‘Charter System’ option is a vehicle for change

6/13/2014, 3:59 p.m.

By Dr. Michael Erwin

I volunteered to serve on the DeKalb County School Board because of my belief that every child should have equal access to a quality education.

At the beginning of my tenure, the district was on the verge of losing its accreditation through SACS; it was running a $14 million deficit; layoffs, furlough days and no cost of living adjustments had devastated employee morale. Deep budget cuts had also negatively impacted student achievement such as reduced funding for textbooks, counselors, support staff and services.

My opponent Atticus LeBlanc has chosen to ignore the unprecedented results of our new School Board and Superintendent Michael Thurmond over the past 16 months.

By eliminating the district’s budget deficit, reducing furlough days, and cutting the Central Office’s budget by $12 million, we will ensure that our budgets place dollars closest to where student instruction is occurring in the classroom.

Furthermore, the proposed budget for FY 2015 includes the removal of all remaining furlough days, hiring of 100 new teachers, and a cost of living adjustment for teachers and staff. We will end the current fiscal year with an estimated $20 million surplus.

Currently, the district is implementing a variety of strategies to address the graduation rate. We are utilizing post-secondary transition specialists to work with at-risk students and the district has partnered with local colleges to offer summer preparatory courses to help students prepare for Georgia High School Graduation Tests.

Thanks to a grant from AT&T, we will also establish five “Job for Georgia Graduates” sites at high schools with the lowest graduation rates.

Current efforts have resulted in an improved graduation rate for 2013 from 57.3 percent to 60.2 percent and we are expecting even more of an increase for the 2014 graduation rate.

My opponent has decided to focus on labeling our communities as charter or anti-charter instead of uniting our community around equitable education for all of our children.

The recommended Charter System School Flexibility Option is a vehicle for change that allows each of our schools to develop its own long-term plan that involves all of our children receiving the best educational experience we can give them.

It will maximize school-level governance by providing each school with substantial autonomy and decision-making over budgets, programs, personnel and academic innovation.

Furthermore, the recommended Charter System will not prevent the Druid Hills Charter Cluster from forming, but it will require that they obtain consensus from each of the seven schools’ local governance boards to work as a cluster.

I believe that our local community members, educators, parents and stakeholders will have an opportunity to form charter schools that fit the academic needs of their children and make decisions that lead to academic growth within their community schools.

We need consistency in governance, a continuous channeling of resources to the classroom, and accountability for academic growth and achievement at every level. So, I ask the public to stay engaged and involved and keep an open mind as we continue to change the educational culture in DeKalb County.

Dr. Michael Erwin is the incumbent District 3 School Board member. He is a biology professor at Georgia Gwinnett College. He was appointed to the School Board by Gov. Nathan Deal and is running for his first elected office.