DeKalb school election uncertain until runoff

One thing was obvious after the smoke cleared from Tuesday’s battle for control of the DeKalb County School District: Voters didn’t want a return of the old school board.

Two candidates from the past, one defeated in a prior election and another ousted by Gov. Nathan Deal last year, lost their bids for re-election. Yet there was also ambivalence about the board members appointed by Deal to replace the six he removed. Four chose to run for election, and only one, Joyce Morley, whose district runs from Clarkston to near Lithonia, won outright. None of the other three was able to avoid a runoff election.

Previously elected incumbents did better. Deal, whose intervention was intended to prevent DeKalb from losing accreditation, left three of them in place last year. Two won outright Tuesday: Melvin Johnson, the board chairman who presides over an area from Stone Mountain to Lithonia; and Marshall Orson, whose district spans Brookhaven and Druid Hills.

“I’m pleased with the group we have right now,” said Donna Priest-Brown, a parent, who was referring to the three winners. “In terms of the runoff,” Priest-Brown added, “I just don’t know.”

There are three races to be decided in the July 22 runoff. Deal appointee Michael Erwin got the most votes in District 3, which arcs from Avondale Estates to the southwest corner of the county. He’ll face Atticus LeBlanc, a political newcomer.

In District 4, from near Buford Highway to Stone Mountain, elected incumbent Jim McMahan failed to get a majority and will face top finisher Karen Carter, another Deal appointee. She was appointed countywide, but ran in McMahan’s district after the General Assembly eliminated her seat and one other in a downsizing this year.

Deal appointee Thad Mayfield got the most votes in District 5, in the southeast corner of the county. He will defend his seat against Vickie Turner, a newcomer who emerged from the field of five candidates with the second-highest vote count. She nudged out former board member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, the only board member who tried to regain office after being cast out by Deal.

The seventh remaining district was uncontested after a Deal appointee chose not to run. Stan Jester will represent Dunwoody. (The other appointee who declined to run represents the district that Mayfield ran in after Mayfield’s countywide seat was deleted.) Jester is married to Nancy Jester, who was removed by Deal and ran an unsuccessful campaign for state superintendent.

It’s a confusing election for DeKalb parents, yet a crucial one given the fragile, though improving, district finances and accreditation issues. Priest-Brown is co-president and co-founder of the South DeKalb Parents Council and worked with parents in north DeKalb to host candidate forums and drive turnout. She said they’ll be meeting again at the end of May to publicize the next election.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.