DeKalb joins Sumter in challenging school board removal law. Will their lawsuits prevail? Should they?

Can the state’s law allowing the governor to oust school boards in districts at risk for losing their accreditation survive a court challenge?

We may find out this year as the law is facing two court challenges now, one filed today by the nine-member DeKalb County Board of Education.

Since the law’s passage in 2010 and amendments in 2011, I have heard many times that it will not stand a legal challenge.

DeKalb County filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court this morning arguing the law is unconstitutional. The lawsuit has three goals: Forbid the state Board of Education from holding a hearing on the DeKalb board’s status Thursday. Forbid the state board from recommending to the governor that he remove the entire nine member board. Forbid the governor from acting on that recommendation and removing the board.

DeKalb joins the Sumter County board members, who challenged the law in November and were able to stall the state hearing on their removal.

Sumter was in the midst of hearings in front of the state Board of Education when it asked a judge to enjoin the proceedings.  The judge agreed. Representing the state board of ed, the state attorney general’s office has asked the court to dismiss the Sumter suit, but no hearing has been scheduled on the motion.

(Sumter County District 6 board member Michael Mock asked me to clarity that only six members of the nine-member Sumter Board are parties to the lawsuit. He is among those who are not.)

The DeKalb lawsuit, filed by former DeKalb DA Robert Wilson, alleges that the law violates the Georgia constitution because it authorizes removal of local elected officials “without any individualized finding of misconduct.”

The Sumter County lawsuit voices the same lament, saying the law does not require a “finding of individual culpability prior to the recommendation and/or suspension of a board member.”

The Sumter lawsuit picks apart the language of the law, arguing its requirement that the governor suspend “all eligible members” should not be interpreted to mean that the governor “has to suspend all or none of the board members.”

“Such a construction will lead to an absurd result and the constitutional deprivation of a board member’s right to elected office, especially where a board member is suspended from office where the evidence shows that said board member played no role in the system being placed on Accredited Probation,” states the lawsuit in an argument likely to find support among the three newcomers to the DeKalb board members who only took office last month and who had no role in DeKalb’s fall from grace with SACS.

“Failure to find individual culpability but nonetheless suspend a board member is unfair, lacks a rational basis, and violates due process,” the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit also charges that while Georgia law gives the state Legislature the right to set qualifications for school board members, it does not authorize lawmakers to “create legislation for the removal of school board members.”

(Interestingly, the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Warren County school board members who successfully challenged their 2010 removal by Gov. Sonny Perdue would seem to disagree as the ruling says reasons for removal are part of the establishment of qualifications. Perdue removed Warren under an earlier law. )

In our meeting Friday with House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, I asked him why the state should have the power to remove school board members. After all, there are other dysfunctional elected bodies around the state whose antics, while not criminal, border on insane at times. (Some might argue that the General Assembly is one such body.)

Why should the state Board of Education and governor get to pull the plug on ineffective school boards while crazy city councils and loose-cannon county commissions run free and run amok?

His response:  The state’s responsibility to educate children is embedded in the state constitution. Educating children is critical to the state.

“Therein lies our inherent power and calling,” Lindsey said. The state Legislature is bound to pay attention to how schools are operating, he said.

“The fact is that where a child is born should not determine whether they are going to have a future. Wherever a child is born, the focus should be on how to get them the education they need.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

143 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
4:39 pm

will they? probably.
should they? no.

living in an outdated ed system

February 19th, 2013
4:45 pm

This is a PERFECT example of how the system is set up to protect the adults, not the children. If this lawsuit is allowed to proceed, then it truly shows that the status quo wins again.

How can our citizens allow such folly to continue? We should all be embarrassed at this series of unfortunate events, and the children will be the ones who lose if the courts believe this legal challenge has merit.

Old timer

February 19th, 2013
4:47 pm

Recall would be quicker…..

Me

February 19th, 2013
4:50 pm

Our Governor has way too much control over what is supposed to be a local matter in education. why should he be able to nullify the local community’s choices. Let the community recall the jokers. Governor should not have this much power over local politics.

