The DeKalb County School Board filed a lawsuit today in Fulton County Superior Court to try to avoid suspension.The nine members of the board are scheduled to go before the state Board of Education on Thursday to plead their case for keeping their positions and give an update on what the district is doing to get off of accreditation probation. Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond has said he will speak on behalf of DeKalb’s board at the hearing.
The School Board’s lawsuit, filed by Decatur Attorney Robert Wilson, seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent Thursday’s hearing. The suit alleges that a Georgia law regarding suspension of board members is unconstitutional because it authorizes removal of local elected officials “without any individualized finding or misconduct.” Wilson is a former DeKalb district attorney.
Meanwhile, members of the board shared information about steps the district is taking during a closed-door meeting today with DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, business leaders and other stakeholders. Ellis, who convened the meeting, said the group is committed to meeting again to determine how they can work in partnership to support the School District.
Under the 2011 law, the state Board of Education can recommend suspension of school board members whose district is placed on probation. The DeKalb School district, which was placed on probation in December 2012, must address 11 required actions concerning financial management and leadership to get accreditation restored from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Viola Davis, who heads the citizens’ group, Restore DeKalb, says that while her organization is pushing for a recall, she does not believe the governor should have the authority to dismiss board members.
“This is a very dangerous law. I’m not comfortable with how this would work,” Davis said. “If board members are going to be removed, we would like for voters to exercise their rights to have a recall and remove them and elect replacements.”
DeKalb NAACP’s President John Evans said he, too, supports voters making the decision to keep or get rid of board members.
“The NAACP’s position is to preserve the integrity of the elections process,” Evans said. “The citizens put them in and the citizens can take them out. Our main priority is to get things on track for the education of the children.”
Davis said parents have grown weary of DeKalb’s School Board and the way that it has functioned over the years.
“They have not done a good job in keeping us informed about the district’s problems and the steps that the school district has taken to correct the problems,” Davis said. “We can’t afford to have children not being able to graduate from an accredited school district because they can’t get off of probation.”
Davis also criticized the district’s spending of $150,000 for “governance training” to address SACS’ concerns. The board hired the law firm of former Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker to conduct the training, which begins on Wednesday at the Georgia School Boards Association in Lawrenceville. That training is another step officials say they hope will help to put the troubled district on track.
“The district has spent so much money for attorneys. I don’t understand why they need to spend $150,000 for training when every new school board member goes through training to learn what he or she is supposed to do as a school board member,” Davis said.