Brookhaven, GA, August 3, 2015 – by Ann Abramowitz, Ph.D. – Some local elected officials in the City of Brookhaven have been involved in an effort to separate Brookhaven’s schools from the DeKalb County school system. The desire for more autonomy and excellent schools is understandable. What is hard to understand, however, is J. Max Davis’s repeatedly promising in his campaign for a State House seat that separation from the county schools will be accomplished. This claim is nothing more than empty campaign rhetoric and J. Max is either deliberately misstating the truth or he simply does not know what he can accomplish at the Gold Dome.
According to Davis, “. . . a city school system is possible and there is pending legislation that would permit the creation of new city school systems for cities created after 2004. Brookhaven Innovation Academy is up for a decision hearing in September. It would be a state sponsored charter school located in Brookhaven (not run by DeKalb County) Proposed to be K-8 and would open in Fall 2016 adding a grade each year.” (Candidate’s Facebook post, 7-22-15)
Davis, along with other Brookhaven city leaders, has identified two possible mechanisms for separating the City from the DeKalb County schools: 1) seeking approval by the State Charter School Commission of Georgia for the proposed Brookhaven Innovation Academy Charter School, which they hoped would exclusively serve children who reside in Brookhaven, or 2) the passage of a Constitutional Amendment by the General Assembly and the residents of the state to allow for the creation of new school districts.
The proposed city charter school was rejected by the state’s Charter Commission on its first try because of serious problems in the petition, and on its second try was sent back to the applicants with questions and concerns that still need to be addressed. See http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/state-commission-denies-brookhaven-charter-school-/ng9xW/ and https://brookhavenpost.co/fewer-voting-city-officials-among-items-scsc-tells-brookhaven-innovation-academy-board-to-address/32315/
Astonishingly, on the second application the mayor and several city council members again placed themselves on the board of directors of this proposed school. The state Charter Commission has acted with integrity by insisting that this is a conflict of interest. Another concern pertains to the absence of a way to provide legally mandated special education services to youngsters with severe disabilities, in the absence of an agreement with a school district or some other provider.
But most importantly, J. Max Davis is spreading misinformation about whom the proposed school will serve. A charter school authorized by the state commission must draw its students by lottery from all over the state. A school located at the site of Skyland Elementary School most likely would draw its students from Chamblee, Doraville, nearby portions of Gwinnett County and City of Atlanta, and unincorporated DeKalb, in addition to Brookhaven. There’s no reason to assume that most of the students succeeding in the lottery would be from Brookhaven.
As long-time education advocate Kim Gokce has pointed out, “The enrollment of BIA should it go forward as proposed would likely mirror the enrollment of our area existing public schools; minority, significantly Free and Reduced Lunch, and many English Language Learners. I am serving on the Board specifically to help us prepare for this reality. The State Charter Schools Commission staff knows this and that is why they are focusing on our BIA Board’s readiness to address this reality, ensure lottery promotion, and to have services in planning to support these populations. (Comment in response to Brookhaven Post article on 7/31/15).”
Further, if the school is authorized and demonstrates success, it is likely that it will draw applicants from an even greater distance. Thus, it can and should not be viewed as a demonstration of autonomy by the City of Brookhaven, in contrast to what Davis promises.
The second mechanism, passage of a Constitutional amendment, appears as an issue position on Davis’s campaign website: “Work to bring about a new “Quad City” School System to include Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Chamblee and Dunwoody.”
Lest the reader be deceived into thinking this is likely to occur, it is important to note that a bill would have to be passed by a 2/3 vote of both the GA House and Senate in order to reach the ballot for a vote by GA citizens. For the past two years, different versions of this bill have not come close to achieving the support of 2/3 of GA’s Representatives and Senators. The opposition to this idea comes from both urban and rural parts of the state. In short, there is very little enthusiasm right now in the General Assembly for the creation of new school systems in the upcoming legislative session. And, as with starting a charter school, there would be considerable expense in the creation of a school district, and this would be inconsistent with J. Max’s promise not to raise property taxes. Moreover, the governor has put his weight behind the Opportunity School District, a measure that is also a proposed constitutional amendment and that will be on the ballot in 2016. Certainly the governor will not want his proposal to compete with an effort to establish new independent school districts.
Residents of Brookhaven have every reason to be concerned about their public schools, and the desire for increased autonomy is understandable. But voters living in Brookhaven who intend to support J. Max because of his statements on independent schools need to know that this is a promise that he cannot deliver.
Ann Abramowitz, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology