State Board recommends suspension of 6 DeKalb board members

State Board recommends suspension of 6 DeKalb school board members

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Governor Nathan Deal could suspend six members of the DeKalb County School Board on Friday. The governor will decide the members' fate after the State Board of Education recommended their removal.

In the marathon meeting, which began at 8 a.m. on Thursday, and lasted more than 14 hours, the attorney for the State Board said that governance issues have reached a boiling point, and it's time for most members to go.

"The DeKalb County Board of Education receives a failing grade on its report card for school board governance," said State BoE lawyer Jennifer Hackemeyer.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed DeKalb Schools on accreditation probation status back in December. The agency gave the district one year to clean up its act.

The hearing before the State Board was triggered by a new state law that says all board members can be removed if they can't justify to state leaders that they are working in the best interest of children.

"The concerns here are not a political matter. The concerns here are a performance issue," said SACS President Dr. Mark Elgart.

The SACS president did not mince words when making his case to the State Board of Education. Elgart says DeKalb Schools have failed its 99,000 children with nepotism, governance issues and financial improprieties for a decade.

"This is about performance, and ultimately the performance that matters more than anything is those of students and what we want to see as a system, and what we must see of this system over the next 10 months is not simply effective governance but a focus on students," Elgart said.

In defense, DeKalb's attorney Bob Wilson pointed to obvious changes in leadership the district has made with Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond, and fresh faces like new Board Chairman Dr. Melvin Johnson and Vice Chair Jim McMahan.

Wilson also says DeKalb voters made changes of their own.

"In the last two years, the majority of that board has been changed by the electorate. The ballot box was ahead of SACS," said Wilson.

State Sen. Fran Millar (R-District 40) said he agrees with the recommendation to remove the board members.

"When you're facing extinction, it finally hits you upside the head and I think the State Board got it right because they just don't think it can be sustained based on past performance. It doesn't mean they aren't good people, it's just the nature of the beast, if you will, and so now we're going to have to move forward. The governor's going to have to decide if he wants to take this recommendation," said Millar.

But Interim DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond -- on the job just 9 days -- asked the state board to give him a chance to make much needed fundamental changes with the existing board.

"We recognize the seriousness of this moment. It is not just about a school board. What's hanging in the balance is the future, economic and growth and prosperity of the entire county of DeKalb," said Thurmond.

The three board members not recommended for suspension just took office in January.

Former DeKalb School Board Chair Eugene Walker -- one of those recommended for removal -- said that he is considering mounting a legal challenge against the law that allows the governor to remove them from office.

Gov. Nathan Deal will now decide if he will take the Board's recommendation.

Should the Governor have the power to remove an elected school board member? Post your comments on our FOX 5 Atlanta Facebook page, or tweet us @GoodDayAtlanta.

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