Vacations in Alaska and Supreme Court Justices

Below is a recent post from former board member Don McChesney’s blog:

‘Vacations in Alaska and Supreme Court Justices’

Hello everybody. My wife and I just returned from a great cruise to Alaska. We saw tons of wildlife foreign to city living – bears (brown, black, and grizzly), bald eagles and more. I thought our vacation would be free of any discussion about the politics in Georgia or DeKalb. But then I didn’t expect to meet a judge at dinner.

It turns out that we shared a dinner table with a justice on the state supreme court of a northeastern state. I was jolted out of the wilderness and back to DeKalb. I filled him in on the Georgia State Supreme Court’s recent hearing on the constitutionality of SB84 – the law invoked to remove 6 board members earlier this year. I tried to succinctly relay both sides of an issue to him. He looked sort of stunned as I was describing the situation. When I finished, he immediately jumped to the “due process” issue and asked where along the way, each individual was granted their due process rights. I related to him that in my opinion that step somehow got skipped. In fact, a judge at one point stated that the individual hearings constituted the necessary due process. I’m not sure the judge read the statute completely because in these individual hearings the ONLY standard for their reinstatement is that they “are more likely than not” to help the district retain or re-attain accreditation. In each of the individual hearings, the accreditor (SACS) said that they have no documentation of any wrong doing for any of the individual board members but their opinion was that these folks wouldn’t help in that regard. The law, with its “more likely than not” language actually prohibits the application of due process because no facts or findings are required.

Here’s the recipe:

  • District decides to be accredited even though there is no Georgia law that requires a district to do so.
  • Accreditor writes a report based on “anonymous sources” with allegationsthat are not directed to any particular board member.
  • Accreditor uses report to justify placing district on probation.
  • Board is removed and replaced with appointees selected by the Governor pursuant to SB84.
  • Board members can ask to be reinstated but the criteria for reinstatement in SB84 is that board member must be “more likely than not” to retain or re-attain accreditation.
  • At individual hearings, accreditor just needs to give thumbs down on any given board members. No facts, findings or substantial testimony needed.
  • Repeat as necessary to get what you want.

I described the history and contents of SB 84 along with the relationships
between SACS and our local legislators to my dinner partner. He was amazed that elected officials could be removed without evidence or wrongdoing and further troubled by the criteria for reinstatement. He didn’t see how accreditation could be used to remove someone from office. He was adamant that some wrongdoing must be proved. He asked what had been proved in the state board of education hearing. I replied nothing. The agency placing the district on probation admitted it had no notes or actual proof of any wrongdoing. I told him that all they had to do was say these people on the Board were not doing their job collectively and “poof” they were all sent packing. OK, all were gone, except the inexplicable violation of SB84 that allowed three members to stay on the board. SB84 just doesn’t provide an exception for any board member regardless of when they were elected. The judge thought that this in itself was a technical defect that should cause the whole series of actions to be overruled.

I told the judge that we had a BOE that did not see eye to eye about many
things. But, a few people were removed from the Board who generally opposed many majority votes. They threw out the baby with the bath water. In [a recent] AJC, an article about one of the recent hearings stated that, “Bergman (the General Counsel for SACS) could produce no specific evidence of wrongdoing……..” but SACS produced a report that alleged meddling and other misdeeds by unidentified board members.” “They all are accountable for the actions of the entire board,” Bergman said. Let that be a lesson for you! Think about the implications of that. What if your child was held accountable for the misdeeds of other students in their school and punished thusly? Do we remove all legislators because, as a whole, their legislative body produced a result we didn’t like? Do we remove all the state supreme court justices because we do not like the decisions of the majority? Who gets to trigger these events? Who decides who is “more likely than not” to help any situation? Should evidence that stands up to judiciary scrutiny be required or are anonymous allegations against unidentified people good enough?

In recent reports, Dr. Elgart has been going out of his way to criticize
previous board members. He says he’s worried about the upcoming elections and supreme court case. He’s holding accreditation hostage to his “concerns” and preferences. I’ve heard a legislator express the same thing. It looks like they are trying to influence the outcome of the pending case and the election. Why do they feel it necessary to harm children and communities just to score points in their political battles? I say, accreditors should worry about the credibility of their own product. How many failing districts with “boards of distinction” do they accredit? (Hint: plenty!) Our legislators should worry about their own elections. They might be surprised when someone runs against them. No one can really control the electorate. After the Civil War the Radical Republicans said they would control for a hundred years. It was pretty much over by 1876.

