If you live in the DeKalb County Board of Education's District 4 – or even if you know someone who does – please make a note that this coming Tuesday, Aug. 21, is a very big day. It is the date of the runoff election between two candidates for the board of education, the incumbent, H. Paul Womack, and his challenger, Jim McMahan, a parent with children at Sagamore Hills Elementary School.
Here are the area voting precincts: Briarlake Elem, Brockett, Brockett Elem, Dresden Elem, Embry Hills, Evansdale Elem, Hawthorne Elem, Henderson Mill Elem, Hugh Howell, Lakeside High, Livsey Elem, Midvale Elem, Midvale Road, Montreal, Northlake, Oak Grove Elem, Oakcliff, Pleasandale Elem, Rehoboth, Sagamore Hills Elem, Skyland, Smoke Rise, Tucker, Tucker Library, Valley Brook, Warren Tech.
From Briarlake to Smoke Rise and the very large voting district that includes Tucker and Brockett, here are a few reasons why this runoff election is even more important than the last election you just voted in.
1. This election on Tuesday is all about you. Your friends, neighbors, children, parents – everyone you know who lives near you or has children at your neighborhood school is counting on you to get this vote right!
2. The value of your home can rise and fall as a result of the decisions made by the board of education. And, mostly, they have been falling. Read what a real estate professional in Tucker, Jessica Crocker, had to say recently in her blog on the Tucker Patch:
According to the National Association of Realtors, 75% of buyers consider the quality of neighborhood schools either 'somewhat important' or 'very important.'
The proof is in the pudding. If you research home sales statistics in neighborhoods with 'preferred' schools, you'll see homes that sell quickly – and for great prices.
This should be of particular concern to the residents of Tucker including areas from Brockett to Livsey and Evansdale, Smoke Rise in Stone Mountain (very near the border of Tucker) and those of you who live near Briarlake Elementary. Why? Because one of the candidates, Womack, who is the incumbent, has already tried to harm your area as he seeks to help his political friends and big business lobbyist buddies affiliated with Lakeside High School's booster club. By aiming to help T-Mobile place cell phone towers on the campuses of Brockett Elementary School, Smoke Rise Charter School, Briarlake Elementary School and even Lakeside High School, which were among the 12 schools originally on a list to receive huge 60' x 60' cell phone towers that extend 150' in the air.
From what I have seen, Womack does not seek to service his district. He seeks to help business interests and public utilities to whom he owes many favors. He plans to retire after this two-year term. There is no telling what damage he can do in this time frame if he is re-elected.
3. Schools will be closed in favor of mega-schools that cost less and provide an impersonal approach to learning. This idea of a corporate-style to running our schools flies in the face of what has always worked well in the past – caring, concerned teachers who are able to find what works for each child so they can help them tap into their inner strength. We've never met a bubble sheet capable of doing that.
If you do not vote for Jim McMahan, the involved parent running against Womack in District 4 or if you simply do not vote at all, there is a very good chance that many of our historic public elementary schools, in the middle of our neighborhoods, will be closed. Womack has already worked with the current board members in an attempt to close Livsey, Brockett, Idlewood and others.
If you agree that a cell tower in your neighborhood would drastically reduce your property value then think about this: Try having a cell tower that leads to your school getting closed too. The harm something like that would bring to a community has never been factored by the real estate professional or considered by those who depend on our tax dollars for a major source of their funding. The loss in revenue to the school system from the further decline in property values would negate any benefit that could come from the very little money that Womack negotiated the deal for in the first place.
4. Decisions made by the board of education have simply wasted our money. Womack's own involvement in the cell tower issue created a diversion by the board when they should have been focused on finding a new superintendent of schools. It even distracted Womack from doing his own job, as he reported that $104 million was cut from the budget in the year 2010 when he was the head of the Budget Committee, yet in 2011 when he was focused on the cell tower issue, he failed to notice that the school administration was not carrying out any of the cuts that had been ordered.
This failure to oversee the administration and failure to sanction the interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson (and instead reward her with a huge bonus) is what directly led to the budget crisis the board was presented with this year. The paraprofessionals, teachers, librarians, security and other resource personnel who lost their jobs can thank Womack for failing to keep an eye on the day to day operations of the school system. Since Womack has already announced his plans to retire, before changing his mind and running for re-election another term, he is much less likely to be connected to the real people and real concerns in his district.
Get the Cell Out-Atlanta members can tell a variety of personal stories that would back up this claim. Womack, it has been said, does not return phone calls, emails or even address concerns directed toward him during the public comments portion of many board meetings. He does not acknowledge or understand the damage his lack of ethics and concern has caused many children and many schools.
5. The school board is a non-partisan race. There are people of both major parties as well as the DeKalb County Green party that have all come forward to state their objection to cell towers and the process by which the lease for school grounds was approved. Only one candidate in this race for District 4 has spoken about the poor public notification procedures and the public's right to know when something is going on with the school near them might bring harm to their home.
6. The children of DeKalb County have been dropping out or failing at an alarming rate. The schools are in disarray and teachers are being forced out. Our school system has even been ranked as low as the worst performing district in the entire United States, and we are frequently the largest district at the bottom of the list in graduation rates and test scores in Georgia. We cannot afford two more years of the harmful decision-making that the current District 4 representative has been involved with, supported and defended.
Enter Jim McMahan: a refreshing change, an involved parent, a business background combined with stay-at-home parenting skills, accessible, accountable. This is the candidate who has the qualities most people want to see on that school board, representing them proudly!
McMahan has spent several years working with school councils, the PTA and other activist groups in his neighborhood and has a plan that would expand that program to include all schools in District 4 and potentially all schools in DeKalb County. He talks about ways the board of education can improve their transparency and has made a vow to remain loyal and easily accessible to the families he serves.
McMahan has made a vow to Get the Cell Out - Atlanta that he would not support any cell phone towers in communities that did not want them. As most people know, Womack, who now says he is undecided about whether cell towers should be allowed at school, is the person who brought this entire subject before the board in the first place!
This Tuesday is "Super Tuesday" for District 4.
This election is critical for District 4, so please return to the polls this Tuesday. Vote your conscience. Vote the way you think will help the children of our community and help improve our schools, which will lead to the improvement of DeKalb County overall and attract new home buyers to our entire county.
And as we face many avenues for corruption to seep into our schools, the strongest means to keep it out is by showing up to vote. In this Tuesday's election, every vote really does count!
Please take your civic duty to heart and vote this Tuesday, Aug. 21. Return to your normal precinct and vote anytime between 7am - 7pm. You can vote even if you did not participate in the previous election.