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DeKalb County School Board members criticize controversial education bills

DeKalb County

DeKalb County School Board members criticize controversial education bills

DeKalb County School District Administration and Instructional Complex on Mountain Industrial Boulevard in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — Bills being considered by the state Legislature would address “divisive” concepts in education and promote “parental rights,” but the DeKalb County School board questions the need for such legislation.

Dan Baskerville of Denton’s law firm presented a legislative update to the Board of Education at their regular meeting February 14. In addition to discussing the status of redistricting legislation, Baskerville identified several items of interest to the board under consideration in the Georgia state legislature.

A plan would restore $382 million in Quality Basic Education austerity cuts and $5.5 million in cuts to other programs for the Fiscal Year 2021 and 2022 budgets. Bills related to mental health and counseling needs and to paths to technology careers for students also being considered.

There are controversial pieces of legislation under consideration, however.

– “Divisive concepts” legislation HB 1084, SB 375, and SB 449 which ban teaching certain ideas about race

– “Parental rights” bills HB 1158, HB 1178, SB 449 which add complaint and review processes

– Bills for restrictions on school material SB 226 and HB 1217 which add additional layers of constraints on curricula and materials used by school districts

“The theme I see in all this is really an incursion on local control and local school districts,” said Board member Marshall Orson. “Without getting into the weeds of the particulars of each bill and the culture wars that go along with it, I think this goes against a fundamental principle of how we have set up public education.”

Board member Dr. Joyce Morley criticized the legislation as a transparent attempt to shape a political narrative ahead of the 2022 elections.

“There’s no [critical race theory] being taught in any schools. I’m not willing to participate in speaking about it because it doesn’t exist,” said Morley. “Why are there bills coming about to prevent something that has never taken place? It’s political.”

In other business:

– Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris and Chief Information Officer Monika Davis offered an update on DeKalb County’s FLEX Academy, a supplemental program of online instruction. Watson-Harris noted that interest in the program increased dramatically in Fall 2021.

Forecasted enrollment increased by 300% in ten days because of the Delta variant of COVID-19. This expansion meant that the district had to hire additional staff and adapt quickly, resulting in some problems with access. The district extended deadlines for students and plans to follow up with students who failed to give them opportunities to recover those courses.

“I think we need to emphasize what this is and what this isn’t. It requires a high degree of self-motivation and those who need a lot of structure, it doesn’t have that,” said Orson.

– The School Board approved several requests from the district’s Information and Instructional Technology, including purchase of up to 64,000 hybrid learning devices from CDW-G at a cost not to exceed $28,913,280; a contract for dark fiber point-to-point maintenance with Zayo Enterprise Networks, LLC at a cost not to exceed $56,390; and technology advisory services from Gartner, Inc.at a cost not to exceed $98,300.00 via Georgia State Contract GTA 9800-SS000.

In addition, the board approved the purchase of Chromebooks from CDW-G and hotspots from T-Mobile in an amount not to exceed $22 million. The funds for those items are provided by the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund and will not impact the district’s budget.

– The board approved a number of contracts for Facilities Management, including an independent contractor agreement with Door/DH Pace and BMS Cat in the amount not-to-exceed $170,000 this fiscal year; a contract extension for HVAC maintenance and repair with Kreo Building Solution LLC, MAXAIR, Inc, Mechanical Services, Inc., and Sluss and Padgett, Inc. for a collective amount not to exceed $2,000,000; a contract extension for electrical contractor services Capital City Electrical Services, D & R Construction and Contracting, Donald Camp, Inc., LMI Systems LLC, Mr. Dee’s Electric Service LLC and MWI Electrical Contractors, Inc. for a collective amount not to exceed $1,500,000; and a contract extension for tree cutting and trimming services with Casey Tree Experts, Richmond Tree Experts, Inc. and Total Outdoor, LLC for a collective amount not to exceed $1,000,000.

– The board approved a contract for swimming pool maintenance services with StandGuard Aquatics, Inc. for an amount not to exceed $250,000.

– The board approved a grant of three permanent and one temporary access easements as well as the sale of 0.257 acres of the rear portion of the former Glen Haven property to the Georgia Department of Transportation for $153,000. GDOT requires the easements and land to complete improvements to I-285 at the Covington Highway exit.

– The board approved a contract extension with Genuine Parts Company (NAPA Auto Parts) for parts, supplies and sublet services for DCSD fleet vehicles in the amount not to exceed $1,000,000.

– The board approved the close out of projects at Canby Lane Elementary, John Lewis Elementary, Jolly Elementary, and Miller Grove Elementary totaling $2,316,112.47.

– The board approved a contract for general contractor services on an E-SPLOST V project for a security vestibule at Freedom Middle School, with Diversified Construction of Georgia, Inc. in an amount not to exceed $352,136.00.

– The board approved the purchase of the TeamMate+ Audit management system from Wolters Kluwer Financial Services, Inc. for $89,900. This purchase is funded by the CARES II COVID relief program.

– The board adopted new policies requiring fingerprinting and background checks for volunteers who will be alone with students. The school will conduct fingerprinting and will pay for the background checks. The superintendent will update the board on implementation of the policy in May.

– A first read was conducted for three proposed board policy changes. The first will place the internal audit function with the Office of Internal Audits & Compliance and make the Office of Internal Audits & Compliance and its activities functionally accountable to the Board of Education Audit Committee. The second proposed change clarifies the circumstances under which DCSD will defend or indemnify present and former members of the Board of Education, the District, and their officers and employees.

The board plans to create an audit committee of the Vice Chair and two other Board of Education members selected by the Board of Education and supported by the Director of Internal Audits. The Audit Committee will also appoint no more than three community advisors with appropriate auditing experience and credentials. It will be a standing committee of the Board of Education which will review and report on the financial operations of the district including financial reporting processes, reports of fraud, waste, or abuse, internal controls, and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

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