Lunch and back to business: Should DeKalb board go or stay? Thurmond goes to bat for board.

Afternoon session of state Board of Education hearing on whether to oust the DeKalb County Board of Education. (See earlier blog on what happened in the first half of the day.)

Waiting again for Sarah Copelin-Wood who was on the stand when the hearing broke for lunch. I am listening to the hearing online and the microphones are picking up general chatter around the board table.  Some board member is complaining about how long Copelin-Wood is keeping them waiting. “No respect. No courtesy.”

DOE attorney Jennifer Hackemeyer is back to the email and whether it went to school employees. “Your earlier testimony was that you did not send to a list of employees. I have given you this email and ask that you take a look at it to see if it refreshes your recollection. It appears it was sent to at least one DeKalb County employee. Is that true?”

Copelin-Wood: “Not me, I did not send it. I didn’t sent it to her. Maybe, she was on her personal email. I never would have sent this to our school system address. Period.”

“Your recollection is not refreshed?” asked Hackemeyer, who is now dropping the email challenge. Wilson protests that the email discussion should be struck since the email was not entered into evidence. Nor was there any verification that she sent it to anyone at a DeKalb school address.

State board is now asking Copelin-Wood questions: She is being asked how and when the contract reviews contracts for legal services. This is not her finest moment. She is inconsistent in her answers about contract approvals, sparking one board member to say: “You are telling me your approve contracts for legal services over $100,000 after the monies have been spent?”

(My take: Copelin-Wood did not help the board’s cause at all.)

Michael Thurmond is now testifying.  He is giving his family history, including about why he decided to take the interim job. “Nothing could be more important than helping to lead this school district beyond the problems it faces,” he said.

Thurmond is being questioned by Wilson, so the tone is friendly and positive. Wilson is leading Thurmond into explaining what positive steps have been taken, including the pledge from the board to work with him. He asked each, “Are you committed to make the tough decisions that needed to be made?” “What is your level of commitment?”

Thurmond is making another — as I believe Dunwoody Mom called it — a “stump speech.” He is a good speaker and a confident one. He is selling himself and the district, and his belief that he can succeed with this board.

The second question he asked board members, he says: “How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve these goals?”

Wilson: Did every board member give for affirmative response to each of those two commitments?

“Yes,” said Thurmond.

Wilson: Do you believe yo can work with each and every member of this board?

Thurmond: “Yes, I think true leaders listen to those who may have opposing views, to learn from each and every person you meet and use that knowledge to lead in a positive way.”

As he told me the other day, Thurmond now has been meeting with “stakeholders.” And as he did for me, he is listing all the groups he has met with thus far; he again listed the chamber, the legislative delegation, a parents group. He again did not list teachers.

Now, Thurmond is addressing the missing textbooks cited in the SACS report. He said he was concerned about the missing books after what he read. “I read that somehow, through mismanagement, co-mission or omission, books were not purchased and no one could account for the missing $12 million.”

Wilson: Can you account for book and the $12 million?

“We can document where every book rests today, not just in which school, but in which classroom. And we can document every dime that was not spent.”

And Thurmond said it took only two days to track the books and money, so he was uncertain why SACS could not do it.

Also, Wilson asks Thurmond was SACS correct in its report that only 30 percent of schools had connectivity,

Thurmond says that was not true, that the system has 100 percent connectivity, although not all wireless.

Wilson is getting Thurmond to say as many ways possible that he can work with this board, each and every member.  Thurmond repeated what he told me the other day: Board made courageous decision in hiring him.

I think that at some point Thurmond has to say that he can still succeed if this board goes. But Wilson is not letting that question come up asking him yet again “If this state board does not recommend removal, do you believe you can move district forward with thsi board?’

Thurmond goes to bat big time with this answer: “I just don’t believe it, I know it. I’ve staked a 30 year reputation personally on the fact that we can do it.”

Wilson: “Do you want them to give this board the opportunity to do it with you?”

Thurmond:  “I see this as an opportunity for DeKalb to finally get it right.”

He talked about the racial divides that still haunt public education, citing his high school reunion where 40 years later, blacks and whites still went to separate sides. He suggests that racial divides split the board, and that they have to work to overcome them. He says the board has evolved but has a ways to go.

He says DeKalb parents have told him that they like their school board member. It’s the other ones who need to go.”What we can all do is evolve and grow,” he said, and see the district as a whole.

