An accrediting agency recently placed the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) on âaccreditation probation and warned if the district didnât make significant progress on a host of issues it will lose its accreditation in 2013.
AdvancED sent a special review team to investigate the districtâs operations in October. During a Dec. 17 news conference, AdvancED President Mark Elgart reviewed those findings.
One of Elgartâs main concerns was the management of the districtâs nearly $1 billion annual budget. According to its findings, the review team said DCSD took out a $25 million loan several years ago to purchase textbooks but there was no evidence the textbooks were ever purchased.
With nearly 100,000 students enrolled, DCSD is the third-largest school district in the state.
âStudents began classes with textbooks that needed repair and were asked to go home and use glue and put them back together so they could use them,â Elgart said.
Additionally, Elgart said that only 35 percent of DCSDâs contain up-to-date technology. The review team also found the district is currently running at a deficit, due in part to under budgeting.
David Schutten is president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, the largest local teachersâ organization in Georgia. Schutten said he hopes the incoming school board members pay more attention to the districtâs finances.
âPeople are more concerned about finances in the district than anything else right now,â Schutten said.
Schutten said he didnât think the recent AdvancED report will cause teachers to look for jobs in other districts but low teacher pay would.
âPeople are going to start looking for jobs elsewhere because DeKalb has fallen so far behind on pay. Itâs not going to have too huge effect on employees and teachers unless they lose accreditation,â Schutten said.
DeKalb Schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson said the district and the board are taking the list of action items from AdvancED âvery seriously.â
âThis is going to require a lot of work from the district but itâs important to note that accreditation hasnât been lost and wonât affect any students,â Dickerson said.
Dorie Nolt, assistant director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education, said since DCSD has been put on probation by AdvancED for governance issues, the state board is required to hold a hearing related to the districtâs issues.
âThatâs a law the legislature passed in the wake of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal and Clayton County losing accreditation,â Nolt said.
Nolt wouldnât comment on the situation any further but noted that it is possible under the law for the state board to recommend that Gov. Nathan Deal remove current board members.
Dickerson said that although Deal may have that option down the road it was unlikely, especially with three new board members starting in January.
âI think Gov. Deal is certainly aware of the fact that these members are duly elected and heâll give them an opportunity to serve,â Dickerson said.
If the district did lose accreditation, Chamblee Charter High School teacher SunDee Jones said it would be devastating. Jones said some of her colleagues worry that the same thing that happened in Clayton County will happen in DeKalb.
In 2008, the Clayton County School District lost its accreditation and it took three years for the district to get it back. Elgart said the reason Clayton lost its accreditation was because the school board ignored requests to improve upon actions items similar to those DCSD received.
âI wouldnât continue work here,â Jones said. âBut then again, there would be so many teachers trying to find jobs in other counties it would be hard to find another position I imagine.â
Jones said she and her colleagues are frustrated that the actions of the board are affecting teachers and students, who have done nothing wrong.
âI wouldnât be surprised if a lot of students and teachers leave for another district at the end of this year,â Jones said. âThe county really needs to get its finances under controlâthatâs the issue.â
The list of actions items requested by AdvancED are to devise and implement a written, comprehensive plan to unify the board; ensure all decisions made by the school board are approved collectively; establish and implement procedures that ensure the segregation of the duties of the governing board and that of the administrators and implement; and adhere to fiscally responsible practices.
School Board Chairman Eugene Walker said the board was disappointed by AdvancEDâs findings but the district is going to begin working on them aggressively.
âWeâre not taking issue with AdvancED and itâs not whether we agree or disagree with the findings. The question is how weâre going to address those issues and how quickly we can get to work on them,â Walker said.
Walker said the board needs to create a set of updated policies to govern the board and the districtâs handling of finances.
âWeâve got to change the culture and we want to reassure the public that this is something that we can do, and we must do,â Walker said.