Updated: 4:21 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 | Posted: 12:55 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013
By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The story so far
The period of tumult for DeKalb County’s school system and school board goes back some time.
In April 2010, Superintendent Crawford Lewis departed under school board pressure. A month later he was indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges, accused of being part of a conspiracy to steal school construction money. His trial is pending.
In September 2011, Cheryl Atkinson started as superintendent, though board members were not unanimous in her choice. She encountered problems including falling tax revenues. Deep budget cuts resulted in fewer teachers and still left an unprecedented deficit of $16 million.
In December 2012, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) placed DeKalb on probation, alleging financial mismanagement, nepotism and meddling by the school board.
Earlier this month:
-The school board could not agree on a new chairman. The lack of a majority vote left Eugene Walker in the chairman’s seat.
-Atkinson left, halfway through her 3-year contract, in a “mutual agreement” with the school board that paid her about $114,000 to leave.
-Michael Thurmond, the former state labor commissioner, was hired as interim superintendent at $275,000. Thurmond said he did not plan to stay longer than a year and hoped to help the district win back full accreditation and find a permanent superintendent.
Monday, Walker announced he would give up the board chairmanship, and the board voted to hire a law firm at $150,000 to review the school board’s “governance” and recommend changes.
Tuesday, the board filed a suit to prevent a hearing Thursday by the Georgia Board of Education, which could recommend the DeKalb board’s suspension. A 2011 state law allows the governor to remove boards in school systems on probation, if the state board recommends it. The suit filed Tuesday challenges that law.
How education fares in a community affects more than just students and teachers. The economic well-being and quality of life also can see fallout from a decline in the status of schools. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been following the accreditation issue in DeKalb —- and in other metro school systems —- since concerns first arose. Today, we look at the latest move in DeKalb, a lawsuit challenging a law that could authorize the county school board’s removal.