Georgia Piedmont Technical College has eliminated the positions of a dozen members of former President Dr. Jabari Simama’s cabinet, and it is now looking for a new home for its South DeKalb campus – all part of what it calls cost-saving restructuring.
Since Simama was removed from the college on April 11 for "financial aid irregularities," Dr. D. Glen Cannon, who became interim president on May 14, has abolished the positions of:
n Rodney Keith Sagers, chief operating officer.
n Dr. Tessie Bradford, associate vice president of student services.
n Dr. Jackie Echols, vice president of adult education.
n Zaundra Brown, public relations director.
n Cynthia Edwards, vice president of community outreach.
n Dr. Debra Gordon, vice president of academic affairs.
n Dr. Mariam Dittmann, vice president of institutional effectiveness and technology.
n Joel Alvarado, director of community outreach.
n Tameika Porter, project manager - community outreach and engagement.
n Ciarra McEachin, assistant director of alumni relations and GPTC Foundation's annual fund.
n Sonya Humphries, assistant director of development, GPTC Foundation.
n Dr. Anthony Neal, vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of GPTC Foundation.
Cannon has also terminated two administrators – Mark Komdat, vice president of business and administrative services, and Tomeka Shannon, associate vice president of business and administrative services – for “serious financial and accounting errors," and GPTC is looking to terminate the lease on the Wesley Chapel Road building that houses the South DeKalb campus.
The dismissal letters, obtained by CrossRoadsNews in an Open Records request, show that the administrators were all dismissed from the Clarkston-based college between May 15 and July 2.
In the letters, Cannon told the administrators that their positions were “abolished through a reduction-in-force,” and that if they did not find another position within the Technical College System of Georgia or another state agency, their last day of employment was June 29. He instructed them not to return to the campus unless requested by him.
Komdat and Shannon were “dismissed” from their position May 18 and July 2 respectively.
Cory Thompson, a spokesman for the college, said eight of the 10 administrative leadership positions at the college were on the reduction of force list.
He said Komdat and Shannon will be replaced but that the positions of the 12 other Simama cabinet members were eliminated.
“Those positions will not be replaced,” said Thompson, GPTC’s executive director of marketing and communications. “The purpose is cost savings. We had to do this, not because we wanted to but because we had to.”
Thompson said the duties of the eliminated administrators have been redistributed among the remaining staff.
“It is a heavier lift for those still here,” he said July 18.
He said Gordon and Edwards, who had the most years of service with the state, retired after their positions were eliminated.
CrossRoadsNews has learnt that several of the dismissed administrators have filed lawsuits, or are considering challenging their dismissal in court.
Simama, who retired from TCSG in May, said the are no winners in this scenario.
"When you systematically wiped out the leadership of the college, you eliminate the institutional knowledge so important to the continuity of history, culture and success factors of the institution," he said July 19. "Also, by using the instrument of reduction in force you are denying the due process rights of the employees, many whom worked for the college for decades."
Simama called the way TCSG implemented the reduction "mean-spirited, illegal," and said it was directed at punishing those who supported the vision of the former president.
"It will hurt the students and citizens of the communities served by the college," he said. "After TCSG finishes paying out millions of dollars in penalties for the illegal terminations, there will not be any savings anyhow. Both the students and citizens will lose."
When TCSG Commissioner Matt Arthur tapped Cannon, a certified public accountant with more than 30 years of experience in higher education, for the GPTC position, he said he “will be a tremendous leader during this time of transition.”
Asked if Cannon was cleaning house, Thompson said the college he took over had a lot of administrators.
“The student count did not merit that many,” he said. “What’s happening now is that we are righting the ship so that we are better in line with the enrollment of the college.”
He said the reorganization of the college's staff is designed to better align the administrative and employment structure with that of other technical colleges in the system and to better reflect the college's enrollment.
"This realignment brings the college to more appropriate managerial levels," he said.
Thompson said the South DeKalb campus, which opened at a cost of $500,000 in August 2015 at 2460 Wesley Chapel Road, is not being targeted for closure.
But emails acquired by CrossRoadsNews show Cannon discussing the termination of the South DeKalb campus lease by the end of the year.
In June 25 and 27 emails to Sara Honeywill, senior executive director of TCSG’s Office of Facilities Management, Cannon said “ending the lease on Dec. 31, 2018, is a financial imperative at this point.”
“After the GPTC board of directors meeting a couple of weeks ago I think I made it clear and the board understands the financial strain the South DeKalb location has put on the college,” he wrote June 25. “Ending Dec. 31, 2018, gives the college time to find alternate locations for barbering and the Georgia Film academy which are the only two credit programs on that campus at this point.”
In 2015, Simama had anticipated enrollment of 500 to 800 on the South DeKalb campus. In fall 2017, it was 268, and this spring, it was 228.
Thompson said summer enrollment is 69.
Still, Thompson said GPTC is committed to serving South DeKalb and will continue to do so with “a location that is convenient for students and most cost-effective for the college.”
He said GPTC is still enrolling students at the campus for the fall semester, which starts Aug. 18. A month out, he said 92 students have enrolled for the fall semester at the South DeKalb Campus.
He said the college is looking at all of its options for the campus.
“We want to have a presence there whether it is at that location or somewhere else,” he said. "The college, in conjunction with the State Properties Commission, are exploring a more cost-effective location in south DeKalb County."
Thompson said the South DeKalb area is a vital part of the college's operation and its service delivery area.
"We will continue to meet the educational needs of that area," he said, adding that the college is on a month-to-month lease at the location and is currently exploring other options for a "location in the same region."
But in a June 27 email to Commissioner Arthur, Honeywill and others, Cannon seemed focused on leaving the Wesley Chapel location and said that “commitments, schedules, hiring etc., not to be made for that location past that date.”
“We are not going to publicly state that at this, but on an individual decision basis, instruct or stop any activity that would extend or commit the college past Dec. 31, 2018.”
In her June 27 response to Cannon, Honeywill said she did not foresee a problem with ending the lease on Dec. 31.
“But will let you know as soon as I know of a potential issue.”
Students taking summer classes at the South DeKalb campus on Thursday were surprised to learn that the campus could close or be relocated.
Many said they chose it because it was convenient and easy to get to.
Precious Walker, who is studying nursing, said it's a 10-minute drive from her Lithonia home to class, versus a 20-minute ride to the Clarkston campus.
Katrina Parker, who along with her 23-year-old son La Derrick Thompson is studying for her GED, said she lives five minutes away.
"If they close this down, it would devastate me," she said. "I come here because it is so convenient."