The men and women seeking the nod from Gov. Nathan Deal’s five-member nominating panel include a former police chief; a former state representative; a former state school superintendent; a collection of lawyers, community activists, professors and parents; and suspended District 7 board member Donna Edler.
Kenneth Mason, the nominating panel’s chairman, called it an overwhelming response but said he wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of interest.
“People are eager to help make the situation better for the students,” said Mason, a State Board of Education member and a resident of Stone Mountain.
The panel was set to meet for the first time at noon on March 8 at the State Capitol.
Mason said each applicant will get the necessary due diligence.
“We’ll be working into the weekend to review the applications as quickly and as thoroughly as possible and hope to complete the review by the middle of next week,” he said.
The nominating panel, which includes former state School Board member Jim Bostic; Garry McGiboney, the Georgia Department of Education associate superintendent of Policy and Charter Schools; Alicia Philip, president of the nonprofit Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; and Georgia Power’s regional external affairs manager Sadie Dennard, is picking a list of nominees from which Deal will make appointments to finish the terms of the six longest-serving DeKalb School Board members.
Deal suspended Sarah Copelin-Wood, District 3; Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, District 5; Edler; Nancy Jester, District 1; Dr. Pam Speaks, District 8; and Dr. Eugene Walker, District 9, on Feb. 25.
The constitutionality of the state law that authorized Deal’s action was challenged in federal court but was denied on March 4, clearing the way for Deal to appoint replacements to finish their terms, which end in 2014.
The DeKalb School Board members were suspended on the recommendation of the Georgia Board of Education in the wake of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placing the school district on accreditation probation and issuing a scathing report citing governance, ethical and financial problems in the district.
Jester announced her resignation Wednesday in a message on her blog, Whatsupwithnancyjester.com.
Under state law, she and the other suspended members are entitled to apply for reinstatement to their jobs.
Edler, who joined the School Board in January 2011, was on the list but denies that she submitted her name. She says she will seek reinstatement through another process.
Mason said the panel will review applicants based on the School Board district where they live.
The largest number of applicants – 98 – had Decatur addresses. There were 74 applicants with Atlanta addresses; 72 from Stone Mountain; 60 from Lithonia; 19 each from Dunwoody and Ellenwood; 10 from Tucker; seven from Clarkston; three from Chamblee; two each from Avondale Estates, Brookhaven and Conley; and one from Doraville.
Seventeen of the applicants were from Conyers, College Park, Duluth, Fairburn, Forest Park, Grayson, Kennesaw, Snellville, Stockbridge and Woodstock, all areas that are outside DeKalb County, which makes them ineligible to serve.
“I don’t want to pre-empt the process by going into specifics,” said candidate Thad Mayfield of Lithonia. “But I have expertise and experience to help this county get where it needs to go.”
Mayfield, a business consultant, served as chair of the committee that promoted the $475 million SPLOST IV ballot initiative in 2011. He also chaired the DeKalb school consolidation committee in 2010.
“Boards are supposed to make policy, allocate resources and let the superintendent and administrators run the schools,” said Jack Sartain of Stone Mountain.
Sartain, 76, is the retired CEO of Doctor’s Hospital in Atlanta.
He said allowing educators to operate free of political pressure is crucial to creating an school atmosphere where students can excel.
Gina Mangham of Lithonia is an attorney and longtime community activist. She believes her background gives her skills to help the board avoid budgetary trouble.
“I do business litigation and have an eye for contracts and for details. And it’s those details that make all the difference” in keeping the district out of financial hot water, Mangham said.
The selection panel is expected to have face-to-face interviews with about 75 candidates.
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal, said the governor has asked the committee to provide with him with at least two names for each of the seats.
After a video-chat with 21 DeKalb high school students on Thursday, Deal said that he wanted replacements who understand the challenges faced by the school districts.