By Don McChesney
“I attended the state hearing for Dr. Pam Speaks as she asked for reinstatement to the DeKalb County Board of Education. It was a sobering affair. First the Administrative Law Judge did a wonderful job helping Dr. Speaks, who represented herself, navigate the legal process and rules governing the hearing. Judge Wood was professional and worked to make Dr. Speaks feel at ease. It is too bad the state witnesses did not possess the professionalism and integrity of Judge Wood.
“The constitutionality of the state statute allowing removal of the DeKalb Board was recently argued before the Georgia Supreme Court. One of the State’s arguments rests solidly on the statute providing individual due process, albeit after the fact. So the hearing I attended is important if this argument is to be accepted. The hearing would need to be a fair environment, centered on the State having to prove that Dr. Speaks engaged in some personal wrongdoing. The problem is that the statute itself, says that the only standard for reinstatement is whether or not the board member would improve the district’s ability to retain or re-attain accreditation. To suggest that a hearing on that standard can constitute ‘due process’ for any individual is preposterous. Many people are unaware that even if Judge Wood finds in favor of Dr. Speaks that the Governor can choose to ignore the judge’s ruling.
“At her hearing, Dr. Speaks asked the State and SACS several times to tell her what specifically she had done wrong as an individual board member. During the entire hearing (10am-2pm) no one would answer her question. Once again, nothing specific was brought to the floor that even alluded to, let alone proved, that Dr. Speaks had engaged in any misconduct. The state’s case, with support from SACS, simply stressed that Dr. Speaks was a member of a bad board so she must be guilty by association. I worked with Dr. Speaks for four years. I can unequivocally say that if the DeKalb Board of Education had an exemplary member it was Dr. Speaks.
“The state blamed her for bad budgets, questionable administrative actions, etc. It’s absurd to attach board and administrative failures to Dr. Speaks, who often voted against the actions, budgets and expenditures (including the hiring of our last Superintendent) that were unwise. We are living in strange times when honest, hard-working people are punished for the sins of others.
“I have read the SACS report. It contains not one reference to anything specific that Dr. Speaks did wrong. The report is full of allegations without documentation and no sources are identified. How is it possible to remove someone from office without a shred of confirmable proof? How do you defend yourself when you do not know what you have been charged with?
“I am extremely disappointed in SACS. Today I heard Dr. Elgart deny he had ever told some other board members that Dr. Speaks should have been elected to the chairmanship of the BOE. I was one of the ones he said that to.
“I started out my service having a healthy respect for SACS and its director. Today I have the exact opposite opinion. Cobb’s board is starting to ask questions of their administration and vote in ways similar to DeKalb. SACS is keen on defending ALL superintendents and staff, whether right or wrong, against the questions and resistance of Boards. The media has done a good job making school boards look insane.
“I won’t defend all boards or even this one, but the story you get is one that is crafted to make you think that boards are the problem. Review the interventions SACS has made in districts and colleges throughout the country. I cannot find an example of where they did not intervene for the benefit of an administrator while punishing boards.
“SACS was a major defender of Beverly Hall. I witnessed Dr. Elgart praise Beverly Hall for her leadership. How does that look today?
“SACS wants boards of education to vanish. They protect the interests and jobs of administrators and superintendents at every turn. If SACS is successful at vilifying boards, they can install more bureaucrats and exercise unchecked control of the educational establishment for which you and I pay.
“SACS continues to state they have ample information regarding the DeKalb Board. Dr. Speaks asked to see what information they have that would show some wrongdoing on her part. SACS then says that they keep no business records of any kind so the ample information is not available. I wish the media would cover this.
“Dr. Speaks, I say, ‘Well done.’ You were professional and knowledgeable in the way you went about your duties. You were an asset to the students and taxpayers of DeKalb County. You asked questions that needed to be asked and endured ‘non-responsive’ answers from a witness (according to Judge Wood) as well as the complete fabrications that I heard. You have served the county well. No one can take away what I know and observed. You are a true professional.”