Blood in the Water

Don McChesney, former DeKalb County Schools Board of Education member, has sent us his latest blog (DonForDekalb) post and given us permission to re-print it. We think it answers a good many questions we have been hearing today …

It appears the majority of people have gotten their wish. I heard and read numerous commentaries. Some of them were more informed than others, but that does not matter. The question now is “What happens next?” Let’s start by asking some more questions.  

1. Will the board sue as a board or individuals? Yes and Yes. The state board voted to retain the three new board members. That would be a violation of O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73 as I understand it. The law as it stands now says everyone goes. Does the State BOE have the right to amend law? Every mistake made in procedure or shooting from the hip will result in a legal challenge. Everyone loses here. Who loses the most? The students. The turmoil of litigation will slow the whole process to a crawl. The students and taxpayers need help now.

2. What will the Governor do? He has great public pressure on him. If he calls for their removal he may have to revisit his decision down the road. Politicians never like to have to take something back. Of course if he suspends he may be upheld. Or…….

Continue reading this article at Don McChesney’s blog …  DonForDeKalb

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42 Responses to Blood in the Water

  1. educator90 says:

    Sadly, I believe Don is correct. More tax payer money will be spent on law suits. These adults do not care about the children. They care about their job and themselves. I really don’t care if this is constitutional or not, our kids and teachers are suffering and no one seems to care if the children are educated or not.

  2. Concerned says:

    Will they stop to think about the Grand Jury investigation and the evidence they collected before starting a legal fight? And all the info in the letters from employees and parents that wasn’t allowed at the hearing? Maybe they might think twice before taking a chance on all that coming out in the press so soon before they try to get re-elected.

  3. Concerned says:

    Actually, the District Attorney said he was going to proceed with a criminal investigation. A deal could be made for them to go quietly.

  4. I agree that this battle is far from over. And believe it or not – I Do Care if these actions are legal – Constitutionally or otherwise. The law probably is one that needs to be challenged – and obviously it will – by Sumpter and DeKalb. Perhaps it will lead to unelected school boards – or no school boards at all? Who knows…

  5. I agree that this battle is far from over. And believe it or not – I Do Care if these actions are legal – Constitutional or otherwise. The law probably is one that needs to be challenged – and obviously it will – by Sumpter and DeKalb. Perhaps it will lead to unelected school boards – or no school boards at all? Who knows…

  6. Concernedmom30329 says:

    From Don’s Blog — ” Will this bill, that was run through our legislature to purposely get rid of the DeKalb Board, survive the courts”

    Guess what, this is wrong. The legislation came out of concerns about Clayton and Atlanta schools and the limitations on what the state could do. My sources say that the latest version of the legislation was well vetted and the State is willing to fight challenges in the courts. Because it isn’t just about DeKalb, but about school boards across the state. Simultaneously, the Governor is looking for other ways to regulate school boards and systems. ((I for one would like to see the state take over the systems that in the same shape as DeKalb, those with a fiscal deficit. That action alone might scare the bee hives out of some Boards to provide the necessary oversight. Legislation may not be introduced until next session, though.)

  7. Nancy was right in her statements to the state board. The STATE needs to set out some very clear, powerful triggers – say, like Ohio – Dr. Atkinson’s former state. In Ohio, the triggers for the state to take over are clear financial and achievement levels — dip below the minimum and bing! the state is at your door managing your finances and more. Georgia’s laws are too vague and rely too much on an outside accrediting agency (SACS). Georgia, as a state, needs to move forward with a very aggressive, crystal clear plan to improve schools and school boards. Perhaps they might even want to look into creating their own training and accrediting like Texas. Perhaps they should at least see how it’s done successfully in other states before attempting to reinvent the wheel. Georgia as a state, has to admit that they have never been all that good at educating their young people — all of them.


    Dear DeKalb County Community,

    Our district is undergoing a tremendous amount of change. From my appointment as interim superintendent to the election of a new Board of Education chairman, Dr. Melvin Johnson, to the legal proceedings involving our Board, 2013 has been full of new challenges and new opportunities.

