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Dear Decaturish – The wrong people were in the room

Annexation and new cities Avondale Estates D'ish Decatur Metro ATL

Dear Decaturish – The wrong people were in the room

Photo obtained via https://www.facebook.com/DruidHillsCharterCluster/

Photo obtained via https://www.facebook.com/DruidHillsCharterCluster/

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Dear Decaturish,

The “Meeting notes” leaked by the Druid Hills Charter Cluster community are fascinating and stupefying in the same instant.  I would note at the start that Mr. Thurmond has not responded on the substance of the notes and I eagerly await for his side of the meeting. But as a “Fernbank Dad” who loves his kid’s school, I have to say I am appalled that this meeting even took place.

I applaud the attempt by members of Chamber of Commerce for trying to facilitate the meeting. They obviously understand the critical juncture our county is at and they know full well the fiscal, political, and thus economic devastation that will ensue if Druid Hills leaves. But here’s the thing: if you are going to bring people together who stand diametrically in opposition when so much is at stake, you have to insist that you facilitate the dialogue: You have to mediate. You have to be in the room. Allowing Mr. Thurmond to cancel the meeting at the Chamber offices because the “Chamber was biased” was a huge mistake. The meeting which eventually took place without mediation at his office has only served to crystallize the twin notions that Mr. Thurmond and the School Board remain politically tone deaf to what is happening and that what remains of the Charter Cluster effort has always been hell bent on secession rather than making our schools … all of our schools … great again.   I am very concerned that this has only made things worse when most of us simply want some sense of rationality to be returned to Central DeKalb.

I support regionalization of our school system because I am a big proponent of civic engagement in both our schools and government. But the charter cluster concept is not the only path that would get us there and it’s not unreasonable for the School Board to reject that particular formulation given the concept is unprecedented. Nonetheless, the debate is a legitimate disagreement.  We simply need to ensure that the actual debate and the decisions we have to make regarding annexation are framed on the substance of the proposal itself and not the hyperbole surrounding a meeting that should never have taken place to begin with. The wrong people were in the room.

What is appalling to me is that apparently the Charter Cluster advocates went into this meeting thinking they could leverage their solution by dangling Atlanta Annexation rather than trying to reach some sort of compromise. Who do they think they are speaking for at this point?  The hundreds of high achieving teachers who will all lose their jobs?  The parents who send their kids to three elementary schools that were part of their plan but now have been shut out?  The hundreds of students who find themselves suddenly without a High School?

Most of us, who would be directly impacted, do not want to be annexed into Atlanta. No one should be happy with the defenders of the status quo; with the state of our school system our test scores; or our dropout rates. But the way we change the education trajectory is by electing reformers and innovators rather than looking for the first available exit. These are smart people who could have reshaped outcomes countywide had they taken the time to build a countywide coalition or made a strategic investment in the electoral process in 2014. Instead they have squandered their credibility and their ability to lead any reform effort. They no longer speak for most people in Druid Hills and neither Mr. Thurmond nor Mayor Reed nor the Chamber should presume they do.

What is equally appalling is that Mr. Thurmond continues to push Druid Hills to the brink if for no other reason than he feels “disrespected.” If accurately stated, Mr. Thurmond’s position is both politically naive and very dangerous. He is Nero playing with a blowtorch. Every time he opens his mouth he gives people reasons to leave. If he is accurately represented, he is doing no good service to those trying to hold Druid Hills together in DeKalb. Mr. Thurmond, how can you on the one hand ask for millions of dollars to launch a legal challenge to Atlanta’s Annexation effort, and on the other hand be completely dismissive of those who are able to stop annexation in its tracks by simply opening the door to a different solution?

The complete stupidity of these two positions is what truly boggles the mind: The aforementioned holy grail of “local autonomy” is not even available with Atlanta Public Schools (perhaps even less so with this crowd leading the effort) and losing Druid Hills High and two of its feeder schools would be devastating for DeKalb. It will set dominoes falling that will take a generation to put back in place.  Both sides need to wake up.

Certainly there are compromise solutions out there. But clearly neither the DHCC crowd nor Superintendent Thurmond should be leading that conversation. Not when we are so close to such a dangerous tipping point and not when such deep fault lines are so close to the surface.

My Kid’s School, Fernbank Elementary is a great school.  It is not broken. But I am deeply concerned that it will be destroyed if we allow these folks to sit across the bargaining table from each other without adult supervision. The sooner all these people get off the stage the better.

– Steve Perkins

Perkins is the most recent First Vice Chair of The DeKalb Democratic Party and has also served on Georgia Democratic Party Executive Committee.  He is now organizing non-partisan grassroots opposition to both Secession and the Status Quo.  www.savedekalb.com.