Yesterday was the BIG hearing in downtown Atlanta - the DeKalb board and staff confronted by the State of Georgia and its Board of Education. Before we get into the detail, I kindly ask the Dept of Education to move away from 1999 and RealPlayer. Equally as bad is the City of Dunwoody choosing Microsoft Silverlight for its webcasts.
|Elgart from SACS|
|Dr Eugene Walker (right)|
|Jay Cunningham (far left)|
|Magic Mike Thurmond (right)|
|State Board of Ed members trying to look undecided|
|RealPlayer IT staff member, working from a Tandy TRS-80 computer to restart the RealPlayer streaming video|
Many people thought, myself included, that this was a slam-dunk case for the State. Earlier this week a blog post here said it would be a unanimous decision. Call a few witnesses, eat lunch, rule to remove the board, then head home. Then let the governor agree to replace the DeKalb board. No one expected 14 hours of testimony.
The hearing started off with the State announcing they are going after removal of six board members, not nine. The three newly elected people are safe. The loud cheers from Fernbank rattled across Decatur all the way to Smyrna.
Mark Elgart, the Educrat Czar of North America, was first person of interest to take the stand. Elgart mentioned how he started working with DeKalb back in 2003. So it took only nine years for Markie to get a handle on DeKalb Schools. "A decade of decline in DeKalb" said Elgart. I'll agree with him. But it's been more than the schools that have declined in DeKalb the past ten years. 13 hours later Nancy Jester warned the State Board members that things need to change in Georgia or other counties will soon follow. Jester said programs and safeguards in other states would not allow a decade of decline. Unfortunately the State Board members could care less of big changes. They point to DeKalb as a culture of incompetence, all the while they (the unelected State Board members) are part of the ostrich culture - burying their heads in the sand. Now that the DeKalb Board is set to be removed the State Board and the State Superintendent can go back to being totally irrelevant to the children of Georgia.
Elgart, when questioned if the current Board was suited to turn things around, he expressed doubt. He said the new Chair and Vice-Chair are new to the board and have no experience. Wow. So replacing the entire Board is better? Hey Mark, replacing the Board means nine people with no experience. Elgart suggested replacing the Board with people with experience. Who does Elgart have in mind? Redovian, Zepora,and Bowen?
Too bad no one asked Elgart if DeKalb should switch from district-wide accreditation to single-school accreditation. According to Elgart only 10% of their
When asked about records and interview notes and audio on the SACS investigation, Elgart embarrassingly stated his company does not keep notes or records of such things. So Elgart, after bragging about having 15,000 school districts on Earth, Mars, and now Jupiter, admits they do not keep notes of interviews when handling SACS' biggest case ever?
One final note on Elgart - Elgart said he helped the Board with their superintendent search. Hey Markie, how about SACS giving us some money to pay off the departed Atkinson.
One final note on SACS - it seems as SACS wants this Board removed. This Board has members publicly criticizing SACS. And SACS does not like being called out. They don't like DeKalb, and they don't like anyone jeopardizing their strangle-hold on schools across Georgia.
The case against DeKalb started out strong for the State, with Sarah Copelin Wood (SCW) first on the hot seat. SCW played it low key. Arriving late, disappearing for a while, and just being Sara. Bless her heart. The DOE attorney Jennifer Hackemeyer grilled SCW for an email she sent, using her personal email, to the principal at a school. SCW is Chairperson of some non-profit group, and her group wanted to present some scholarship award at the school. She was smart and sent it to herself, and using the Bcc to send it to others. The State attorney lady pressed SCW, asking her if she sent it as a Board member and sent it to staff. Of all the things to quiz SCW on, the State goes with an email for a scholarship award? Give SCW credit - she played it cool and rattled the young attorney. You criticize SCW all you want, but she was a non-factor in today's hearing. The State was trying to discredit SCW (not a difficult task, most likely) but the ploy did not work. Did SCW come across as a great board member? No. But the State failed to show she is 100% incompetent, and that was the goal of the State. The goal of the State was to embarrass SCW and make her look incompetent. As mentioned in the prior blog post, it is a shame when the Government resorts to character attacks and not facts. But the State attorney needed to do no in depth research on SCW as she knew before eating breakfast that she would win 12-0. Not once in 14 hours did the State attorney express emotion or push hard for in-depth answers. She acted more as a moderator. That should have been a big clue to the viewers that this case was settled weeks ago.
Next to the stand was Magic Mike Thurmond. Magic Mike took the room like a seasoned professional. Apparently he made a wonderful impression on many people (some on the State Board) while Labor Commissioner. Chris Matthews, in town covering the event, said he felt a tingle go up his leg when Magic Mike spoke.
Magic Mike has no experience running a school board. He was not a typing teacher, not a gym teacher. But Magic Mike knows how to build bridges. He may be the person to bring a county school system together. Magic Mike came across to me as a person who wants the glory of fixing DeKalb. Sure, we taxpayers will provide him with 23,000 reasons a month to do a good job. I never had a good feeling for Lewis, Tyson, or Atkinson. After meeting all three I had no confidence in any of the three. But I feel differently about Magic Mike. I could eat those words in three months or five months, but I will put them out there today.