    Yesterday, the State Board of Education voted to recommend to Governor Nathan Deal that six members of our Board of Education be suspended with pay. Three members, Dr. Johnson, vice-chair Jim McMahan and Marshall Orson, were not included in the recommendation. The final outcome of the process is yet to be determined; however, by working with our Board and my staff, we will bring the spotlight back to the task entrusted to us – educating our young people.

    I recognize that we have made tremendous demands upon our employees, and I pledge to work to make things better for our educators and our students. Please avoid speculation and rumors, and take this as an opportunity to become even more focused on our greatest resource – our 99,000 students. My commitment to our students, our employees and our community is unchanged.

    We are beginning our budget planning process, and we will strive to place more resources in our schools, but we will also involve you – our parents, community members, taxpayers, business representatives and faith leaders – in the decision-making process.

    We owe a great deal of appreciation to you for your commitment and dedication to the DeKalb County School District. It’s difficult not to be distracted by the ongoing controversy, but please know we’re grateful that you continue to trust us with your most precious resource – your children. Thank you.

    I am truly looking forward to both working with you and for you. Together, we’re going to make a difference in DeKalb.


    Michael L. Thurmond


  9. Thank you Mr. Thurmond. That is more like it. Now get to work and put your money where your mouth is. We’ve been ‘talked’ to before – many times. We are a very cynical group.

  10. Ella says:

    This is only the second time I disagree with Don. I normally agree with him. It is my understanding that the legislative body (particular one DeKalb Legislator who does not have her name of the bill) wanted to protect at least one of the new board members so a bill was ran through the committee and may have already been approved for the newly elected board members to stay on the school board.

    I also disagree regarding this being unconstitutional. Our Country was built on a check and balanced system. The courts, the legislative body and the governor or president have a check and balanced system when ethic rules are violated. This situation is no different. The president can be removed from office by impeachment so why in the world would or should a local school board member have protection from basis impeachment. There was a hearing process by a group of State Board members from around the state. This is due process. The governor is another branch of government that has to make a decision and then of course the board members have a right to take the case to court. However, if they do this will anger me. I may have to take a sign and picket school board meetings.

    School board members please do not use our taxpayers money to do this. This is not your money. It belongs to the citizens and to the students. If this means so much to you hire your own attorney as each board member is responsible for the decisions they made as a school board member that allow us to be in this financial situation.

    I think that a group of citizens of Dekalb needs to sue the board members if they vote to use our taxpayers money in this manner. They have already made too many bad decisions which has cost our school district millions of dollars in attorney fees. Step down and let the heeling begin. I am hopeful two members may be reinstated.

  11. Is it fair or legal for Gene Walker to use tax payer money to defend him in a law suit?

  12. SWD Parent says:

    I just emailed Thurmond, and the Board, to ask is this legal for fired workers to use company funds to keep their jobs. As Jester said last night, they don’t own these seats. The APS principals & teachers, who were caught up in the cheating scandal, used their personal funds to fight APS. Why should WE pay for them to fight the government? This is ridiculous.

  13. whyaminotsurprised says:

    I wonder what will happen if the new folks on the board vote to end the contract w/ the lawyers to challenge the law. If the new board says up front they won’t pay, then the county would only be on the hook *IF* and only if the other 6 members find the funds to sue on their own *AND* win, not only on the case, but also to be reimbursed by the county for their expenditures.

    Furthermore, the law states: “…recommend to the Governor whether to suspend all *eligible*
    members of the local board of education with pay.” The emphasis is mine. “Eligible”, in the State BOE context, has been interpreted as those members to whom the SACS report refers. I respectfully disagree with those Don. He is a bit biased in this area, Had he won his election, he would be one of those being asked to leave; he may wish to run again, so he has a dog in this fight.

    I do agree, as he states, that those involved are much more interested in themselves than in the benefit of the kids, and asking the SB to pay yet more attorneys fees on top of already receiving their salaries is proof of this. And yet… I am not surprised…

  14. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    The D.A. is moving forward with a criminal investigation? For what crimes? Sucking at your job is not against the law.

    What’s illegal is only removing 6 of the 9 board members. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73 says This Code section shall apply to all local board of education members, regardless of when they were elected or appointed. House Bill 115 has not passed yet and once passed won’t be effective for a while.

