Michael Thurmond: On the job and the hot seat in DeKalb. And board seeks restraining order to stop state

Michael Thurmond (AJC photo)

Michael Thurmond (AJC photo)

The AJC is reporting that the DeKalb County school board filed a lawsuit today challenging a state law that could result in the removal of the nine school board members.

(Do you get the sense that the DeKalb’s board focus has moved from the schoolhouse to the courthouse?)

According to Ty Tagami’s story:

The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent a hearing by the Georgia Board of Education Thursday.

The hearing could result in a recommendation to suspend the DeKalb board. Such a recommendation would give Gov. Nathan Deal authority to remove the DeKalb board per a 2011 law. The law requires a hearing — like the one scheduled Thursday — for any school district whose accreditation is on probation. DeKalb was put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December. The agency threatened to strip accreditation altogether if the school board doesn’t address financial and management concerns.

The lawsuit, filed by Decatur attorney Robert Wilson on behalf of the DeKalb district, alleges that the 2011 law violates the Georgia constitution because it authorizes removal of local elected officials “without any individualized finding of misconduct.”

When I received a tip this morning about the restraining order, one of the first people I called was Michael Thurmond who told me that this was a board action and that he could not speak to it.

But since I had him on the phone, I asked him some other questions, including why he pulled his own child out of DeKalb schools. (To his credit, Thurmond is accessible, providing a cell phone  number and speaking directly to the press  rather than through a spokesman. I think leaders do better to speak for themselves.)

First off: Did Gene Walker bring him on board?

While Thurmond has known Walker for years and considers him a friend, dating back to their shared time in the state Legislature, Walker did not propose him for the interim school chief’s post. It was new board member Marshall Orson, says Thurmond. He notes that he and Walker ran against each other for Congress in 1992

Thurmond said he is impressed with Walker’s decision to step down from the chair’s post for the sake of the system.

What he thinks media got wrong thus far:

He says that when he offered to speak to the state Board of Education on Thursday — if that hearing is held — he intends to to speak for the district, not for the board.

On the hiring of McKenna Long & Aldridge to provide governance training to DeKalb at a cost of $150,000:

“I recommended we get an outside firm with expertise and experience in governance training,” he said.

This training is not just for the board, but for him and the central office staff as well.  “Looking at the SACS findings, governance is the issue time and time again. SACS really focused on governance. That one seemed to be intractable. I want to start a baseline to restructure the culture,” he said.

(Thurmond sent me the scope of work document from the law firm, which I will post later in a Google doc.)

Can he work with this school board?

“Yes, I have no choice. This is the board that the people elected. I have no choice but to do what I need to do. This is the board that hired me to do what I need to do.”

He mentioned seeing signs of improvement already. I asked him enumerate:

“We are going to have new board leaders, a new chair and vice chair. My hiring — that was a courageous move to bring someone from the outside, who, as so many people have pointed out, does not have an education background.”

“We hired McKenna Long & Aldridge to help us with governance.”

“The fact that we are going tomorrow to get board training — whole board training for the superintendent and the board — from the Georgia School Boards Association.”

“I am reaching out to stakeholders that have not had a special relationship with DeKalb Schools, including the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. I had a great initial meeting with them. I reached out to the DeKalb delegation. I was scheduled to meet with the DeKalb County Commission this morning but had to cancel. I met with Mark Elgart [head of the accrediting agency] today and had a great meeting with him. The lines of communication are open. People I’ve met seem to be at least hopeful that we are moving in the right direction.”

Why he made the decision to take his daughter out of DeKalb schools and enroll her in private school:  (Thurmond’s daughter is a TV reporter in Tennessee.)

“For two years in a row, I tried to get her into Bouie. Just like other parents. I tried every legal, ethical device to try to get her in. We never got into the lottery. So, we made the decision to send her to private school. My goal is that parents do not have to make the decision we made. I love public education; I love my daughter more. The reason she is on TV in Chattanooga is that she got a great education. Every parent is not as fortunate to be able to afford private school or even make the sacrifices we did. No parent should be forced to make that decision, that painful decision.”

Thurmond said he didn’t choose to send his child to the local school because, “It was a failing school in south DeKalb. You could tell that funding was not what it needed to be.  The staff was doing their best, but they didn’t have adequate resources. From looking at the resources, the equipment, the maintenance, you could see the school was not up to par.”

