Breaking news: With new federal ruling, DeKalb school leadership is now in legal limbo for time being

As we all expected, the DeKalb school board situation is getting messier. A  federal judge is now saying that Gov. Deal can remove the six board members, but cannot replace them for the present.

Yikes.

It seems unlikely all the school members recommended for removal are going to drop their legal challenge to the state law allowing the governor to oust them over accreditation concerns.

If the DeKalb legal challenge follows the pace of a similar one filed by school board members in Sumter County, this could take months to resolve. Six Sumter school board members filed in December to halt state removal, but a court hearing has yet to be scheduled and they retain their seats.

DeKalb school board member Eugine Walker made it clear to the state Board of Education at its 14-hour hearing Thursday that he was not going to surrender his constitutional rights to seek redress in the courts if he was suspended from his elected post.

The AJC’s Ty Tagami reports that Walker said Sunday, ““I was elected by the people, but I work for God. I’m not going to surrender to a political lynching by a kangaroo court.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Story scheduled the federal hearing for 2:30 p.m. Friday. The Fulton Superior Court hearing before Judge Lee is 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

So, this situation now leaves DeKalb in limbo and prevents any real change to get under way.

From AJC.com:

A federal judge has issued an order that temporarily prevents Gov. Nathan Deal from replacing the DeKalb County school board members who were recommended for suspension by a state panel.

Judge Richard Story’s order refuses to restrain Deal from suspending the DeKalb board members, but enjoins implementation of any decision by the governor pending the outcome of a hearing Friday.

Deal previously called a news conference for 11 a.m. Monday to announce his response to a Georgia Board of Education recommendation Thursday to suspend six of nine DeKalb board members. That prompted DeKalb to file a last minute plea Friday for an order restraining the governor.

The judge’s order didn’t side clearly with either DeKalb or the governor, but it does give DeKalb some breathing room.

“If Governor Deal decides to appoint any new member to the board, that proposed member shall not be permitted to take office at this time,” said Story’s order, which was signed Friday and obtained Sunday by Channel 2 Action News. “Similarly, if Governor Deal decides to remove any current member of the board, that member will remain in office, but shall not be permitted to act on behalf of the board or take any other official action in his or her capacity as board member.”

The temporary order is in connection with a lawsuit DeKalb filed to stop the removal process. The suit, filed by the school district and former board chairman Eugene Walker against the Georgia Department of Education and Deal, contends that a 2011 state law allowing the ouster of elected local school boards is unconstitutional.

The law says the governor can suspend and ultimately remove any local school board that is recommended for suspension by the state education board because of risk to the local school district’s accreditation. The law authorizes the state to act only in districts that have been placed on “probation” by an accreditation authority.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed DeKalb on probation in December, alleging a host of governance problems.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

258 comments Add your comment

living in an outdated ed system

February 24th, 2013
5:07 pm

STUPID. JUST STUPID. This judge made a grave mistake by acting before Deal did. Now Deal has to suspend the board members to put the pressure on them to stand down. It’s up the the people to protest the selfish acts of Walker et al. Incompetency rules the day again in this town.

Old timer

February 24th, 2013
5:17 pm

This mess just keeps getting worse.

Wilbur

February 24th, 2013
5:20 pm

If I were Deal I would pull back from this no-win situation till the so-called leaders in Dekalb County stop hiding in the shadows, hoping for a political advantage. Until there is an unambiguous consensus, I would let the board do what the board does and let SACS do what it does. Nothing will change in the county until they feel the weight of the terrible leadership of the BOE. The “leadership” needs to lead and get their fingers out of their backsides. Republicans did not make this mess and should let the democrats clean up after themselves.
In the long term there is a Dunwoody school system and a Brookwood school system anyway.

Beverly Fraud

February 24th, 2013
5:23 pm

Markie Mark Elgart can’t be liking this. Somewhere along the line, someone was going to going to act completely in their own self interest, and call SACS’ bluff was going to take a principled stand on constitutional grounds.

Looks like that day has come.