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
4:52 pm

Just revoke the accreditation of Dekalb County Schools. Then create charter schools for all the good students to go to. Let the ones whose parents elected the current board all rot in DCSS.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
4:53 pm

what is different in DeKalb vs Sumter is DCSS if facing documented charges of legal misdoing.

living in an outdated ed system

February 19th, 2013
4:54 pm

@Me, I respectfully disagree. If you ask me, we should allow the governor to intervene in MANY school districts in Georgia. It happens in plenty of other states – why not here? Do we REALLY want to accept the alternative? There is no precedent for recall elections as far as I know. This isn’t the UK where you can have a vote of no confidence.

The children, who are the real customers in the education system, again are the ones neglected by the callous, selfish acts of the ones who control the system.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
4:56 pm

@ MM

my guess is this move (suing to stay in power) will force SACS to strip DCSS accreditation.
not that it will matter – look at Clayton.

its time to dissolve the entire DCSS outright. let cities and communities form their own.

Centrist

February 19th, 2013
4:57 pm

This is from the recent report from SACS concerning Sumter County when they extended their probation: “Several board members reported that there was never a vote recorded permitting these actions by their attorney, especially the action to file suit against the Governor and the State Board of Education. The public should know who authorized these types of legal actions and the cost to the system for legal bills,” the report states.

Marney

February 19th, 2013
4:58 pm

The constitution gives the state the ultimate responsibility to see kids get an “adequate” education.
What does that mean?

Apparently nothing at all….

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
4:58 pm

I think the State should pass legislation that allows them to cut off all funding from schools that have their accreditation removed. That would be a powerful financial incentive for these Boards to get their acts together.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
4:58 pm

does anything in DeKalb function ethically anymore?

Me

February 19th, 2013
4:59 pm

@ living – I understand the premise and don’t disagree with your point about the children. I just think it is a very slippery slope to give one individual and his handpicked board that kind of power of the will of local voters. It sets up too many scenarios for abuse. Remember – the Warren County thing under Perdue had more to do with one of his education guru’s ties to that community than anything else. Just seems to undermine the entire process of local control and voter responsibility.

DeKalb Inside Out

February 19th, 2013
5:00 pm

All DCSD board members are up for reelection next year. If you really care, then do something about it.

I’m guessing a majority of DeKalb’s citizens are very happy with the way things are going and will elect people aligned with Walker, or at least people who will “go along to get along” with him.

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:00 pm

“The constitution gives the state the ultimate responsibility to see kids get an “adequate” education.
What does that mean?”

I don’t know, because then it goes on to say that control of the education system is at the local level. If the State is Constitutionally bound to provide an “adequate” education, then they should have the powers to intercede with School Boards who are obviously failing at providing an “adequate” education.

Insane in the Membrane

February 19th, 2013
5:00 pm

“there are other dysfunctional elected bodies around the state whose antics, while not criminal, border on insane.” This statement is a Catch 22 in itself, isn’t it. This is exactly the problem we are having. The actions and antics of any elected person, or any private citizen, that involve STEALING money or HARMING children should be CRIMINAL. Somehow, they continue to get away with what they are doing and it is making the entire county insane trying to find someone in a position of authority who will help. Instead all we get are loophole laws and gerrymandered districts designed to keep us quiet and busy and believing that we are safe when we are not and living amongst our peers when clearly some will sell out their own mothers to make a buck. Our peers are getting rich while our children are being dumbed down. How much more can we take? What is the penalty for refusing to pay the school portion of your property tax?

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:01 pm

Hate to agree with MM but that makes more sense than the Governor having this kind of power over local communities.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
5:02 pm

@ DIO

I suspect you’re right.
it’s pathetic, but it is what it is.

quote Caddyshack..world needs ditch diggers too. and DeKalb is sprinting to corner the market

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:03 pm

Also need to ask our boy Lindsey why that responsibility doesn’t carry over to the boys at the Gold Dome funding education as they are supposed to and are actually obligated to. they haven’t done that in years. Hypocrisy anyone?

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:04 pm

“my guess is this move (suing to stay in power) will force SACS to strip DCSS accreditation.”

Good!

