Good question: To spare system and save money, why doesn’t the DeKalb board resign?

Today’s AJC story by Ty Tagami gives a great summation of the lawsuit filed yesterday by DeKalb Board of Education members to keep their elected positions by challenging the constitutionality of the law that permits the governor to oust them.

Taxpayers are underwriting this legal challenge, which is upsetting many DeKalb parents tired of crowded classes and dwindling resources.

As I wrote in a piece yesterday, there may well be good cause to question the legality of the state law. But should a costly legal challenge come from DeKalb, a system with a $16 million deficit and a parent community that seems relieved at the prospect of getting rid of its board?

My main concern: The focus of the leadership in DeKalb has shifted from the schoolhouse to the courthouse and that shortchanges students. DeKalb is in desperate need of stability, and a protracted lawsuit won’t provide it.

The best quote in the AJC story comes from a parent: “I don’t understand why they all don’t resign. They are clearly trying to save their jobs instead of the school system.”

One of the goals of the legal filing is to stop Thursday’s state Board of Education hearing on whether to recommend to the governor the dissolution of the current DeKalb school board and the appointment of a new slate of members. The state is arguing that the DeKalb request for a restraining order to stop the hearing came too late, but the attorney for the school board disagrees.

That may be decided later today, and I will let you know if the 8 am. hearing Thursday in downtown Atlanta is is on or off.

The state is not happy with DeKalb’s decision to sue. It will be interesting to see if the state Board of Education acts on its frustrations Thursday by recommending the ouster of the nine DeKalb school board members.  There are many behind-the-scenes efforts being made to avoid the suspension of the DeKalb board, but the lawsuit has certainly lost the school board some good will.

(For the perspective of a former student, check out this DeKalb School Watch piece from Mpaza S. Kapembwa, a 2011 Cross Keys High School graduate who attends Williams College. Mpaza has written several pieces for me, including this one on DeKalb’s problems. If your kids or students want to write on this issue or any other education issue, tell them to submit pieces.)

Here is an excerpt of Tagami’s story:

DeKalb’s suit, filed by the district and school board chairman Eugene Walker, claims the law is unconstitutional because it authorizes removal of local elected officials “without any individualized finding of misconduct.” The law allows the state to unseat board members who preside over districts that an accrediting agency has placed on probation, as happened in DeKalb last year.

{Gov.} Deal said litigation may only prolong the pain in DeKalb, Georgia’s third largest school district with nearly 100,000 students.

“The longer this is drawn out, the more protracted it becomes and the more the story becomes one that concerns people everywhere, ” Deal said.

The state’s case against the DeKalb board is based on a December report by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accused the local board of financial mismanagement, nepotism and other failures of oversight while academic performance languished. The SACS report was based largely on anonymous sources whose claims cannot be independently corroborated. The agency threatened to strip the district of accreditation altogether if the school board fails to address the concerns, and the state is treating the report as evidence.

The lawsuit was filed by Decatur attorney Robert Wilson. He had no comment about the case after arriving at the courthouse Tuesday afternoon to get a court date.

As of the close of business, Judge Kelly Amanda Lee had not scheduled one. It’s unclear if she’ll do so prior to the state board hearing.

Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said the state school board will meet with DeKalb as scheduled at 8 a.m. Thursday, “until we hear otherwise.”

A similar lawsuit filed by a majority of the school board members in Sumter County halted a similar state hearing. Board member Kevin Pless and other unnamed members sued in Fulton Superior Court in November. Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane granted a temporary injunction, ordering the state board not to convene the hearing. The Sumter lawsuit was transferred to Judge Shawn Ellen Lagrua, and no court date is set.

State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, noted that one of SACS’ concerns about DeKalb was excessive legal expenses in a system that ran a $16 million deficit last year. He judged this latest move a “selfish” effort to cling to power.

“I would like to know who voted in favor of this motion because obviously it’s all about them and not about 100,000 children, ” said Millar, the former chairman of the Senate education committee. “All this delay does is increase the likelihood of loss of accreditation, ” Millar said. “How selfish can people be?”

If there was a public vote, it didn’t occur in public Monday — the most recent open meeting of the DeKalb board. During that meeting, the board voted to go into a private session to discuss an undisclosed legal matter. Thurmond, the former state labor commissioner who has been interim superintendent since early this month, said he knew of no public vote on the suit.