I Teach Writing

February 24th, 2013
5:23 pm

“I work for God.”

Is he serious?

catlady

February 24th, 2013
5:27 pm

I am guessing the tab for the taxpayers of Dekalb will push a half million (so far).

“I work for God.” God needs to give him his walking papers.

Dunwoody Mom

February 24th, 2013
5:30 pm

So, the Governor is allowed to suspend the BOE members, but is not allowed to appoint replacements until the hearing. Hopefully, the remaining 3 will be unable to approve any more spending – especially on legal fees.

Dunwoody Mom

February 24th, 2013
5:32 pm

So, Beverly what about the constitution rights of the DeKalb students to an adequate education?

Beverly Fraud

February 24th, 2013
5:34 pm

“I work for God.”

Is he serious?

Of course he is. He feels “wronged.” In his mind he lost a political power play and looking at who did him in, one can see how he feels. I mean really, can you make the case that Markie Mark Elgart is any more ethical than Eugene Walker?

Seriously, you are talking about a guy who (according to this very paper, correct me if I’m wrong Maureen) tried to strong arm an APS board member into resigning his chairmanship so that he could be replaced with a woman who actively conspired with Beverly Hall to cover up evidence of cheating?

And we are thinking this guy has the “moral high ground” compared to Eugene Walker?

Seriously?

Other than the fact Walker’s actions have a more immediate effect pertaining to DCSS, can you actually make the case either of them act is the best interests of students?

At least a lawsuit can hopefully bring sunlight to the whole mess.

gdfo

February 24th, 2013
5:34 pm

I wonder who approached the Judge who is also a Democrat, btw.

Perhaps it would be good to look up his history and see what his rulings have been. How did this Judge get this issue?

At any rate, the Dekalb School Board is still facing an Accreditation problem, not to mention the loss of credibility from the citizens of Dekalb County. Maybe Cheryl will sue for an exhorbitant amount of money to get her job back?

Lee

February 24th, 2013
5:35 pm

So, if Deal takes the action to remove the board members, which I think he will, the Dekalb BOE and school system will be in limbo for several weeks [months?] until this fiasco works it’s way through the courts.

What happens if the remaining board members make the decision to drop the lawsuit? Do they present a majority?

What happens if the board members are removed, they lose the lawsuit, run again in the next elections, and are re-elected?

Not that it matters, but I think this law is unconstitutional and the board members will prevail it it goes to court.

Lee

February 24th, 2013
5:36 pm

…. IF it goes to court.

Kris

February 24th, 2013
5:39 pm

I wonder if spineless shady Gov dealer (loosely used term) will abide by the law or in most cases he chooses to ignore it?

I say he should oust them all and then fire himself based on the same Ethics violations.

Think of the children of DeKalb and the and all School children of GA. they deserve better than 49th in education

Maureen Downey

February 24th, 2013
5:40 pm

@Lee, I also think DeKalb could win this challenge, but it will cost the district a bundle and tear the county apart. But I understand how board members who were re-elected feel that they are being illegally removed under an unjust law. And while most folks on this blog want them out, I know the board members are hearing directly from constituents who want them to stay.
But this lawsuit will hurt the schools.
Maureen

Beverly Fraud

February 24th, 2013
5:42 pm

So, Beverly what about the constitution rights of the DeKalb students to an adequate education?

@Dunwoody Mom, you really think Mark Elgart and SACS got involved because they were “concerned” about the students of DeKalb County?

I get it; Eugene Walker is Boss Hogg. But the sole focus on him makes as much sense as going after a fisherman who tosses a beer bottle in the Gulf of Mexico and letting BP entirely off the hook because BP called the fisherman a polluter.

Wondering Allowed

February 24th, 2013
5:45 pm

@Kris – Amen!

Rachelle

February 24th, 2013
5:46 pm

Why haven’t the people of Georgia given the power to recall elected officials? Those who voted them in, should have the only power to vote them out.