Now the State Legislators need to introduce legislation to allow cities to form school districts (again) and to make it easier for Cities to resign from counties and take their tax money with them. Also, the law should allow parts of a county to secede from the rest of the county (i.e. North Dekalb). Let South Dekalb rot in its own filth.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
5:04 pm

amazingly enough, Beverly Hall seems to have more ethics than Gene Walker.

talk about a race to the bottom

Insane in the Membrane

February 19th, 2013
5:05 pm

Do any of our DeKalb Delegation members know how to write a bill? Seriously? First the charter school amendment wording, now this? And don’t forget they couldn’t even get our maps right. And they “accidentally” tied the SPLOST vote to the reapportionment of districts which made a bunch of people thing they had to vote yes on SPLOST in order to reduce the board, but we did and then that didn’t happen. The cell tower ban was deemed unconstitutional and ended up as a referendum that had misleading wording in it, too. And, the private school tax credit had a big loophole in it that it started benefiting kids already in private school with no intentions of switching out. Can we order THESE guys to take a class, too?

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:06 pm

“Also need to ask our boy Lindsey why that responsibility doesn’t carry over to the boys at the Gold Dome funding education as they are supposed to and are actually obligated to. they haven’t done that in years. Hypocrisy anyone?”

If the State is obligated to pay for Education, then all schools should be controlled by the State and we should not have local Boards of Education.

DeKalb Inside Out

February 19th, 2013
5:06 pm

Mountain Man
Interesting ideas. Some people suggest allowing students to go wherever they want for school if the district is under probation … and the money follows the student.

Insane in the Membrane

February 19th, 2013
5:06 pm

Can someone say VOUCHER????

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:07 pm

“world needs ditch diggers too. and DeKalb is sprinting to corner the market”

Actually, I think they are more likely cornering the market on prison inmates.

Private Citizen

February 19th, 2013
5:07 pm

They’re right about individual culpability. I guess that would take too much time and human effort from the multinational corporation aka “accreditor.”

If there was proper and specific oversight, the malfeasances and illegal actions of board members could be addressed directly instead of being allowed to build up. It is a sloppy system they have now. One might also include for state-level auditing to get a little more real and active. Pardon the phrase and no mal-intent toward cats, but “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” I think if the state wants to get hard like steel and get real, they should go full tilt on auditing money, make criminal activity criminal (in other words, misappropriation of funds), and bust up DeKlab into smaller districts or charter districts of whatever and send a crane and wrecking ball over that big building many know so well.

And please? Someone do something about the practice of executive compensation. Apparently Mr. Thurmond’s assigned spending money of the side / “expense money” ($2600. per month?) is more than a teacher’s take-home pay, and that’s before the interim superintendent’s car allowance and $275k pay. Hey, I pay for my own car. Why don’t you?

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:09 pm

MM – if that were the case then fine – it’s not however so point is moot. we allow elections and then scrap the results when we don’t like them? Fascist thinking?
do believe the State gets the money from local governments, no?

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:09 pm

“Some people suggest allowing students to go wherever they want for school if the district is under probation … and the money follows the student.”

I could agree with that – if your school system is under probation from SACS, then you can take your money to a charter or private school. Maybe THEN these hard-headed Board members would wake up.

Insane in the Membrane

February 19th, 2013
5:09 pm

Can I get a refund? My taxes are not being spent on public education.

Private Citizen

February 19th, 2013
5:10 pm

then all schools should be controlled by the State and we should not have local Boards of Education</i

That is some sweet music.

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:12 pm

“That is some sweet music”.

Maybe some Wagner?

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:12 pm

“we allow elections and then scrap the results when we don’t like them?”

So just allow the elected leaders to do what they want – but when they do things like hire relatives and friends and get their school system to lose their accreditation, then they should pay the price, not the students. Give the students some where else to go – Charters, private schools, state schools, city schools.

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:14 pm

Maybe that State should not be funding education AT ALL, since you don’t want them interfering. Let the Counties fund education 100% from their property taxes.

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:16 pm

“Give the students some where else to go – Charters, private schools, state schools, city schools.”

don’t disagree with that. Recalls are also allowed. I liked your idea about cutting all funding if they lose accreditation also. Power in the hands of a few (or 1 in this case) is never a good thing.

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:17 pm

“Maybe that State should not be funding education AT ALL, since you don’t want them interfering. Let the Counties fund education 100% from their property taxes’

I’m ok with that too as long as the local money that is collected by the state in other taxes that is supposed to be used to fund education stays there as well.