Bill Armstrong, a father of three children in DeKalb schools, called the lawsuit “an outrageous evasion” of the school board’s duty. “I don’t understand why they all don’t resign, ” said Armstrong, of Chamblee. “They are clearly trying to save their jobs instead of the school system.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

75 comments Add your comment

Pardon My Blog

February 20th, 2013
9:41 am

When the lawsuit was filed, I noticed that it still listed “Eugene Walker, Individually and as Chairman” and this was after his “resignation”. That would mean that the document filed is incorrect and should be thrown out and would have to be refiled, right?

By not resigning and doing what is right for the district, this group has thumbed it’s nose at the taxpayers and students of DeKalb County and at the State Government. Do they not take an oath prior to taking office that would state that they agree to work in the best interest of the students?

bootney farnsworth

February 20th, 2013
9:44 am

why should they resign?

its not like they are ethical people, and its not like the citizens who put them in place care. the longer this drags on, the more I’m hardening on the opinion to let them burn in their own hell

bootney farnsworth

February 20th, 2013
9:46 am

if you love your kids, as soon as you can leave DeKalb. simple as that

Private Citizen

February 20th, 2013
9:47 am

bootney farnsworth

February 20th, 2013
9:48 am

question: why are the citizens of DeKalb paying for Walker’s lawsuit?
I accept Walker & co have the right to sue, but do they have the right to compel the county to pay for it?

Pardon My Blog

February 20th, 2013
9:49 am

@ Private Citizen – Perfect!

Pardon My Blog

February 20th, 2013
9:51 am

@bootney – several of us have asked the same question so if anyone knows…? Perhaps an investigation into all of the deeds of the Board should be done by the GBI.

Private Citizen

February 20th, 2013
9:54 am

Just remember, “were unable to fend off a third attack,” all of those heroes, including James Bowie (origin of “Bowie knife”) and Davie Crockett, died in the Battle of the Alamo.

Anonymous in DeKalb

February 20th, 2013
9:56 am

Funny how this and so many other problems would diminish greatly in importance once the major decision of selecting a school — is left to parents armed with tuition vouchers.

The Board’s worst prima donnas would be happier employed directly in the racial grievance industry –don’t you think?

Dekalbite

February 20th, 2013
10:00 am

Please write the Governor, your state Senator and House representative, and every State BOE member if you want to aks for their support to replace the DeKalb County BOE members. Here are the links to their emails:

State Board of Education members:
http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/External-Affairs-and-Policy/State-Board-of-Education/Pages/default.aspx

Governor Deal:
http://gov.georgia.gov/webform/contact-governor-domestic-form

Here is a link to find your legislator (Senator and House Representative) if you do not know who they are.
http://votesmart.org/
(type in your 9 digit zip code – for example: 34321-3405. Click Search>scroll down and click on State Legislative. Click on your House Rep or state Senator’s name and you will be taken to a page that has his/her email link)

If you go to DeKalb School watch blog, scroll down a little, and on the right hand side of the webpage there is a link to email Mr. Thurmond. There is also one link you can click and email all nine DeKalb BOE members:
http://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/

An email expressing your opinion takes only a few minutes.

Dekalb resident

February 20th, 2013
10:02 am

Does the SACS have a beef about anything that is NOT related to the school board? All I read in the local news coverage is that the board is “disfunctional” and practiced “nepotism.” At some point, maybe we need to ask who the heck are these people and what right do they have to basically render our school system void?

But for now, they are obviously correct about the school board. If removing them will appease the SACS, then they need to go. Every last one of them. Is there any way we citizens can personally sue the school board members individually for the pain and suffering and decrease in our property values?

DeKalb Inside Out

February 20th, 2013
10:04 am

This guy is right on the money.
http://dunwoodytalk.blogspot.com/2013/02/beware-swinging-pendulum-in-georgia.html

“The State Board of Education has already rendered their decision for the DeKalb School Board meeting that may take place on Thursday. The appointed State Board folks will vote unanimously to remove the members of the DeKalb School Board. Governor Nathan Deal will accept their decision and remove the Board. Nine replacements have already been hand-picked by a DeKalb state senator and a pair of DeKalb state representatives.”

Too funny

February 20th, 2013
10:05 am

I too think the board should be replaced. But didn’t we JUST complete an election where the vast majority of these bozos were REELECTED??? Seems there are parts of the county that are happy with this crew. We had our chance at the ballot box. What we get now is unfortunately deserved.

