Local
4:08 pm
Thu February 28, 2013

Timeline of DeKalb School Board Crisis

The DeKalb County Board of Education
Credit DeKalb County School District

Last updated May 28, 2013

This is a chronology of the twists and turns in the ongoing story of the DeKalb County School Board since the school system’s accreditation was put on probation in December, 2012. 

The links below are to WABE news stories and other sources of more detailed information.  This summary will be updated as events continue to unfold.

December 17, 2012
DeKalb Schools Placed on Probation by Accrediting Agency

After a six-month investigation and multiple warnings, the DeKalb County School District was placed on probation for one year by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The primary concerns, as outlined by SACS in a 20-page report (a copy of which has been posted to our web site), have to do with board governance issues as well as financial problems.  

In its report, SACS outlined eleven "Required Actions" that the DeKalb board must implement to the satisfaction of the accrediting agency.  Seven of these are holdovers from earlier SACS reviews that have not been implemented, and four of them are new.  We have posted a two-page excerpt from the full SACS report that lists these actions.

But it is in the report's closing remarks (also excerpted and posted on our web site) that one can feel the level of anger and frustration over the failures of the DeKalb County school board to change its behavior and meet its accreditation goals. 

The failure of the Board to effectively govern the system is having severe consequences on the system’s current and future operation. If this pattern of poor governance is not corrected immediately, thousands of DeKalb County students will be negatively impacted for years to come.

The findings of the special Grand Juries, the internal audit, findings of the AdvancED External Review team, and admissions of the board members, staff and stakeholders leave little doubt as to the extreme dysfunction of the DeKalb County Board of Education.

The board members’ blatant disregard for their own policies and procedures, lack of respect for each other and the staff, and failure to properly govern the system is having a devastating impact on the quality of the educational experience being delivered to all students in DeKalb County.

The community stakeholders must demand that the Board authentically and effectively implement and sustain the changes necessary to ensure that this system begins the difficult process of repairing the dysfunction so that the governing board can focus on meeting the needs of all students. All current and future students of DeKalb County have the right to expect this much from the adults that have sought to govern over their futures.

Mark Elgart, the CEO of SACS’ parent company, said the condition of the district is one of “conflict and chaos,” mainly because board members interfered with day-to-day operations of the school system.  

Elgart also pointed out that since SACS was placing the DeKalb school system on probation for board governance issues, state law would require that the DeKalb board go before the state board of education for a hearing within 30 days.  

The school system will continue to be accredited pending the resolution of this problem.

January 17, 2013
DeKalb School Board Appears before State Board of Education

On January 17, the members of the DeKalb school board appeared at a hearing before the State Board of Education.  During the hearing, each member of the DeKalb board went before state officials to testify individually.

The majority of the questions focused on allegations of financial mismanagement and infighting.  The hearing uncovered tension between the DeKalb board members as well as tension between the DeKalb board and the state board. 

No action was taken at this meeting, but another hearing was scheduled for a month later.  After that meeting, the state board of education will decide whether to recommend to Gov. Deal that he replace some or all of the DeKalb board members.

February 7, 2013
DeKalb School Superintendent Resigns; Michael Thurmond Appointed Interim Superintendent

DeKalb school superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson confirmed speculation at a DeKalb school board meeting that she was resigning her post after 16 months on the job.  As her replacement, the DeKalb school board selected former Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond

Michael Thurmond

Thurmond brings his experience as a state legislator and administrator to the interim position, but he has no school system experience.  Thurmond said he will be the board’s “point person” in its critical second hearing before the state board of education. 

At the meeting, Thurmond learned he will also have to figure out how to cover a $24 million deficit in the school district’s budget.  School systems in Georgia are not allowed to operate at a deficit, and financial mismanagement was one of the recurring issues raised by SACS when it put the district on probation.

February 18, 2013
DeKalb Board Works To Address Governance Issues

In preparation for its hearing before the state board of education, the DeKalb school board held a meeting where it tried to address the kind of governance issues that have been criticized by SACS.  While they made some changes, the board’s difficulties emerged again when they had a hard time selecting a new chairman and during a tense exchange over signing a new oath to uphold the board’s code of ethics.  

Eugene Walker announced he was stepping down as chairman and said he thought the board was “moving toward … realizing our goals.”  But outside observers, including Mark Elgart, were openly skeptical if real progress was being made.

February 19, 2013
DeKalb Board Unsuccessfully Tries to Stop State Hearing

In a surprise move designed to stop a crucial hearing before the state board of education scheduled for only two days later, the DeKalb school board’s lawyer filed a court motion requesting a temporary restraining order to halt the proceeding. 

In the filing, attorney Bob Wilson argued that the law giving the governor the right to remove local school board members was unconstitutional because it didn’t require prior proof of individual misconduct as required by the state constitution. 

Judge Kelly Lee ruled the next day that the state hearing could proceed because the DeKalb board’s request had not been submitted five days in advance as required by law.   This last-minute attempt to cancel the hearing caused grumbling among some school board watchers, but a hearing on this issue has been scheduled in federal court for February 28.