Thurmond’s rosy view of DeKalb and textbook-gate is now being punctured by Hackemeyer, who points out that the missing textbook money was not a fiction, but a concern of his predecessor Cheryl Atkinson. She asks whether he is aware some of the funds were shown to go to prior textbook purchases and legal fees. He says he is unaware of that.

Upon questioning, Thurmond says if the governor ousts the six members, he will have to deal with 15 board member since those six won’t be unelected. Those shadow board members — duly elected, ousted by the governor, fighting in court — would be impediments to his success.

“I can manage nine. I can’t manage 15,” he says. Thurmond warns that ousting the board will create more rancor and divides in DeKalb, which is already far from a peaceable kingdom right now. (He doesn’t say racial divides but that is clearly what he means.)

In questions, skeptical state board member Brian K. Burdette asked why, if Thurmond could track textbook money in a matter of two days, the board couldn’t do manage to do it in a matter of months? He also doubted that Thurmond could make the difference, that a single person could outweigh a dysfunctional board and years of entrenched inefficiencies.

“Even if you don’t believe I can succeed, give me the opportunity to fail,” said Thurmond, still in full campaign mode.

State board member Linda M. Zechmann questioned Thurmond’s opening story of getting a call from someone from DeKalb asking if he were interested in being superintendent. She said that there is a process for hiring a school chief and that didn’t seem to follow it.

Thurmond said DeKalb was in crisis, a house on fire, and they had to act outside convention. (I think we ought to pay attention to how Thurmond was hired; if it turns out to be a mistake, it may well be that this haste in hiring could be a factor.)

School board member Donna Edler is now speaking about deciding to run for school board in 2010 even though she was recently diagnosed with cancer and underwent a mastectomy that July. She took office six months later in the middle of radiation treatment. “That is part of the commitment I bring to this district,” she said. “Each of the board members here — I have learned a great deal from each of them.”

Edler is going through all that she learned from her fellow board members, including Copelin-Wood’s testimony today. Elder ends her speech by asking the state board to retain the DeKalb to give the community “a chance to heal.”

Hackemeyer is asking Edler about the two lawsuits filed by the DeKalb board to stop the state board hearing today and whether the board took those votes to sue in open session.

“No, we did not,” said Edler. Now, Hackemeyer is asking why the board is spending $150,000 to hire a law firm for governance training. Edler said she could not comment because that discussion occurred in executive session. (Not sure how discussing training  — which is how Thurmond characterized the McKenna Long & Aldridge contract to me –  required ducking behind closed doors.)

A board member is asking Edler how the board could defend going into closed session to discuss governance training. Edler says the law allows them to go into closed session for governance, but this was training. She does not make her case with her winding response.

“I get the feeling the board overuses lawyers,” said one state board member. Edler disagrees, saying the board hired McKenna Long & Aldridge for governance issues, not legal ones.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

92 comments Add your comment

Guest

February 21st, 2013
1:37 pm

where is this being broadcasted?

Chamblee Dad

February 21st, 2013
1:38 pm

Now Sarah Copelin-Wood is channeling Homer Simpson – “doh”

TAX PAYER AND PRIOR DEKALB PARENT

February 21st, 2013
1:41 pm

SHE IS LIKE THAT AT ALL MEETINGS AND IN PERSON ALWAYS DISRESPECTFUL AND SHE ONLY ACTS NICE TO EUGENE WALKER

Jayson

February 21st, 2013
1:43 pm

Bye Bye Copeland.

And good riddance.

Aquagirl

February 21st, 2013
1:54 pm

where is this being broadcasted?

Comedy Central would be the most appropriate channel.

BlondeHoney

February 21st, 2013
1:57 pm

Aquagirl…LOL

Chamblee Dad

February 21st, 2013
1:59 pm

Maureen is now channeling the Clash:

“Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know”

Problem is it should ne Sarah & company asking that question, and of course I know my answer

Mountain Man

February 21st, 2013
2:00 pm

“SHE IS LIKE THAT AT ALL MEETINGS AND IN PERSON ALWAYS DISRESPECTFUL”

In some neighborhoods, “dissing” someone is a killin’ offence.

living in an outdated ed system

February 21st, 2013
2:00 pm

AP Teacher

February 21st, 2013
2:04 pm

Thought I heard Thurmond talking on the feed (its crapping out on me) Sounds like he’s grandstanding.

bu2

February 21st, 2013
2:22 pm

“(My take: Copelin-Wood did not help the board’s cause at all.)”
That’s exactly why they had her first and they didn’t want to change the order. They want that to be the first impression of the SBOE. The board members are thinking now, “How can we possibly leave the running of a district with an $800 million budget in the hands of people like this?”

