Meet your candidates – DeKalb County BOE District 3
Incumbent DeKalb County Board of Education Member Michael Erwin will face Atticus LeBlanc in the July 22 runoff election for the District 3 Board of Education seat. Both candidates survived a crowded May 20 primary, but neither received more than 50 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. Decaturish sent each candidate a list of questions about the runoff and their positions on the issues. Here are their answers.
Michael Erwin, Incumbent
Why are you running for this position?
As a parent and educator I am running for this position because of my belief that every child in the DeKalb County School System should have equal access to a quality education. The new DeKalb County School Board has worked well together and produced results in the last 16 months that are moving the district forward. I want to continue to build upon this momentum by focusing on improving academic achievement, removing barriers that exist for our teachers, and maintaining a responsible governance culture throughout the district.
What do you think helped you make it to the runoff election?
I made it to the runoff election because I represent proven results and positive change for the school district. The voters recognize that in order to improve academic achievement we must have a healthy governance culture and sound financial management. As a member of the new school board, I have demonstrated the ability to deliver extraordinary results such as the elimination of the $14 Million Dollar budget deficit and the creation of a $20 Million Dollar budget surplus.
Do you think the state of Georgia should fully implement Common Core standards?
I believe Georgia should implement standards that are viable for the long-term. These standards should be consistent and address the needs for rigor and critical thinking in all core areas. Our state should put forth standards that prepare our students to be competitive on a state, national and international stage.
Do you support DeKalb becoming a charter school system?
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. 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.
Why should people support you over your opponent?
The voters should support me because I have a proven track record of results. I have been an educator for over 12 years and I am currently a Biology professor at Georgia Gwinnett College. This position allows me to observe the academic gaps that my students have leaving high school; such as reading comprehension, study skills, and the need for a career plan.
Unlike my opponent, I answered the Governor’s call-to-action when the district was in crisis. At the beginning of my tenure, the district was about to lose its accreditation through SACS and was running a $14 Million dollar deficit. I along with fellow Board Members have made unprecedented strides towards getting the District back on track by eliminating the budget deficit, reducing furlough days, cutting legal fees and reducing the Central Office’s budget by $12 Million dollars. We will end the current fiscal year with an estimated $20 Million Dollar surplus.
The proposed FY2015 budget demonstrates this by removing all remaining furlough days which will return us to a 180 day attendance calendar. Funding has also been appropriated for the hiring of 100 new teachers and we will provide the first cost of living adjustment for teachers and staff in 7 years. As a result, this will set us on the path to positively impact teacher recruitment ensuring that we have highly qualified teachers in classrooms on day one.
Finally, I encourage Voters to remain mindful of the progress this Board has made by working as a cohesive group. While we still have a great deal of work to do, a dysfunctional board will compromise the progress that the District has made over the last 16 months and jeopardize the accreditation process. We cannot afford to take steps backwards. Voters should support me because I have and will continue to change the educational culture for all of our children in the DeKalb County School System.
1) Why are you running for this position?
The quality of our public schools impacts every aspect of our community from economic development to crime prevention. The school board is charged with the responsibility of providing every child in DeKalb County the opportunity for an excellent education, regardless of the zip code they may live in.
The incumbent was not doing enough to improve educational outcomes for our children or offering a significantly different approach than the previous boards that have failed the students in DeKalb. I decided our children could not wait any longer, something had to be done and I am committed to do everything I could to make a difference.
The last financial audit of DeKalb Schools from December 2012 showed $200 million in funds that never should have been spent, but the incumbent has yet to request another audit. I felt someone needed to bring more fiscal transparency into the school system to rebuild the public trust, and the incumbent has been unwilling to do that.
2) What do you think helped you make it to the runoff election?
The failure of the incumbent to recognize and respond to the educational needs of our children and community was the primary reason. I was not the only one to see that a change had to be made. 63% of the voters did as well, and I am now committed to delivering their message. We must change the way our school system has operated for years. While the incumbent has asked voters to be patient and continue to wait for gradual improvement to a district that graduates an average of 58% of its students and spends $1.25 billion per year, I believe our district needs transformational change, and it must start now. The needs of our students must be the priority. We need new leadership that is not tied to the failed policies of the past, and leadership that is committed to doing whatever it takes to give our students the education they deserve. That should include supporting principals’ ability to manage their schools; supporting teachers’ ability to develop curricula specifically for their students; and supporting parents’ ability to choose any DeKalb school regardless of their ZIP code, as well as better local school options.
3) Do you think the state of Georgia should fully implement Common Core standards?
I don’t have a problem with the actual standards, so long as teachers have the flexibility to develop curricula for their students. However, I believe we need to limit the amount of standardized testing in our classrooms so that teachers can have this flexibility, and students aren’t forced into being evaluated on concepts before they’re fully developed. While data-driven analysis and assessment tests are part of functioning system, I think it’s important that teachers aren’t forced to simply “teach to the test,” and are able to bring innovation and their own creativity to the classroom.
4) Do you support DeKalb becoming a charter school system?
I support any proposal that will improve outcomes for our students and provide the excellent education they deserve. When McNair and Towers High School graduate only 46% & 44% of students compared to 93% for KIPP Charters despite a virtually identical demographic of students, I think it’s clear that we should encourage more charters and charter clusters where appropriate in DeKalb. I think a charter system could provide more local control and improve parental and community engagement.
While the current administration supports moving to a charter system as one of the options mandated by the state, I fear that a charter system under the current regime will strongly resemble the broken system we already have. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the state’s charter system option provides the most state funding with the fewest regulations, which could be why the current administration has promoted this option in spite of their opposition to the Druid Hills Charter Cluster and other charters that are not controlled by administrators.
5) Why should people support you over your opponent?
My opponent was the deciding vote against the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (“DHCC”), and he has stated that he doesn’t think the DHCC benefits all students in DeKalb. But at the same time, he has made the decision to send his own child to a charter school while he asks other DeKalb parents to be patient with underperforming DeKalb schools.
Meanwhile, his “no” vote, in spite of the 92% of parents that supported the petition, has actually harmed many DeKalb students by alienating parents around the county, who are now seeking better public schools by any means necessary, including annexation by other cities, state charter petitions, and pushing a constitutional amendment to allow newly formed cities to create their own school districts (HR486). These efforts have already moved significant resources out of DeKalb schools, and will continue to do so until the board finds a way to engage and cooperate with engaged parents and stakeholders.
My opponent will likely cite the “progress” within the school district, and the fact that DeKalb is on “warned” status for accreditation rather than on probation, as well as a 1.5% budget surplus resulting in part from the recovery in home values. But DeKalb School District’s grades from the state actually declined over the last year on all levels: elementary, middle, and high school.
Unlike my opponent and because I feel incredibly fortunate to have a child at a charter school (The Museum School), I am fighting to ensure that every child in DeKalb has access to the same quality of education that I feel my son is receiving.
I believe our tax dollars should be focused on improving student achievement for all students, which is why I have pledged to donate my entire school board salary to charities that serve underprivileged students in the district.
Community leaders have said this school board election is the most important that DeKalb may have ever seen, as it provides a real opportunity to elect a board that’s willing to make the transformational changes our children need now. Please join me in supporting those changes, and forging a new direction for DeKalb schools, by voting on July 22.
If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me through email at email@example.com. Thank you.