DeKalb School Board Prepares for Second State Hearing

Feb 14, 2013

The DeKalb County school board will again face the state board of education next week, as a result of being placed on probation by its accrediting agency. It will be board members’ last chance to convince state officials they should keep their seats.

DeKalb school board member Pamela Speaks testifies before the state board of education at an initial hearing in January.
Credit Martha Dalton/WABE News

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the DeKalb board on probation in December for governance problems.

Board chair Eugene Walker said last week the board is constantly working on those problems to get off of probation.

“We’re consumed with that,” Walker said, “Whatever you see us roll out, it will be moving toward our realizing those goals.”

But Mark Elgart, the CEO of SACS’ parent company, sees it differently.

“At this point, there is no demonstrative evidence that that’s an accurate statement,” Elgart said,” I think one of the things historically that this particular board, and versions of this board have struggled with, is major decisions.”

Those struggles seem to continue for the board. They had a hard time agreeing on a chairman. And, in a 5-4 vote, they decided to end the tenure of former superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, but only after one board member changed her vote.

They did show some consensus when they chose former state labor commissioner Michael Thurmond to serve as interim superintendent. But, Elgart says, they’ll need to more.

“They not only have to say they’re making a change; they have to demonstrate success with that change,” he said, “So simply going and saying, ‘Well, we changed superintendents,’ next week, well, that’s fine, but do you have evidence that it actually improved the system? And they’re not going to be able to show that in a week.”

Dan Israel agrees. He’s a former state board of education member whose district included DeKalb County. He says the board has to prove they’re serious:

“I think [they need] a signed document,” Israel said, “Every single one of the members signs something that is not just a commitment, but an actual plan that they will abide by.”

Israel says if the board can’t stick to the plan, they should be ousted.

The DeKalb board has agreed to let Thurmond speak on their behalf at the state hearing next week. Meanwhile, he plans to give DeKalb’s board a long-term plan:

“I’ll put together a 90-day plan, I have until March 15 under my contract, to present to the board my plan with directions as to the way forward.”

If the state board isn’t satisfied with the DeKalb board’s testimony next week, they can recommend to Governor Deal that he replace the entire board.