As dinner was coming to a close, the state supreme court justice looked at me and said “I would like to take a trip to Georgia to see what is going on”. So here I was in Alaska and I was able to get an outsider’s take on some of the issues. I will be the first to admit that there are tension and turmoil in DeKalb and, for many years, the board of education has reflected the civic reality present here. The truth is the newly appointed board does too. They’ve made some terrible decisions ($1 million for cars for administrators, etc.) and they’ve squabbled during meetings (see Dr. Moreley vs. Mr. Orson re: accreditation and legal fees). We did have some people on that Board that represented the county well but were constantly outvoted. History has proven the wisdom of their votes and warnings. They have been punished for doing their job. And, while I disagree with Dr. Walker on most issues, I do believe SB84 was used to violate his rights to individual due process. Remember your rights and mine may be next. We’ll want them intact when we need them, so we should tread lightly and not be so quick to dispose of them for people with whom we disagree.

Browse here for the complete post and let me know your thoughts or questions.

Don McChesney

Don was a high school history teacher in DeKalb and Gwinnnett for many years and then served on the DeKalb Board of Education. He lost in the last election to Marshall Orson, who was one of the three members of the board not dismissed by the Governor due to their recent election and short service.

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20 Responses to Vacations in Alaska and Supreme Court Justices

  1. FWIW, Atlanta Unfiltered has been doing some investigating of the Governor’s own close associations:

    Deal’s pals’ PAC collected $302K+ with no disclosure


    July 19, 2013 — A political committee run by close associates of Gov. Nathan Deal has pocketed at least $302,500 since 2012 without reporting it, apparently skirting disclosure rules and the federal tax code.

    Major benefactors of the committee, Real PAC, include health-care interests seeking tens of millions — even billions — of dollars in business with state government. One donor, WellCare of Georgia, gave Real PAC $50,000 on the same day that state Medicaid officials said they planned to extend WellCare’s $1 billion-a-year contract for two years.


  2. From the recent reinstatement hearings (as reported in the AJC) —

    The judge presiding over the case of suspended DeKalb County school board member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham got two distinct views of the elected official during testimony Monday.

    Seven parents and school advocates called to testify by Cunningham said he was always professional and courteous and they believed he could help restore full accreditation.

    But one witness whose opinion probably carries more clout testified that DeKalb would do better if Cunningham and his suspended colleagues remained off the board.

    “It’s my opinion that the current board that’s sitting in DeKalb County now gives the school system their best opportunity to regain full accreditation,” said Ken Bergman, chief legal officer for AdvancED, which placed DeKalb on probation in December.


    Donna Edler is a pillar of the community who represented the best interests of students across DeKalb County during her two years on the school board.

    Or Edler is a meddling micromanager who set the school district on a path of decline.

    A judge must assess those incompatible descriptions to divine the true Edler when he tells Gov. Nathan Deal whether he thinks she should be reinstated to the school board.

    . . .

    Zenda Bowie, who trains school board members on parliamentary procedure, said Edler called her frequently for guidance and seemed committed to following proper school procedures. “I got the feeling that she wanted to understand her role and she wanted to stay in her lane,” said Bowie, a director for the Georgia School Boards Association.

    But Ken Bergman, an official with the organization that placed DeKalb on probation, said Edler served on a board that mismanaged the district and is basically guilty by association. Her reinstatement “would not make it more likely” that his agency would restore full accreditation, said Bergman, the chief legal officer of SACS parent company AdvancED. Indeed, he said her presence would make it less likely.

    Bergman could produce no specific evidence of wrongdoing by Edler , but SACS produced a report that alleged meddling and other misdeeds by unidentified board members.

  3. Concerned Dekalb teacher says:

    I am so sick of the board members that were ousted being the victim. We teachers that have had our pay cut and TSA cut illegally are the true victims as well as the children we teach.

  4. We completely agree, Concerned DeKalb Teacher. We have long criticized these board members – especially Walker. However, there are basic rules of law in this country and we remain open to the suggestion that voting and personal rights may have been trampled a bit due to our collective outrage. All in all – still, voters need to work hard to find and send quality people to elected posts. Good people simply must stand up and participate in our system of representation. We get what we deserve when we don’t pay attention or work to make things better.

