Making The Best Choice

The one thing we can all agree on with all of the candidates is that everyone should vote on Tuesday, July 31.

Frankly, nothing is more important to vote on – nothing is more worth your time – than choosing your school board representative. The future of your children – and the value of what is probably your largest single investment: your home – depends on you making an informed choice, making the best choice of the options presented and voting on Tuesday, July 31 between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM.

Help get out the vote in your neighborhood. How? Simply call a neighbor and offer a ride to the polls. This will be especially welcomed by an elderly neighbor who might not want to “trouble” anyone for a ride to the polls.

Advance voting opportunity continues at these DeKalb County locations through July 27. You also may go to the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections website for sample ballots and other information to be a fully informed voter.

Now back to the candidates …

Here’s what DeKalb School Watch was listening for during the debates – a candidate who:

  • admitted, upfront, that an individual school board member is powerless to make a difference.
  • articulated a plan for developing consensus among board members – a plan other than caving in to the current Block of Five and making nice with the bullies on the board.
  • will insist that the board’s only employee, the superintendent, will provide the final agenda and related supporting information at least one week prior to any board meeting, with no last-minute surprises and agenda changes.
  • will stand up to SACS and say, “I’m going to ask for all the information I need from school system employees – using Georgia’s Open Records Act, if necessary – until I have enough information and am knowledgeable enough to make informed decisions affecting DCSS.
  • has specific demands for transparency which include (1) an online check register, (2) online bank statements, (3) online P-card statements and (4) videotaping and broadcasting/streaming every board meeting – full board as well as committee meetings.
  • will take his/her case directly to the people, providing all information allowed by law instead of trying to cut backroom deals.  No more “if you knew what we know …”

Here’s what DeKalb School Watch heard during the debates that portends problems ahead:

District 2
McChesney: “… we have raised achievement on the CRCT.”
Orson: “I have the EduKalb endorsement and that is really saying something.”

District 4 –
Gilbert: “I knew Womack in high school … and he was in that Bully Group.” Wait. News flash – alert the media! “It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.”
Kinney: “You have, what? 2000 students in school here? [referring to Arabia Mountain High School] What, more like 1300? Okay, Okay.”
McMahan: “…best case scenario [is] we’re great but worst case is that we’re still friends.”
Womack: “… if you thought this year was bad, next year will be worse.”

District 6 –
Johnson: “Experience counts. I know all the roles.”
McGill: “Every child has potential to become that gifted student.”
Rivers-Cannon: “Blast off the change with Cannon.”
Walker: “I advocate for the rights of children in DeKalb. Take my ethics.”

District 8 –
Speaks: “Experience counts.”
Clark: No show.

Here are the characteristics DeKalb School Watch is looking for in school board members – Someone who:

  • is a fearless, experienced leader – not a bully.
  • has extensive experience – and has been successful – as a DCSS parent volunteer.
  • has not broken the law or been convicted of a crime.
  • has a plan for bringing the board together, in consensus, for good.
  • is articulate and communicates effectively with stakeholders using 21st Century tools.
  • is not afraid of SACS’s bullying tactics and will call their bluff.
  • has backbone and does not apologize for, act embarrassed about or back down from asking the tough questions of DCSS’s overpaid Palace administrators.
  • understands that the bullies on the current school board don’t respect “nice”; bullies respect only strength.
  • opens and responds to all e-mail from stakeholders; returns telephone calls from stakeholders.
  • is open-minded and curious – willing to seek out, connect with and learn from successful school systems outside of Georgia.
  • reads widely, including this blog, to understand the grassroots, education-related issues and concerns of DeKalb stakeholders.

All that said, after a lot of internal discussion, our voting recommendations for the DeKalb County School System school board elections are:

District 2: Don McChesney

District 4: Jim McMahan

District 6: Denise McGill

District 8 (At-Large District): Pam Speaks

The easiest way to remember which candidate we recommend when you go to the polls to vote on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 is to vote for the candidate in your district whose last name begins with “Mc”: McChesney, McMahan, or McGill. If you also live in At-large District #8 (one-half of DeKalb County), vote for the person who “Speaks” for you: Pam Speaks.

