All eyes are on Governor Nathan Deal as he decided whether or not to take the Thursday night recommendation of the State School Board, and suspend six of the nine DeKalb County School Board members. After 14 hours of testimony, from 23 witnesses, including SACS’ parenting company, AdvancEd CEO, Mark Elgart, and DeKalb board members, the State voted to remove the longest serving board members. The recommendation allows the newly elected members, sworn in last month, to remain.
The DeKalb County School board members recommended for suspension are: Eugene P. Walker, Nancy Jester, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Jesse "Jay" Cunningham, Donna Elder and Pamela A. Speaks.
The 11 member State School Board arrived at its unanimous decision after 10 pm Thursday.
State Department of Education’s attorney, Jennifer Hackemeyer said, the DeKalb Board "receives a failing grade for governance".
She cited evidence of mismanagement, misconduct and political infighting as the reason the District is in danger of losing its accreditation and was placed on probation in December 2012.
The decision to remove the six board members was based it on evidence including financial problems that indicated that the District has spent more money than it has, and its actions could leave the district open to fraud. There was also an overall determination that, “ the DeKalb County Board of Education is in violation of AdvancED standards and policies, as well as the Board’s own established policies.” Among other evidence, the District was found to have failed to promote effective administration of its schools, and failed to operate in a manner giving “administrators the autonomy to meet achievement and instructional goals”. Mark Elgart, the first witness to testify, said based on accreditation probation in 2004, “there's been a 10 year pattern of board failure and mismanagement”.
Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond made a passionate plea to the State Board to allow the entire board to remain in tack and with his leadership they would, “get the job done”.
DeKalb School Board Attorney, Bob Wilson, argued that the SACS report does not line up with the actual facts. Wilson said the many of the allegations found in SACS' December 17 report are based on anonymous interviews and unidentified documents.
Board member Eugene Walker said he plans to fight the State Board of Education's recommendation.
He told Channel 2 Action News, "There was no mismanagement. There was so nepotism. As far as evidence, I mean, I don't see what evidence they used to say we were such a chaotic, dysfunctional system".
On Wednesday, Feb 20 the DeKalb Board tried to stop the Thursday hearing with a lawsuit that also challenges the constitutionality of the Georgia law that gives the governor the right to remove board members based on the State School Board’s recommendations. While the Fulton County Superior Court Judge denied the request to stop the hearing, citing that the injunction request was entered too late, the Judge did however state that he would review the constitutionality issue.
A court hearing will be held Feb. 28 in the lawsuit filed by the DeKalb School Board. The governor could decide if the board members should be removed following the hearing’s outcome. The nine board member's 30-day suspension was recommended with pay.