The DeKalb school board race will be critical for the community and the metro Atlanta region. DeKalb has the third-largest school district in the state. School and county leaders have urged residents to invest in the contest.
A DeKalb County Superior Court judge recently rejected a plea deal involving former DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis. The County District Attorney charged Lewis and two others with racketeering. Judge Cynthia Becker’s decision means the case may not end any time soon.
The deal allowed Lewis to plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge in exchange for testifying against co-defendants Pat Reid and her ex-husband, Tony Pope. Lewis would also receive 12 months’ probation instead of jail time.
The Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously upheld a 2010 state law authorizing Gov. Nathan Deal to suspend six members of the DeKalb County school board. Former DeKalb County school board chair Eugene Walker challenged the constitutionality of the law in federal court. Federal Judge Richard W. Story asked the state's High Court to determine whether the statute complies with the Constitution.
State officials released an audit of the DeKalb County schools this week. The report covered the school system’s finances from July 2011 to June of 2012.
The audit found weaknesses in the district’s accounting practices, including a $14.4 million deficit and poor oversight of a federal technology grant. Chief Financial Officer Mike Bell says the district improved its accounting during the 2013 fiscal year.
“Within the general fund budget for ’13, as of June 30, 2013, we had collected about $26 million more than we spent,” Bell says.
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding a new set of education standards called the Common Core. Georgia is one of 45 states that have adopted the standards. But some state Republican lawmakers want Georgia to opt out. Others strongly support the Common Core.
As legislators debate the standards, Georgia English/Language Arts and math teachers still have to teach them. WABE visited one DeKalb County high school to see how they’re doing that and whether the controversy has had any effect.
State officials choose 28 Schools of Excellence each year: 2 from each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts. State Superintendent John Barge said a school can be chosen for one of two reasons. The first is having the highest score on a state-issued report card.
“The second way a school is chosen as a Georgia School of Excellence is being the school in the congressional district that makes the highest progress from year to year in improving student achievement,” Barge said.
DeKalb County officials have responded to a shooting at an elementary school about two weeks ago by forming a new partnership. Thursday, DeKalb church leaders, police, and school officials announced they’re collaborating on a new after school program for students.
About a dozen DeKalb church leaders, county police chief Cedric Alexander, and DeKalb schools chief legal officer Ronald Ramsey announced The Right Choice after school program. Bishop Quincy Carswell, with the Covenant Church in Decatur, says the program will initially target high school boys at risk of dropping out.
Note: we have posted the complete audio of Antoinette Tuff's 911 call at the end of this story.
DeKalb police have released the 911 call and more details about yesterday’s school shooting at McNair Discovery Learning Academy. During the incident no one was injured, but 20-year-old shooting suspect Michael Brandon Hill exchanged gunfire with police. Hill was taken into custody at the school Tuesday.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, accredits schools and districts internationally and in metro Atlanta. SACS faced criticism recently over its accreditation methods. That triggered a meeting this week with the head of SACS and Georgia’s attorney general. The two men discussed how SACS can become more transparent.
Monday was the first day of school for students in several metro Atlanta districts, including the DeKalb County schools. DeKalb starts the year on accredited probation. The district’s interim superintendent says he’s sure the year will end on a different note.
DeKalb’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, gave the district eleven criteria to meet by December. Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond says they’ll do it.
Sara Copelin-Wood and Pam Speaks are two of the people Governor Deal suspended from the DeKalb County School Board earlier this year.
Today, Governor Deal said an administrative law judge has upheld the suspensions.
Both Copelin-Wood and Speaks petitioned for reinstatement to the offices they were elected to hold.
But, according to an email Deal’s office sent out today, the administrative law judge ruled both Copelin-Wood and Speaks failed to show their presence on DeKalb’s school board would improve the school system’s chances to regain full accreditation.
Monday, a fourth suspended member of the DeKalb County school board appeared in court in an attempt to reclaim his seat.
Jesse "Jay" Cunningham testified he deserves to be reinstated.
Cunningham, who represented himself in court, called seven witnesses to testify on his behalf. Some were school system employees, others were DeKalb parents. PTA president Tanya Graham testified Cunningham was an involved board member who cared about students.
The DeKalb County school system has made progress, according to the district’s accrediting agency. But the system may still face some obstacles while working to regain full accreditation.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools says DeKalb has shown improvement in governance and financial practices. But Mark Elgart, the CEO of SACS’ parent company, says the key will be sustaining that progress.
“They must not only show further progress, but show evidence that what they have done and are doing has a long-term ability to stay in place,” Elgart says.
The former DeKalb County school board chairman is fighting to get his elected seat back. Eugene Walker testified in a reinstatement hearing on Wednesday, the third board member to do so.
The governor removed Walker and five other members in February after a state board recommendation, but Walker and his attorney argued that the report that led to his removal was biased and lacked evidence.
The report by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, also known as SACS, said the board was dysfunctional. But Walker disagreed with its findings:
For six years the DeKalb County school district has been embroiled in a lawsuit with a construction management firm. Both sides say they’re closer to a resolution although it’s unclear exactly when the case will wrap up.
Five suspended members of the DeKalb County school board appeared in court Thursday. Administrative Law Judge Max Wood scheduled individual reinstatement hearings for the members. All five have petitioned the governor to regain their seats.
The same law that allows Gov. Deal to remove school board members also allows the board members to re-apply for their jobs. But the constitutionality of that law will be challenged in a case to be heard by the state Supreme Court Monday. However, Judge Wood scheduled the hearings anyway.
The DeKalb County school board has to approve a budget for the upcoming year by the end of next month. Although the district was expected to be millions of dollars in debt, officials now say there’s a surplus.
For the first time this year, none of the graduation ceremonies for DeKalb County public schools will take place in churches.
The ceremonies are being held in venues ranging from the school system’s auditorium to stadiums to the Georgia Dome and even the Fox Theatre. Moving them is a decision made in response to parents who asked that their children not graduate in a facility where religious symbols are displayed.
But now there are complaints that the fees senior pay to help offset graduation costs are too high because of the new venues.
Seniors at DeKalb County’s Druid Hills High School graduated Friday in a ceremony at the Atlanta Civic Center. Mark Elgart, the CEO of DeKalb’s accrediting agency, delivered the commencement address.
The sound of pomp and circumstance is especially sweet this year for seniors at DeKalb County high schools. The district was placed on accredited probation in December, which precedes a loss of accreditation. That could affect scholarships and college acceptances. But during his address, Elgart encouraged the class of 2013.
Five of six suspended members of the DeKalb County school board have petitioned Gov. Deal to get their seats back. The governor suspended, and then replaced, the six members at the recommendation of the state board of education.
Former board chair Eugene Walker, Jesse Cunningham, Donna Edler, Sarah Copelin-Wood, and Pam Speaks are the five who’ve submitted petitions. Gov. Deal’s spokesperson Brian Robinson says the clock is ticking.
Officials with the DeKalb County schools originally predicted the district would run a deficit of tens of millions of dollars next year. But when interim superintendent Michael Thurmond released his proposed budget last week, it revealed a surplus of more than $9 million.
District spokesman Jeff Dickerson says the money came from federal and state reimbursements that district officials didn’t know to ask for.
DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James Tuesday issued an indictment for three former DeKalb educators accused of cheating on standardized tests. Speaking to a group of parents Wednesday, DeKalb’s interim superintendent Michael Thurmond responded to the charges.
The charges include public record fraud, such as changing attendance records and removing students from school rolls during testing so their scores wouldn’t count. Thurmond said he was saddened by the indictment, but was glad it wasn’t worse.