Gov. Nathan Deal has pushed back his news conference on the DeKalb school board mess to 2:30 today, suggesting that he’s seeking legal guidance on his options in this quagmire.
To recap: On Thursday, a unanimous state Board of Education, under an untested 2010 law, voted to recommend the suspension of six veteran DeKalb school board members. On Friday, a federal judge, while not stopping Deal from suspending the six, prohibited him from replacing them, pending a hearing later this week on the validity of the law.
That put Deal in a bind as ousting the members without replacing them creates a worse-case scenario for DeKalb, no closure, no quorum and no chance that new school chief Michael Thurmond can move quickly on whatever plans he has for the district. (And we have yet to see any real plans.)
Protracting this melodrama will only fuel the increasing push by Lakeside to form its own city and Dunwoody to form its own school system. In the end, DeKalb County could be so fragmented as to be unrecognizable. There has been a surge in notices of community meetings and town halls around issues of winning independence from either the county or the school district.
Such discord makes a unified school vision impossible and hampers any real change if parents are more focused on creating an exit strategy rather than a reform one.
Gov. Nathan Deal has not yet made a decision on whether to suspend members of the DeKalb County school board, lawmakers who were briefed by the governor said after emerging from an hourlong meeting Monday.
Members of the DeKalb delegation said the governor was weighing several options, including a compromise that would that would avoid a court battle. Under that plan, the governor’s office would closely monitor the school board’s progress if the legal challenges were abandoned. “We don’t know what he’s going to do,” said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta.
Here are some possible scenarios for Deal, none of which help DeKalb but do give the governor political points for at least trying.
•If Deal suspends the six members and can’t replace them, he essentially cripples the DeKalb Board of Education which, with only three legitimate board members, would lack the power to do anything.
•To create a quorum, Deal could choose to suspend only four of the six, with the likely two remaining Nancy Jester and Pam Speaks. Then, DeKalb would have a five-member board, which would provide a quorum.
However, Deal would certainly provide even stronger legal ammunition for overturning the law since picking and choosing members to oust supports allegations that the law is arbitrary and capricious. In addition, Deal would then be suspending only African-American board members, which would lay open the racial tensions that this whole process is revealing.
Nobody is clear what the law means when it says the governor has to suspend all “eligible” members. We saw that last week when the state reversed its January position that the governor had to oust all of the DeKalb board members or none of them.
That “all or nothing” explanation was given at the January hearing in response to protests by the three newly elected DeKalb board members that they weren’t even on the board when the district was put on accreditation probation. A month later, the state reversed itself and agreed with the trio, saying Thursday at the state board hearing that the newly elected DeKalb board members were exempted and would retain their seats.
•If Deal doesn’t suspend — which seems highly unlikely to me — he will come under criticism and undermine the state board’s credibility.
Any other feasible scenarios out there today?
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog