the little (I) — for incumbent — next to the incumbent’s name, no one else will win for the reasons Cell Tower Guy says. BUT, if the (I) weren’t there, most people would have no idea the name of their school board rep. And the kicker, the Legislators have to change the ballot. Uh, good luck with that!

  26. We agree! Putting an “I” next to the name of the incumbent is as unfair to others running for an elective office as was the former practice of allowing voters to vote a “straight Democratic or Republic ticket” simply by checking one box or pulling one lever. Does anyone know how that practice was gotten rid of?

  27. lpdekalb says:

    If the huge number of checks produced each month seems overwhelming (over 14,000 employees and how many vendors?), this only underscores the gargantuan, impossible task that we are asking our BOE to take on. DeKalb County has a population of 700,000, with nearly 100,000 students, and one little board of nine individuals. Does this seem manageable to you?

    In 1853, DeKalb County was geographically twice as large as now and included the city of Atlanta, which having grown to a population of 6,000 had become even more populated than Decatur. So they decided to split the county down the middle, creating Fulton county with Atlanta as its county seat. Would that we had continued this practice of dividing counties as soon as the population doubled in size! DeKalb County would now be subdivided into about 100 counties, and each county school board would only represent about 7,000 people. If there were 7 board members, each representing a portion of their county, each board member would represent about 1,000 people. Doesn’t this seem more manageable to you than our current system?

    Instead of an almost unimaginably large system, each county could have one school with about 140 students. Reminds me of the junior academy (grades 1-10) I went to that had 120 children in 5 classrooms. Doesn’t this seem manageable to you?

  28. lpdekalb says:

    Correction, each county school district could consist of about 1,000 students in seven schools, with about 140 children in each.

  29. Jim Kinney says:

    DSW, the entire county is represented on the board. Representation does not guarantee a majority vote on any particular topic. The districts of Speaks, McChesney, Jester and Womack are represented by those very same people. What seems to be happening is the democracy process where a larger population size wins a majority of the votes. It would seem that the 5-person voting block has a more solid citizen support for their public views than other 4.
    There are state and national representatives from my area that I may or may not agree with. But they are my representatives. My views are represented in the voting both. My area is represented but the outcome of that voting. It’s the way it works.
    I think Ms. Coplin-Wood is a sly woman who is far craftier than the bash-bloggers understand. She is mostly adored in her district and that deserves respect. I have no doubt that she is sincere about her desire to get the best education she can for her area. That is also worthy of respect. Her rambling style and slow speaking tempo can certainly be trying in a packed room with much tension in the air!

  30. Jim Kinney says:

    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/budget/index/planning
    FY2013 Approved Budget is just the final cuts. The entire budget has not be “glued together” and posted.

  31. Steve Smith says:

    Actually Sarah did not win “handily” in the last election. In 2010 she won with only 51.19% of the vote

  32. Dekalbite2 says:

    The “I” for Incumbent can also work against you if voters are unhappy with the current situation. My concern is that Paul Womack will be replaced by someone who is not appreciably different in viewpoint. Sentiment is running high against Womack in my neighborhood, however I can see little difference in his viewpoints and Jim Kinney’s for example. I will be finding out the viewpoints of the other candidates and will be knocking on the doors of my neighbors to urge them to vote based on the issues facing DeKalb and how they would like them resolved.

  33. queenb4real says:

    In speaking with many people in the southern part of the county, the one very disturbing misconception that continues to appear is that somehow students in the northern part of the county are being given more in terms of funding, resources, etc than those students in the southern part of the county. I think that part of the reason that people like Sarah, Jay and Eugene are able to win these elections is their ability to play/prey upon the biggest fears of some of the poorest and most vunerable citizens by frightening them into believing that the “bad, white man” is going to take something from them or prevent them access. This is especially true of older black citizens who may have dealt with some type of racial discrimination. I was speaking with a seemingly intelligent older gentleman the other day about the need to rid the school board of Sarah, Jay and Eugene. He agreed with me but his reasoning was very different. He thinks they are not doing enough because “the north” is getting all of the new schools. What? I reminded him of the numerous new schools that had been built in south Dekalb over the last decade and suggested that maybe brick and mortar doesn’t have that much to do with educating children.

    I don’t know the answer but I don’t want to see the school system broken into pieces. I fear if that happens, the county will be further broken until there’s nothing left. While the next few years will be tough, I truly believe that the school system and the county can be turned around if we are able to remove key people from the mix. To remove these folk will take effort from all of intelligent, forward-thinking Dekalb. Now is not the time to run away, now is the time to fight back.

  34. concernedmom30329 says:

    Kinney and Womack differ notably on taxes — Kinney would raised them as much as possible, Womack not one red cent. Kinney seems naive to think that giving the system more money, at this time, will actually make a difference. It won’t.

  35. momfromhe11 says:

    Regardless of who the reps are, they all need to immediately stop saying, implying, or referencing anything about another area getting more/better/newer/more complete ANYTHING. The truth is that every school in the county desperately needs something – whether it is a new physical plant, updated technology, more room, more materials in the media center, more inspired teachers, more professional administration, better discipline, more challenging classes …

    Probably every school needs more than one of these.

    If every one of them were telling her/his constituents that as a district we are in the toilet and we all need improvement, it is to be hoped that the paranoia that undermines the system would begin to recede.

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