By Maggie Lee

By a vote of 109 to 62, the Georgia House has recommended cutting the DeKalb school board from nine to seven members and giving the governor the right to fire the Atlanta school board

Senate Bill 79 allows the governor to boot any school board that’s on Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation probation. He would then name the replacements.

Opponents argued that the current board members ought to be allowed time to work through allegations against the system of cheating on high-stakes tests.

Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Buckhead) rejected that. “Folks, hope is not a strategy,” he announced from the House floor.

Democrat Rep. Ralph Long of Atlanta asked, “are we supposed to sit back and do nothing?”

He added he thinks the governor has no ill designs for the Atlanta school board.

Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta) however, said it is “dangerous” to let the governor reappoint a school board, especially now as Atlanta is searching for a new superintendent. That would essentially put non-elected officials in charge of the search.

The governor can already dismiss school boards elected after 2010; this bill allows him to remove ones appointed earlier.

The bill would also cut the size of the DeKalb County school board from nine to seven members.

“Atlanta, DeKalb and Clayton [County] are the only metro school boards with more than seven members,” said Brookhaven Republican Rep. Mike Jacobs, who noted those three had drawn crticism from SACS, a school accrediting agency.

Fellow DeKalb Democrat Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur said,  “Folks, the members of the DeKalb County school board have no entitlement to office.”

But not everyone agreed. “There is this manufactured notion that seven is some kind of magic number,” opined Rep. Gloria Tinubu, an Atlanta Democrat whose district includes parts of DeKalb.

Usually bills that affect just one locality are decided by only that area’s legislators, then rubber-stamped by the Legislature as a courtesy.

But knowing the divisions within their delegations, the  Fulton and Democrat supporters of the plans pushed the questions to the whole Legislature.  They hitched their texts to a bill about the Savannah school board. It’s already passed the Senate — though with difficulty.

So now the Savannah bill must return to the Senate pulling Atlanta and DeKalb.  The Senate is expected to vote  on Thursday.

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