We encourage you to do a search on the DSW blog (old and new) and search the Internet to read more about the candidates and the issues and educate yourself. If you don’t have the time to do that, please take our recommendations. All of DeKalb School Watch’s editors are voting in this election and we have vetted the candidates.


The AJC Voter’s Guide to all races in the Tuesday, July 31 election, prepared by the League of Women Voters is available online, with unedited information from the candidates themselves:

DeKalb School Board, District 2

DeKalb School Board, District 4

DeKalb School Board, District 6

DeKalb School Board, District 8

About dekalbschoolwatch

Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

87 Responses to Making The Best Choice

  1. Thank you for your vote of confidence dekalbschoolwatch and blog readers! I am honored to be one of your choices. This foray into this arena has been a learning opportunity. The knowledge you all have is phenomenal! I assure you that I will remain active on this blog and,if elected please know that there will be times that I come to you for guidance . I look forward to a collaborative relationship working towards a mutual goal- Engaging parents and community, supporting the needs and rights of our educators, and ensuring that we are providing equitable, and excellent educational opportunities for our children.

  2. Please see the UPDATE to this post (Making The Best Choice) with links to the AJC Voters Guide, prepared by the League of Women Voters, with unedited information provided by the candidates themselves.

  3. Thanks for sharing this link Andy – the Dunwoody Talk blog post gave me a chuckle! Keep up the good work Dunwoody Talk – we always love the Talk Blog!!

  4. Loved the article! Great rundown! Great choices!

    There is a HUGE, UNTAPPED market of potential voters out there, folks, and we all know who they are – the people we know, live next door to, or see at church or work. The ones without children in this system who are largely unaware of the problems and have NO CLUE who to vote for or if they are even planning to vote.

    It isn’t always comfortable to bring up “politics” to people you don’t know very well, and even then it can be difficult, but we all have to do what we can to approach the subject of VOTING in general to encourage people to get to the polls. Remind them that corruption can only win if everyone else stays out of it and remind them that 70% of their property taxes are supporting this sytem. Remind them that property values are heavily influenced by the quality of the schools nearby.

    And, then tell them that you read on the school watch blog something like, “Mc, Mc, Mc, Speaks” as a catchy way for people to remember the best people to vote for, regardless of their district. Just look for the “Mc”on your ballot and if you also have a Super District vote, remember to vote for the one who SPEAKS for you.

    That way, you’re just telling them what you’ve read that the “experts” are recommending at DeKalb School Watch! And then give them the web address if they want to read more for themselves!

    WE HAVE A PLAN, PEOPLE! We are VERY VERY PUMPED ABOUT THIS ELECTION! Can you tell? And, PLEASE, if you can squeeze it into your elevator speech, remind everyone to also vote NO on the cell tower question about puttting “telecommunications towers” at our schools. It may just be the final nail on the coffin (knock on wood) that we need to actually win this battle we’ve been waging for the past year to keep our schools and neighborhoods safe.


  5. Uh, why the thumbs down?

  6. Give the woman a chance! says:

    Does anyone know about the slander lawsuit? I was in a restaurant but the sound was down. It was on Channel 2.

  7. anybody but the incumbents says:

    All of the incumbents need to be replaced. All of their voting records match. Pam Speaks? says who? To bad Stone Mountain isn’t focused. Johnson says he “know all the roles”? what he really means is that he’s a major player since way back when!!

  8. Hr88 says:

    I agree – the incumbents need to go. Ideally, we could vote out the entire existing board. How can this blog endorse McChesney given his role in getting us where we are today?

  9. GTCO-
    We’re on the homestretch, and I was told that it gets nastier and uglier- The haters will come out in force. I was also advised that folks are waiting for one slip up so that they can capitalize on it. It’s kind of like the case of the missing signs for me. In my area, I had 50 signs strategically placed-42 being in yards of friends. Amazing that their signs have disappeared? Like stealing/removing my signs is going to make me go away? What folks don’t realize is that it only makes me more determined.