Amy

February 24th, 2013
5:48 pm

“Similarly, if Governor Deal decides to remove any current member of the board, that member will remain in office, but shall not be permitted to act on behalf of the board or take any other official action in his or her capacity as board member.”

Then none of those six may even utter a syllable to Bob Wilson or any person affiliated with his firm. The Board (well, at least a majority of them) hired Wilson’s firm to challenge the constitutionality of the removal statute on behalf of the Board. Therefore, preparing, discussing, or in any way working with Wilson’s firm on the suit is prohibited by that federal court order. I sincerely hope that the State DOE, the State AG,and others — including, as an officer of the Court, Wilson — keep a close eye and ear on all actions and communications of the six. Federal courts tend not to look favorably upon violations of their orders. If there’s evidence of a violation, the State needs to ask for sanctions against the offender, including striking the DeKalb Board’s complaint.

Beverly Fraud

February 24th, 2013
5:48 pm

What are the odds if he doesn’t win in court, he wins reelection by running as Eugene “the martyr” Walker?

Maybe Victor Hill will let him borrow a tank to celebrate in a Victory Parade. A “Victory in Every Classroom” Parade.

gsmith

February 24th, 2013
5:50 pm

anyone with any self respect on this board would resign,,,,,, but that is not going to happen and i think that says it all

Decatur Dad

February 24th, 2013
5:50 pm

I have more confidence in Eugene Walker than I do in Deal & Elgart. Not that I’m a Eugene Walker fan, but I think Deal & Elgart or two of the most unethical people in Georgia. I agree with Beverly Fraud with regard to the way Elgart mishandled APS. The voters in Dekalb County have a right to choose their elected officials. I have confidence in Michael Thurmond & believe the Dekalb School District will improve and retain their accreditation. SACS needs to be shut down, IMMEDIATELY!

bu2

February 24th, 2013
5:53 pm

As I understand it, this is the worst possible outcome for the county. If Deal acts, his appointees can’t do anything. The suspended 6 can’t do anything.

I don’t believe 3 would constitute a quorom and they probably can’t do anything. Can they even legally hold a meeting?

So he has shut down everything until he makes a decision. Or at least Deal shuts down everything if he accepts the suspension recommendation.

Decatur Dad

February 24th, 2013
5:54 pm

“Deal & Elgart or two” S/B “are two”. Need to slow down, I guess.

Bernie

February 24th, 2013
5:57 pm

The Only winners presently are the Lawyers on both sides, The Losers going forward will be the Children.

Kris

February 24th, 2013
6:13 pm

@ Maureen Downey “”But this lawsuit will hurt the schools.
Maureen”"

I agree its the school kids that will be the biggest looser, thanks to their looser school board and the Governor (loosely used term). Think of the Dollars $$$ Ga spends in law suits each year, think what that money could do for education.

So Sad...

February 24th, 2013
6:16 pm

@ Bernie

Hasn’t that been the case all along in DeKalb?

Winners = Lawyers.
Losers = Children.

Nikole

February 24th, 2013
6:21 pm

Does anyone know how to get a recall? That sounds like a constitutionally sound plan.

Taxpayer and Teacher

February 24th, 2013
6:28 pm

Is Decatur Dad one of the board members? This is a disaster. Think of the children does not mean, the children of God. The term is referring to the students in Dekalb County. I feel like Paul Revere riding after the fact…Si*gh.

Enough

February 24th, 2013
6:29 pm

Time for north dekalb to break away from south dekalb – school & govt services.

Burroughston Broch

February 24th, 2013
6:34 pm

@ Nikole
Here’s a link to the process: http://dekalbschoolwatch.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/recall-procedure-for-dekalb-county.pdf
It seems that there must be a separate petition for each Board member, and only eligible voters in the Board member’s district can sign the petition.

Howard

February 24th, 2013
6:35 pm

I see my home value dropping fast! Time to get the hell out of dekalb! What a dump this county has turned out to be. It’s like Detroit!

