Board members voted 4-3 for Walker with members Dr. Pam Speaks and Marshall Orson abstaining. Dr. Melvin Johnson, Jay Cunningham and Sarah Copelin-Wood voted for Walker.
Johnson nominated Donna Edler for chair, then voted for Walker.
The no votes came from McMahan, Nancy Jester and Edler.
But there were problems with the vote.
Legal adviser Lawrence Warco told the board that Robert’s Rules of Order requires a five-vote majority of the board’s nine members to elect the chair. But the rules also say if a candidate falls short because of abstentions, the board can decide within 30 days to take another vote. If members don’t take another vote in that period, the election results stand.
McMahan won the vice-chair post with five votes. Speaks and Cunningham each got two.
David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, said the flawed vote for new chair is another example of the board’s dysfunction.
“How can the district hope to get off probation if the board has problems with a simple vote for chair?” Schutten said later.
Schutten was referring to the highly critical Dec. 17 report by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that cited “poor and ineffective leadership and governance” and described the school district as being in a state of “conflict and chaos.”
“I’m already getting calls from the State Capitol about today’s vote,” Schutten said. “Lawmakers and the governor’s office are monitoring the School Board situation very carefully and members send a very disturbing message when they say they want to come together to address the problems pointed out by SACS and they can’t even pull together on routine business.”
Walker bristled at the notion that the vote reflected board dysfunction.
“How is it dysfunction when we were able to conduct a vote and chose a chair?” he asked. “I’m very pleased to remain as chair and appreciate the votes I got. It’s every board member’s right and obligation to vote their conscience, yes or no or even withhold their vote if that’s how they feel.”
Walker said the real test of this board will be how it addresses the problems SACS pointed out in its report.
“We’ve been intensely focused on solving those issues the last few weeks,” he said. “The board is united on that effort.”
Schutten said Walker and Copelin-Wood didn’t help the county’s case at the Jan. 17 suspension hearing before the state. He said both indicated they didn’t become aware of the most serious issues until recently while the SACS report said the problems dated back several years.
At the meeting, Chief Financial Officer Michael Perrone offered encouraging news about the district’s finances.
“If expenses hold steady, the district will end the fiscal year with a fund balance,” Perrone told the board.
But Schutten said the county allowed its average class size to increase, putting DeKalb at risk of losing $6 million in state funding under the Quality Basic Education Act. The district won’t know for sure how much money it’ll get from the state until the legislature adopts a budget sometime before the end of the General Assembly session on April 18.