Frustrated Dekalb Parent

February 20th, 2013
10:06 am

Recall your board member if you are not happy. Viola Davis’ group http://restoredekalb.wordpress.com/ is focused on this. Even if you like your board member, you can help those who don’t. This group’s next meeting is this Saturday.

Lee

February 20th, 2013
10:15 am

“The SACS report was based largely on anonymous sources whose claims cannot be independently corroborated.”

The requirement for compelling evidential matter is Auditing 101 stuff. If SACS is going to do an accreditation review (audit), they might want to brush up on the basics. Just sayin’.

Wondering Allowed

February 20th, 2013
10:15 am

@Frustrated – The problem is each individual voting bloc likes its member and thinks it’s the other members who are the bad ones. Each voting bloc is concerned about different things. One bloc wants the school system to be an educational institution, while another wants it to be a high paying jobs program for people who couldn’t make it two minutes in the private sector.

skipper

February 20th, 2013
10:19 am

@Too Funny,
That is the biggest problem. You have incompetent people (the right to vote does not mean the intelligence to do so) voting in dummies in many cases just to “keep it real” this is what you get. The idea that anybody who really is interested in education put some of these Einsteins in is an insult to the process. Not a soul with any sense would move a kid into this system now unless he/she had no choice.

A Conservative Voice

February 20th, 2013
10:19 am

@Maureen – To spare system and save money, why doesn’t the DeKalb board resign?

The MAJORITY are idiots, even though they are looked upon as model citizens in their communities. Saving face is more important to them than saving 100,000 students from a horrible educational experience. You know, a year from now, these same MAJORITY inept individuals will still be board members and still screwing up what was once the best school system in the state. DeKalb County’s financial fortunes will continue to decline as folks move out to get away from the school system. Clayton County will then be known as the second most “worst county” in the metro area. And then we can truly shout from the mountaintop (we have a big one)…….”we’re number one, we’re number one”.

Wondering Allowed

February 20th, 2013
10:19 am

Someone needs to reach out to Tom Cousins and beg him to create a DeKalb Drew Academy, approved throught the state, to avoid having any DeKalb Schools involvement. Why not convert South DeKalb Mall into a new Drew Campus? The mall is barely hanging on, and that space would be full of students in minutes.

Maureen Downey

February 20th, 2013
10:21 am

@Too funny, I think that is the crux of the legal argument — DeKalb voters could have removed these board members and did not. So, should the state overrule voters and remove board members who aren’t doing a good job? Can DeKalb voters trust the governor to pick better board members?
Will be a great court case to follow.
Maureen

bu2

February 20th, 2013
10:23 am

@too funny
That’s the thing. Most of the bozos ARE getting tossed out. In the last election, one didn’t run and two got defeated. The one who won was probably the least controversial member of the board and she barely won against a race baiting candidate from South Dekalb. The anti-incumbent mentality nearly made it a clean sweep of incumbents. In the previous election 2 got defeated, 1 won in a runoff and the other two won narrowly against inexperienced candidates. Dekalb will be reduced to 7 seats and two of the remaining 4 will almost certainly have to run against each other in 16 months and one other loses her at large seat and will be forced to run against one of the new members. So the Dekalb voters are changing the board.

Maureen Downey

February 20th, 2013
10:24 am

@DeKalb Inside, Read Rick’s blog. I agree with him that the state board of ed might vote to oust the DeKalb board but don’t agree on the reasons that will be cited. At the last four-hour hearing, the state board focused solely on governance issues. It did not raise personal issues. So, I doubt any state board member will reference a DeKalb board member’s personal financial woes or lack of a degree.
These state board folks are by the book. They will cite governance failures.
Also, not sure that there are nine candidates already lined up to step in. However, I do think the governor will reappoint the three new board members who only took office in January. Orson, Johnson and McMahan.
Maureen

catlady

February 20th, 2013
10:27 am

After the board is removed, can they be sued as individuals for their parts in defrauding Dekalb schoolchildren?

The way I understand it, the system does not, should not, supply counsel unless you are doing part of your legal, specified duties for which you are performing. Clearly Lewis was not, and should not be represented by someone paid by taxpayers. And you could argue that the board members, not showing the fiduciary responsibility incumbent upon them, should not be granted taxpayer money for their defense.

My concern about Deal naming replacements is that it could be an extension of the friends and family plan that he has put into place since taking office.

bu2

February 20th, 2013
10:28 am

@Maureen-question
Ty’s article says the claims against the district were anonymous. Is that anonymous only to the reader of the report or also to SACS? If SACS is threatening a district’s accreditation based on anonymous letters, they have no business doing accreditations.

bu2

February 20th, 2013
10:29 am

@dekalb resident
SACS doesn’t seem to concern itself about the quality of education or educational results, only about process related items.

Dunwoody Mom

February 20th, 2013
10:30 am

Maureen, any word on the hearing for injunction of tomorrow’s hearing?

Maureen Downey

February 20th, 2013
10:31 am

@bu2, And that Legislature may address that, according to state Rep. Edward Lindsey. He says the governor is concerned that SACS does not consider student achievement or academics, only governance.
Maureen

Maureen Downey

February 20th, 2013
10:34 am

@Dunwoody, Not yet.
It will depend on two things:
1. Whether Judge Lee hears the motion today.
and
2. She agrees to issue the order to stop it.
Maureen

Wondering Allowed

February 20th, 2013
10:38 am

@Maureen – You asked: Can DeKalb voters trust the governor to pick better board members?

It would be impossible for him to pick worse.

catlady

February 20th, 2013
10:39 am

Has there been any call for the GBI to investigate the “missing book money?” That was not chump change, even for Dekalb.

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

February 20th, 2013
10:39 am

Maureen-that would be because SACS is interested in gutting student achievement and academics going back to the 30s when the accreditors sponsored the 8 Year Study. Especially the North Central sister company.

But that is not the point I wanted to make. Is there any point in serving on a Dekalb school board where lifetime benefits vest? 5 years? Ten? and then you get a pension or lifetime medical benefits?

Do those perhaps accrue on election? Or is it just the opportunity to foist all relatives and friends on the taxpayer payroll?

It’s no secret I think SACS like all accreditors has huge, unappreciated conflicts of interest that make them essentially a fox watching the hen house after all security cameras have been ordered removed. Via a taxpayer paid audit by SACS.

But are their more conflicts skewing these passions in Dekalb?

Centrist

February 20th, 2013
10:46 am

Easy answer to the blog headline question: Because each of the board members are more interested in themselves than their charges (students).

catlady

February 20th, 2013
10:46 am

Now would be a good time to get shed of SACS. It used to be an organization with some integrity, that looked at the opportunities for the children. Now it stays busy being sure the board all agrees, instead of substantive measures for the students. SACS has become a bully, and is no longer an advocate for the children’s best interests. It is all about MONEY–give it, in buckets, to SACS, then roll over and scratch when it tells you to.

Georgia could do a whole lot better with its own accrediting agency. It already has some small ones for specific groups.

catlady

February 20th, 2013
10:49 am

As to the board hanging on, I am reminded of the line in Sleepless in Seattle, where the advise broadcaster says, “Why would you want to stay with someone who doesn’t want you?”

Pardon My Blog

February 20th, 2013
10:54 am

I personally hate the fact that by losing accreditation, the only individuals punished for all the misdeeds are the students. It is not the students “misbehaving” (although a few deserve a trip to the woodshed) instead it is the so called administrators and the Board. There needs to be a method for the accrediting agency to remove these people while the students can still retain the accredited status.

Simple answer for Governor Deal, let the school clusters within the district vote on becoming a charter cluster with the tax money in that base funding the cluster (sort of a voucher system) and the rest can remain with this group as long as they want.

agent

February 20th, 2013
10:58 am

If/when the board members get kicked out, they will sue the district for something dumb like violating their civil rights. And again, this will be on the taxpayers’ dime. You heard it here first.

GD

February 20th, 2013
11:02 am

The lawsuit wouldn’t be necessary if the State recognizes the probationary period set forth by SACS.

Maureen Downey

February 20th, 2013
11:08 am

@Bu2
From Ty Tagami on your question on the SACS citing anonymous sources. (If you are willing, Ty would like to talk to you about your question. You can email him at ty.tagami@ajc.com.)

SACS presumably knows where they got their information. However, they are unwilling to disclose the names of the people who gave them information. They also would not turn over the documents they used to reach each conclusion. Records that SACS may have used can be obtained from the school district, but since the SACS report does not attribute most source documents, it’s not possible for an outsider to say with certainty what evidence they used in reaching most conclusions.

