NAACP blasts Gov. Deal for DeKalb school board suspensions
ATLANTA—The state’s NAACP joined the DeKalb NAACP in rebuking Gov. Nathan Deal for using a new state law to suspend six DeKalb School Board members. The civil rights group said the law is unconstitutional and violates the rights of voters who elected the board members into office.
“We’re here to challenge this abusive power… Enough is enough. We fought too hard and bled too long to have our elected officials removed by a dictator-type relationship,” said Georgia State Conference NAACP President Edward DuBose. “There is a process for removal: The people put them in, and the people take them out.”
The NAACP said it plans to ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the constitutionality of the law, including whether or not the 2011 statute was cleared through the Department.
“We’re not going to stand around and let them take away our rights to vote,” said DeKalb NAACP President John Evans. “This is the new Reconstruction. They are putting everything in place to set the stage for a takeover with all of these new laws. ”
Under the new law, Deal can suspend school board members whose district is placed on accreditation probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). DeKalb was placed on probation in December by the organization. Critics have said SACS is targeting predominately black school districts for probation.
DeKalb’s school district was cited for financial mismanagement and board governance issues. The district has answered 8 of the 11 problems SACS cited and must complete the other three by December.
Evans said that he and the group of civil rights activists tried to see Deal on Feb. 28, following a press conference they held on the steps of the Capitol.
“He would not come out at all—not even to wave or say I’ll get back to you or anything,” Evans said.
State Rep. Dee Haigler, District 93, which covers parts of DeKalb and Rockdale counties, said SB79 is unconstitutional.
“We will not say that there are not issues in DeKalb County, but what we will say is that the people in DeKalb County know how to go to the ballot box for the person they choose,” said Haigler, who is House Whip for the Legislative Black Caucus. “It is not up to the governor at any time to remove elected officials. People need to be removed by recall or in 2014 when it’s time to vote again.”
Several residents who attended a Feb. 23 meeting that was held by the Restore DeKalb organization said they were fed up with the chaos and demanded to know why taxpayer money was being spent on a federal lawsuit. Several said, however, they want the opportunity to pick a new board.
Deal, meanwhile, has announced that nominations are being accepted to replace the six DeKalb board members he suspended. Deal’s announcement came as the troubled district was headed for a federal court battle challenging the law.
The ousted board members include: Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, Donna Edler, Nancy Jester, Pamela Speaks, Eugene Walker and Sarah Copelin-Wood. They are the longest-serving members on the nine-member board. They will be paid while they are on suspension. DeKalb School Board members earn $18,000 a year.
The three remaining school board members—Melvin Johnson, Jim McMahan, and Marshall Orson—were spared from the Governor’s decision because they have only served since January.
With only three of them, they have no quorum to conduct board business.
Deal signed an executive order Feb. 25 to dismantle the board following a unanimous recommendation by the state Board of Education. The state board recommended removing the board members with pay after a 14-hour hearing on Thursday, Feb. 21.
“The stakes are indeed high. The future of almost 100,000 students who are in the DeKalb County School System is indeed something we cannot take lightly,” Deal said in announcing his decision to remove DeKalb’s six board members.
State Rep. Rahn Mayo said he doesn’t know if there was any “good outcome” from the Governor’s decision to dismantle the board. Mayo said he didn’t support an elected official suspending other elected officials.
“I think that if voters are dissatisfied, they should have a recall and elect someone else,” Mayo said.
But Mayo said voters are likely facing a very lengthy court battle.
“I think what we have in front of us is a Supreme Court case,” said Mayo. “This is not going to be the last school district where we have this kind of fight. It’s going to be an ongoing legal battle that the Governor probably is going to challenge as a Constitutional amendment.”
Deal has set a deadline of March 6, 5 p.m., for the nominations. He has appointed a five-member panel to oversee the nominations. The panel includes Georgia Board of Education member Kenneth “Keith” Mason, who will serve as chair; James “Jim” Bostick, Jr., a former member of the Georgia Board of Education; Sadie Dennard, vice chair of the education committee for the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce; Alicia Phillip of the nonprofit, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; and Garry McGiboney, a representative of the Georgia Department of Education.
Mackenzie N. Morgan contributed to this report.