    All in all — Small school systems with smaller budgets that make it harder to hide jobs, money and ineptitude are the way to go. School boards of these smaller systems would be comprised of volunteers (like City of Decatur schools). Central office staffs at these smaller systems would be proportionately much smaller. As it is now, there is over $1 Billion in reasons to run for a seat that can control who gets a (perhaps unnecessary) job – and who gets construction and other contracts. It’s so much easier to bury money in a big pile than in a small one.

  5. On the topic of teacher outrage — if ANY teacher would like to write a blog post highlighting all of your frustrations and loss of income as well as increase in responsibility – we would HAPPILY post it for you – anonymously if you wish!

  6. Stan Jester says:

    Class Sizes and Furlough Days
    The current class sizes and any number of furlough days greater than 0 are unconscionable. In Georgia, from 1992-2009, we have seen a 41% increase in students but a 74% increase in administrators. Out of 158 school districts in the state, DeKalb has the 2nd highest millage rate behind Rockdale (which doesn’t count because of the way they calculate it).

    BOE Reinstatement
    Judge Story intimated the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few. Whether it’s the right of an individual person or individual state, James Madison argued for a representative republic and the rights of minority groups or individuals. A majority of the board needed to go, as I see it, so where does that leave us?

    Aside from Dr. Walker’s case, the argument echoed from hearing to hearing by SACS has been, “I can’t identify anything you did wrong, nor can I identify anything you did right.” This is hardly the due process given to us by the 5th amendment, but the state has done a respectable job of conflating the board failures with individual failures.

    New Administration and Board
    If the budget was a sham and things were worse than ever, would we know? I find it suspicious that millions of dollars are constantly lost and found without questions and “the direction from the senior administration” was that budget hearings are not to be posted for review. Given the current state of accreditation, the appointed board’s approach can be summed up by Jim McMahan’s campaign slogan “Go along to get along”.

    DSW, Thank you for the kind words.


  7. bettyandveronica1 says:

    These folks were stewards of the tax dollars collected from businesses, homeowners and anyone purchasing anything within our county. The fact that they couldn’t effectively educate our children on the money they collected sickens me. So many counties have less than we do. I am fine with the process, sick of hearing about their rights. What about the rights of the families and children to expect their elected officials to act with dignity, respect and professionalism? What about the countless screw ups? What about the rights of the children to receive an adequate, no…premier education?
    Edler, Cunningham and Walker need a new hobby.

  8. September says:

    I still think that the financial mismanagement that this school board presided over amounts to serious wrongdoing. They were responsible for approving budgets that spent more money than we had. They showed poor judgment by hiring an under qualified superintendent. Our school system is in trouble because the school board didn’t do their job. Our children deserve better.

  9. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Who is more responsible for a fraudulent budget … the board who approves the budget or the administration that created it? Don’t forget Mark Elgart said “Boards of Education fulfill their role during the course of appropriately planned work sessions, public meetings, and, when appropriate, board retreats.”

    Like the current board, how in the world are they supposed to know a budget is fraudulent? Board members are lied to by the administration during board meetings and are regularly kept from the data they request. Board members don’t put on their green visors and sit in the finance department crunching numbers when they get the chance. If it weren’t for Ms Jester, most of the fraud would never have been brought to light.

    @September, How do you feel about the judgement of the current board to hold on to our Interim Superintendent?

  10. d says:

    I’m going to ask a question – and I am looking for a serious answer to this. I understand the moderators’ feelings about smaller districts. My mother is doing a data entry job that is looking at administration for schools in other states – right now she is working on Illinois. They have almost 800 high schools in that state based on the list she is working with. Most of them have their own superintendent. I’ve also spoken with people in that state and they have over 900 districts. Let’s bring this down to DeKalb and my question. We currently pay the superintendent $275,000 and we justify it because of the size of the district. Let’s say we break DeKalb down to say 10 districts – 1 or 2 high schools (plus feeder schools) per district and hire a superintendent for each. I can’t imagine getting a superintendent for less than $100,000, but let’s say we can for $80,000. Multiply that by 10 districts and now we are paying $800,000 just for superintendents. Yes, central offices will be smaller, but again, there would be 10 of them. My question – is this honestly the best solution? Why? I’m not asking this because my opinion is set one way or the other, I really would like to know both sides of the argument.

