Diversity, state of schools main topics at Decatur candidate forum

Posted by Decaturish.com October 19, 2015
Candidates running for Decatur City Commission and the Decatur School Board spoke during a forum in Oakhurst on Sunday, Oct. 18. Photo by Dyana Bagby

Candidates running for Decatur City Commission and the Decatur School Board spoke during a forum in Oakhurst on Sunday, Oct. 18. Photo by Dyana Bagby

By Dyana Bagby, contributor 

The state of Decatur schools and the need to ensure the city’s diversity dominated a Sunday candidates’ forum at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church.

Pastor Brady Radford served as moderator.

Candidates attending the forum were Tony Powers, running for Decatur City Commission At Large; Brian Smith, for City Commission District 2; Eric Tumperi, for City Commission District 1; Scott Drake, seeking reelection for District 1; James Johnson, for City Commission District 2; Tasha White, for CSD Board, District 2; and Tom DeSimone, for CSD Board, District 2. The election is Nov. 3.

Rather than a traditional Q&A with candidates, the church’s Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Group organized a “listening forum,” which included a panel of citizens telling the candidates issues they felt needed special attention. Small group breakouts with candidates also allowed citizens to talk directly to those running for office.

Brad Cornett, a panelist representing Decatur Citizens for Kids, advocated on behalf of the General Obligation (G.O.) Bond Referendum. The bond calls for $75 million to be spent by Decatur City Schools on new construction and school expansions. There are approximately 4,600 students enrolled in Decatur schools; by 2020 that number is expected to jump to 6,500, Cornett said.

“We’re out of space for our kids. It’s the right thing to do for our kids today, it’s the right thing for our students tomorrow,” he said.


White, who is up against DeSimone for the CSD District 2 seat, said she strongly favors the referendum, especially because alternatives to not constructing new schools would lead to bandage fixes, such as housing students in trailers.

Money to pay for trailers would come from the operational budget, she explained, which could mean no pay raises for teachers and taxes still going up.

DeSimone said he believes parental engagement is key to ensuring future success of Decatur schools. For example, parents having books in their homes is an indicator of their child’s academic success, he added.

In the city commission race, all candidates acknowledged the need to work with the school board to help maintain the success of city schools. All candidates also said the commission has a crucial role to play in ensuring the richness of diversity in the city of Decatur — diversity of race, religion, socio-economic status, age.

“If I wanted to live in an all-white city, I’d move to East Cobb,” Johnson said.

Johnson said there are concrete steps the commission can take to safeguard Decatur’s diversity, such as mandating developers construct affordable housing along with new expensive apartments. Also, those moving to the city to live in a $900,000 home should pay more in taxes, he said.

Powers, a lifelong Decatur resident, said ensuring seniors are able to age in their homes is a top priority for him. “Let’s be involved. Let’s be active,” he said.

And Drake, who is the only incumbent in Decatur with a contested seat this year, said it is important to remember the Decatur Housing Authority is a separate entity with no direct ties to the commission with DHA receiving federal funds and mandates. However, a working relationship between the two is essential, he said.

Eric Tumperi said he moved to Decatur 27 years ago because of affordable housing. Now he worries working class people and seniors are being booted out of their community by expensive development.

“Many of my friends are concerned for the loss of Decatur, and defining, ‘What is Decatur?’ I want to make sure as we go down the road 10 years from now we have what the city is now. We need to retain the beauty of Decatur, the charm of Decatur, and the equitable tax base,” he said.

The homestead exception for seniors is a great way to start to keep Decatur diverse, said Smith. But diversity continues to be a top concern among citizens who want their children to go to schools with students having a wide range of backgrounds.

“[Diversity] is a community issue,” he said. “We’re in danger of losing that and it’s scary.”

Don Denard, a panelist at the Sunday forum, is a civil rights activist, former school board member and a member of the Leadership Council working on a Better Decatur action plan to address equity and diversity, racially unbiased policing and affordable housing. While Decatur is seeing great development bringing in great amounts of money into the city, now is not the time to forget the city’s progressive roots, he said.

“We don’t want to profit our way out of the richness of diversity we have,” he said.


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  • Marty

    The candidates and members of the leadership council should clarify diversity success with regards to future census numbers and percentages (as this information was utilized to initiate the conversation)?

    The diversity problem seems easier to address than gentrification.

    As the city’s development has increased, its population of minority residents has decreased.

    According to a report produced for the commission, whites accounted for 60 percent of the city’s population in 1990, while blacks accounted for almost 40 percent. According to the 2010 census, about 73 percent of the city’s population was white and 20 percent was black. The remainder of the population was non-black minority, which includes Hispanics.

    August 10, 2015 Decaturish

  • DecaturMax

    Lots of say nothing rhetoric to make everyone believe this is an issue Decatur government can address. As the city changes organically, so does the population.
    Population shift does not equal racism! News flash….you can’t build minority only housing. That is not fair housing. What a non-issue in Decatur except as a feel good thing for folks who do not want to be seen as too bourgeois. When the Scottish Rite bldg was renovated some affordable housing was set aside and sold via lottery at below market prices. How has that changed diversity? It does make for feel good politics, but it is at best a drop in a bucket.

    Decatur, You can’t simultaneously cry for less apartments to protect your schools and then say you are for the city promoting diversity and affordable housing. These 2 stances are in opposition to each other. If you want to achieve more diversity/affordable housing, allow higher density 2-3 bedroom apartments or maybe promote the city via advertising targeting minority communities and the perception of the city. Not going to happen …..but it feels good to vaguely talk about.

  • Eric

    “If I wanted to live in an all-white city, I’d move to East Cobb,” Johnson said.

    Imagine if one of the candidates said the opposite, something like, “If I wanted to live in an all-black city, I’d move to (insert your choice of city here).” They’d be run out of town in 30 seconds.

    Oh, those awful white people, with their white spouses and their white kids and their white relatives…

    • James Johnson

      Tell me about it. They are truly terrible sometimes.

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