Many people will say Mike Thurmond just played to the crowd today. And sure, he did. But Mike does not need the job as superintendent. The past three superintendents needed the job. Magic Mike wants DeKalb to succeed - he wants the legacy. To him it's not a job, but something personal. I don't see Magic Mike taking orders from anyone on the Board.
The State Board is now questioning new board member Johnson. The State Board members are all worked up over 5-4 votes and 7-2 votes and a Board that has disagreement. This is absurd. What do they want, a Board that has no conflict and is bullied by a superintendent or Chair? A successful Board needs people to ask tough questions and a person willing to say 'no'. Of all the things said today, this "we want a DeKalb Board that all agrees and gets along together" is nonsense.
Dr. Pamela Speaks was up next. She is a great Board member. But when asked if she would gracefully step down if the State Board tells her to, she said yes. Sorry, Pam. Many people campaigned and voted for you. You deserve to be there and you could have told the Board you deserve to be there. Tell the Board you are a strong leader and the children of DeKalb need you. Hopefully the governor will reappoint Dr. Pam Speaks.
Next up was Jay Cunningham. Jay spoke of growing up in DeKalb, and his kids went to DeKalb and are now in college or out of college. Jay said he was elected by 64% of the voters in his district. Jays says the new leadership, Magic Mike, is great. He feels good about Magic Mike. "We gotta talk about race. We gotta talk about finances." "It took Mr. Thurmond to come in to get things going". "We got the right group, we got the right leader".
As predicted, the State attacked Jay and his pizza business from ten years ago (I told you so Maureen). Really? The State has many things to ask and she asks about pizza? But the State was not here today on a fact-finding mission - they were here to discredit SCW and Jay. Some will say they deserve criticism, and they do deserve it. But do you want the State attorney questioning Jay about pizza from 2003 when we have $1 billion in jeopardy and 100,000 students in limbo?
One other issue that keeps coming up is the Executive Session vote that took place to spend $150,000 on training. It seems as some State Board members think this vote, the first vote under the leadership of Magic Mike, should not have been behind closed doors. This one issue may be the downfall of the Board, but it was done under the advice of legal counsel. Can't blame the current Board members for that.
One State board member has one question for each DeKalb board member: "Will you sue the State if removed from the Board"? Why is this a question? He is asking citizens to give up a right to litigate? This guy should be removed by the Governor for incompetence.
The DeKalb issue now takes two turns.
#1 - The new members of the DeKalb school Board are .....................................................
#2 - A Fulton County judge has a hearing on the constitutionality of the board removal next Thursday, and a Federal judge will have a hearing Tuesday.
The Fulton judge will look at the constitutionality of the law to remove Board members.
The Federal judge will look at the lack of due process for the school board members. The Federal judge issue is what will get the state in trouble.
This issue is going nowhere for a while.
The list of new members appointed to the DeKalb board will probably be revealed after Tuesday's hearing in front of a Federal judge.
Mark your calendar for May 2014. Jay Cunningham and Gene Walker will be re-elected to the school board in DeKalb. The Board will go from 9 to 7 members. Mike Thurmond has lots of changes to implement the next twelve months.
I believe the law to remove elected Board members is unconstitutional, but other states (California) have similar laws in place. It is unsettling to have a Board of appointed (non-elected) unseat elected officials. There are people all across DeKalb rejoicing that six members of the Board are gone - but there is an equal amount of people waking up today feeling violated as they have had their rights disregarded. Elected officials have a right to office. Removing elected officials (who have not committed a crime) violates the rights of the voters who elected them. This will be the basis for a Civil Rights lawsuit. Plenty of people are willing to assist Dr Eugene Walker in a case against the State of Georgia.
A safeguard to remove an elected official from office is needed by the constitutional principles of due process. I would not call a group hearing like yesterday due process. Every Board member should have had an individual hearing. Let the State prepare a case against each member. Instead, we tossed out six people, two of whom who had no part in the serious issues raised by SACS.
Georgia has a recall method. It is very difficult to conduct a recall - on purpose. After all, who do you think wrote the rules on a recall?
There is only ONE way to fix the situation in DeKalb - reduce the size of the district. No matter if the school system loses accreditation, Jay and Gene will still be reelected. As will Donna and Pam and Nancy. The people in these districts believe they have the best Board member to represent their part of the district. Not even Magic Mike change this. But make things smaller and the People will see things differently.
If a district goes from 100,000 to 30,000 students things become more transparent. Voters can easily grasp what needs improved and who needs replaced. Currently DeKalb School System is like a machine that has 1,000 moving parts. This machine manufactures 18 different widgets. When the machine breaks no one is qualified to fix it. Let's disassemble this machine and make it into three or four smaller machines - machines with less moving parts and making fewer types of widgets.
There is only one way for this machine to be disassembled - via a Constitutional Amendment. And there is only one way for an amendment to get on the statewide ballot - we need parallel bills in the GA House and the GA Senate. Tom Taylor is dropping a Bill this session in the House.
Without a successful school system our property values will continue to decrease, businesses will continue to avoid the Dunwoody and Brookhaven sections of the PCID and choose Sandy Springs, and new families will avoid Dunwoody and Brookhaven like the plague. This issue is too important to ignore.