    Is it OK for people to break the law when it works in our favor? If so, we are hypocrites. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.

  15. concernedmom30329 says:

    The DA could easily be investigating employees, both current and former. Elected officials often get prosecuted for taking bribes or payoffs. Generally, but not always, caught in a sting. Not sure that will happen

  16. Methinks the combination of Melvin Johnson and Marshall Orson will be the doom of any newly appointed Board, and McMahon will go along for the long, sorry ride.

    As long as Field Commander March and Computer Tech Emeritus Ramona Tyson are in charge in the central office, nothing’s gonna change.

    Thurmond will cloak the District in a political appearance of improvement, but the peons in the school house will continue to feel the stinking blasts of incompetence and misspent funds from above.

    If Thurmond immediately reinstates the TSA with back payments, starts increasing teacher salaries, and sends the high-priced do-nothing central office administrators hat-in-hand to the state agency he formerly headed, then I maybe could see a glimmer of hope.

  17. dekalbite2 says:

    “If Thurmond immediately reinstates the TSA with back payments”

    Why do the non teaching support employees still get the TSA while teachers do not? That is thousands of non teaching employees getting the TSA while teaching employees do not get the TSA.

  18. no name says:

    Thurmond claims that he is only going to stay for 1 year (52 weeks). He has officially been on the job for two weeks, but has been working for the board for at least a full month already.

    Despite being 1/26th of his way thru his 52-week contract, he has not bothered to meet with any DCS Principals, nor has he met with DCS with teachers. He was scheduled to speak at the DCS Principals meeting on Tuesday morning and at the Parent-Teacher Council on Thursday evening; he missed both of his appointments because he chose to spend his time defending the outgoing board.

    Dissonancetheory is correct – Thurmond is cloaking DCS in a political appearance of improvement, but nothing is really going to change under him. He is all smoke and mirrors.

  19. no name says:

    I think Governor Deal should forget about appointing a new school board.

    Instead, the State of Georgia needs to appoint a Financial Control Board, just as Congress did for the District of Columbia government in 1995 (Wikipedia link:

    The Financial Control Board could be dissolved once DCS achieved its fourth consecutive balanced budget.

  20. whyaminotsurprised says:

    … another thought regarding the lawsuit… During his testimony yesterday, didn’t Cunningham say that if the State decided to remove the board, that he would abide by their decision? Is he part of the lawsuit filed earlier today?

  21. howdy1942 says:

    The law under which the State Board acted probably will be challenged. However, I also believe that the Constitution and our law gives great latitude to Governor Deal to take action that, in his judgment, would be a disaster to the State. There are 100,000 kids, their parents, and friends who are all residents of the State of Georgia. The Governor is sworn by law to work in the best interests of the State’s residents and to protect them from harm. As was pointed out by the State Board, the Dekalb School Board has been dysfunctional for years and the result has been a school system in decline. Moreover, there was pointed evidence that the Dekalb Board has done little in its meetings that was related to children or to the SACS concerns. They clearly abused the definition of “Executive Session” on repeated occasions. It just seems to me like the rights of those 100,000 kids and their parents are at least equal to those of members of the Dekalb Board. After all, these kids and their parents have not failed, but this Board sure has and it has done so for years. Who will speak for the children? Will they have representation in the court?

    SACS is an accrediting agency. It has standards and, if a system meets those standards, it awards accreditation. SACS now accredits 30,000 institutions in 74 countries. Among those are predominately black colleges as well as predominately black school districts. In the year 2012, SACS put only one system on probation – that was Dekalb County. My view is that any judge would have to consider that startling fact. Sarah Copelin-Wood has been on the Dekalb Board since 2000 – almost 13 years. Dr. Gene Walker has been on this Board for over 5 years. Jesse Cunningham has been on this Board for over 7 years. I watched the proceeding and these were clearly the weakest of the nine. All of these are clearly a big part of Dekalb’s failure. You were given the right to do your job – for a long time! Dekalb County was put on probation AFTER the last election and 18 months PRIOR TO the next election. Had this probation occurred BEFORE the last election, I would hope that there would have been a different outcome. The last vote was without this knowledge of probation and for these members to somehow continue to say that they have the support of their constituency is a far reach. If they do, then we are in greater trouble that I ever imagined. The reason I don’t mention Speaks, Edler, and Jester is they have stated their willingness to step down. I greatly admire them for that – they are clearly thinking about others – especially the children.