They all aren’t THAT bad.

dekalbite

February 21st, 2013
2:23 pm

Reading the Brookhaven Patch Live Blog – Thurmond says they can account for every textbook (where is his proof) and also says all classrooms have Internet connectivity (what about the trailers). Teachers have been complaining for years about the lack of technology. Vanderlyn ES parents put in a completely separate network that they pay for with PTA dollars to ensure connectivity for their students. It runs parallel to the DCSS network. It is up when our DCSS network (which BTW took almost all of our SPLOST II technology dollars – little left over for computers or software – just hundreds of millions for a network with no equipment to hang off of it – talk about the ultimate in poor planning and tens of millions for an IT group to “tend” the network that has so little access for students).

Thurmond should have brought proof with him or better yet submitted the proof to the SBOE beforehand.

dekalbite@bu2

February 21st, 2013
2:24 pm

” “How can we possibly leave the running of a district with an $800 million budget in the hands of people like this?””

Well, that’s a good question.

Concerned DeKalb Citizen

February 21st, 2013
2:24 pm

I tried the webcast link and it will work for 2 minutes and then freeze up. The small part that I did catch made me scratch my head in wonder as to why voters consistently elected Woods for over 10 years. Thurmond sounds and looks like a politician with canned answers. He promises a lot but I guess he must in order to keep the large salary DeKalb plans to pay him along the departing superintendent.

TAX PAYER AND PRIOR DEKALB PARENT

February 21st, 2013
2:28 pm

WALKER, GOT THURMOND TO COME ABOARD THEY THOUGHT IF THEY GOT HIM HE COULD POLL WITH THEM WITH THE STATE MEMBERS, THEN HE KNEW SINCE HE WAS ATTORNYE HE HAD THE ANSWER AND TO FILE SUIT AND HIRE THE OTHER ATTORNEY. WALKER AND COPLIN HARRASSED CHERYL (PAST SUPT) AT HOME DURING HER FATHERS ILLNESS AND PASSING AWAY, THEY DID IT ON PURPOSE DURING THIS HARD TIME FOR HER. THE OLD BOARD NEEDS TO BE OUT ALL OF THEM EVEN THE NEW ONES WICKED AND DISRESPECTFUL THEY ALL ARE. I WILL NOT NEVER VOTE FOR NOTE ONE OF THEM AGAIN.

bu2

February 21st, 2013
2:28 pm

She may be a very nice person with the best intentions for the students, but she is so unfit to be a school board member that she doesn’t understand she is unfit.

Shar

February 21st, 2013
2:28 pm

Thurmond has no business cheerleading for this Board. His priorities have to be 1. Students, 2. Teachers, 3. Taxpayers. The current Board has ridden roughshod over every one of these groups, concentrating on building their own fiefdoms and lining their own pockets regardless of the cost to anyone else.

Sarah Copelin-Woods may be the most egregious example of a racist, entitled, self-interested ignoramus, but she is not the only one. The entire Board needs to be removed and investigated for criminality.

Dupri

February 21st, 2013
2:30 pm

I am a proud graduate of DCSS when Robert Freeman was superintendent. I was proud of our school system at that time and decided to purchase a home and send my kids to school in DCSS. That was probably one of my biggest mistakes. I want this board out of here as soon as possible! This should not be difficult if we call come together and demand change. I admit, I am African American and believe that the African American board members are indeed racist and are trying to keep it all black. Well its not working. WhiIe believe that the board is racially motivated, I also feel we all as adults need to throw the race card out of the equation and focus of the future education of our kids. They are incompetent and are an embarrassment to our state. My job requires travel. I feel so ashamed when my peers who don’t live in my state remind me of all of the negative things that are coming out of our county. Let’s enforce a change!

chillywilly

February 21st, 2013
2:31 pm

It appears that Dr. Trotter is right about SACS & Mark Elgart. With all due respect, I wish that Ms. Woods would just resign from the school board.

Pardon My Blog

February 21st, 2013
2:31 pm

Why is Thurmond interjecting race? Is this the tone we want from our interim superintendent? Is he setting the stage to say that all this is due to the white parents on the northside not happy with the Board due to the color of their skin? That is exactly what Walker has been intimating!

TAX PAYER AND PRIOR DEKALB PARENT

February 21st, 2013
2:32 pm

I CANNOT BELIEVE NOT ANY PARENT TOLD THEM THAT THEY LIKE THEIR BOARD MEMBER. REALLY

Just Sayin.....