“My daughter was a HOPE scholar at UGA. She was an honor student. Basically, she went to college almost free. But I am still paying for middle school. That is just too much to ask of parents.  That is why we have to have world-class public schools. We have to be willing to make that investment.”

-from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

94 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

February 19th, 2013
1:30 pm

Oh, good lord………

DunMoody

February 19th, 2013
1:32 pm

More validation for a City of Dunwoody school system. Keep ‘em coming.

curious

February 19th, 2013
1:32 pm

Has the hearing been scheduled on the issue of the TRO?

living in an outdated ed system

February 19th, 2013
1:34 pm

What a train wreck. More wasted tax dollars. How can they say there is no “misconduct?” This is a board that has failed in its governance by any objective measure. Thursday’s hearing is going to be a circus and sideshow and another embarrassment to Dekalb County and the state of Georgia.

Dunwoody Mom

February 19th, 2013
1:37 pm

2 separate Grand Juries have called for an investigation into the DeKalb BOE – but D.A. Robert James continues to ignore those calls. Why?

curious

February 19th, 2013
1:39 pm

living in an outdated ed system,

I seriously doubt there will be a hearing on Thursday. Apropos of my earlier question, Ty Tagami is reporting that no hearing has been scheduled on the TRO. But I bet there will be a hearing before Thursday and Thursday’s hearing will be stopped.

Keystone Cops

February 19th, 2013
1:40 pm

Do other people consider this reasonable behavior?

Dekalbite

February 19th, 2013
1:41 pm

“Thurmond said he didn’t choose to send his child to the local school because, “It was a failing school in south DeKalb. You could tell that funding was not what it needed to be. The staff was doing their best, but they didn’t have adequate resources. From looking at the resources, the equipment, the maintenance, you could see the school was not up to par.”

Looking at his daughters bio, she started high school around the same time Lewis was made superintendent. If those failing schools in South DeKalb didn’t have the resources then, imagine what happened as Lewis:
1. Pulled the Title 1 funding decisions into the Central Office
2. Embarked on a spending spree for all those non teaching positions and educational programs like America’s Choice (no data showing it improved student achievement in DeKalb and now virtually defunct)
3. Increase class sizes as he left teaching positions unfilled
4. Involved DeKalb in a lawsuit that has already cost tens of millions.

Under Tyson and then Atkinson, the Board deeply cut the funding for these failing schools as they:
1. Continued to eliminate teaching positions through attrition
2. Spend on non teaching personnel who are certified to teach,
3. Purchase expensive, ineffective learning programs
4. Incur millions more in legal fees
5. Ensure DeKalb teachers are the lowest compensated in the metro area
5. Increase the mileage rate to the highest in the metro area

Thurmond is right in that you can’t leave the classrooms without resources and expect an increase in student achievement.

EVERY child deserves:
1. A safe and clean learning environment
2. A competent and well compensated teacher
3. Abundant access to cutting edge technology and science equipment

Fund the above components and then use what is left over for admin and support.

alm

February 19th, 2013
1:42 pm

Adding another law firm takes money from the classroom. Teachers need support and they aren’t getting it.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
1:42 pm

Mike’s comments, exposed point by point.

1-and who “suggested” to Orson he be brought on board?

2-either he said what he meant about speaking for the board, or he’s an idiot who doesn’t need to be anywhere near the super’s office

3-in what universe do you need $150,000 for “governance training” ? weren’t you the head of labor?
don’t many of these people work for you? and what is your relationship to MLA?

4-of course he can work with the board. they gave him this job. the real question is, can he pull up his undies enough to confront the board?

5-signs of improvement are the cronyism which gave him his job? and his spending $150,000 on a “governance” teaching firm?

6-I had the option to send my child to private school. now I’m determined to make sure you don’t.

Mike is either mentally ill, a liar (he is a politician), corrupt, or below a lady on the evening on the morals scale. most likely all of the above.

I realize his party and racial affiliations will cover him with much of DeKalb, but did he really think anyone with a brain would swallow this horsecrap?

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
1:43 pm

not only does Deal need to oust the board, Mike needs to go with it.

what will it take to get a RICO investigation into DCSS?

Fire Them All

February 19th, 2013
1:44 pm

All crooked, shady, and incompetent. Can’t even stay awake for a meeting. Children are the ones who are paying for their malfeasance.