    For all the thumbs down naysayers- You say you want change, you say you are tired of the friends and family network- You want a progressive change,You want consensus and accountability from the board- I have one question- what’s your alternative? Surely NOT Dr. Johnson- whom we know has the whole friends and family regime behind him as well as some political friends in DeKalb county who want him in their for obvious reasons?

    What are you afraid of? A person who is opinionated, reasons, and is an independent thinker who does not cave in because its the right thing to do? Does it scare you that there is someone who is going to ask a lot of questions because it makes no sense ? Is it overwhelming that there is a strong possibility that I will be successful in accomplishing things that were said “could never be done?”.Let the thumbs can continue to point downward- It will be interesting to see the end results when change does come.

    I hold steadfast in my convictions, and I am a firm believer that when you do right- right will be done unto you. God (or the entity you view as your higher being) always finds a way to make it happen. He is always on time and NEVER fails you- This I know to be true.

    I will end using one of my favorite quotes….
    “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” Denis Waitley

  10. Here’s the link – it has to do with Marcus Turk and Jamie Wilson threatening Paul Womack with slander for saying he was going to request an investigation into why the cuts mandated by the board last year don’t appear to ever have been instituted. Womack did not name names, but Turk and Wilson felt targeted by the accusation.

    We did our own research on the subject, and as far as we can tell, it really does look like very few budget cuts ever actually occurred between 2010-11 school year and 2011-12 — a time period where the board voted on over $100 million in cuts. Read our report below:

    If anyone has evidence either way on this issue, please email it to us at, or point us in the right direction to look for ourselves.

  11. Given the available slate of candidates, we selected the candidates we thought would work most collaboratively, diligently, efficiently and effectively to move the entire school system forward for the good of all of the children of DeKalb, ensuring equitable spending across the board.

  12. teacher/taxpayer says:

    For Jim McMahan: I clicked on the link for district 4 to read the comparison statements. It showed you have not yet provided your answers. The other three guys have. That doesn’t make you look good. Get that info posted ASAP so you do not leave a negative impression on the folks who may check that site. If you have responded to the site, then let them know your answers are not appearing.

  13. Give the woman a chance! says:

    Thanks for the information! I tried to find it when I got home but couldn’t.

  14. Pingback: Some Thoughts On The Last Week Before Election Day | Don's Blog

  15. There would be no question at all about whether or not budget cuts were made as directed by the board … about whether or not unnecessary employees in the Palace and elsewhere in DCSS were let go if Marcus Turk and Jamie Wilson had delivered the transparency that was repeatedly requested. In fact, chances are that an “ordinary” stakeholder would have caught some of the errors and omissions that led to the shocking deficits. When we were doing our research on this subject we found evidence that, in many cases, Excel was used merely as a typewriter template. Mistakes were made that would not have been made if Excel formulas had been used. It’s not rocket science. Other school systems everywhere are transparent and could provide templates. A complete, turn-every-page, forensic audit of both Finance and Human Resources is absolutely needed.

    Full disclosure: We painstakingly put together documentation that we believe showed that budget cuts were not made as directed by the school board. Then we sent this documentation to Paul Womack on July 15, 2012. We use software (not Outlook) that reports back on when and for how long important e-mails were opened and, presumably, read. He has never opened what we sent, even though it went to both his DCSS e-mail and his personal e-mail. Now, though, Paul Womack is dishonestly using the DeKalb School Watch masthead and the first paragraph of our article, The HR and Budget Reports: 2008 – 2011, combined with his own narrative — designed to look as though it all was published in DeKalb School Watch — in a campaign flyer.

    Womack’s arrogance and dishonesty are only two of the many reasons why DeKalb School Watch strongly endorses JIM McMAHAN for District 4.

  16. Jim McMahan says:

    I was notified yesterday by DSW2 that I was “MIA” from the Voters Guide by the LWVG.
    Here is the response this morning from my email I sent to the LWVG.

