ATLANTA (WAOK) – Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has suspended six of the nine Dekalb County School Board members. Deal suspended the board members by signing an executive order after making the announcement Monday at the capitol. Deal also announced with the suspension he will be creating a nominating committee to find replacements for the suspended board members. A liaison is being appointed to handle the dealings between the state board of education, the Dekalb board of education and the Governor’s office.
Those board members suspended have 30 days to apply for reinstatement after the suspension has taken place. The DeKalb school system was put on probation through the end of 2013 and risks losing accreditation. An audit of the school system found evidence of money mismanagement and unethical practices. State Education officials recommended suspensions for the board after a 14 hour hearing to the governor.The school board filed lawsuits last week in state and federal court challenging the 2011 law that empowers Deal to suspend and remove board members. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for Friday.
DeKalb School Board member Dr. Eugene Walker released this statement after the governor’s ruling:
The Governor is wrong in his decision to suspend members of the DeKalb County Board of Education.
The DeKalb School District has been placed on probation by a private accrediting institution called SACS which holds considerable sway in the education community. SACS has made a multitude of allegations, some of which I agree with, but all of them were developed unilaterally in a shrouded process. The leadership of SACS is not elected by the public, do not have to conform to open meetings and open records laws, and are not subject to constitutional due process as they sit in judgment of public institutions and elected officials.
The DeKalb Board of Education, like all school boards, is a public institution. We have open meetings, open records, due process, and we are accountable to the people who elect us into office. If there is cause to remove a member, such as an indictment or if a member resigns or passes away in office, the voters return to the ballot box to name the successor. It is the democratic process: the electorate chooses their representative leadership. My constituents elected me, my colleagues’ constituents elected them and Governor Deal’s elected him. It’s the model our founding fathers took great pains to create. It’s the way it should be.
What we have here is the State of Georgia once again meddling in local affairs. Rather than funding local school systems properly, the General Assembly chose to write Senate Bill 84, a popular but undemocratic law to impose state will on local politics. The Governor has been hamstrung by an onerous law which gives an inordinate amount of power to a private company, SACS, and an appointed state board. One member of this board was appointed only last week and home schooled her children to boot. This law, which requires the State Board to recommend the removal of all or none of the school board members, if it was constitutional to begin with, replaces the legitimate will of the voters with that of an appointed group. This process is a clear attempt to circumvent or get around the democratic process – citizens electing and holding accountable their elected officials.
We have had problems on the DeKalb Board of Education. The DeKalb Board of Education is composed of democrats, republicans, black, white, men, women, liberal, conservatives and tea partiers. By virtue of the electoral process, all are represented and have a seat at the table. The wisdom of the voters created the diversity, which is good and healthy for a representative democracy. These problems of communication and respect for each other have been brought to our attention, and we are working on them. We have hired a new interim superintendant, we have passed a responsible budget, we have identified resolutions to many of the issues raised by the mighty SACS and I have resigned my chairmanship to effectuate the additional changes that are needed as we move forward.
It is against this backdrop that I take a stand to fight for and preserve the democratic process and remain hopeful that those who believe in and support the U.S. and State Constitution will join in. I will not quit or step aside. Governor Deal is wrong to thumb his nose at the U.S. and State constitutions, and he knows he is wrong. I place my faith in God and the voters of DeKalb County, not elitists under the gold dome who never set foot east of Moreland Avenue.
Dr. Eugene Walker
DeKalb Board of Education