Deal suspended Sarah Copelin-Wood, District 3; Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, District 5; Donna Edler, District 7; Nancy Jester, District 1; Dr. Pam Speaks, District 8; and Dr. Eugene Walker, District 9, on Feb. 25 and named a nominating committee to find replacements for him to appoint to finish their terms of office.
He said he did not take the decision to suspend the county’s six longest-serving School Board members lightly.
“I feel it is my responsibility to act,” Deal said on Monday. “Maybe there is a better way, but the reality is this is the only way open to us now.”
Deal said the accreditation probation of the state’s third-largest school district “is a matter of grave concern to all of us.”
Deal also appointed former DeKalb board member Brad Bryant as his liaison to the DeKalb School Board and interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond. Bryant is executive director of the Georgia Foundation for Education for the Georgia Department of Education.
The next day, the five-member committee issued a call for applications with a March 6 deadline.
Interested applicants have until 5 p.m. on March 6 to submit their name, contact information, home address, seat they are applying for, resume or brief biography, and statement of interest.
The panel that will nominate replacements is chaired by state School Board member Kenneth Mason.
The other members are Garry McGiboney, the Georgia Department of Education associate superintendent of Policy and Charter Schools and a former DeKalb deputy superintendent; Jim Bostic, former state School Board member; Alicia Philip, president of the nonprofit Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; and Georgia Power’s regional external affairs manager Sadie Dennard, who is a former Atlanta School Board member and a former president of the Georgia School Boards Association.
But while that is going on, Deal, Thurmond, members of DeKalb’s joint delegation to the General Assembly, and attorneys for both sides have been meeting continuously to hash out a compromise.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones said the deal may involve the board members resigning instead of being suspended. But late Thursday, Walker, a former chairman of the School Board, said he would not resign.
The suspensions were recommended to Deal by the Georgia School Board after a marathon 14-hour hearing on Feb. 21.
The hearing came in the wake of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placing the school district on accreditation probation on Dec. 17 for dysfunctional governance and financial mismanagement, among other issues.
The DeKalb board’s remaining members – Dr. Melvin Johnson, Jim McMahan and Marshall Orson, who were sworn into office in January – are not included in the suspensions but have been unable to make decisions without the required five-member quorum.
In a Feb. 26 statement, the three complained that the suspensions and lawsuit have placed the school system in legal limbo.
“We find ourselves in a unique and confusing situation,” they said in the letter. “With only three of us authorized to act by virtue of the federal court order, the DeKalb Board of Education will lack a quorum to conduct any business until such times as there is a decision in the legal matter.”
On Wednesday, the district issued a notice that a March 4 work session and meeting had been postponed and will be combined with a business session scheduled for March 11.
Deal also is unable to implement the suspensions or replacements pending the outcome of a March 1 hearing on a federal lawsuit filed by the DeKalb School Board challenging the constitutionality of the law that allows the governor to remove them from office.
On Feb. 24, U.S. District Judge Richard Story issued an order enjoining the governor from “implementing” his suspensions until the lawsuit is heard on March 1.
The DeKalb School Board, which filed a similar lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court, withdrew it this week to concentrate on the federal case.
Jones, who represents District 10. said a negotiated settlement is better than one that’s forced on the county.
“Resignation would be the honorable route for the suspended board members to allow a new election and let the voters choose who they want to replace them,” he said.