On Thursday evening, your locally-elected state Representatives and Senators will hold a Town Hall Meeting at the Cross Keys High School at 6:30 p.m. Should you attend? Absolutely! Here is why:
Like it or not, we live in the state which was recently named the MOST corruptable in the U.S. today for our lack of accountability measures, open-ended allowances on gifts and donations from lobbyists and other special interst groups and our low voter turnout. DeKalb is in a lot of turmoil right now and if there will be any help at a state level, it will have to start with these men and women who are sworn to represent us.
But, a problem with our culture right now is that we often complain about "the way things are," but we do not actually participate in the process to make things better. We do not vote or read about the issues on the ballot, so we end up with irresponsible incumbants who get re-elected term after term only because they are the name on the ballot that is more recognizable. We end up with issues like the charter school amendment and SPLOST votes that passed mainly because the voters did not understand what they were being asked.
Tricky wording on ballots has been a trend during the last legislative session and one I personally hope the delegation will explain. But, if we do not show up to ask the questions or even listen to what is on the agenda for 2013, we will find ourselves, the taxpayers, as the "odd man out" once again. The stakes in this little game of keep-away, unfortunately, are very high. Our money, property values, schools, health and even rights to free speech have all been up for grabs and many of us "regular folks" have found out too little too late.
DeKalb County is the most diverse county in the entire state of Georgia, and also one of the wealthiest. Are you aware that more than 60% of your annual property tax dollars are collected by the state and then a formula is applied before they decide how much of that to give back to us for educating our own children? Even worse, the last few years the formula, which many say is outdated and unfair to larger counties like ours, has dictated that $100 million of our own money be redistributed to other counties throughout the state, most notably including Gwinnett County.
Our state delegation is made up primarily of Democrats, which reflects the views of our urban residency, yet they must operate in the strongest Republican states in the nation. Our school system may carrry the name of our county, but did you know that they are actually a part of the state education structure?
Many of the initiatives we have witnessed in our schools appear to be the work of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative club of Republicans who have been passing legislation in favor of corporations over the individual rights of our citizens for many years now. However, in Georgia they have been particularly sucessful because of the general acceptance of voters of whatever their party puts before them.
Republican goals for education vary greatly from that of their fellow Democrats. While neither side appears to have an abosolute answer, the Republicans appear to be pushing the proliforation of privately funded schools through charters or by incentives for parents to take their children out of public school and put them into a private one. They want to privatize our schools, taking loyalty and accountability out of the picture completely as far as parents are concerned and placing it in the hands of big businesses, and not necessarily ones that are even based in Georgia.
Knowing this little bit of information could be very helpful to voters as they consider the candidates for the board elections that will take place Nov. 2014 last time I checked. But, our school board elections are "non-partisan" even though their policies appear to be following a very partisan rule book.
In addition, we each can cast just one vote for the representative in our own, narrowly defined area. Yet, the members of the school board do not impact a single area by themselves. They are expected to work together, as a team, but we elect them in a manner that suggests a competition. If we all had equal opportunity to vote for the full board, then every vote would truly count and every school board member would be accountable to all of us and all our children. We could stop the in-fighting and start putting together a real team.
These ideas are not novel, but they warrant consideration. If our delegation has come up with some kind of a plan to help our children, then they are clearly not focused on the change that we so desparately need.
I, for one, plan to ask our delegation what they plan to do this coming year about the problems in our schools. Their failure to help is just as large of a contributing factor to the downslide in education as their failure to allocate proper funds. They have the power. But, we have the voice.
Whether you choose to speak or just come to listen, please try to attend. Just knowing that you are there and you are paying attention will let them know that we do not expect for 2013 to be "business as usual."