In a scathing Dec. 17 report, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put the district on a one-year probation. The report cited poor and ineffective governance, declining student performance, and “depletion of financial resources of this system” to a dangerous level. SACS said probation is one step away from loss of accreditation.
At a hearing before the state Board of Education on Jan. 17, the DeKalb board will have to present evidence as to why the state board shouldn’t recommend to Gov. Nathan Deal that he suspend the DeKalb board under Georgia law 20-2-73(a) enacted in 2011.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Senate delegation Chairman Emanuel Jones said accreditation loss would have a devastating impact on DeKalb’s children, business growth, property values and general quality of life.
“We’re committed to working with you through the process,” Jones told the School Board members during the meeting. He said the delegation will have input with Deal on how to handle the crisis.
School Board Chairman Eugene Walker attended the session along with new members Marshall Orson, Dr. Melvin Johnson and veteran member Jay Cunningham.
Four of the five-member Senate delegation – Jones, Gail Davenport, Steve Henson and Jason Carter – were in attendance. Sen. Ronald Ramsey, the DeKalb School District’s chief legal officer, recused himself.
Carter said he’s no fan of SACS but said some issues were valid. He wanted to know how “things got to this point.”
Responding to Carter’s question, Orson said that he is new to the board but is aware of some of the things highlighted.
“There was a perception of divisive attitudes and personal agendas of people no longer on the board,” he said.
Cunningham, who has served for seven years, said he’s seen the governance style evolve. He suggested that SACS tries to “micromanage” board operations but agreed that members need to improve their communication with each other and with the public.
“We as a board are evolving our collective mind on how we are going to approach [this crisis],” Walker said before delivering a prepared statement. “We are going to do whatever is necessary to maintain our accreditation and get off probation.”
Walker said he accepted Jones’ invitation to reassure the Legislature and the DeKalb community that “we are working closely with SACS on the issues raised in its report on the DeKalb County School District.”
But he took issue with SACS’ charge that the district has mismanaged funds for 10 years even though the agency renewed DeKalb’s accreditation in 2007.
“We are perplexed by this,” Walker said.
The public apparently feels the same way. At the School Board meeting Monday, several parents called on the two sides to resolve the issues quickly for the sake of the children.
“We all have to take responsibility for where the school system is today,” said Viola Davis, co-founder of the Unhappy Taxpayer Voter organization. “If that means removal of the board, then so be it.”
Henson asked about alleged misappropriation of $12 million in textbook funds. Walker said an audit by KPMG accounted for all funds and blamed allegations on rumors by disgruntled parents or employees.
SACS has given DeKalb until Dec. 31 to show progress and avoid losing accreditation. Board members will learn their fate soon.
Jones said the DeKalb delegation will meet again with board members after the Jan. 17 hearing to prepare its own recommendations to the governor. He said Deal will consult the delegation and read its report before making a decision on replacing the board. Jones believes that decision could come within weeks of the state board hearing.
“We have to get this done sooner rather than later,” Jones said. “It’s too important to the community and too important to the school system.”