    Walker, Cunningham, and Copelin-Wood seem to be thinking in terms of the 1960s. At that time, there were innocent people being deprived of their rights. These people had done nothing to deserve this. However, these three had their rights, they failed to serve their communities responsibly, and they deserved their fact. I hope, pray, and trust that the courts will agree.

  22. Pessimistic says:

    No matter the legal challenges, I think the fight must go on. The only quick way out of the mess is for Deal to ignore the State board reco and let the dekalb board continue as is.. If anyone in this county believes that is the best outcome…god help us all and our children. I say fight…battle…legal wrangle…keep the heat on. At the very least, in my mind, the white hot spotlight might keep the rats at bay until election time rolls around, assuming we’ll still be electing board members come Summer 2014. The kids and schools could hardly be hurt anymore than what’s already been done.

    Yes, it’s terribly frustrating we can’t declare victory for the kids and move on. But face it, we have been on a downhill slide for 10+ years and it won’t be turned around overnight. Stay vigilant, stay involved, be vocal and be informed. It is the public’s responsibility to keep all of these players in check.

  23. Curious says:

    I, too, wonder whether we taxpayers will be paying for the two lawsuits challenging the predicted ouster of the six. I intend to file an open records request regarding the terms of the contract between Bob Wilson’s firm and whoever hired it.. Probably such a request will be refused on the basis of attorney-client privilege. But should the governor remove the six on Monday, they will be private individuals, not board members, and under no set of circumstances should taxpayers be forced to pay for the legal fees incurred by private citizens in an attempt to regain their jobs.

  24. howdy1942 says:

    Just saw on WSB-TV that the Dekalb County Board of Education has filed an emergence petition in Federal Court to block Governor Deal’s possible suspension of six members of this Board. This took at least five members of the Board to vote for this – WHO WERE THEY? WE HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!!

    Be prepared – first thing on Monday, I am going over to the administration and ask for this information. I’m getting sick and tired of these “Executive Sessions” that exclude the people. The people of Dekalb County have a right to know. Maybe, just maybe, it is time for residents of our County to sue this School Board!

  25. Undercover reformer says:

    Dekalbite2: there are only a mysterious handful of people (I am unable to tell you names but we can guess) who are still having contributions made to the board TSA. I recently resigned from a 5 year stint in central office. NO ONE is having contributions made on their behalf to the TSA.

  26. Undercover reformer says:

    RECALL – still the most legally sound course of action available. Support Viola.

  27. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Dr Jester voted ‘NO’ to pay for these lawyers to represent the board against the state. She has also retained her own lawyer at her own expense … sort of … she does get $18K annually from the county.

    Bob Wilson’s contract with DCSD

    Howdy1942 said
    the Constitution and our law gives great latitude to Governor Deal – I don’t understand how or where it does that. Please excuse my ignorance. (thanks).

    We have most of this board to blame for where we are. We are no better than Walker if we are asking the Governor to “break the law”. Sometimes the ends justify the means, but this is a slippery slope. What happens when Walker or Thurmond are Governor in 10 years?

    Every board member is up for reelection next year.

  28. dekalbite2 says:

    “We are beginning our budget planning process, and we will strive to place more resources in our schools, but we will also involve you – our parents, community members, taxpayers, business representatives and faith leaders – in the decision-making process.”

    This is the third time in his three public letters that Thurmond has left teachers out of the involvement process. He just doesn’t get it – nothing will be solved until he brings teachers who are teaching math, language arts, science and social studies in the classroom into his discussions.

  29. dekalbite2 says:

    @undercover reformer
    “Dekalbite2: there are only a mysterious handful of people (I am unable to tell you names but we can guess) who are still having contributions made to the board TSA. I recently resigned from a 5 year stint in central office. NO ONE is having contributions made on their behalf to the TSA”

    My source says all employees under PSERS are still having contributions made to their TSA – no teachers however. It appears only personnel certified as teachers had their TSA taken away.