February 21, 2013
Second State School Board Hearing Turns Into 14-Hour Marathon

In a long and contentious hearing, the DeKalb school board again faced questions from the state board of education about its $24 million deficit, its ability to govern the district, and whether or not the board had turned a corner. 

Interim superintendent Michael Thurmond argued that while the board had suffered in the past from a lack of leadership, the recent election of a new chair and vice chair for the board as well has his own appointment as interim superintendent showed that the board had turned a corner and was serious about change. 

Members of the state board remained skeptical.  After more than 14 hours, the state board voted unanimously to recommend to Gov. Nathan Deal that he suspend six members of the DeKalb board, leaving only three newly-elected members.  Gov. Deal said that he would announce his decision on the following Monday.  Afterwards, some DeKalb board members announced that they would fight to keep their jobs on the school board if the Governor tried to remove them.

February 25, 2013
Gov. Deal Removes Six DeKalb School Board Members

In a press conference, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that he will accept the recommendation of the state board of education and remove six members of the DeKalb school board

Gov. Nathan Deal, announcing his decision to remove six members of the DeKalb school board.
Credit Jonathan Shapiro / WABE News

"The stakes are indeed high,” Gov. Deal said.  “The future of almost 100,000 students who are in the DeKalb County school system is indeed something we cannot take lightly." 

This put the DeKalb board in something of a legal limbo because of lawsuits disputing the constitutionality of removing the board members.  Gov. Deal acknowledged the situation: “We’re operating under the process that is before us and I think that it’s certainly something that all of us could say, ‘Well, maybe there’s a better way.’ The reality is this is the only way that is open to us at this point in time.” 

Afterward, various members of the DeKalb County legislative delegation expressed a mixture of reactions ranging from cautious agreement to complete opposition.  The most contentious point seems to be the idea that officials elected by the public could be removed from office through executive action without any legal finding of wrongdoing.  This power was conferred on the Governor by a 2011 law.

February 26, 2013
Request for Court Hearing over DeKalb Board Members' Dismissal Withdrawn

The attorneys for the six suspended members of the DeKalb School Board have voluntarily withdrawn their lawsuit filed with the Fulton County Superior Court.  This means the hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 28, will not take place. 

The lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of the Georgia law that allowed Gov. Nathan Deal to dismiss the school board members.  The lawsuit can be re-filed at a later point if the board members choose to do so.  Meanwhile, a similar challenge to the law in federal court is still scheduled for Friday, March 1.

February 28, 2013
Georgia NAACP Backs Ousted DeKalb Board Members

In an announcement at the state capitol, the Georgia NAACP announced its support for the six members of the DeKalb School Board that were removed by Gov. Nathan Deal.  The group opposes the law Gov. Deal used to remove the board members.

March 4, 2013
Court Denies Motion To Stop Removal of DeKalb School Board Members

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story issued a ruling on a motion filed by the six members of the DeKalb School Board that Governor Nathan Deal has said he intends to remove from the board.  Judge Story rejected the argument that the Georgia law authorizing the removal of school board members violates the U.S. Constitution.  The judge did not rule on another motion claiming the law violated the Georgia constitution.  The judge's actions appear to give Gov. Deal a green light to proceed with the removal of the board members.

March 6, 2013
Nancy Jester Signals Her Resignation from DeKalb School Board

Nancy Jester, one of the six DeKalb school board members removed by Gov. Nathan Deal, announced on her blog that she was resigning her position on the school board.  She wrote that she had wanted to step down earlier but had decided to stay on until she learned the outcome of a federal court hearing, which subsequently ruled against the board members.  Her position will now be filled by a new school board member to be chosen by Gov. Deal.

March 6, 2013
Nominating Committee to Begin Reviewing DeKalb School Board Applications

A five-person nominating committee has received an estimated 200+ applications from people who would like to be named as replacement members on the DeKalb School Board by Gov. Nathan Deal.  Now the committee will begin meeting on March 8 to evaluate the applications.  The committee has provided no guidance as to its timeline or its selection criteria.

March 8, 2013
Nominating Committee Begins Selection Process

Governor Nathan Deal has asked the committee evaluating the 400+ applications for positions on the DeKalb School Board to work through the weekend in order to expedite the selection of the new members.  Some observers expressed discomfort with the process, but others pointed out that with an update to SACS due by the end of May, getting the board back up and running as quickly as possible is essential.

March 11, 2012
Gov. Deal Meets With Black Political Leaders About DeKalb School Board

Several  African-American political and civil rights leaders met with Governor Deal to express their discomfort over the fact that the Governor has the power to remove duly elected public officials. Edward DuBose of the Georgia NAACP said that he would prefer a formal recall election, but the governor’s office reiterated the need for urgency and said time was too short for such a recall process to work.

March 13, 2013
New Board Members Selected by Governor Deal and Sworn In

Five of the six new members of the DeKalb School Board are sworn into office by Judge Asha Jackson.
Credit Martha Dalton/WABE News

Governor Deal introduced the six people he had chosen to appoint to the DeKalb school board at an 11 A.M. press conference, and by 1:00 P.M. DeKalb Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson had administered the oath of office.  The governor praised the qualifications of the new board members and described how his appointees reflected the racial makeup of their districts. Noting that some of the new appointees have professional backgrounds in mediation and conflict resolution, he called on them to work cooperatively.  The new board members expressed an eagerness to get to work.  Other politicians in DeKalb expressed their support for the new board members.

