The school board's lawyers filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of a state law that would allow Gov. Nathan Deal to remove all nine board members.
The law suit, filed by former DeKalb District Attorney Bob Wilson on behalf of the school district, asks for a temporary restraining order to prevent the suspension hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday. It calls for Thursday’s hearing to be placed on hold until the constitutionality issue is ruled upon.
The School Board members contend that the 2011 law violates the Georgia constitution because it authorizes the removal of elected local officials “without any individualized finding of misconduct.”
No court date was set for the lawsuit, which was assigned to Fulton County Superior Judge Kelly Lee.
State school board spokesman Matt Cardoza said the hearing “will go ahead as scheduled until we hear otherwise.”
At Thursday hearing, State School Board members will question DeKalb Schools new interim superintendent Michael Thurmond, who will speak for DeKalb members.
If the state doesn’t like the answers, officials could recommend to the governor that he remove the entire board under authority of a 2011 state law that calls for a hearing and the possible removal of the board in any district that’s under accreditation probation.
AdvanceEd, the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, put DeKalb on probation after a scathing Dec. 17 report that criticized the board for “dysfunctional governance, declining student performance, and school finances that have deteriorated to a point that is dangerous.”
Probation is one step away from loss of accreditation.
SACS gave DeKalb a long list of problems that it must fix before the county’s probationary status can be re-evaluated at the end of 2013.
Reacting to news of the DeKalb suit, Deal worried that legal action may only prolong the problems in DeKalb.
“Litigation unfortunately only lengthens the time that DeKalb County is cast in a negative light,” Deal said in a statement to CrossRoadsNews. “We must keep as our focus the students in DeKalb schools, and work every day to make sure that their diplomas mean something.”
Also on Tuesday, top county leaders met to discuss the fate of the beleagured school district. The stakeholders held a 90-minute closed-door session at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Clarkston.
The meeting included outgoing school board chairman Eugene Walker, state Sen. Jason Carter, state Rep. Michele Henson and DeKalb Chamber of Commerce President Leonardo McClarty.
Afterward, CEO Burrell Ellis said he called the meeting to hear directly from the school board about the issues the district is facing.
Besides the status of the school board, Ellis said the most pressing issue is the district’s probation and that the group agreed to meet again in two weeks and work on a statement of collaboration.
“The conversation centered on supporting the school district and having an ongoing conversation in a collaborative way,” Ellis said.