JustDumbMove

February 24th, 2013
6:39 pm

I do not believe that Deal should be allowed to remove the board or appoint anyone. If the people of Dekalb want a new school board, then it should be done by a recall process. I think the governor would be over stepping the election process, because no crime punishable by law has been broken. It does not appear that anyone will be indicted for a crime and unless that is the case, the governor should stay on the sideline and let the people of Dekalb clean up the mess the created by electing the school board.

Dave

February 24th, 2013
6:39 pm

You would do us all a favor if you would link to the judge’s Order. Based on the AJC’s reporting, it seems nonsensical. Deal can fire the six and appoint another six – neither six can do anything. I have difficulty believing a U.S. District Court judge did that and I think maybe the AJC needs to do a bit more digging.

catlady

February 24th, 2013
6:40 pm

Nikole: A recall first requires getting a certain percentage of the registered voters to sign the petition. You have only a short period of time, after the paperwork is given you, to gather the signatures. Think days. Each one may be challenged for whether the person signing it is a registered voter, and if they live in Dekalb. After the challenges, you have very little time to gather more. Not sure but I think you would have to gather each person’s individually–cannot get just one signature to cover all.

IF you mange to get the percentage of signatures, THEN they schedule a recall election. This takes months.

THEN, if the voters agree, the person is removed.

Our constitution makes it almost impossible to remove via recall. The deck is stacked in favor of the incumbents.

catlady

February 24th, 2013
6:43 pm

Sounds like a stalemate. I think the citizens of Dekalb should talk to their state representatives to get legislation to add additional school districts right away! Starve the beast!

Dave

February 24th, 2013
6:43 pm

And with more thought, the judge ruled on an injunction, the legal test for granting it is a likelihood of prevailing on the merits. How can Deal fire and appoint and nothing else be allowed to happen on that standard?

Atlanta Media Guy

February 24th, 2013
6:44 pm

By the time a recall could work through the process, it would be time for the regular election. Children lose because of Walker and his cronies…. F&F lives to see another budget!

Atlanta Mom

February 24th, 2013
6:44 pm

Perhaps the good people of Dekalb County could take a different tact. Having lived through the APS drama, I haven’t followed this one closely, but have there been charges of ethical violations? If so, maybe someone could make those charges to the appropriate forum. If found guilty, I believe the Governor could remove the individuals on that basis..

JustDumbMove

February 24th, 2013
6:47 pm

The recall process is still the best method for electing the wrong people. The people of Dekalb were given choices (if not, then someone should have stepped up to the plate) and since they elected the board, it should be only up to them to fix the problem. The People need to stop depending others to resolve issues were caused in their own backyards. You elected the board, so now you need to get off your lazy buts and get the signatures you need.

catlady

February 24th, 2013
6:50 pm

Citizens of my county tried to get a recall of board members, but the odds were so heavily stacked, and the time so short, that instead they worked toward eliminating the board members up for reelection the next year. Turned all three out with about 75 percent voting for new members! The other two will be gone next, in all liklihood, unless they start listening to the people!

Science Teacher

February 24th, 2013
6:50 pm

As an employee of DCSS I am a bit freaked out right now. This is when the Superintendent should be working on the budget for next year. If we are looking at months and months of legal battles when will contracts go out? When will a board be in place to approve a budget?

mountain man

February 24th, 2013
6:52 pm

“I work for God.”

Let God pay him, then.

mountain man

February 24th, 2013
6:54 pm

SACS should just strip their accreditation now.

mountain man

February 24th, 2013
7:15 pm

“Time for north dekalb to break away from south dekalb – school & govt services.”

AMEN, Enough. And let the cities break away from the county.

Charles Douglas Edwards

February 24th, 2013
7:18 pm

The issue of the removal of Dekalb County Board of Education board members needs an additional set of impartial EYEBALLS !!!

To suspend and oust a person from an elected position is a very, very sensitive issue. There are constitutional rights and legality matters that must be addressed. The Supreme Court of the United States may be the final judge.

