DeKalb County Schools Update

1.9.2013
Scott

The crisis in our county school system is the single most important issue facing our community. I want to update you on what's happened so far, and be sure we all understand the decisions that will be taking place in the next few weeks. This is an issue that affects us all, whether you have children in the school system or not.

Background:
On December 17, 2012, the DeKalb County School District was put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). This was a consequence of the findings in a report prepared by a Special Review Team. A copy of the report, which is worth reading, can be found by clicking here.

The review was conducted because of formal complaints made against the school district. The school district was placed on "Advisement" status in January, 2011, following a special review that followed complaints. There were two subsequent reviews, in October, 2011, and March, 2012. The final review, which resulted in probationary status, was conducted from October 17-19, 2012.

What did SACS find?
The findings are damning. The report describes numerous areas in which the DeKalb County Board of Education, both collectively and by the actions of individual members, has been failing in its responsibilities. SACS found numerous occasions where Board members have behaved unprofessionally, unethically and beyond the scope of their authority. Despite extensive training in how a competent and professional Board must operate, SACS reports that Board members have persistently acted as advocates for "their own" schools rather than as stewards for the system as a whole, interfered in day-to-day school operations, and engaged in harassment and intimidation of district employees. The report found not only that these violations are taking place, but that they are having serious consequences for the effectiveness of our schools. The report found evidence of declining academic achievement.

The length of the probationary period is one year, during which the governance of the district must improve across the areas cited. Otherwise the district will lose accreditation.

What does this mean?
To be blunt, it is not good. If the district were to lose accreditation, students attending district high schools would be ineligible for the HOPE scholarship and would likely be compromised in other ways in applying to the colleges of their choice. In addition, there is a real concern that some residents may move away from DeKalb and prospective residents may settle elsewhere.

In most cases (90% according to Mark Elgart, CEO of AdvancED, the parent organization of SACS) a district on probation is able to regain accreditation at the end of the one year period. As encouraging as that statistic may be, it does not lessen the seriousness of this situation. It is critical that meaningful changes are made in the management and oversight of DeKalb County schools.

What happens next and what can you do?
The State Board of Education has called a meeting for January 17, 2013 at 1 PM pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73. This statute, which is pasted in its entirety below, spells out the procedures that will be followed.

The hearing will be open to the public and it will be in Room 2070 on the 20th Floor of the East Tower Sloppy Floyd Building. The public is invited to attend but there will not be an opportunity for public comment at the hearing. If you would like to provide a statement for the State Board to consider, you can email it to either Justin Pauly at jpauly@gadoe.org or Brenda Turner at brturner@doe.k12.ga.us.

At the hearing, the State Board members will hear evidence as to whether the State Board should recommend to the Governor that he suspend the DeKalb School Board. After the hearing, the State Board will make its recommendation to Governor Deal. Governor Deal then has the discretion to accept or reject the Board's recommendation. If the Governor chooses to suspend the Board, by law every member of the Board would have to be relieved of responsibility. The Governor would have the power to appoint new Board members.

Conclusion
My impression is that the State Board's recommendation will be highly persuasive to the Governor. As a result, the hearing on January 17th will be extremely important. I believe that the State Board of Education and the Governor should take whatever action they determine is necessary in order to rectify this critical situation. Their sole priority must be competent school governance. Along with other members of the DeKalb delegation, I will do everything in my power to see that the situation is properly addressed. The bottom line is that I am concerned that those who caused this situation may not be able to fix it.

If Board members are suspended and ultimately removed, then the replacements must be credible, competent, and capable of fixing the issues and moving our county forward.

I would very much like to hear your views on this serious matter. I also encourage you to make your views known to the State Board of Education. They need to hear what you think.

GEORGIA CODE (available at http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/gacode/)
Copyright 2012 by The State of Georgia
All rights reserved.

*** Current Through the 2012 Regular Session ***

TITLE 20. EDUCATION
CHAPTER 2. ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
ARTICLE 3. LOCAL BOARDS OF EDUCATION

O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73 (2012)

§ 20-2-73. Suspension and removal of local school board members under certain circumstances


(a) (1) Notwithstanding Code Section 20-2-54.1 or any other provisions of law to the contrary, if a local school system or school is placed on the level of accreditation immediately preceding loss of accreditation for school board governance related reasons by one or more accrediting agencies included in subparagraph (A) of paragraph (6) of Code Section 20-3-519, the State Board of Education shall conduct a hearing in not less than ten days nor more than 30 days and recommend to the Governor whether to suspend all eligible members of the local board of education with pay. If the State Board of Education makes such recommendation, the Governor may, in his or her discretion, suspend all eligible members of the local board of education with pay and, in consultation with the State Board of Education, appoint temporary replacement members who shall be otherwise qualified to serve as members of such board.

(2) Notwithstanding Code Section 20-2-54.1 or any other provisions of law to the contrary, if a local school system or school has been placed on, as of April 20, 2011, the level of accreditation immediately preceding loss of accreditation for school board governance related reasons by one or more accrediting agencies included in subparagraph (A) of paragraph (6) of Code Section 20-3-519 and does not reattain full accreditation status by July 1, 2011, the State Board of Education shall conduct a hearing in not less than ten days nor more than 30 days and recommend to the Governor whether to suspend all members of the local board of education with pay. If the State Board of Education makes such recommendation, the Governor may, in his or her discretion, suspend all members of the local board of education with pay and, in consultation with the State Board of Education, appoint temporary replacement members who shall be otherwise qualified to serve as members of such board.

(b) Any local board of education member suspended under this Code section may petition the Governor for reinstatement no earlier than 30 days following suspension and no later than 60 days following suspension. In the event that a suspended member does not petition for reinstatement within the allotted time period, his or her suspension shall be converted into permanent removal, and the temporary replacement member shall become a permanent member and serve out the remainder of the term of the removed member.

(c) Upon petition for reinstatement by a suspended local board of education member, the Governor or his or her designated agent shall conduct a hearing for the purpose of receiving evidence relative to whether the local board of education member's continued service on the local board of education is more likely than not to improve the ability of the local school system or school to retain or reattain its accreditation. The appealing member shall be given at least 30 days' notice prior to such hearing. Such hearing shall be held not later than 90 days after the petition is filed and in accordance with Chapter 13 of Title 50, the "Georgia Administrative Procedure Act," except that the individual conducting the hearing shall have the power to call witnesses and request documents on his or her own initiative. For purposes of said chapter and any hearing conducted pursuant to this Code section, the Governor shall be considered the agency, and the Attorney General or his or her designee shall represent the interests of the Governor in the hearing. If it is determined that it is more likely than not that the local board of education member's continued service on the local board of education improves the ability of the local school system or school to retain or reattain its accreditation, the member shall be immediately reinstated; otherwise, the member shall be permanently removed, and the temporary replacement member shall become a p



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