February 21st, 2013
2:32 pm

They should go… ALL of them. If they had listened to SACS and been truly contrite, there might have been a chance. But they all went into the “its not me, its him/her” mode, so I knew that the only path out of this mess is to clean out the board and start over. A month later, instead of taking SACS to heart and attempting to improve the situation and show the progress that they have made, they file a law suit at taxpayer’s expense to stop proceedings. Again, their actions tell me everything that I need to know. EVERY member of this board is full of hubris. EVERY member needs to be removed.

Ray

February 21st, 2013
2:35 pm

So sounds like Thurmond put to rest all of the breathless innuendo about the supposed $12M in missing textbooks. Nice investigative work on that SACS.

TAX PAYER AND PRIOR DEKALB PARENT

February 21st, 2013
2:36 pm

@Just Sayin….. YOU ARE SO CORRECT ALL NEED TO GO THE NEW ONES ALSO FOR THEM EVEN SITTING ALLOWING AND WATCHING THE OLD ONES BE OF NO GOOD. PARDON THE CAPS YOU ALL ON MY SPEAKING I AM AT WORK AND WE HAVE TO TYPE IN CAPS. SWITCHING SCREENS BACK AND FORTH. I HOLD A VALUEABLE STAKE IN THIS.

Aquagirl

February 21st, 2013
2:36 pm

She may be a very nice person with the best intentions for the students

And my cat might be a three-toed sloth with a very good penchant for disguise, but I’m not really banking on that either.

AP Teacher

February 21st, 2013
2:36 pm

Enough pontificating…time to light the torches and sharpen the guillotine

Jennifer

February 21st, 2013
2:37 pm

Did he talk about sending his child to private school because his school stunk and he ‘loved my child more than I loved the school?” how does he hope to fix this mess when he wouldn’t try to fix his own school?

Roach

February 21st, 2013
2:39 pm

If the board survives, Thurmond will own them. Can they really provide oversight when *they* will owe their jobs to *him*? If the board is incompetent and corrupt, then maybe disempowering them makes things better, but it’s usually bad when the chief exec has a board full of lap dogs. It becomes risky to leave them in place.

Mountain Man

February 21st, 2013
2:41 pm

Is Thurmond intimating that if the State BOE removes black BOE members and replaces them with white ones, there will be a race riot?

Pardon My Blog

February 21st, 2013
2:42 pm

@Roach – You are sooooo correct!

Roach

February 21st, 2013
2:43 pm

The “mine’s board member is OK, but the rest of them stink” is a familiar phenomenon. Lots of people are fond of their own Congressman but think Congress in general is a bunch of idiots. Clue: most people in all the other districts think that the member from your district is one of the idiots.

Ray

February 21st, 2013
2:45 pm

Sounds like this hearing and everything is all primarily directed at two board members: Copelin-Wood and Walker. Those are the two that they have specific allegations against.

Pardon My Blog

February 21st, 2013
2:47 pm

I am so sick of hearing people scream racism when their hand is caught in the cookie jar. Outrageous behavior is just that, plain and simple, regardless of who did it!

dekalbite

February 21st, 2013
2:53 pm

“As he told me the other day, Thurmond now has been meeting with “stakeholders.” And as he did for me, he is listing all the groups he has met with thus far; he again listed the chamber, the legislative delegation, a parents group. He again did not list teachers.”

I found that odd as well. It’s like he doesn’t understand the school system would not exist without teachers. Who does he think is responsible for the ONLY function the school system is established for?

Lisa

February 21st, 2013
2:55 pm

“Even if you don’t believe I can succeed, give me the opportunity to fail,” said Thurmond

We can’t afford giving him the opportunity to fail. Its not right. They must go to save the school system! Please do the right thing and remove the 6.

Grasshopper

February 21st, 2013
2:58 pm

Great job Maureen!

Mountain Man

February 21st, 2013
3:01 pm

“So sounds like Thurmond put to rest all of the breathless innuendo about the supposed $12M in missing textbooks. Nice investigative work on that SACS.”

Yeah, Superman Thurmond did all that in 2 days, wheras Supt. Atkinson and the Board could not find the answers anytime before he was hired. Of course, he has no proof, so , hey, just trust him, OK! We can now refer to him as Super Blackman!

Grasshopper

February 21st, 2013
3:01 pm

“Even if you don’t believe I can succeed, give me the opportunity to fail,” said Thurmond

Can you believe he said that?

