DeKalb lawmakers may delay school board reduction

Lawmakers took no decisive action Wednesday to overcome an impasse over a mandate to reduce the number of school board members in DeKalb County, but they did grasp for a potential solution -- one that could involve voters.

The meeting of the county House delegation was civil, in marked contrast to one last week when members complained that race-based politics had made compromise impossible.

The House group, prompted in part by word of new legislation in the Senate, unanimously decided to study the matter further. They established a committee to talk with legal staff about proposals that would postpone for two years the mandated reduction in the school board from nine members to at most seven.

A law passed last year requires that reduction to take effect in January 2013. That law didn't stipulate a process, and legislative leaders gave the local delegates until Wednesday to agree upon a method and a map.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Druid Hills, dismissed that deadline, saying the real deadline is the end of the legislative session. She proposed that a committee get answers to two questions: What are the ramifications of postponing implementation for two years and what would be the effect on last year's law of a voter referendum this year to let the public decide whether they want a smaller school board?

The House delegates were responding to news that Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, was introducing legislation that would postpone the downsizing until January 2015. Millar confirmed he was introducing his bill as statewide legislation tailored to DeKalb. He said the local delegation would have to come up with its own local bill for a referendum and for other details. He said they might want to cut the terms of board members up for election this year to two years, so that voters could decide on all the seats in 2014.

The House delegation meeting drew a small crowd of spectators Wednesday.

Parent Michelle Penkava questioned the wisdom of postponing the downsizing of the DeKalb school board.

"Why should we think that the process is going to be any smoother two years from now?" she asked.