In an interview with WABE's Denis O'Hayer and Rose Scott, AdvancED's CEO Dr. Mark Elgart praised the state's rapid response to the crisis in the DeKalb school system.  He warned, however, that changing the composition of the school board does not mean accreditation is assured.  "Oh, there's a lot of work to be done," Elgart said.

March 18, 2013
Georgia Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On DeKalb School Board Removal

The Georgia Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether the law that Governor Nathan Deal used to remove members of the DeKalb school board violates the Georgia constitution.  Each side – the school board members and the state – will have 20 days to file legal briefs and ask to make oral arguments if they choose to do so.

New DeKalb School Board members (L-R): Vice Chair Jim McMahon, Chairman Melvin Johnson, Superintendent Michael Thurmond, and secretary Margaret Francois.
Credit Nick Nesmith/WABE NEws

March 21, 2013
New DeKalb School Board Meets for First Time; Votes To End Status as Plaintiff on Federal Lawsuit

At the first official meeting since Gov. Deal replaced six of its members, the DeKalb school board voted unanimously to end its participation in a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2011 law that authorized the removal of the former board members.  They voted not to pay their attorneys for any more work on this issue, and they froze hiring and spending on discretionary expenses until the end of year.  The new board displayed a brisk and businesslike approach to its agenda, in marked contrast to previous board meetings.

March 27, 2013
Michael Thurmond Tries To Reassure DeKalb Parents

Interim DeKalb schools superintendent Michael Thurmond met with DeKalb community members and business leaders to talk about what’s next for the embattled school district.   While acknowledging a possible $24 million shortfall in the budget, Thurmond said he would not propose raising property taxes to make up the difference.  Instead, he called for a hiring and pay freeze.  Thurmond said the DeKalb school system first has to regain the public trust and demonstrate that they’re serious about improving academic performance.

April 4, 2013
Mark Elgart Outlines What DeKalb Has To Do To Restore Full Accreditation

Top accreditation official Mark Elgart called for stability at the top of the DeKalb school system so the system could start focusing on students again.  Elgart said that reining in the budget may pose the biggest immediate problem for the school system, given that the system had already, in his words, “gutted the classrooms.”   Elgart also said that stable leadership is essential over the 3-5 years he believes it will take to turn the system around.

April 18, 2013
DeKalb Board To Consider No-Nepotism Policy

The DeKalb School Board will consider instituting a new policy that would formally ban nepotism in the school system.  One of the primary criticisms of the school district by SACS and others has been the existence of what many called a “friends and family network” for jobs and contracts.  Interim superintendent Michael Thurmond says the board will consider such a policy at its May meeting.

April 26, 2013
Former DeKalb School Board Members Petition Governor for Reinstatement

Five of the six DeKalb school board members ousted by Gov. Nathan Deal have now asked the governor to be reinstated.  Only Nancy Jester has actually resigned from the board.  The reinstatement requests will now go before an administrative law judge designated by Gov. Deal.

May 13, 2013
DeKalb School System Announces $9 Million Surplus, CFO Resigns

When DeKalb School Superintendent Michael Thurmond submitted his budget for the school system, it showed the system had a $9 million surplus.  Previous reports had predicted the school system would end up with a $24 million deficit this year.  When asked about the discrepancy, a District spokesperson said it was due to reimbursements from the federal government that the district had not been requesting. On the same day, the school system's CFO, Michael Perrone, announced his resignation.  It is not know whether the two events are related.

May 24, 2013
Mark Elgart Gives Druid Hills High School Commencement Address

Mark Elgart gave an encouraging commencement speech to the graduating seniors at Druid Hills High School.  As the CEO of SACS, the DeKalb school system's accrediting body, Elgart has repeatedly criticized the failures of the DeKalb school board and has threatened to revoke their accreditation.  But speaking to the Druid Hills graduates, Elgart said the education they had received was of "significant value."  As for the demands for change coming from SACS, Elgart said, "Our recent actions are intended to preserve and improve what you have experienced for future classes.”

May 26, 2013
DeKalb Moves School Graduation Ceremonies Out of Area Churches

Responding to objections from parents who did not want their children to graduate where they were being exposed to religious symbols, this year the DeKalb County Schools did not hold any of its graduation ceremonies in a church.  Instead, the graduation ceremonies were held at public venues such as the Atlanta Civic Center and the Fox Theatre.  Now other parents are complaining about the cost of holding graduation in these public facilities that cost more to rent than do churches.
 

May 28, 2013
Thurmond Cautious About Projected Surplus

DeKalb interim school superintendent Michael Thurmond expressed caution in talking about the newly-projected school budget surplus of $12 million.  While he was relieved that budget projections had swung out of the red and into the black, Thurmond said that he won't consider the school system to have a real surplus until it has $50 million dollars in its rainy day fund.