In other words, “Let me play around with your kids future…maybe it will work! If I fail, well…that’s too bad. Let me worry about my reputation, not your kids education.”

Mountain Man

February 21st, 2013
3:04 pm

“Thurmond warns that ousting the board will create more rancor and divides in DeKalb, which is already far from a peaceable kingdom right now. (He doesn’t say racial divides but that is clearly what he means.)”

OMG! Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my! Just leave us alone and I will singlehandedly solve all our problems in the next month.

sam

February 21st, 2013
3:08 pm

Well, it is DeKalb, and of course it is dominated by one race, otherwise we wouldn’t have the twit Hank Johnson as our representative. South DeKalb outvotes North, and so we entrust all of our children to incompetent, mostly poorly educated, self-indulgent racists. Anything this Board touches is destroyed. Get rid of all of them, and get Thurmond out too. What the heck does he know about education?

justbrowsing

February 21st, 2013
3:09 pm

Agreed there are issues with how Thurmond was hired. Where is fidelity to the protocols in place. Who just calls someone up and inquires if they want a job with so much accountability and they have no experience? Did the deputy super not want the job? Dekalb looks bad on so many fronts and levels.

Ray

February 21st, 2013
3:09 pm

Mountain Man: If President Obama removed a bunch of white school board members in your area and replaced them with black democrats, would you be fine with that? (I couldn’t resist.)

Roach

February 21st, 2013
3:10 pm

Wait a minute–the whole hearing is about a board not following established procedures. That, at its core, is what SACS is complaining about. Yet the solution is to hire a new super without following established procedures? Someone is not getting the message.

Woodrow

February 21st, 2013
3:18 pm

Bd Member Edler just disclosed the details of discussions during yesterday’s executive session to elect a new char. That should seal the decision for any of those state board members wavering on whether the current board must go. #governance

Ray

February 21st, 2013
3:20 pm

Good grief you people whining about them hiring Thurmond quickly. The State BOE gave the DCCS board only one month to make improvements and get back before them for this hearing — ONE month — that was the State BOE’s idea. Supt. Atkinson was not performing at top level and I believe had not been to work for weeks due to a death in the family, and so the DCCS board decided to act quickly. And they went out and found a credible, respected manager In Thurmond that most everyone has good things to say about. You can bet that if the DCCS board had left Atkinson in place we’d be hearing whining about that today.

Aquagirl

February 21st, 2013
3:21 pm

“Each of the board members here — I have learned a great deal from each of them.”

Saying you learned anything from Ms. Copelin-Wood should be immediate grounds for dismissal.

Oh wow, after a long rambling speech on her breast cancer treatment, the fantabulessness of every other board member by name, and her effusive thanks to the director, screenwriter, and lighting technicians who made this academy award possible, Ms. Edler actually mentioned the students of DeKalb County.

Maureen, I hope you’re getting paid well to sit in that room.

Eugene Walker Must Go

February 21st, 2013
3:24 pm

I was at Oak Grove Elementary yesterday. Let me sum up Michael Thurmond. He sends his kid(s) to private school, he has no stake in the school system. He said his top 3 priorities were SACS, SACS and SACS. He also said DCSS made a tremendous hire in hiring him and that loss of accreditation would cost the county $10 billion.

First, he is looking to pad his bank account and live large on his taxpayer funded expense account. Two, he is looking to charm SACS to make his pal Burrell look good. Three, he is trying to keep his pal Eugene from getting in trouble and being replaced. And finally, he wants to run for Saxby’s Senate seat.

He has no interest in improving the school. If he can keep SACS from dropping the hammer on DCSS, he can say he saved the day when he goes off to fry bigger fish. Don’t trust him.

Fire The Board

February 21st, 2013
3:24 pm

The north and south is finally united on one thing: getting rid of this incompetent board. Sarah In-A-Fog-Wood needs to be the first one shown the door. Wow, and I thought I had seen it all in Georgia politics…

living in an outdated ed system

February 21st, 2013
3:29 pm

@Maureen, why could Edler not comment because of a discussion that occurred in “executive session.” It would seem that there is testimony pertinent to this hearing that is being withheld. Can you educate us on the protocol of these hearings?

Great TV

February 21st, 2013
3:32 pm

Wow, what a show this has been seeing the DeKalb BOE on display in all it’s glory. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. I can’t wait for “Foghorn Leghorn” Walker to get up to talk. I honestly hope they don’t have to wake him up when it is his time. Or, he could go and hide like Copelin-Wood did when it was her turn.