Chamblee Dad

February 19th, 2013
1:44 pm

“State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, predicted outrage by parents.” Outrage? yes. Surprise? no.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
1:47 pm

@ dunwoody mom

cronyism, pure and simple.
if the lid is ever blown off DCSS, a lot of people are going to jail for a long time

Chamblee Dad

February 19th, 2013
1:49 pm

“You could tell that funding was not what it needed to be.” So what is the solution of the board & super. today? Hire more lawyers & start suing people. The children, parents & teachers certainly understand that . . .

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
1:50 pm

on second though, it time to fold the entire DCSS. all of it
this cancer is so terminal, the only humane solution for DeKalb is to give it a mercy killing.

children running feral on the streets in rags have a better chance at a good life than those imprisoned in DCSS.

catlady

February 19th, 2013
1:52 pm

This is even more upsetting than what has happened before. State BOE, time to pull the plug on this group. Perhaps the new appointed board can get it together. If not, the system is no worse off. All the current board wants to do is continue to waste other people’s money.

bootney farnsworth

February 19th, 2013
1:54 pm

y’all still think Mike is a good man with good intentions?

I have never personally have had a faster turnaround on my opinion of a person in my life

Chamblee Dad

February 19th, 2013
1:57 pm

“I tried every legal, ethical device to try to get her in. We never got into the lottery. So, we made the decision to send her to private school” What other “devices” did he try other than signing up for the lottery like everyone else? Sounds like he tried more, but still couldn’t get his way?

Centrist

February 19th, 2013
2:01 pm

This all just proves the self serving BOE needs to be removed by the Governor. It may take a while to get past the legal maneuvers, though. Hope not.

Tucker Dad

February 19th, 2013
2:03 pm

It is time to rise up parents of Dekalb – these idiots have to go one way or another. Time to call a spade a spade…

living in an outdated ed system

February 19th, 2013
2:06 pm

@Curious, if the State Board of Ed cancels the 2/21 hearing, that would be the ultimate travesty.

Maureen Downey

February 19th, 2013
2:07 pm

@CURIOUS, We understand that the intent is to get hearing later today.
Maureen

big picture

February 19th, 2013
2:16 pm

Please do note, the district does not pay entry fees for things like student entries to the State Science fair – I’m assuming because they cannot afford it given the excessive legal fees and behavioral training costs. I do not understand why the trainings are paid for by the district. Don’t teachers have to fund their own hours to keep certificates current? I know that PA’s and Dr.s pay for their own training. FINSANE!

No one has their eyes on funding the classrooms and educational experiences for the kids.

Is there anything we can do to preclude them from using taxpayer dollars to fight this?

Anchorite

February 19th, 2013
2:18 pm

I’d still love to know why Cobb’s board and district admins can do many of the same things (and worse, ahemCreationismStickersahem and ahemAppleahem) and not even have SACS look at them funny. It seems to all boil down to race…and money…and race. SACS is the one that really needs to be ousted–and replaced with a competent, non-biased organization (or even better, state accreditation) before real change can occur at any level.

curious

February 19th, 2013
2:19 pm

living in an outdated ed system,

I don’t think the State Board of Education will cancel the hearing. I think at the hearing in Fulton Superior Court (which Maureen indicates above likely will occur later today), the court will enter a temporary restraining order stopping the hearing scheduled before the State Board of Education on the grounds that the law that authorizes the governor to remove the members of county boards of education is likely unconstitutional.

Behind the scenes

February 19th, 2013
2:20 pm

In January, Tharon Johnson, Thurmond’s former campaign manager, was hired by McKenna Long Aldrich in their “governmental affairs” division. Now, the new superintendent has hired them at a cost of $50,000/month to do something that could be done by non-affiliated organizations for much less cost. When will the needs of students and teachers become the number one goal rather than the preservation of their jobs and finding new jobs for their buddies?

DruidHills4

February 19th, 2013
2:23 pm

A School Board that ‘governed’ its system into probation with SACS for (among other things) wasting tax dollars (collected for education) on lawsuits, lawyers and legal fees has now . . . wait for it . . . spent education tax dollars to file a lawsuit to save their jobs!!! There is NO hope for the DeKalb BoE. This BoE is not interested in education. This BoE is not concerned with students. This BoE does not care about our schools. The ONLY thing these BoE members are interested in is this: themselves and their status as BoE members. That’s it. Nothing else. They’d rather destroy what’s left of the school system pursuing frivolous litigation. They’d rather pay a lawyer to save their jobs than pay a teacher to teach our children. They’d rather waste our tax dollars than educate our students. If ever there was a BoE that needed to be removed, it is the DeKalb County School System BoE.

Prof

February 19th, 2013
2:28 pm

That word “unconstitutional” is getting thrown around a lot. I would like to know the specific section of the Georgia constitution that is violated by the law allowing the Governor to remove a county school board.

Don't Tread

February 19th, 2013
2:28 pm

This was so predictable.

DeKalb Inside Out

February 19th, 2013
2:29 pm

Tucker Dad,
It might be a travesty in your opinion, but not for a majority of DeKalb. Your district, Tucker, voted out somebody aligned with Nancy Jester and voted in somebody aligned with Dr Walker. McMahan voted ‘YES’ to bring in Wilson, Morton & Downs, LLC in to fight the state for their jobs.

It’s going to be hard to get an uprising when a majority of the people on your street want it this way.

living in an outdated ed system

February 19th, 2013
2:31 pm

@Curious, it would be an abomination if a court grants the restraining order.

Chamblee Dad

February 19th, 2013
2:33 pm

@ bootney “in what universe do you need $150,000 for “governance training?”

Not the one you & I live in.

ME:
Get rid of school board = Good
Same idiots destroying our schools daily = Bad
Get more $$ into classrooms = Good
Spend more $$ on lawyers = Bad

I could go on, but why? Welcome to the world of the DCSS board, the last several supers. & the central office – where every day is “opposite day” just like Spongebob! Yeah!

Hoosier

February 19th, 2013
2:34 pm

This can’t possibly sit well with SACS, nor the teachers, students and parents of DeKalb. What in the world is this board thinking with these shenanigans?

Beverly Fraud

February 19th, 2013
2:34 pm

@Maureen, are there some figures out there that speak to what other systems have spent for “board governance training”?

J Throckmorton Malcontent

February 19th, 2013
2:35 pm

So, they’re going full Waco-in-the-bunker.
You never go full Waco-in-the-bunker.

Hoosier

February 19th, 2013
2:37 pm

Prof–I think “unconstitutional” is just a deflecting way of saying “we’ve made a big mess but refuse to take personal responsibility for fixing it.”

curious

February 19th, 2013
2:40 pm

living in an outdated ed system

I agree that it is totally sickening. The most sickening aspect is the way this absolutely, without dispute highlights that the board members are much more concerned with retaining their own jobs than with any of the other infinitely more important issues facing the district.

Prof, I’m not sure which provision of the constitution they’re arguing the law violates, but I’ll bet it has something to do with the separation of powers.

The Deal

February 19th, 2013
2:43 pm

There are no words.

Beverly Fraud

February 19th, 2013
2:43 pm

Now my idea of getting a consortium of physicists to convince an asteroid to have a moment of Christ-like consciousness and and sacrifice itself by descending on DCSS doesn’t sound so far fetched as the most realistic option does it?

If someone had only reached out to the meteors, before they hit Russia…

Alphare

February 19th, 2013
2:43 pm

if funding is inadequate, why spend $150K on some bogus training rather than give the money the teachers?

If you divide the $150K among 1000 teachers, each will get $150 for their class.

Remember, you are the supporting staff behind teachers, who are trying to do the real work.

DeKalb has the whole upside down. The supporting staff has a war of their own while their duty is to support teachers. So what is the purpose of the supporting staff if they cannot support? I say getting rid of all of them, they will be better off without the supporting staff.

