Hans Utz announces run for Decatur School BoardHans Utz
Editor’s note: For more information about how Decaturish will be covering Hans Utz’s candidacy, click here.
Decatur, GA — Decatur resident and entrepreneur Hans Utz has announced his run for the City Schools of Decatur School Board. He is running for the district one seat and the election will be held on Nov. 2. Board member Lewis Jones, who currently holds the district one seat, is not running for reelection.
Utz and his wife have lived in Decatur since 2008 and have four children. Three of their children attend City Schools of Decatur schools and one will be soon.
Utz is an entrepreneur and inventor bringing to market a medical device designed to save lives and help nurses in intensive care units quickly identify medication lines. His company, Lightengale, is based in Decatur, according to his campaign website. He has a background in engineering and finance, is a veteran of the US Army, and is the former deputy chief operating officer for the city of Atlanta.
Utz recently served on the CSD Senior Homestead Exemption Committee, and he is an occasional contributor to Decaturish with columns usually focused on local government accountability, taxes and budgets.
After watching CSD face challenges over the past few years, including issues of transparency and accountability, incidents of racism and inequity, significant growth in taxes, and recruiting and retaining educators, Utz felt it was time to run for the School Board.
“I think these are all very solvable problems, but we have to have board members who are willing to grapple with those problems, willing to be transparent to the public, willing to be accountable to the public to address those problems and then to go forward and do so,” Utz said.
Utz said that the School Board needs to ask tough questions about challenges such as the former superintendent’s misuse of vacation days, growing operating expenses and tax increases
“We’ve seen some dramatic increases in operating expenses that aren’t, I think, well explained and we’ve felt that as a community in our taxes,” Utz said.
Taxes are affected either by increased millage rates and increased property values, he added. One of Utz’s campaign priorities is fiscal responsibility and providing more information on basic budgeting and taxation standards.
“Every single year that budget has been a larger budget than the prior year, which means every single year the schools have increased taxes, and they have increased them faster than enrollment has grown,” Utz said.
The district does release information about the budget and finances, but it’s difficult to read without experience reading financial documents, he said.
“I think there just needs to be a more straightforward, simple way to explain here are the five priorities that we’re investing in this year, and this is how much it’s going to cost and this is the impact that each of those are going to have on your taxes,” Utz said. “Now we can have a public conversation about whether these are the right priorities and whether we want to fund those.”
Utz is also running on a platform that includes a robust national search for a superintendent who has a vision for innovative and equitable instruction for students and who will be held accountable to that vision.
Superintendent Dr. Maggie Fehrman was given a one year contract in May, putting the next school board in a position to choose the superintendent for the upcoming school year. Utz thinks Fehrman should be given the opportunity to compete for the position, but also thinks she shouldn’t automatically be considered the front-runner or a shoo-in for the position.
“I think we need to do the proper robust search and Dr. Fehrman should have every opportunity, equal to any other candidate, to compete for and win that position,” Utz said.
He would like to see a candidate who is primed and capable of bringing the district’s ranking back up and to make it a nationally great school system.
Utz also wants to end forced unanimous board votes and return to public policy discussions and an acceptance of dissent.
“I don’t know that I have ever actually seen CSD as a board debate a policy publicly,” Utz said. “ I don’t think I’ve ever seen board members ask each other hard questions about policy, and that artifice is maddening. It’s why the public got so bent out of shape in COVID. They just didn’t feel like there was anybody in a leadership position really reflecting the complexity of the issue to the administration.”
“Board members ought to be able to ask different and difficult questions of the superintendent. They ought to, in a public way, be able to debate one another,” he added.
The board members must represent the perspectives of the communities who elected them, Utz said.
“If we aren’t doing that, if we’re forced into these unanimous votes, and we aren’t actually reflecting the breadth and diversity of the community then how are we going to be empowered to hold the administration accountable,” he said. “Well, we’re not and that’s where we get to where we are now, where the board just ends up looking like a mirror reflecting the perspective of the administration.”
Lastly, Utz wants to see action on equity and implementation of a curriculum that explores the breadth of contributions of Black Americans, robust initiatives around reconciliation, concrete consequences for harmful bias, and accountability for all employees, including at all levels of the administration, according to the press release.
Utz would like to see the board recruit and attract more teachers of color as well, figure out why the district is losing teachers and fix the issue.
“It’s not just recruiting teachers of color. It’s about paying the teachers equitably,” Utz said. “If we don’t pay our teachers the same as surrounding systems, then we aren’t going to be able to attract diverse teachers.”
City Schools of Decatur is facing four federal lawsuits and concluded the investigation of former Superintendent David Dude in May. The School Board said the investigator found no evidence of criminal conduct, but the board declined to ask the investigator to write a report about the findings.
The investigator’s findings were never released, leaving lingering questions about what happened during Dude’s tenure and why the board decided to part ways with him.
“I think that the School Board took an unnecessarily narrow exploration of the behavior from a strictly legalistic standpoint,” Utz said. “The investigation focused on did a law get broken here and that’s not, I think, where the community was.”
Utz would like information about the investigation released and said that the public is owed answers within the limit of what they’re allowed to hear under the law.
“I also recognize that on issues of personnel, personnel matters and things of that nature there are sometimes things that can’t get released publicly,” Utz said. “But I also know that governments sometimes use that as an excuse to shut things down that they find uncomfortable.”
He intends to ask for the findings of the investigation and review it. He’d like to see more public accountability from the perspective of knowing what happened to be able to put controls in place, so it never happens again.
“If you are not bound by some law to not release, then you should release what you have,” Utz said.
The School Board does not work for the school system, they work for the taxpayers that elect them, he said.
“The School Board in all cases ought to always default to what is the expectation of the taxpayer,” Utz said. “If they can’t meet the expectation of the taxpayer for some legal or other reason, then they should be able to explicitly point to what that legal or other reason [is] and be transparent about explaining why the information can’t be shared according to whatever that legal or other reason is.”
Currently, Utz is not running against another candidate as board member Lewis Jones is not seeking reelection but Utz wants to see more candidates run for the School Board.
“I personally think it is a problem that the School Board elections are uncontested. I think that an uncontested election means that the candidates aren’t vetted publicly sufficiently,” he said. “I’m going to run as if I’m contested. I’m going to put a very, very clear platform out there. I’m going to talk in very clear terms about what I believe.”
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