Dear Decaturish – Plenty of blame to go around on Senate Bill 53
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As school systems, lobbyists, and legislators point their fingers at each other about Senate Bill 53, we’re remembering the adage that when you point a finger at someone else, there are four pointing back at you. These groups all see themselves on the high road, and we believe in assuming good faith. Part of acting in good faith, though, is asking, “What could I have done better?” and unfortunately we’ve seen scant evidence of that from anyone. Here are some questions and suggestions to get started:
DeKalb legislators: If we believe that City Schools of Decatur (CSD) didn’t bring anything to the table when opposing the bill, what did you do to work with them to address their concerns? If you hadn’t heard sooner from the schools, why weren’t you going to them? Next time something like this comes up, will you be be on the phone to get ahead of constituent concerns or address their misunderstandings about legislation? This bill would have affected current and potential Decatur residents, especially those who would have been surprised if they couldn’t attend Decatur schools — yet neither of us (one a Decatur resident, the other in DeKalb) heard anything about SB 53 from any of you, even at Senator Parent’s March town hall. Can you make clearer what it is this legislation actually does?
DeKalb schools: You have a lobbyist on retainer and several employees in the Division of Communications & Community Relations. Will these people engage Decatur and other neighbors next time DeKalb advocates to change laws affecting those neighbors? Mr. Baskerville wrote in Decaturish that “CSD has known for some time that [DeKalb schools] has had issues with these harmful annexations and CSD has not acted to address it.” What has DeKalb done to address this problem directly with CSD or the city? Maybe Decaturish will do a public service and share the results of an Open Records Act request for DeKalb and Decatur school leadership communications and working documents the last few years around strategies for resolving these annexation concerns. We read CSD’s statement that “We could have addressed these concerns and negotiated a compromise” as an invitation to talk in the future — will DeKalb take Decatur up on their offer? (You might find Decatur less chilly at the table if your lobbyist doesn’t accuse CSD of “peddl[ing]” misinformation and “distort[ing]” facts, or call their reasoning “sophomoric.”)
Decatur schools: While your budget is 7 percent of DeKalb’s and you don’t have a retained lobbyist or a big government relations staff, DeKalb nevertheless said annexation issues were a legislative priority months ago. Will CSD commit to reaching out to neighboring districts to take their pulse on legislative goals? If we believe that no one tried to engage you on SB 53, it’s troubling to read that you became aware of the bill from “a third party” and not from observing the legislative process itself. In a search for “education” among senate bills, SB 53 is on the first page and named clearly enough to distinguish it from the rest. Will CSD ensure its government relations staff are focused on legislative affairs during the next session? More broadly, is it possible that rather than isolated organizations, Decatur, DeKalb, APS, and others might jointly endorse legislative goals? Things like safety, mental health, and E-SPLOST are shared priorities, and maybe CSD can step up as a leader here (and at the same time rebuild its relationships with upset legislators).
Look, everyone has had a chance to be angry. Namaste, as Superintendent Dude wrote shortly after another gaffe. Decatur and DeKalb schools: recharge over the summer and get it together this fall. Legislators: do your jobs and make sure that even if what you propose doesn’t make everyone happy, at least everyone has been heard. It is ugly to see you all griping at each. If there is any silver lining here, it is that this topic is so boring that our kids aren’t watching and seeing some of you at your worst.
– Rebecca Martin (Dekalb) and Adam Stanchion (Decatur)