    “Hi Jim –
    Thanks for reaching out to us about the Voter Guide. It does like like we had an incorrect email address listed for you in our voter guide tool. Even though we have already published, because the error was on our end, we would like to give you an opportunity to participate.
    You should receive a separate email in a few minutes with directions on how to participate. Just follow the link in the email to submit your response. Since we have already published, we do ask that you respond to the questions based on your campaign issues, not on the other candidate responses. Your response will be reviewed before
    I am not the only candidate that has had this experience.
    I have asked for a timeframe for my information to be on the web and received no response.
    Thanks for you care and understanding.

    Jim McMahan

  17. howdy1942 says:

    I don’t think this election really matters – things are too far out of control. Just as the State of New Jersey had to take over the Newark public school system, the State of Georgia will have to take over the Dekalb County public schools within the next five years. This school board is one of the most inept and incompetent organizations I’ve ever observed. I’ve been to numerous school board meetings – they have been boring, they have focused on topics that have little to do with the schools themselves, and the result has been a huge waste of money spent on poorly managed projects that usually were never completed.

    Decatur is right in the middle of Dekalb County. Its school system is growing. Its property values are rising. Over 200 prospects interview for each vacant teaching position. What is the difference? Maybe we should just let the Decatur School Board run the Dekalb System, let Dr. Atkinson go, and let the Decatur Superintendent take over in Dekalb. It would almost be worth it to buy her out and fire the school board.

    Anyway, my point is the Dekalb County School System will soon be under new management. Atlanta and the State of Georgia needs a strong Dekalb County if the city and state are to be strong.

  18. Ironically, a member of the Decatur school board (which is an unpaid position), Julie Rhame was employed at one time as the head of DeKalb School’s PR and did a fantastic job. Sadly, our school system “RIFd” her, along with almost all of her department (except Philandrea Guillory who was placed under the department led by Ramona Tyson and therefore, ‘safe’). Then, it was not long at all before that “RIFd” position was replaced by a consultant (Jeff Dickerson) and then Dale Davis and then Walter Woods and now again, back to Jeff Dickerson. Once again, where is the savings from this original RIF of Julie Rhame?

  19. bullet says:

    Like McChesney has demonstrated that! Effective, collaborative, efficient?????!!!! Your #1 point of a candidate not being able to do it alone makes little sense as a criteria except that it comes straight from a McChesney statement.

  20. justwatch says:

    The woman running against Speaks did a robo call last night. Did anyone else get it? It was horrible — and I don’t have much love for Speaks, but this woman said Speaks has taken “our” resources and given them to the more affluent schools. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? She doesn’t even realize that a large number of schools in the district she wants to represent are those so called affluent schools. Additionally, it was just a lie. Just what we need, another board member to stir the north-south pot.

    I have very little hope that anything can change in DeKalb, regardless of this election. As a county we are broken, unbelievable that this woman called a big chunk of N. DeKalb spewing her garbage.

  21. This is just one example why it is important to find out everything you can about a candidate before voting. And the Internet makes that kind of fact-finding easy. Do NOT just vote against a candidate — even an incumbent. The person your vote puts into office could be sooooo much worse. You MUST be pragmatic and choose the best candidate of the available choices. For more information, read DSW’s recent post, Making The Best Choice, with our endorsements.

    After a lot of internal discussion, DSW’s voting recommendations for the DeKalb County School System school board elections are:

    District 2: Don McChesney

    District 4: Jim McMahan

    District 6: Denise McGill

    District 8 (At-Large District): Pam Speaks

    The easiest way to remember which candidate we recommend when you go to the polls to vote on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 is to vote for the candidate in your district whose last name begins with “Mc”: McChesney, McMahan, or McGill. If you also live in At-large District #8 (one-half of DeKalb County), vote for the person who “Speaks” for you: Pam Speaks.

    Despite Paul Womack’s dishonest hijacking, without permission, of DSW’s copyrighted masthead and re-writing a copyrighted DSW article (copyright infringement; plagiarism) to make it appear it came from us, DSW does NOT endorse Paul Womack and we have called for him to be replaced in District 4. James (Jim) McMahan is the candidate DSW endorses.

