The DeKalb County School Board is expected to name a new chairman on Wednesday to replace Eugene Walker, who announced today that he is stepping down from the position.
Sources say newly-elected School Board member Melvin Johnson may be up for the position. No one knows for sure, however, if the retired DeKalb schools deputy superintendent will actually get enough support to serve as the board’s new leader.
Infighting among board members has been a persistent problem for the troubled school district, which is now on probation for a number of issues cited by its accrediting agency. The infighting has intensified as the district’s troubles have mounted.
Recently, the board had to vote twice to get a majority to approve a $114,583 separation contract for former superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson. The board voted 5-4 both times, but there was confusion about why the second round of votes was needed. Board member Nancy Jester, who voted no, made it clear that she did not support paying Atkinson for her departure.
Also, a couple of weeks ago, Walker was named chair by default after the 9-member board failed to get a majority to select a new chairman. Four members voted for Walker, three against and two members abstained.
Today, at the close of the board meeting, Walker announced that he would give up his leadership role on the board, but remain as a board member.
“I will be stepping down as chair and we will elect a new chair,” Walker said.
Recently, critics have accused Walker of falling asleep during school board business. Several parents said Walker fell asleep a few weeks ago during the Georgia Board of Education meeting, which was held to determine if the governor should replace all of DeKalb’s school board members. Walker’s leadership style also has been a problem for the district. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which placed the district on probation, made several references to Walker’s leadership in its report. The state board grilled him and other board members on several aspects of the report.
David Schutten, president of Organization of DeKalb Educators (ODE), said Walker made the right move in relinquishing the chair’s position.
“I think it’s a good move. He’s been in denial for a long time about the school district’s problems and many of the things that SACS has pointed out in its reports,” Schutten said. “Maybe the school board can move forward now.”
The school board goes before the Georgia Board of Education on Thursday to determine whether to recommend to Gov. Nathan Deal to suspend the DeKalb board. Interim superintendent Michael Thurmond will be going before the state panel to speak on behalf of the school board members.
Restore DeKalb, a citizens group, is calling for the school boards’ removal. The group held an educational town hall meeting this past Saturday and is planning on holding another meeting this Saturday at Sanford Realty Company, 4183 Snapfinger Woods Drive, Decatur.