DeKalb County, GA, May 17, 2016 – Commentary, by Kim Gökçe – Since Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, communities have been locked in what seems to be a never-ending struggle for control of their local public schools. Here in DeKalb County, it wasn’t that many years ago that our public school system was under the supervision of the courts due to discriminatory practices. Recently, we faced the threat of losing accreditation due to mismanagement. No wonder, then, that many hesitate when asked if they will authorize hundreds of millions of sales tax dollars to invest in our schools.
It is one of the hallmarks of our time that public education policy and delivery is such a politicized and controversial topic. Like our houses of worship, our public schools in DeKalb remain largely segregated via self-selection. No doubt the politics of race super-charge the emotionally electric politics of public education. Folks who otherwise run from politics find themselves swept up in the fervor and emotional flood that is associated with the local school board. With the May 24th SPLOST V vote, we are at high tide once again.
After the Governor intervened in our local Board of Education due to DeKalb’s accreditation woes, mistrust reached a new, unimaginable low. Even those not previously paying attention came to understand that corrupt leadership was running DeKalb onto the rocks; leadership whose moniker was Machiavellian manipulations of constituencies and backroom dealings dominated the DeKalb County Schools District (DCSD). This polluted environment produced criminal indictments of its top administration officials and revealed a Superintendent who developed his character and leadership style in a life-long career as a DCSD employee.
In such a time and place, you would have to be daft to turn over more of our tax dollars to DeKalb, right? Wrong.
Our investment in public education is not an investment in its leadership. Too many fail to see our investment in public education as an investment in our children, our future, and our community’s long-term health. But our leaders have helped us put on blinders. The DeKalb community has developed such a self-destructive political environment that we should adopt the scorpion as our County mascot. For whenever controversy or great debates start, our leaders begin stabbing and poisoning themselves and thereby all of us.
We are not White. We are not Black. We are not Democrat. We are not Republican. We are not North. We are not South. We are not Cities versus County. When it comes to schools, we are just DeKalb, and we have a responsibility to provide improved educational environments for our children. DeKalb’s school plant is in bad shape and reflects poorly on us all. Is SPLOST V some sort of magical solution for the many ills of public education? No. It is, though, necessary that we provide safe and positive instructional environments for our children whether the political weather is rain or shine. And so I will vote “Yes” for SPLOST V, and I encourage you to do the same no matter which way the political wind is blowing on May 24th.
Kim Gökçe is the founder of the Cross Keys Foundation and a native of Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Gökçe is the product of public education in Fulton and Cobb Counties. He is an advocate for lifelong education and believes strongly in the central role public education plays in our DeKalb community. He is a twenty-six year resident of the Brookhaven area of DeKalb County whose non-profit organization aspires to provide, “Every Opportunity for Every Child.”