The DeKalb County school board has 30 days to make significant improvement on the districtâs issues or face suspension by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Board members attended a Jan. 14 hearing in front of the state Board of Education (BOE) to explain why the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) was placed on accreditation probation Dec. 17, 2012, by accrediting agency AdvancED.
State Board of Education members voted unanimously on a consent decree to allow the DeKalb board until Feb. 21 to make âsignificant progressâ on issues identified in the AdvancED report. Additionally, the decree allows the state board to convene a hearing at any time if it feels the DeKalb board isnât making progress, as long as it provides two weeks notice.
AdvancED conducted an investigation of DCSD after parents, stakeholders, school staff members and others raised concerns about the districtâs operations.
As a result of the investigation, the accrediting agency placed the district on probation and presented DCSD with a list of action items, including better financial oversight, improving technology in schools, improving communications at all levels within the district and additional board training.
Mark Elgart, president of AdvancED, said if the district does not make significant improvement on the action items listed that loss of accreditation is âimminent.â
Georgia Department of Education attorney Jennifer Hackmeyer told state board members that the DCSD board has failed to establish policies to ensure effective administration of the district and its schools.
Additionally, Hackmeyer said the DCSD board has failed to operate responsibly and ensure that all areas of the district have the âautonomyâ to meet goals for achievement and instruction.
Board Chairman Eugene Walker, a retired DCSD associate superintendent who has served on the board since 2008, assured state board members that the DCSD board fully realizes the seriousness of the situation.
âThe members of the DeKalb Board of Education come before you to urge your support,â Walker said. âWe are wholeheartedly committed to taking the appropriate steps necessary to address each of these actionsâ¦before this committee reconvenes.â
All members of the (DCSD) board were present at the hearing and said they are committed to making progress on the action items requested by AdvancED. DCSD officials said Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson was unable to attend due to a family emergency.
Several board members including Walker, Pamela Speaks and Jay Cunningham, said that although they supports the requested action items, they donât agree with AdvancEDâs interpretation of the issues mentioned in its report.
State board members repeatedly asked DCSD board members howâif they had been through trainingâthey allowed the district to reach such a critical juncture.
âI think training is the key here and the fix. Everyone is saying they had the training and if they had, it didnât work, because weâre here,â state BOE member Brian Burdette said.
Burdette chided DCSD board members for disagreeing with AdvancEDâs findings or interpretations.
AdvancED âis an independent reporting agency, so you canât say that you disagree with them,â Burdette said. âThe problem is, they were there watching, and you didnât follow the rules as board members. As a board member youâre supposed to know what you can and cannot do.â
DeKalb County resident Betsy Parks said she was frustrated with the answers DeKalb board members gave to the state board. Parks said board members presented the best case they had but it still wasnât good enough.
âNot knowing that something is wrong is not an excuse,â Parks said.
Parks, who started an online petition calling for Dealâs removal of the DeKalb board, said if the state board does recommend the DCSD boardâs suspension, it would send a message.
âIt sends a message to the community that we havenât done our due diligence. It gets them to rethink how we elect our officials and communicate with the schools,â Parks said.
Resident Caroline Lord said the DeKalb board wasnât âwell-preparedâ for the hearing. Lord said that giving the board only 30 days to address the issues was âaggressiveâ but it showed that the state board had the best interest of DeKalb Countyâs children at heart.
âThey respected the need not to prolong the situation for our children,â Lord said.
Rep. Scott Holcomb attended the hearing, which lasted more than four hours. Holcomb said he thought the state board was âclearly prepared and definitely did their homework.â
âI wasnât completely satisfied with the presentation from the DeKalb school board,â Holcomb said.
The DCSD board is responsible for managing a nearly $1 billion budget. In recent years, the district has faced significant budget shortfalls, most recently a nearly $80 million shortfall in 2012.
âIf youâre on a board, thatâs one of the key things that you do, look over financial statements and approve budgets,â Holcomb said. âIâm concerned whether the individuals that caused this crisis have the ability to correct it.â
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