One needs to consider the motive of people that practice redistricting, voter suppression and creations of new cities to dilute voters. They now want to create a new county (Milton) and re-district Fulton and Dekalb to further separate and divide us.

The actions of the Virginia Legislature on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Inauguration of President Barack Obama gives one the type of people and mindset we are dealing with.

We believe that the Dekalb BOE has not been treated fairly by the State Board of Education and SACS.

We urge the people of Dekalb County to stand UP and be STRONG during these critical times.

Dekalbite@catlady

February 24th, 2013
7:22 pm

“Sounds like a stalemate. I think the citizens of Dekalb should talk to their state representatives to get legislation to add additional school districts right away! Starve the beast!”

You do realize that requires an amendment to the Georgia Constitution? How easy do you think that is?

Eugene Walker has a son that is a security officer who makes around $83,000 a year including benefits and the son’s wife is BOE’s secretary (one of TWO BOE secretaries) makes around $70,000 a year in benefits. That’s $118,000 a year for his son’s family for working jobs that require no college degree. Walker has a number of other relatives working in the school system in non teaching jobs as well. The SACS report says he emailed the superintendent to ask that a brother of the Board secretary get preferential treatment in hiring – was that his daughter in law’s brother or her colleague’s brother – nepotism or cronyism – take your pick.

Can you see the amount of money his family makes a year off DeKalb? Probably millions if you run the numbers out. This seems more a matter of family employment than Constitutional integrity when taxpayers are on the hook for so much money to his family.

Dave

February 24th, 2013
7:24 pm

Mr. Edwards, who is “we?”

Dekalbite@Science teacher

February 24th, 2013
7:25 pm

“As an employee of DCSS I am a bit freaked out right now. This is when the Superintendent should be working on the budget for next year”

Mr. Thurmond does appear to be working on the budget. Look at the job postings on PATS:

Look at some of the PATS openings. Look for yourself:
https://pats.dekalb.k12.ga.us/

Director of Diverse Learning Services
$85,008 to $111,541 (NOT including benefits)
No classroom experience is required

Coordinator of Diverse Learner Services
$79,963 to $105,714 (NOT including benefits)
No classroom experience is required

Instructional Technology Manager
$79,963.21 to $105,713.90 (NOT including benefits)
No classroom experience is required

Executive Legal Officer
Yet another lawyer reporting to Ron Ramsey according PATS
$85,007 to $111,540 (NOT including benefits)

Associate Legal Officer, Risk Management Unit
Yet another lawyer reporting to Ron Ramsey according to PATS
$79,963 to $105,714 (NOT including benefits)

Fernbank Science Center Landscaper
Two year Associate degree preferred
$29,912 to $42,058 (NOT including benefits)

Academic Data Coach
$34,863 to $79,929 (NOT including benefits)

School Resource Officer
$40,312 to $54,854 (NOT including benefits)
To add to the close to 200 employees this department already has (elementary schools do not have SROs and we have less than 50 middle and high schools and centers)

Add up these non teaching salaries with benefits and then ask if DeKalb teachers need to be the lowest compensated in the metro area, our students need to be in the highest class sizes in the metro area, and our millage rates the highest in the metro area. It appears DeKalb has money to burn everywhere but in the classroom.

indigo

February 24th, 2013
7:33 pm

Who is going to pay for “their legal challenge”?

bu2

February 24th, 2013
7:49 pm

If they win, I think its fair that the district pays for it (although the state should reimburse us-but that’s not the way the system works). The idea is that they are protecting the rights of the voters to select their own representatives. But they should have to pay for it themselves up front. That would hold the cost down and not make us pay for a weak claim.

I’m curious on the reversal on the new board members (Last month they had to remove all 9. This month they can’t remove the new board members). Its just incredibly sloppy for them to start a hearing without knowing what they are doing. SBOE should be fired by the governor for incompetence. Or was it all political? Maybe they interpreted it the way they wanted to remove all 9, but then figured out that makes it much more likely its unconstitutional when the probation occurred before those people took office. So they interpreted it to exclude the new members. I haven’t heard any explanation of that.