It may seem like an abrupt transition from the job of Georgia labor commissioner, but Michael Thurmond said he has a lot to offer the troubled DeKalb County School District.
Thurmond met privately with the nine members of the county school board Monday. He would not confirm if he talked to the board about taking a job as interim superintendent, but said his leadership philosophy was on the table and the words “interim” and “superintendent” came up.
“I’m here today because I’m interested in the future of public education in DeKalb County,” Thurmond told several reporters outside the district head office, after leaving the meeting. “I made it clear: I’m here to help.”
Rumors have been swirling for weeks that Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson is leaving her job. She’s declined to comment about them.
Board members, including chairman Eugene Walker, have also refused to speak publicly about Atkinson’s future. On Monday, Walker would not discuss Thurmond’s visit.
Thurmond, who served with Walker on the Democratic side of the Georgia General Assembly in the 1990s, said he assumed Walker had invited him to the meeting.
Thurmond said he wanted to assist the school board with its accreditation issues. A December report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accused the board of nepotism and financial mismanagement, among other things. The agency placed the district on probation. That triggered a new state law that could lead to the board’s removal after a Feb. 21 hearing with the Georgia Board of Education.
State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, was until recently chairman of the Senate education committee and has been monitoring developments in his local school system.
In a telephone interview Monday about Thurmond’s visit, Millar said he became convinced last week that Atkinson’s departure was imminent. He wouldn’t reveal his sources, but said he knew of several people who were approached to replace Atkinson on an interim basis, including one person with whom he spoke directly. Millar said none of them was interested because of the board’s precarious situation.
District spokesman Jeff Dickerson has said repeatedly, and reiterated again Monday, that Atkinson has not quit.
Millar said he thinks the DeKalb board should focus on the accreditation issues. He said Thurmond is “a very fine man and was a good labor commissioner” but that the DeKalb board should appoint a “placeholder” from within the system while it addresses the accreditation issues and prepares for its showdown with the state. He thinks the DeKalb board is trying to find a big name successor to bolster their own efforts to remain in office.
“What I am not happy with is that this board is willing to sit on this resignation, or whatever you want to call it, so they can say they have this wonderful interim,” Millar said. “This smells of desperate people trying to maintain their positions.”