Can you ask your reader if he/she would be willing to discuss this for a story that I hope to complete in time for tomorrow’s newspaper?

DunMoody

February 20th, 2013
11:12 am

I believe the only solution to the complex problems plaguing DeKalb schools is a change to the constitution. Georgia’s rural counties purportedly would rather deny local control for the sake of protecting their school system-as-primary-employer cash flow. As the mechanisms in place fail to stop the tsunami of public education failure, our only recourse is to work legislatively to create the opportunity to form a new local school district.

As for the charter school cluster Senator Millar advocates, I do not think he realizes that there’s no protection or real autonomy as long as the local school board and central office controls the funds and employees. Therefore, it’s a paper tiger.

Why doesn’t the school board resign? Because the individuals most at fault just don’t see it that way.

DeKalb Inside Out

February 20th, 2013
11:15 am

Walker 2.0 code name Melvin Johnson
To: Constiuency Support
From: Marshall Orson and Jim McMahan

We are writing to you regarding our chairman upgrade from Walker 1.0 to Walker 2.0, also known as Melvin Johnson. We were not aware that Walker 2.0 was just a utilities program and “The Walker 5″ was an operating system designed to run all other applications. The upgrade from Walker 1.0 to Walker 2.0 provided a number of new features which I am not happy with.

For example, Walker 2.0 has a Friends and Family subroutine that I can’t turn off. These subroutines are constantly spawning off new Lawyer and Consultant routines that are consuming all of our cache.

A number of other programs behave erratically since the installation of “The Walker 5″. Budgeting 3.1 and Education 6.0 no longer run, crashing the system whenever selected. Teacher 1.0, Student 1.0 and all learning applications can not run due to lack of system resources.

Please let me know how to uninstall or deactivate Walker 2.0 before all MS-Money files are deleted, or at least how to regain functionality in some of my other applications.

catlady

February 20th, 2013
11:24 am

DIO–good one!

Ms. Downey, for the edification of us yokels, how much does being on the Dekalb BOE pay and what benefits are available and when? Could that be compared with others nearby?

catlady

February 20th, 2013
11:27 am

Has anyone else noticed that when someone does something, such as the Dekalb BOE suing, it is for “the principle” of the matter? And that frequently it also benefits themselves financially (the principal $) ?

FedUp

February 20th, 2013
11:41 am

Attention all DeKalb voters and Parents:
If you ever thought this board was about doing what is best for the school system (AKA students and teachers), please FORGET ABOUT IT! How dare they take money from a broke school systems to sue to keep their jobs. Thankfully the Fulton County judge has seen the folly of this suit and will let the State BOE hearing proceed on Thursday. If the state was not convinced the DeKalb Board needed to go, their filing of the lawsuit should have fully convinved anyone who might have been sitting on the fence.

Dunwoody Mom

February 20th, 2013
11:41 am

According to Ty Tagami judge declined to stop tomorrow’s hearing!!!

Maureen Downey

February 20th, 2013
11:42 am

@Catlady:
The AJC has reported:
DeKalb school board members are paid $18,000 a year, which is in line with school board member salaries in Cobb and Gwinnett counties and the city of Atlanta.

DeKalb school board members, like most elected officials in the Atlanta region, occasionally travel to work-related conferences and training in other cities and states. The school district budgets $4,000 a year for each of its nine board members for travel-related expenses. The annual travel budget has ranged between $3,500 and $5,000 during the past 10 budget cycles. Board members can spend their own money for travel and get reimbursed by the county.

catlady

February 20th, 2013
11:45 am

Do they have insurance or retirement benefits as well?

DeKalbCounty

February 20th, 2013
11:46 am

will a Federal judge intervene?

catlady

February 20th, 2013
11:47 am

I am just trying to understand why anyone would want to go through all this, other than POWER and PRESTIGE. Trying to see how much financial benefit there is. Do all the board members have other jobs?

Peter Smagorinsky

February 20th, 2013
12:05 pm

I have no dawg in this fight…some are wondering just who these board members are, so I searched on google and found mini-bios of each board member, including day jobs and sources of expertise, at http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/board-of-education.

Maureen Downey

February 20th, 2013
12:05 pm

@catlady, In terms of finances, I think most DeKalb board members are fine. Most hold good jobs. I doubt any of them rely on the $18,000. (That was not the case a few years ago in Clayton where a board member once told a colleague that she would resign if someone found her another job.)
Maureen