The board voted 5-4 Friday in favor of a separation agreement with Atkinson — with board members Pamela Speaks, Jim McMahan, Marshall Orson and Nancy Jester voting against the motion. The vote was originally 4-5 with board member Donna Edler first voting no before requesting to change her vote.
The DeKalb County School District will pay Atkinson $114,583.33 as part of the agreement.
“While I’m prohibited from speaking about the separation agreement, I can state that I’m philosophically opposed to the level of compensation and perks that superintendents routinely receive not only in our metro area but across the nation,” Jester said.
“Given the state of affairs in DeKalb, I do not believe that there is any credible rationale for paying severance to anyone.”
Atkinson, who was appointed as superintendent in September 2011, was not present at the meeting. After the board members released Atkinson of her duties, they voted 7-2 to appoint Thurmond to the role for a period of one year. Board members Speaks and Jester voted in opposition.
In interviews with the media following the board meeting, Thurmond explained his intention is not to serve as a permanent superintendent and that the board will continue looking for a candidate to serve after his interim duties are complete. Thurmond’s salary is set at $275,000 for the year.
Among his priorities for the term, Thurmond said he will focus on restoring the district to full accreditation and working to better bridge the geographical, racial and political divides that exist. Orson said he believes Thurmond’s leadership will re-introduce stability to the district. Board member Sarah Copelin-Wood agreed and said she had no issues appointing a superintendent who did not come from an education background.
“We’ve had leaders in education, and our schools … are still failing,” she said.
Board Chair Eugene Walker said he feels the board made the best choice in picking a leader to work with them during a difficult time.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools recently dropped the school district’s accreditation status to probation, and the state Board of Education will vote later this month whether to recommend to Gov. Nathan Deal to suspend the DeKalb school board members and reappoint new members.