UPDATE at 5 p.m.: I received a call from a concerned DeKalb parent saying that the AJC misrepresented what actually was decided at last night’s meeting about how the district should respond to a warning letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
So, I checked with the news reporter who covered the meeting and he told me that the entire board will not meet on this issue. Instead, a team is being formed.
AJC reporter Ty Tagami said: “The process is this: a team comprising the board chair, vice chair, Atkinson, senior staffers and at least one community representative will draft a response. They’ll run that draft by the board members, but not in a public meeting. Then, they’ll send it to SACS. None of that will happen in public.”
Members of the DeKalb school board often portray themselves as populists, but ducking behind closed doors to discuss the system’s accreditation is not the way to promote community trust.
Given the deepening level of public distrust, school chief Cheryl Atkinson and the board should never waffle on transparency and open government. I would opt for opening the “process,” no matter how it is done, to the public.
I talked today to Dr. Atkinson and believe that she wants transparency and better communications. So, look for updates on this matter.
The DeKalb County school board approved a closed-door process Wednesday for responding to allegations of mismanagement.
The public will not get to see discussions about a letter last week from accrediting agency AdvancEd that accused members of the school board of overstepping their authority in some areas, such as hiring, while failing to exercise oversight over finances and other key responsibilities.
“The goal is to be as open and transparent as possible,” school board Chairman Eugene Walker said before leading the vote for a process that leaves the public outside the door.
Parent Michelle Penkava sat dumbfounded in the audience. “They just held a public meeting to say this is not going to be a public process,” she said.
Board members said they were merely acting out of respect for AdvancEd and its subsidiary, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. “I don’t think SACS wants this in the newspaper before it goes to SACS,” board member Paul Womack said.
But Mark Elgart, president and chief executive officer of AdvancEd, said in a telephone interview after the hastily called DeKalb meeting that “no such courtesy is necessary or required.” He said the process for responding was up to DeKalb.
System spokesman Jeff Dickerson defended the process, which was recommended by Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson. He said the school system effectively opened the process by holding Wednesday’s meeting in public. The board could have met in a private executive session or merely passed around drafts of their response among themselves, he said.
Georgia law allows few exceptions to the state Open Meetings Act. Officials can meet in executive session to discuss legal matters, land acquisitions and personnel matters. It’s unclear whether a letter containing allegations about mismanagement would fit any of those exclusions.
Parent Molly Bardsley said she was “frankly a little surprised that this is all going to go on behind closed doors, because part of the problem SACS is addressing is what goes on behind closed doors.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog