Four candidates in the July 22 primary runoffs who hope to lead Georgia’s schools sought to distinguish themselves from their opponents during a June 30 forum held by the League of Women Voters of Atlanta Fulton County.

The Democratic runoff features Valarie Wilson, a former member of the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education, and Alisha Thomas Morgan, a state representative. Mike Buck, chief of staff to outgoing superintendent John Barge, and Richard Woods, a former high school principal and teacher who currently works in the private sector, meet in the Republican runoff.

The four were asked their opinions of a constitutional amendment to allow creation of separate school systems in “new” cities such as Dunwoody, Brookhaven or Sandy Springs. Their answers, as they appeared on the website, were:

Buck: “That’s a new one on me. Before I would consider a constitutional amendment to do other things to education, I would like for us very much to fully fund the educational systems that we’ve got and improve upon our past performance.”

Woods: “As an individual who has always spoken in favor of local control, I think this needs to be a local decision, and if the people of Georgia decide this is the pathway they want, then I’m all for that. If it’s the people of Dunwoody, if they believe it     serves their children and their community, then I am for that. First and foremost we still have to go through the process. That means following the Constitution and the rule of law, and if we do that and it’s something that the people of Georgia agree on, then it’s the proper step. I have no issues with that at present.”

Morgan: “We considered this legislation this session, and it’s why I want to emphasize tonight the importance of having a state legislator as a state school superintendent, who knows these issues, who has the relationships and the track record of getting things done in the Legislature and who can move over to the state department of education to do that. As a whole, I do not support this legislation currently. Philosophically I think it’s important for local communities to have the ability to choose for themselves if they want a school district, I think with this particular issue though, there are serious ramifications for DeKalb County in particular, and with all of the creation of new cities and new government, I’m deeply concerned about funding, I’m deeply concerned about what that will do to the overall school system, but as a whole I think that this should be something that as a state, we should consider to allow voters to consider for their own communities.

Wilson: “While I support local control, I believe it is important that we pay attention to the impact decisions such as this could have to an existing local school district. Being on the ground, working with city schools of Decatur, I know how challenged we are with our budget, and I know how challenged DeKalb County has been with its budget, and I think that we have to be very, very careful when we start looking at creating a separate school system, when the school system that we currently have hasn’t been a priority in the state of Georgia and it hasn’t been funded adequately. I do believe in local control. I do believe that the people should have the opportunity to speak, however I think that we should move very, very carefully on a situation like this because it could have negative impacts to the DeKalb County Schools system.”

For more from the forum, visit this link at Deacturish.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.