In a pro/con today, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, explains why she stood behind Gov. Nathan Deal Monday as he suspended six members of the DeKalb Board of Education. Taking the opposite position is suspended DeKalb Board of Education member Eugene Walker Please read his piece as well.
Here is Rep. Abrams’ view.
By Stacey Abrams
On Monday, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended six members of the DeKalb County School Board, in accordance with the unanimous recommendation of the State School Board. I stood with Governor Deal and a number of colleagues in the General Assembly, supporting his action.
In 2010, I also supported SB 84, which provided the mechanism for suspension and removal that Gov. Deal used. Ceding the authority to suspend elected officials is a grave and dramatic step, one that should not be taken lightly. However, when the consequences of inaction result in harm to our children, we must do all that is necessary to protect their present and their future.
The actions by the DeKalb County School Board have been widely documented and soundly blamed for the current probation imposed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. I hold the unique position of being the only legislator to have served as SACS liaison for a school system in jeopardy.
When the Atlanta Public School System faced probation in 2011, I spoke with distraught students, met with anxious parents, attended community meetings, conferred with school board members, worked with educators and fought hard to preserve the academic integrity of the diplomas those students would receive. Likewise, I am working equally hard to support and protect the nearly 13,000 seniors and juniors in DeKalb who face the specter of having their diplomas devalued by the actions of men and women sworn to serve their interests.
SACS has denounced the governance of the school board, and only dramatic reversals of poor performance are likely to change their opinions. And in the universe of accreditation, theirs is the only opinion that matters.
Several have decried the decision to suspend the board members, urging instead recall of those board members as the appropriate remedy. In another state, that would be the proper course. Georgia, though, has among the strictest standards for recall of public officers in the nation. An official must commit an act of malfeasance, violate the oath of office, commit an act of misconduct, fail to abide by the law or misappropriate public property or funds. Failure to do the job – or to do it so poorly that the system is in jeopardy – does not constitute grounds for recall.
As a legislator, I am called upon to do a balancing test: one that weighs the needs of our children against the integrity of our electoral system. Certainly, we citizens of DeKalb can solve the problem of our defective school board in July, 2014, by voting out those who have failed our students.
But neither SACS nor national colleges care for our timetable. We must act now, on behalf of those who have no voice in our system beyond our own. We should and must investigate the role of our accrediting agencies to ensure that their role is properly managed and has due oversight. The Legislature should also consider a revision of our recall statutes to offer citizens a chance to react to exigent circumstances through petition and electoral redress in between elections.
These are solutions for another day, and I stand ready to act to solve these legitimate concerns. Yet, today demands swift action. Gov. Deal made the tough choice to speak up for our children, and I am not willing to do less.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog