It’s a sad, sad time in DeKalb and something has to be done about our current state of affairs regarding the DeKalb County school board and DeKalb County school system. But whatever the decision, it should be a decision made in DeKalb County by DeKalb County voters.
Governor Nathan Deal has suggested that six members of the school board be suspended. This decision is a result of the school system being placed on a probationary status and a possible loss of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
As a parent and a former, teacher and school administrator I have personally witnessed and experienced the systemic problems in our schools for more than 25 years. The current state of our schools is nothing new; it is a culmination of years of misguided leadership, but leadership that the voters of DeKalb elected and leadership that the voters should denounce. I must inject that ALL board members have not been a part of the problem. The work and involvement of some of these members have kept us from disaster up to now, but one or two cannot do good work alone. If you will remember, there have been one or two board members standing alone on certain issues, refusing to go along with the majority. Therefore, we shouldn’t “throw out the baby with the bath water.”
I contend that a large part of the board’s problems stem from its choices in hiring the last three superintendents. All three terms have been cut short due to internal issues and illegal activities causing extreme negative publicity and oversight from the county’s grand jury. Two of these individuals have come in and fired essential personnel before making a proper evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the system.
Most members of current board agreed to hire former superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson just more than a year ago. Atkinson brought in new hires who previously worked with her in other failing school districts. Atkinson fired and/or reassigned employees who had worked in our school system for years. Many of these employees who lost their jobs had the knowledge and experience to know what needed to be done to correct the ongoing concerns but were left with little recourse. Example: Former chief financial officer Marcus Turk contends to this day that DeKalb had no financial problems before he was ousted. It is proven that he gave former superintendent Crawford Lewis sound advice regarding spending that could have averted Lewis’ ouster and some of his legal problems. He was the one employee who had been cited for “Best business practices.” Yet, he was fired based on innuendo that was never proven. Because board members cannot get involved in personnel issues, they were handcuffed by these superintendents with little power to keep reins on the money.
Yes, the board hired these superintendents, and the voters have allowed these problems to continue.
For years school board members have fought among themselves, with parents, with teachers and with administrators. This has to stop. Members of the board of education have the final say-so in matters of this nature, and if they don’t, they should.
I completely agree that we have a tremendous problem on our hands. A problem that can negatively impact students, scholarships, economic development and home values of our county. Our problems should have been corrected already, but they have not.
However, our problems are our problems and we, the voters, should have final say-so on how our problems are corrected. Our community needs to become more interested in and involved in matters that are of such importance to our long-term success as a county and as an integral part of the greater metro Atlanta region.
Individual board members could be recalled using the same democratic process used to elect them. We have the right to decide who runs our school system. It should not be up to the governor. We put these people in office and we should express our lack of satisfaction in the voting booth. I urge all in our community to become involved in the election process and to pay close attention to our board of education members.
The electorate is responsible for putting in office individuals who have our schools as their number one priority. Elected officials have the responsibility of hiring a superintendent who is capable of running the state’s third largest school system. If either of these two components is flawed, our schools will suffer.
Not only does the future of our children depend on our decisions, but the future of our region does as well. We have to make sensible decisions on the ballot and we must hold our elected officials accountable. But let these decisions be ours. It is, after all, our future collectively and we should be able to control our destiny and that of our county.