Decatur School Board District 2 candidates debate local issues on Twitch forumDr. Carmen Sulton, left, and Dan Baskerville, right, are running for the seat and the election will be held on Nov. 2
Decatur, GA — Two candidates are running for the District 2 seat of the Decatur School Board, and they joined the Decaturish Twitch show on Sept. 13 for a virtual forum. Each candidate had time to inform voters about why they are running for the seat, issues that are important to them and discuss local issues.
The seat is currently held by School Board member Heather Tell, who will not be seeking another term.
Two other seats are up for election as well. Hans Utz is running for the district one seat, and incumbent School Board member Jana Johnson-Davis is running for the at-large seat. Both of those races are uncontested.
Sulton is a pediatrician by training. She works in the emergency department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Egleston and Grady campuses. She is additionally the medical director for sedation at the Egleston campus.
Baskerville works as a lobbyist for the law firm Dentons, in the government affairs practice. He represents a variety of clients, including the DeKalb County School District and DeKalb County government. He recently worked with DeKalb and Decatur schools on the annexation bill that was passed earlier this year.
Some concerns have been raised by the community about the potential for a conflict of interest regarding Baskerville’s lobbying work. He said that the only that has been adverse between the two school system was the annexation issue.
Decatur and DeKalb County came to an agreement on annexation earlier this year.
“People who are in office right now view that as not an issue. They view it as something where they came to a common agreement on,” Baskerville said. “So what I would pledge is, I would not work for DeKalb County Schools in any way whatsoever on the annexation issue anymore to get rid of any sort of perception of conflict or anything.”
Baskerville added that if elected, he will be a City Schools of Decatur School Board member first and foremost.
“That will be my role and there will not be anything that I do for DeKalb County Schools in relation to that, period, the end,” Baskerville said.
During the forum, candidates discussed various issues including addressing the racial academic achievement gap, CSD’s current spending priorities and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics.
Both candidates agreed that the district needs to address the racial academic achievement gap and reevaluate the curriculum.
“The first one is taking a very critical look at our curriculum and then addressing any holes or inaccuracies that relate to other cultures and other races,” Sulton said. “We have to get that corrected so that our curriculum is in line with history and English.”
They also agreed that the district needs to look at disciplinary actions and disparities as it relates to race.
Additionally, Sulton would like to see robust and ongoing training for teachers.
“Recognizing biases and how they present is important,” Sulton said. “I also think that correcting those biases is a lifelong skill and I think having a program in place so that our teachers feel supported, so that they feel like they’re learning and that there’s training is ongoing is also critical.”
Baskerville added that he’d like to see the district’s policies and work on equity implemented.
“The district really says a lot of the right things in writing, but I don’t know that we certainly have not come far enough in implementing them,” he said.
In terms of CSD’s budget, Sulton and Baskerville said it should reflect the needs of the students and teachers.
Baskerville wants to take a look at the central administration budget, as well as the amount of lawsuits the district is involved in, to make sure resources aren’t being taken away from students.
“I think if you talk to the people that have sued the district, maybe if the district listened to them a little bit more, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten into these costly things,” Baskerville said. “There’s a bunch of revenue that could be used toward spending on students.”
The budget is the district’s value statement, Sulton said. What CSD spends on is what the district values.
“I think it should reflect the objectives and the goals of the superintendent, of the teachers, of the staff, so we should put our money where our mouths are and spend on the things that we need to spend on,” Sulton said.
She added that the board should look at where the most waste is and reallocate funds as needed to make sure there are programs students need, that teachers are supported and all of those needs are being accounted for.
“I think a budget that is not well-balanced, that’s not well explained, leads to people feeling like they’re paying too much in taxes,” Sulton said. “I think that’s where the board can improve is making sure that the budget is clear, that it’s understood, and that taxpayers know what they’re getting for their money.”
The School Board will soon vote on a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students and Superintendent Maggie Fehrman has implemented a vaccine mandate for CSD employees. Staff are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31 or complete the exemption process by that date.
If a staff member is granted an exemption and doesn’t have to be vaccinated, they will be required to get a rapid COVID-19 test daily, Fehrman said at the Sept. 14 board meeting.
Both candidates are supportive of the staff mandate with the exemption process for medical conditions or religious exemptions that would prevent someone from being vaccinated.
“I 100% support a vaccine mandate,” Sulton said. “I think we’ve been doing vaccines for years. Like I said, the way out of this is to make sure that we have as high of a vaccine rate as possible. I think that if you have a religious or a medical exemption, that’s understandable, but for all healthy students, especially for healthy teachers, we should be getting that vaccine.”
