City DopeNews

The Clarke County School Board Asserts Itself

Last week’s vote on the Clarke County School District’s 2016–17 budget was a bit messier than usual—in a good way.

Criticized here (and elsewhere) as being little more than a rubber stamp for Superintendent Philip Lanoue, the Board of Education is showing signs of stirring. Lanoue’s $137 million budget passed unchanged, but three board members—Greg Davis, Carol Williams and Ovita Thornton—voted against it, which rarely, if ever, happens.

Williams did not comment on her vote, and Thornton would only say that she had several items Lanoue has not addressed to her satisfaction, but Davis laid out in detail why he voted “no.” Lanoue failed to meet with board members after public hearings on the budget to discuss any changes based on public input. Specifically, he didn’t put back a $40,000 cut from the Young Urban Farmers program, which pays students to work in the West Broad School community garden, and he didn’t address concerns from the public and board members that, in the wake of the Cedar Shoals High School sexual assault that rocked the city, his budget focused too much on security at the expense of early intervention. “As a new member, I haven’t seen the board as involved in this process as I would like to see,” said Davis, who took office in 2015.

Lanoue pointed to $250,000 in the budget to partner with UGA to bring doctoral students into schools to work with students, which he said essentially doubles the district’s number of behavioral specialists, as well as $200,000 to put the elementary school kids with the worst behavioral problems in separate classes where they would get extra attention.

Earlier in the meeting, Davis also pushed to reconsider a vote last month to eliminate the position of director of instructional technology (a decision that was both oddly timed and head-scratching given that Lanoue has handed out more tablets to students than Moses). The board’s process for placing an item on the agenda is so little-used that for a while no one could figure out how to do it. Eventually, Davis fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed, with Thornton, Williams and Carl Parks supporting him.

Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved: On its ordinary schedule, the district would have voted on the budget Thursday, June 9, but the vote was moved up a week because some board members were going to be at a conference out of town. Instead, the vote took place at a called meeting before a work session, where public input isn’t allowed. This (understandably) caused some consternation among folks who’d planned to make comments.

The endless chatter about CCSD on social media from folks who passed up three sparsely attended public hearings in May seemed to (also understandably) frustrate some board members. “Please, if you have a problem with the budget, please, please, please show up,” Sarah Ellis said. “Facebook is not an acceptable forum… We need to see you and hear you at a public meeting.”

And not mere minutes before the vote, either. The earlier you weigh in on anything, the more influence you can have.