Down near the bottom of the ballot, just above a manufactured goods tax exemption in the tiny city of Clarkston, is an election with serious consequences for the parents of 100,000 students — not to mention anyone who pays taxes in DeKalb County.
All seven seats on the board that governs Georgia’s third largest school district are up for grabs.
Despite the importance for a county school system that nearly lost accreditation and has yet to fully regain it, two candidate forums hosted by Leadership DeKalb last month drew smaller than expected crowds. The civic advocacy group raised $25,000 to publicly vet the 22 candidates, yet only about 60 people turned up to watch each event.
Yvette Pitts-Ayo, a parent and school volunteer, felt anxious as she exited the second one at a south DeKalb community center. The lack of interest does not bode well for the May 20 election, she said.
“I’m ill at ease, because I don’t think enough people are going to come out,” said Pitts-Ayo, whose son is in seventh grade. “It’s not time to relax and think things are okay. We are still in a crisis.”
Low turnout would give outsize influence to special interests in the non-partisan races. Since there is no school board primary in DeKalb, this will be the final vote except for any runoffs.
This is an election for the history books for several reasons.
First, in reaction to perceived dysfunction, the Georgia General Assembly cut two seats from the nine-member board and adjusted the terms of the remaining seven so that all are up for election this year. Second, in reaction to the same perceived dysfunction, Gov. Nathan Deal replaced six elected board members last year, but only four of his appointees are running and they all face opposition.
The intersection of these two events produced this odd outcome: One of the governor’s appointees, Karen Carter, was shifted into the district of Jim McMahan, one of the three elected members Deal left on the board, so that race features two incumbents. Also, Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, one of the members tossed out by Deal, wants back on the board; Don McChesney, who lost his seat to Marshall Orson in the election two years ago, is running against Orson again; and Stan Jester, whose wife was removed from the board by Deal, is running unopposed.
The winners will make decisions that will determine whether the district regains full accreditation. Selection of the next superintendent will be chief among them.