In terms of students, Baskerville is supportive of mandating the vaccine for students 16 and older. He was hesitant about mandating the vaccine for students 12 to 15 years old as the Pfizer vaccine has only received FDA approval for children 16 and older.
The Pfizer vaccine is still available under emergency use authorization for 12 to 15-year-olds, according to the FDA.
“So that has to be discussed because that’s a different situation between for some people with the FDA approval and the non-FDA approval, and that’s what the 12 and 15-year-olds fall into,” Baskerville said.
He added that his 13-year-old son is fully vaccinated.
City Schools of Decatur has been committed to providing five, full, in-person instructional days each week during the school year. Both candidates also remain committed to keeping students in school.
“I don’t right now foresee any way going back to all virtual,” Baskerville said. “The only way I could possibly see that is if there was some new variant that the vaccines didn’t work on at all, and we were back to ground zero.”
He added that the district is doing a good job with its mitigation strategies and that the district needs a robust virtual platform in place for those who don’t want to return to in-person learning.
Sulton agreed that there is no substitute for in-learning. As a pediatric emergency physician, she see COVID-19 patients every day. She reminded the CSD community to continue following the mitigation strategies of the district and keep them in place.
“I think we have to be flexible, we have to be understanding, and most importantly, we have to make sure that we are following the guided instruction from the American Academy of Pediatrics, from the Centers for Disease Control, interpreting their findings and applying it to our district,” Sulton said.
She added that the district needs to keep tracking data and consult with specialists and experts to create a plan that keeps students in the school buildings.
More information about the Nov. 2 municipal elections
All Decaturish elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com
The election will be Nov. 2. Early voting will begin on Oct. 12. The voter registration deadline for the upcoming city elections is Oct. 4. To register to vote, click here.
To see a list of important dates in the 2021 election year, click here.
Voters in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for an absentee ballot as of Aug. 16. The county will hold municipal elections on Nov. 2, as well as a county-wide E-SPLOST vote for DeKalb County schools.
To apply for an absentee ballot:
— Visit the Georgia Secretary of State website: www.sos.ga.gov.
— Complete the absentee ballot application using the state’s official paper form or request an absentee ballot in writing. Use blue or black ink only.
Applications can be mailed to the county elections office and voter’s should use this address: DeKalb County Election office, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032-1239.
Applications can also be submitted through fax, 404-298-4038 or email, [email protected].
Voters may send an absentee ballot request for multiple people who live in the same household in the same envelope or email.
If an absentee ballot is not mailed to you, contact your county’s elections office. You may still vote in person, either early or on Election Day.
In accordance with SB202, a new voting bill signed by Governor Brian Kemp in March, a voter ID is required to apply for an absentee ballot. A Georgia driver’s license, Georgia voter card, U.S. military ID, employee ID issued by any branch of the federal or state government, U.S. Passport, tribal ID, or a document verifying a voter’s name and address – including a paycheck, utility bill, or bank statement – are accepted forms of ID.
Voters can obtain a free ID at the DeKalb County Elections office at 4380 Memorial Drive in Decatur or at the following locations:
– On Aug. 25 from 3-6 p.m. at Doraville Marta Station, 6000 New Peachtree Road, Doraville 30340.
— On Aug. 30 from 3-6 p.m. at Indian Creek Marta Station, 3901 Durham Park Road, Stone Mountain 30083.
— On Sept. 15 from 3-6 p.m. at Chamblee Marta Station, 5200 New Peachtree Road, Chamblee 303041.
— On Sept. 14 from 3-6 p.m. at Kensington Marta Station, 3505 Kensington Road, Decatur 30032.
Note from Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt regarding the forum: I wanted to personally and publicly apologize to Dr. Sulton for not using her professional title throughout the forum. We had a discussion about this beforehand, and we agreed we could address the candidates by their first names. Because we agreed to be on a first name basis, I slipped into my lifelong habit of addressing people as Mr., Ms. or sir. In hindsight, I should’ve gone with my first instinct, which was to address her by her professional title. This was entirely my fault. While I was not intentionally trying to ignore her accomplishments, I do realize that people of color often fight to be recognized for the titles they have rightfully earned. These professional slights are wrong and shouldn’t happen. In the future, I will always refer to Dr. Sulton by her professional title when inviting her on our Twitch program. To anyone who was offended by my mistake, I sincerely apologize.
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