Concerned for children

February 19th, 2013
2:48 pm

I agree that our school system is in a deep decline and as stated so elegantly last week by Maureen Dowdy last week, our board is not as dysfunctional as many school boards across the nation. It is the nature of elected officials to pander to those that elected them. If the board were to operate as SACS has suggested, most of its time and energy would be on improving the failing schools in this county and most of them are located in south dekalb. SACS is more of the problem than most of us have come to realize, they merely focus on leadership and governance and never the tough issues such as school and academic improvement, because that would require them to assist the district in putting together a plan for improvement. I advise all the parents and citizens to go to SACS website and read for yourself the categories for accreditation. This body is nothing but a bully that uses retirement compensated educators to carry out its dirty work and never works with any school system to improve on class based issues. In recent years, Dr. Elgart has become very political in his actions and functions as the main body that provides accreditation to countless schools throughout the southeast. Moreover, I do not support the actions of many of the board members, however, they mostly respond to those that elected them the same as any other elected officials, they are constitutional officers, just as the governor, state reps, state senators, county commissioners and others. It does appear on its face that the law passed by the general assembly and signed by the governor is unconstitutional and will be struck down, because if it stands the law could be expanded to give unlimited powers to the governor to dismiss any elected body that he does not agree. Again, without the far reaching actions of SACS, many of these issues were beginning to move in a positive direction. Also, give in mind that every school system pays SACS to maintain their accreditation and for the countless reviews that are done. This situation is a money maker for SACS and the children are the losers. Please, parents do your research on this out of control governing body, I did.

Just Sayin

February 19th, 2013
2:48 pm

It seems that $150,000 is a bit much, but truthfully isn’t it better to have an outside firm do the training instead of something in-house. I mean it is obvious that the people in-house don’t know what they are doing. $150k now might save millions later.

@ big picture. Teachers have to pay for some of their training….Not all. Schools are like any other organization. Some training is done and paid for by them and other training has to be paid for by the participant. That isn’t anything new and is how it is done in most large organizations. The big companies like GE for example do the training, but they often times will PAY someone ..usually a consultant to come in an do it for them.

Inman Parker

February 19th, 2013
2:51 pm

This borders on criminal neglect of children! Shame on these fools.

DeKalb Inside Out

February 19th, 2013
2:54 pm

Prof
Excellent question! Can somebody dig up whatever the DCSD lawyers turned in?

I’m no lawyer, but the Georgia constitution says all school districts shall have a board and those board members shall be elected officials. As elected officials their seats have numerous protections. The legislature and Governor can’t go around removing elected officials they believe are doing a bad job and appoint new representatives.

What is a bad job? Who gets to say they are doing a bad job? I argue that a majority of DeKalb believes they are doing a fine job. If a majority of DeKalb doesn’t believe they are doing a fine job, then have a recall election.

The Governor removing an elected official for arbitrarily doing a bad job is unprecedented.

living in an outdated ed system

February 19th, 2013
3:00 pm

@Dekalb, they have defined what “a bad job is.” From my understanding, because they were placed on probation by SACS, the governor has the power to remove the school board members. This one is plainly clear to me, and I hope you’re not lobbying to save their jobs!

Dunwoody Mom

February 19th, 2013
3:02 pm

The State of Georgia also requires an adequate education for all children. Can anyone honestly believe the majority of children in DCSS are receiving an “adequate” education?

Who stands for the children?

February 19th, 2013
3:05 pm

I feel terrible for parents this day and time who have children who are held hostage in the DeKalb School System, due to an incompetent Board who has their own agenda. Funny thing, pre-Lewis (as well as some of the Board members) we didn’t hear about all of this dysfunction. It all started going downhill the day Crawford Lewis and his gang came into power. Yes, power, and that power was granted to him by a Board whose own self interests were paramount so as to look the other way at Lewis’ doings. Enough of the dysfunction. Let the Governor do his job and suspend the entire Board and let’s start over. One issue I would strongly suggest; and that is to give the taxpayers/voters the right to determine if the Board has the right to spend our money on unnecessary attorney fees. BOE: It’s quite apparent the thing NOT to do is to hire an attorney to tell you how to do your job. If you don’t know by now, go home and let someone else come in who can.

Chamblee Dad

February 19th, 2013
3:07 pm

OK. Now I see they have a called meeting tomorrow 10:30 @ the Ga. School Board Assoc. for all the sudden “ethics” training followed by a 5:30 meeting back @ Palace to elect Chair. In a hurry are they?

Interesting Agenda Topics from the morning session:
G – LEGAL ISSUES & THE SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER
H – ETHICAL ISSUES & THE SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER
I – EFFECTIVE SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS

I think we could all suggest our own agenda items, my only one:

A – HOW TO IMMEDIATELY RESIGN AS A GROUP

Former Ivy Dad, current Chamblee Magnet Dad

February 19th, 2013
3:17 pm

The Dekalb County School Board is interfering with the future of our babies, swift and decisive action is needed by the Governor! As a graduate of THS class of ‘86 and father of a current 10th grader this indeed is the saddest day that I can recall for the DCSS. ):