    We encourage you to do a search on the DSW blog (old and new) and search the Internet to read more about the candidates and the issues and educate yourself. If you don’t have the time to do that, please take our recommendations. All of DeKalb School Watch’s editors are voting in this election and we have vetted the candidates.

  22. Nikole says:

    Decatur works because it is a small system. If they took over Dekalb, they would be just as “in over their heads” as anyone else. Decatur is small enough to focus on what matters most: students.

  23. Disgusted in Dekalb says:

    Who is a “hater”? Is that anyone who disagrees with you? Being able to deal with civility with those who disagree with you is a key trait I look for when choosing a candidate for any elected office.

  24. We agree. Completely. This is why we believe that dividing DCSS into 2, or possibly 3, smaller independent school systems makes sense.

  25. How many 80 year olds do you know that email?
    How many 80 year olds do you know that even use a computer?
    Womack has spent over $20,000 of his OWN money on mailers to try and get reelected!
    That’s $2,000 more than the annual salary for a board member!
    He could have bought his grandaughter’s school a complete I-Pad computer lab for $20,000?
    What is his motivation?
    That’s the person we believe has his best interests for the schools?


  26. Further, due to his advanced age, Womack and his wife pay NO school taxes in their property tax. No one forces Womack and his wife to claim an exemption [1] from the school tax portion of his property tax bill. School tax makes up approximately 70% of the DeKalb property tax bill. We think that Womack should have some skin in the game when he sits on the school board — and that means that he pays his full property tax.
    [1] “If you are 65 years of age or older on January 1 st and the Total Georgia Net Income of both you and your spouse does not exceed $10,000 (based on previous year’s tax return) excluding Social Security benefits and most retirement income up to the maximum allowable under the Federal Social Security Act ($60,312 for 2012), then you may be entitled to a Senior School Exemption. (H4)”

  27. Has anyone heard any forums or debates for the office of DeKalb CEO? If so, did the issue / question of cell phone towers come up? Or, were they asked how they would vote on the referendum about cell towers that is on the ballot? Did anyone ask if they were elected CEO and the permits are sitting on their future desk RIGHT NOW, whether or not they would decide to sign them?

    We need to be sure all possible people who could sign any Administrative Permit for our school cell towers is fully aware that these permit applications did not follow proper procedure and defy our local zoning ordinances.

    If anyone sees construction at these schools, tell them to contact GTCO-ATL at Thanks!

    Briarlake Elem., Decatur
    MLK High, Lithonia
    Flat Rock Elem., Lithonia
    Narvie J. Harris, Atlanta
    Jolly Elem., Clarkston
    Smoke Rise Elem., Stone Mountain (near Tucker)
    Princeton Elem., Redan
    Margaret Harris Comp. School for the Disabled, Atlanta

    NOTE: Down from 12 to only 8, these are the only schools with signed contracts between DCSD and T-mobile. All have current FCC permits except Briarlake. None have building or special land use permits from DeKalb County, yet.

  28. Pingback: They Won! The Cross Keys Solar Car Team Won! | dekalb school watch two

  29. Interesting – so Lakeside is now off – and soon, probably Briarlake. So now, take a good look at the remaining list. Hmmm… Could it be a way to ‘tax’ lower income areas and redistribute that money to special projects? We have heard no news as to the reporting process for the rent collection. Most likely, it will go into the same ‘general’ fund that the rent for movie set collection goes. (What became of THAT money?)

  30. Womack spent over $50,000 in the last election, beating a much more qualified candidate by just a few votes.

  31. Actually, I do agree with you – I don’t like that term either. It has become as commonly used as ‘racist’, however in its usage, the true meaning has been diluted. Can we all try and use more appropriate wording? Detractors could work. The Opposition could also be used. But “Haters”? That incites angry, defensive responses. We get called that all the time, and I can tell you truly, we are not “haters” of anyone here.

  32. Murphey says:

    I support Pam Speaks. She is thoughtful, well spoken, and doesn’t participate in the great north-south fight. What we do NOT need is another Board member who sees race as the number one factor on each issue. Dr. Speaks is growing bolder and I look forward to having her represent me for another term.

