The State Board of Education is allowing DeKalb School Board members to remain in office, but with only one month to prove they are making changes to keep the district from losing its accreditation. Before a packed audience at the State Board’s downtown Atlanta office, and hundreds of online listeners, attorneys for both sides stated their case Thursday afternoon, Jan 17.
At the end of about four hours of probing testimony, including how DeKalb now finds itself placed on probation by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the state voted to give DeKalb a “little” more time to prove itself. Georgia’s BOE voted to delay its decision until Feb. 21 as to whether or not to recommend suspension with pay of all the DeKalb board members to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
The 2011 Georgia law 20-2-73(a) gives the State Board the authority to make such a recommendation to the governor, when a school district faces possible loss of its accreditation.
SACS placed the embattled DeKalb County Board on probation on Dec. 17 following a scathing report of mismanagement and ineffective governance, “dangerous” financial deficiencies, and declining student performance.
In its defense, DeKalb School Board Chairman Dr. Eugene Walker expressed the board’s commitment to taking the necessary steps to address all of SACS’ findings, and to do so before DeKalb meets the State Board again in February.
But among the concerns of DeKalb’s attorney, Rocco Testani, is the 30-day window the state is giving the board, especially when DeKalb had requested in a “consent order”, a three month window to show a “good faith effort toward improving its performance.” According to the Crossroads News, the State Board rejected the “consent order” that had been worked out by the school district’s lawyers and the Georgia Department of Education at a Jan. 10 pre-hearing.
State board member Wanda Barrs supported Testani’s concerns by pointing out that if three months will give DeKalb the best outcome, then that may be more productive than “ousting the entire board, including three newly elected members, in a month’s time”. However, State Board member Mike Royal said a three month time table is too long to give the school board, but at the same time, giving the board one month does not mean voting them out.
Jennifer Hackmeyer, Attorney for the Georgia DOE said, “I believe that evidence will show that good cause exists for the state Board of Education to move forward with a recommendation to the governor to suspend with pay all eligible members of the DeKalb County Board of Education.” She added that agreeing to give the District three months to make progress, but then turning around and voting on the board’s fate in 30 days will confuse the public.
So as it stands now the DeKalb County School Board has until Feb. 21 to show the State School Board that it has made progress toward correcting the problems identified by SACS. If the state is not impressed, then the DeKalb Board faces the possibility of suspension.
At critical issue for the state is the fact that accreditation probation is only one step from the loss of accreditation. Losing accreditation would not only be an educational blow to DeKalb’s students, but hit the community hard with problems like a decline in property values and loss of business growth.
The Jan 17 state proceedings are available for review on the Maureen Downey’s AJC Get Schooled Original live Blog of Thursday’s hearing.