  11. September says:

    First, if Nancy Jester, a mom with a calculator, was able to find problems with our school system budget, why didn’t the others find these problems? Once pointed out, why didn’t our school board members insist that the problems be fixed? While they were approving the RIF plan that cut hundreds of necessary school employees, the budget included money for travel and expensive instructional programs that we couldn’t afford. Why did they vote to approve such a budget? IMHO oversight is a part of their job and they were not doing their job.

    We have an Interim Superintendent. You can agree with the choice, or you can disagree. I have no idea why the current board hasn’t made a move to hire a permanent superintendent. I can only guess. As I said in another post, I think Mr. Thurmond will have to stay until our school system has been rehabilitated enough to make the job attractive to a highly qualified replacement.

  12. dekalbinsideout says:

    @September, Good questions.

    You asked “Why didn’t our school board members insist that the problems be fixed?”. Because when issues were pointed out the administration came back and said they weren’t problems. Take the electricity issue. Turk said they were over budget because it was abnormally hot and the rates went up. Even though the administration refuses to release some data and flat out lies about other things, the board is very limited in what they are allowed to do.

    Mark Elgart made it clear on numerous occassions that board members are not to interrogate the administration. Page 9 of the Dec 17, 2012 SACS Special Review Report reads, “In board meetings, individual board members .. interrogate district staff in what can be perceived as an intimidating manner…The board members’ questions to the staff displayed a suspicion and lack of trust for any information provided by the staff.”

    You asked why didn’t the others find these problems? The administration stone walled them. Elgart’s comments in the Special Review Report are directed right at Ms Jester for asking too many questions.

    You asked why they approved a fraudulent budget. The budget wasn’t approved unanimously. The tyranny of South DeKalb pushed it through. There are some other side stores with Bowen and Womack that go a little deeper.

    Questions for you (or anybody else)
    1. Who is more responsible for a fraudulent budget … the board who approves the budget or the administration that created it?
    2. Like the current board, how in the world are they supposed to know a budget is fraudulent?

    Given the current status of accreditation, the current board is scared of SACS and is letting the administration do whatever they want. I noticed the administration gave the direction to not post most of the budget hearings for review.

  13. @September: Our BIG frustration at the time of all of these ‘budget’ approvals was that the board was not given a budget — just a list of budget cuts to approve. Once those were approved, a budget was created — but not necessarily ever followed. Take a look at these posts:

  14. @d: True, on the surface, there is a glaring cost of a superintendent for each district. Yes, the cost of superintendents would be higher, but so many other costs would go away – like the 6 area superintendents (who were each just given a taxpayer-funded car in which to tour the county.) There are so many other positions in DeKalb that have mushroomed and are tucked in cracks and crevices here and there that are virtually unnecessary or redundant that would not be carried on in smaller districts. Transportation, for example, is an area that we spend far too many millions on in DeKalb – with all of the magnets, etc hauling kids all over the county… and with all of the secretaries and middle managers that exist – it’s a very wasteful department. Also – if all school boards became volunteer servants, that would save over a million right there… It’s a matter of starting by controlling the funding – which good systems spend much more on classroom funding – and then using what’s left for administrators. There are small systems all over this great country that do an excellent job of educating children – we don’t need to reinvent the wheel — just follow the template of a successful system. Small class sizes and highly qualified, highly supported teachers along with excellent principals is really the only foundation you need to educate young people. The rest is gravy — layers and layers of gravy.

  15. Title: Director, Communications

    Serves as Director of the strategic development and management of DeKalb County School System internal and external stakeholder communications across channels, including direction of media and public relations information for the DeKalb County School District (DCSD).

    Essential Functions:

    The following duties are representative for this position. The omission of specific statements of duties does not exclude them from the classification if the work is similar, related, or a logical assignment for this classification. Other duties may be required and assigned.