  33. Hr88 says:

    Please show me how McChesney has worked effectively, diligently, or collaboratively. Yes, he has recently joined forces with Jester and Speaks but he please look at his voting record, his support for Lews, Tyson, and all the rest.

  34. Mildred says:

    This is why I would encourage people not to vote for McGill. She has clearly shown on this blog alone that she is incredibly thin-skinned to any form of criticism — whether stated clearly about her or inferred unclearly by her. (Is “unclearly” a word?) She lashed out at me for making impersonal observations about what she wrote and about what was written about her. She has done so with others, most notably the Arabia Mountain HS PTS President. The responses from McGill to those whom she deigns to be “against” her are mean-spirited ad hominem attacks that are really unworthy of someone who says she is an inclusive consensus builder. I doubt that very much.

    But I thank you, DSW2 folk, for allowing me to voice my remarks about McGill. I do so not in the sense of a personal attack — I do not know McGill and have never met her — but in the sense of truly wanting someone elected who will not be an Ina Evans (APS BOE member from decades ago with the great hats) or a Zepora Roberts (“Imma slug you”), but someone who will put aside his/her own agenda for the sake of the greater good — the well-being and education of the children in the DeKalb County School District. In my humble opinion, I agree with all of the endorsements of DSW2 except for the one for McGill.

  35. Dekalbite2 says:

    I think Denise McGill tells it like it is. What you see is what you get. She is not part of the establishment and never has been. She is looking to change the status quo that has been so devastating for students. I don’t know Ms. McGill, but obviously she is not part of the “Friends and Family” network. From what I can garner, she has been a tireless worker for her children’s regular education school – and MOST DeKalb students attend regular education schools.

    Melvin Johnson is backed by the power elite – they are very smart and very politically connected, but has this been good for students? The student achievement rate would be a resounding NO.

    Do right by students and you can’t go wrong is my motto. As a parent that’s what I always wanted and as a teacher that’s what I always lived by.

  36. Without going into negative details about the others, let us just say that Denise has been in the trenches – advocating for all students in a regular school for a very long time. She also thinks for herself and speaks her mind, which is very necessary on the board. That’s not thin-skinned.

  37. I’ve spoken to Marshall Orson on several occassions and feel that he is no better than what we have. I know what I have with McChesney. I know that he returns my emails and will explain himself, even when we disagree on an issue. Orson doesn’t seem to understand that financially we can’t keep all of the balls in the air and things have to give. I truly question if he really cares about ALL of the children in DeKalb or improving our neighborhood schools first. He and his wife were both rude and arrogant and I don’t have much use for that on the school board or in politics. I also don’t want someone to blame others for what has happened, we really don’t have time for that. It’s time to tell people what you want to see happen with the schools and how it could be accomplished financially. Orson really turned me off.

  38. Decatur City Schools is getting overcrowded, so time will tell if the district can stay as good as a system as it is supposed to be in years to come.

    Not sure if even splitting up the district into one high school districts can turn the education children are receiving around. DeKalb is a corrupt place (reminds me of Chicago), and until the corruption stops and focus is on the real task at hand nothing will really improve or get better.

  39. You can’t slander someone #1) if you do not call them by name and #2) if what you are saying is actually true or even if you believe it to be true. This is more likely an internal publicity stunt to get Womack’s name in the media and coverage of him “standing up for the rights of the taxpayer.”

    If Womack truly cared about the taxpayers, why would he try to place cell towers on our school grounds when it is well known that they will harms property values by as much as 20%, according to the foremost expert in property appraisals, Dr. Sandy Bond. Here is some of her research in noted industry journals:

    Click to access Bond_Squires_Using_GIS_to_Measure.pdf

    Click to access Bond_The_Impact_Of_Cellular_Phone_Base_Station_Towers_On_Property_Values.pdf

    We will publish a blog on this subject tomorrow a.m. so if you are interested, please visit:

Comments are closed.