Officials with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools sent DeKalb Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson a letter late last month disclosing the allegations.
Listed among the complaints is the school board has failed to be good stewards of the school system’s financial resources for at least the past five years.
The board acknowledged receipt of the letter during the Sept. 5 called meeting. Atkinson, as the official recipient, has the next 30 days to issue a formal response.
School Board Chairman Eugene Walker dismissed the notion that this latest round of controversy tarnishes the district’s image.
“Remember now, SACS is not accusing us of anything,” Walker said. “I feel strongly that we’re acting appropriately … but, people make allegations. It’s the responsibility of SACS to look into them.”
According to an excerpt from the letter, there is significant concern as to whether or not the school system is meeting at least two of the five standards required for accreditation. The standards initially in question include governance and leadership as well as resources and support systems.
Among the major accusations is the board’s purported shortcomings in the fiscal arena — namely, failure to stay within the confines of its annual budget regarding expenses and monitoring implementation of said budget.
The board is accused of under-budgeting legal expense line items and grossly over-extending them, by 10 to 15 times, the last five years, said Mark Elgart, president and chief executive officer of AdvancED, the parent company of SACS.
The allegations behind SACS’ interest in the DeKalb board were lodged by taxpayers, parents, community officials and staff members. The agency had been receiving those complaints for the past 12 months, most of them issued during the last three months, Elgart noted.
SACS officials will weigh Atkinson’s response before deciding how, if at all, to proceed.
“If we believe it necessary, we will conduct our own independent investigation to verify whether or not those allegations are true,” Elgart said. “We’ve got to do our due diligence … if found to be true, there could be serious consequences in regards to accreditation.”
Meanwhile, Walker said he expects things will play out in the board’s favor.
“I just don’t think we’ve done anything egregious,” Walker said. “But SACS is something you have to respect … I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize accreditation — because it affects our students — or impugn the integrity of the school system.”