On Thursday morning, the State Board of Education (“BOE”) is scheduled to reconvene to consider whether or not to recommend to Governor Deal that he suspend the entire DeKalb BOE.
I have been closely monitoring this situation both prior to and since the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools (SACS) voted in December to place the DeKalb County BOE on probation. The SACS report described multiple acts of misconduct by members of the board. It also painted a bleak picture as to whether the members of this board could turn things around.
I attended the entire hearing that was held by the State BOE in January. I listened to all the questions from the State BOE and the answers given by the members of the DeKalb Board. I listened with an open mind but heard little to suggest that things will improve under this board. At this next hearing, the State BOE has only two options before them. They can recommend keeping the board in place or they can recommend suspending the entire DeKalb BOE and replacing them with appointees of the Governor’s choosing. In others words, either they all stay, or they all get suspended and potentially removed.
Since the initial hearing several significant events have occurred. First, the Board named Michael Thurmond, the state’s former Labor Commissioner, to be the interim superintendent following the resignation of Superintendent Atkinson. I support him and want him to succeed in navigating the DeKalb County School System through this period. But there was something he said last week that troubled me. While he was at the Capitol, he met with the DeKalb Legislative Delegation. I asked him if he was going to attend the State BOE meeting, because Superintendent Atkinson had not. He answered that not only was he going to attend but that he was going to speak for the Board.
That answer bothered me because the Superintendent reports to the Board. It is not the proper role of the Superintendent to defend or protect the Board. They need to do that for themselves. If they can’t articulate why they should stay – and they have not so far– then they need to go.
On Monday, Dr. Eugene Walker announced he will step down as the Chair of the Board. I commend him for this, but I think it’s too little too late. As proof, the Board also announced on Monday that it was going to spend $150,000 on leadership training for itself. Candidly, DeKalb’s tax dollars should not have to be spent that way. Let’s spend money on student achievement!
Finally, there was Tuesday’s announcement that the Board, and Dr. Walker, filed for a temporary restraining order challenging the Georgia law that gives the Governor the power to remove them from office. I view this as nothing more than the Board members using more public money to look out for themselves.
We should expect school board members to be public servants first. Their actions need to reflect that commitment to service. I sincerely believe that no other issue matters as much to the welfare of our community. Mismanaging our school system and shortchanging our children can have dire consequences: we’ll lose talented teachers, shed jobs, damage our community’s reputation, depress home values and, worst of all, we’ll limit the opportunities available to our children.
It is a very serious thing to remove an elected official from office. But my constituents have been virtually unanimous in voicing their opinion to me. They have lost trust in the BOE and want them removed. I agree. The stakes are just too high to leave this board in place. Consequently, I urge the State BOE to recommend suspension of the entire Board. I believe this is the right thing to do.