  30. Concerned says:

    Would we be in a better position to remove the Board if the District Attorney had followed the Grand Jury recommendation to prosecute?

  31. dekalbite2 says:

    IMO – it took SACS way too long to recommend probation and possible loss of accreditation so that would argue for more stringent oversight for students. Does anyone think SACS wants to “ruffle any feathers”? DeKalb mismanagement by the Board just became too egregious for even SACS to overlook. DeKalb Schools was/is running a deficit and the Board does not have a way to raise the mileage rate higher (we are within a quarter of point from the top – millage rate of 25 – allowed by state law). They cannot cut teachers’ pay any more because they are not paying any local supplements for teachers – teachers are now making the state funded minimum allowed by state law.

    Since they’ve maxed out the tax rate, and they can’t cut teachers pay or benefits (they don’t pay social security and they cut the board sponsored TSA which replaced social security over 30 years ago), they have no place else to cut unless they cut into the enormous amount of non teaching admin and support staff, legal counsel, multi million dollar scripted learning problems, small schools that don’t receive full state funding, cut magnet and special program transportation, etc. and this something they have refused to do.

    This is a county that has the highest mileage rate and the lowest teacher compensation and yet we are running a deficit. As SACS and the state auditor pointed out, it is against the law for a school system to run a deficit.

    The DCSS Board can’t raise the mileage rate, they can’t cut teacher pay anymore and they refuse to do anything else but stay out of compliance with the law. That seems to be a legal issue that SACS focused on.

    Just because they are elected officials, can they fail to uphold the law by doing nothing to remedy the budget and let us run a deficit? SACS (and Nancy Jester) KNEW they would be breaking the law if they ran a deficit. It’s not like they hadn’t been warned. They had the financial information in front of them that they would be running a deficit and they KNEW running a deficit in the school system was against the law, but they did it anyway.

    Perhaps we should ask ourselves if elected officials are above the law? IMO – the answer would be no. Letting them continue In office would have be a resounding yes.

  32. Curious says:


    Thanks for posting the contract. I love how the firm promises it wii be “ever diligent in pursuing the District’s interests.” I don’t think it’s even debatable that pursuing these two suits is in the school system’s interests, given our state of turmoil and financial failure. What would be in the district”s interests would be dropping the suits and these people resigning so we can start addressing the real problems.

  33. Just Wonderin says:

    To DeKalb Inside Out — Why do you keep calling Nancy Jester Dr. Jester? Did she receive her Doctorate?

  34. @Concerned: The Grand Juries (there were two) recommended that the DA convene a Special Grand Jury to investigate the school board — not to prosecute anyone – there has been no criminal activity identified (yet). After the first Grand Jury recommendation, the DA announced that the board could ‘police itself’. (Recall the photo of a very sour-looking Gene Walker standing behind DA Robert James at the press conference.) After the second GJ recommendation, the DA said in a press conference that he really had no choice – he had to ask for a Special Grand Jury. However, as far as we know, one has yet to convene.

  35. Weary worker says:

    Specific areas to cut have been discussed here many times. But the district has played wack-a- mole for the most part regarding reduction and restructering. Failure to create and publish a true chain of command, failure to address why the security department if so big regardless of their failure to prevent theft of computers and other technology, purchasing scripted education programs that never get fully or properly implemented and the lack of transparency in spending and budgetary matters all beg for fixing. The more large range fix that is needed if to bring back highly qualified and capable staff to the school house. This will take years since even if the problems in HR are fixed capable, smart, creative teachers will have difficulty working with entrenched administrators who might be troubled by new hires who know how successful schools really operate.

  36. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    I thought Dr Jester had a PhD in economics. My sincere apologies if I’m wrong.

  37. Concernedmom30329 says:

    There were three grand juries, the first one was in Winter of 2011- October -December, I believe.

  38. Thanks for the correction, 30329. It’s hard to keep track of it all…

  39. No. Nancy Jester does not have a PhD. She did some doctoral studies as far as we know, but did not complete the requirements.

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