Deal said he will appoint a nominating committee to recommend replacements for the outgoing school board members. The removed board members will have three days to apply to be reappointed, Deal said.
That committee will include state board of education member Kenneth Mason, former state board member Jim Bostic, Sadie Dennard of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, local non-profit rep Alicia Phillip and Georgia Department of Education rep Garry McGibeney. Mason will act as chair.
The state board of education — after a marathon hearing Feb. 21 — voted unanimously to oust six members of the DeKalb body amid allegations of fiscal mismanagement and governance shortcomings that have left the school system’s accreditation status in limbo.
Those targeted in Deal’s impending judgment include DeKalb school board vets Eugene Walker, Nancy Jester, Donna Edler, Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, Sara Copelin-Wood and Pamela Speaks.
The group was under fire during much of Thursday’s 14 hours-long proceedings, which by and large resembled a legal trial.
“This is about changing 10 years of inefficient and ineffective government … and what we’ve witnessed is [the DeKalb board] is treating it like a political issue,” said Mark Elgart, head of AdvancEd, parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. “If they want to be successful in the next 10 months they must treat this as a performance issue, not a political matter … it’s going to take strong and focused leadership to turn this around, whoever is in charge.”
Elgart was referring to the time remaining — with a preliminary check-up next month — for the DeKalb school system to get off accreditation probation.
He was just one among a parade of witnesses called on and cross examined by both sides.
During his time on the stand, interim DeKalb schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond appealed to state board members to grant DeKalb’s existing school board more time to rectify the district’s current state of affairs.
Thurmond answered in the affirmative when asked whether he could change the DeKalb board’s “culture of a lack of leadership and governance” as it is presently constituted.
“If you do [vote to suspend] … remove, but don’t un-elect,” Thurmond said. “I’d have 15 board members — six appointed, the three others and the [ousted] six … I can manage nine, but 15 is an issue. The last thing we need right now is divisiveness and political rancor in our county.”
First-year DeKalb school board members Melvin Johnson, Marshall Orson and Jim McMahan were spared state officials’ scrutiny and wrath. Johnson and McMahon were voted in as the body’s new chair and vice chair, respectively, before last week’s hearing.
DeKalb parent Brad Kesel caught the first act of the proceedings.
“I think the problems go very deep culturally and due to the bureaucracy that is the DeKalb County School System,” said Kesel.
“I think it’s going to take some very significant action that’s going to be painful in order to remove the problems that I suspect stem from bad hiring practices and misuse of funds.”
Thanks to looming litigation, Deal’s decision on the fate of the school board is not absolute.
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday, 8:30 a.m. in Fulton Superior Court — with one possible outcome barring the governor from acting on the state board’s recommendation. A hearing before a federal court is set for Friday.