    • Develops overall communications strategy and mission for the School District, including the development and oversight of communications channels and managing and executing plans for effective internal and external communications.
    • Oversees, directs and executes as necessary the development and transmission of media and public relations information to the public/community. Oversees and coordinates the release of information on programs, events and accomplishments.
    • Develops external and internal communications strategy, serves as liaison between DCSD and all stakeholders in the community by establishing clear and effective channels of communication, and administers reliable and timely communications involving DCSD.
    • Regularly reports to the Superintendent, Board of Education and School System leadership regarding media/public relations or other communications issues, as well as the ongoing effectiveness of School System communications.
    • Planning, organizing, and directing with the Superintendent, Board of Education and School District Leadership overall communication strategies and public information activities for the organization.
    • Managing, planning, directing, controlling and implementing an proactive communication program to enhance the reputation of the association and visibility of the field.
    • Overseeing the district’s digital communication, including the content for the Website, social media, and newsletters.
    • Representing the organization in the media and other relevant occasions.
    • Developing and implementing annual strategic communication plans that include goals, activities, materials, and performance indicators; • Providing detailed reports of communications activities, including return-on-investment analyses.
    • Participating in strategic planning with the senior leadership and the Board of Education.
    • Serves as communication director to the community at various meetings and events. Attends all Board of Education and community/committee meetings regarding DCSD media and public relations activities.
    • Performs other duties as assigned.

    Education and/or Experience:

    • Master’s degree in journalism, communications, or public relations from a Professional Standards Commission accredited college or university is required.
    • Minimum of seven (7) years of progressive managerial/administrative level experience in journalism, communications, or public relations or related field is required.

    Certificates, Licenses, Permits: None.

    (1) Submit an on-line application via the PATS website @; (2) Select job posting and (3) Attach your resume and transcript. Please go to your “To Do” list and click on the links underlined in blue to attach documents.
    Salary $85,365.84 to $112,012.32

  16. d says:

    Thanks @DSW. I do see two things standing in the way just based on your response. I see parents who have children in the magnet program up in arms about that aspect (although the programs could be provided at the local school level, you lose the “distinction” of having your student in a magnet school). Personally I would prefer every school to be able to offer the programs. Second, I don’t see the board members volunteering their time. Even the new board is getting paid. Honestly, I would argue the best option is to keep paying both boards, let 2014 run through and have the election and move forward from there with – hopefully – a fresh start.

  17. fallenstar says:

    “However, there are basic rules of law in this country and we remain open to the suggestion that voting and personal rights may have been trampled a bit due to our collective outrage”

    Isn’t there a law about contributing to our retirement fund? That law has been allowed to be ignored for years now, and the start of the ignoring of that law was at the hands of the board. Yet less than one year after the ‘trampling of their personal rights’, they want to stand behind the law to protect themselves. Its sickening how they have chosen to ignore certain laws, when it is for their own gain or benefit, yet cry foul the minute they are slighted. Not that 2 wrongs make a right, but I think I am not alone to say that its about time they walk a step in our shoes, and feel what it is like to have decisisions made against you that seem outrageous and illegal.
    Yet still they have much more power and effect in their fight than we ever have in ours (retirement, RIFs etc) and they will probably come out on top, which will make us feel even more devalued as the effects of their unlawfulness continue to affect us.

  18. Can’t argue much there, fallenstar. We do still wonder exactly what was cut from teacher’s pay. Say, if the system participated in social security, then teachers would pay 7% and by law, the system would pay a matching 7%. They opted out and promised a contribution to teachers’ retirements in that same amount (back in the 70s when Paul Womack was on the board the first time). Was there also additional retirement funding that was cut? We can’t figure out how they can legally not pay what they would absolutely have to pay if the system participated in social security. We think that perhaps, they do contribute that bare bones amount, but cut any contributions above and beyond that. True? Can anyone clarify? We do know that regardless of the law – they did break a written promise – and their own board policy to give two year’s notice to make a change. BTW – how is the teacher’s lawsuit coming along? Any reports?

    If someone would like to write up a blog post on the subject, we would post it.

  19. Let me clarify – small systems have volunteer school boards (as does City of Decatur)…

    And you’re correct. People lucky enough to win a lottery seat for their child at a magnet school will be upset. However, the best schools around the country offer programs right at the home school for gifted students. As it is now, we are mis-educating or under-educating many of our gifted students – at least most of those that don’t win a lottery. We ‘could’ still offer a math/science magnet high school along with a vocational high school or two that pull from students countywide. Many small districts around the country do pool funds to offer special options like these.

  20. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Illinois is a poor example, because superintendents make a huge amount of money. In GA, in some of our smaller systems, superintendents are even teaching occasionally. (This is because those systems are totally broke, but still it shows you what can be done.)

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