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:20 pm

“I’m ok with that too as long as the local money that is collected by the state in other taxes that is supposed to be used to fund education stays there as well.”

What OTHER money – unless you are just talking about SPLOST. What other local taxes collected by the State are specially earmarked for education?

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:21 pm

Maybe we should let Obama dissolve any State Board of Education he has a problem with?

Same thing (except we don’t get to elect our State BOE) – Maybe he should be able to remove any Governor he has issues with?

Private Citizen

February 19th, 2013
5:21 pm

Imagine if you had legal services that someone else was paying for. It’s like there are some basic laws missing on this business of running up private attorney legal services like they’re out on the town running up a bar tab. It’s crazy and obviously somewhere / someway proper defined structure and legal code defining their activities is missing.

If you went to a rich country outside of the United States and described this situation to a lawmaker or judge, their jaw would drop. It’s like it’s out of the Silvio Berlusconi playbook. The phrase “John Woo law” comes to mind. (Filmmaker) John Woo Law is when you take what is illegal and change the law and make it legal. Not to be confused with “john woo’s law of aerodynamics” http://rebelsguide.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=380

Me

February 19th, 2013
5:23 pm

where does the education money at the state level come from now? Let the local governments earmark it for education themselves.

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:30 pm

“where does the education money at the state level come from now? Let the local governments earmark it for education themselves.”

As I understand, education money at the State level comes from a pool of money brought in by State Income Tax and State Sales tax mainly. The same pool of money that pays for Medicaid, for state police and prisons, for state government, for roads and transportation, and for state parks and recreation. Since 2008, that pool of money has shrunk dramatically. None of that money is specially earmarked as “only for education”.

Mountain Man

February 19th, 2013
5:33 pm

“Let the local governments earmark it for education themselves.”

I cannot believe you are actually saying that local communities should dictate State spending. Perhaps I, as an individual, should be able to say exactly where I want my tax dollars spent. If I am a Pacifist, I can say none is to be spent on Defense or War. Is that what you are looking for? Maybe I want all my tax dollars spent on parks and none for education, since my kids are grown.

pull my other leg

February 19th, 2013
5:36 pm

Amazing. A county that has a money problem is spending more money! But are they spending it for the children. NO! If a teacher is held accountable for students, shouldn’t the board/superintendents shoulder just as much responsibility for student success?

Private Citizen

February 19th, 2013
5:39 pm

@Me It will never happen that all Georgia local boards of education will be eliminated and no more local intimidation, and instead, schools will be run by the state. But anyway, here’s the music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0engL-gGe6w

[...] DeKalb joins Sumter in challenging school board removal law. Will their …Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Can the state's law allowing the governor to oust school boards in districts at risk for losing their accreditation survive a court challenge? We may find out this year as the law is facing two court challenges now, one filed today by the nine-member …and more » [...]

C;of Gramt

February 19th, 2013
6:00 pm

Why are these jerks so desperate to hang on to their positions? Makes me mighty suspicious.

Me

February 19th, 2013
6:09 pm

MM – “I cannot believe you are actually saying that local communities should dictate State spending”

Good because that wasn’t what I was saying. Leave the money local and let the local community take care if itself. Cut all the state bureaucrats and their chances to handle money down to the bare minimum and rely on local control. Quit funding the centralized power that is ‘the State’.

Private – good choice! I was thinking more Ride of the Valkarie :-)

Private Citizen

February 19th, 2013
6:17 pm

If anyone wishes to see the spreadsheet of last year’s per- high school graduation rate for high schools in Georgia, including all of DeKalb County, http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/External-Affairs-and-Policy/communications/Documents/2011%20Cohort%20Graduation%20Rate%20-%20School%20Level.xls

Private Citizen

February 19th, 2013
6:20 pm

That should say “4 year graduation rate.” It only shows percentage of students who complete high school in 4 years. Also, it is 2011 information.

mountain man

February 19th, 2013
6:38 pm

“Good because that wasn’t what I was saying. Leave the money local and let the local community take care if itself. Cut all the state bureaucrats and their chances to handle money down to the bare minimum and rely on local control. Quit funding the centralized power that is ‘the State’.”

Isn’t that exactly what I was saying when I said let the counties fund education solely from the (local) property tax and SPLOST taxes? Leave the State funds to fund things other than education.