Tagami’s report on the former board members’ hearings

Ty Tagami attended virtually all of the hearings at the state where the dismissed board members (except Nancy Jester) appealed the decision to remove them.* He has posted a report on the AJC. Those with a “My AJC” account can read Ty’s report in its entirety. Otherwise, try to pick up a printed AJC or ask someone with an account to show you the article. It’s spot-on.

In a nutshell: The hearings have ended in the case of the DeKalb County school board shake-up, and if the testimony was truthful, then at least some of the suspended members did nothing improper.

Read more >> Big decisions awaited after DeKalb school board hearings

* Keep in mind that these hearings are a completely different issue than Dr. Walker’s case at the Supreme Court. He is challenging the constitutionality of the 2 year old law that allowed the Governor to dismiss the school board. The five former board members are challenging their dismissal as they are allowed to by law, as it is currently written. Their judge can only recommend an action to the Governor. Gov. Deal can still make any decision he cares to.

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25 Responses to Tagami’s report on the former board members’ hearings

  1. Stan Jester says:

    Ty Tagami presents an accurate characterization of this process. Ronald Carlson summed the administrative hearings up … from Ty’s article …

    “Legal expert Ronald Carlson said his reading of the case suggests that the main legal question is not one of due process and evidence. It is whether the state constitution allows the General Assembly to make an accreditation agency’s opinion the grounds for undoing the will of the voters. Whether the state must prove individual wrongdoing seems a “side point,” the University of Georgia law professor said.”

    Personally, I would have liked to have seen due process with evidence, and then throw the guilty parties out.

  2. Fred in DeKalb says:

    It seems that as cooler heads prevail, many are willing to take an objective look at the proceedings and law. Who among us is willing to forego the rule of law to merely get rid of Board members you don’t personally like, especially when some of the evidence proved to be incorrect. Last I looked, this is still America where one is innocent until proven guilty. I don’t think we are govern by mob rule.

    I will say that if Governor Deal selectively reappoints Board members, given the lack of tangible evidence, he may have a bigger problem.

  3. Ken Bergman, the head lawyer for SACS parent company AdvancED, said on the witness stand last week that the interviews by him and the rest of the team that visited in October were never intended to produce evidence against individuals for use in such hearings.

    “This is not an investigative act,” he said. “This is a collegial act to determine the accreditation status of a school or school system.” The team’s role, he said, was “not to go ahead and make a determination as to whether or not the individual board members are responsible.”

    So — SACS does an investigation. SACS determines wrong-doing on the part of the board due to the results of its investigation. SACS threatens to take away the school system’s accreditation, pulling the trigger for the new law in GA allowing the Governor to dismiss – and replace – all members of the board. [However, the Gov only dismissed and replaced 6 of the 9, leaving the 3 recently elected members, even though some of all of these new members were specifically called out in the SACS report as having ‘meddled’.] Anyway, the Gov has Brad Bryant and RL Brown set up a committee to choose replacement board members. Over 400 people apply. Members are replaced matching the race [but not necessarily the gender] of the member that was removed. Five of the six removed members appeal the decision. However, regardless of what the judge says, the final decision rests in the Governor’s hands. And the Gov will only consider SACS opinion as to whether the dismissed board member would harm or help reinstate full accreditation.

    All roads lead to SACS! Oh the power!! Oh the futility!!

  4. One thing we find very strange — SACS, the Gov, and everyone who thinks things are going well in DeKalb, credit the leadership of Michael Thurmond (the board has essentially rubber-stamped his every initiative). However, it was the OLD board (the fired board) that actually hired Thurmond!

  5. BTW Fred, I don’t think evidence was proven incorrect – as I don’t think SACS and the state presented any evidence. They say they didn’t even keep the interviews that led to the demoted level of accreditation. They said SACS didn’t have the room or money to store the evidence! [Which we find interesting, as Mark Elgart’s office suite alone is probably about 1200 sf! – You’d think he’d have room for a cabinet for evidence that removes people from office.]

    Bergman had been sequestered earlier, when Edler had described in sworn testimony how she once tried to bring a censure action but was stymied by policy and the chairman. She said no one from SACS asked her about it, and Bergman could not refute that since his agency didn’t keep the interview notes. (He said SACS couldn’t afford the storage costs.)

  6. bettyandveronica1 says:

    My understanding of the interviews was that the interviewer kept those notes. the original information (work papers) was with the contracted employee of sacs. I remember Elgart saying they didn’t keep them in the advance Ed office but it was possible to get to it.

  7. The old board approved Thurmond in the 11th hour as they saw their fate if they did not replace Atkinson and quickly. Thurmond was suggested by Orson, not a member of the ‘old board’ but definitely entrenched in the old way of doing business, so to speak. Walker, et. al. agreed, but I’ve always wondered how they found someone so quickly when they had to do it, but they couldn’t find us anyone decent for two or more years that led up to this crisis. If the board can only make good decisions when they are about to lose everything, they were capable of making good decisions a lot sooner. That tells me that they knew what they were doing, could have avoided it and chose not to. Walker’s recall was already in the works in South DeKalb so don’t believe that this issue didn’t bring about change even if it is reversed because it did. It opened a lot of eyes to the truth behind the problems. Unfortunately, the push for divisions in the county to keep people at odds instead of working together will trump the power of the unified public when we were all working together for the sake of the children. Political strongholds are generally not good for taxpayers. By bridging the gaps between ideologies, we can work together to ensure our politicians are not running over anyone and have to continuously be on their toes to ensure they are doing the right thing, not just what one side wants. These small cities will take away the power of the opposing part to possibly overthrow the leadership and there goes the power you once had to make the politicians take note of your issue, regardless of what party you were with. Homogenized public opinion to serve corporate interests doesn’t sound like education the way it should be. Inquisitive minds do not do well in a sea of complacency and mediocrity.

  8. Don’t forget … the interviews were made up of the board members themselves, the Superintendent, the Deputy Superintendents, several principals and asst. principals, some other administrators and maybe 4 -5 “stakeholders” who were likely hand selected by the regional PTA. The interviews asked the administrators who they should blame for the problems. They, of course, said the board. End of investigation. Since several of the board members had also written letters to SACS to complain about themselves, it was pretty clear they blew the whistle on themselves and the administration backed up their claims. The letters and calls that led to a short three or four day investigation is probably where the real evidence might be, but then again – no one was trying to give testimony. We were all just looking for help. The children deserved better. If this is the extreme necessary, then I’m glad we had the option. But, why can’t we get the level of talent that applied for the appointments to run for office? That’s a disconnect I hope DSW will explore. We have to do more than just say, “hey, if you know anyone, tell them to consider running for office.” We need to be proactive in finding good people and letting them know they are needed.

  9. Fred in DeKalb says:

    DSW, please read Don’s blog posting again. I believe Don is a reasonable person and presented a very good case. He also mentions the lack of evidence by SACs yet no one challenged him on that. One key point from the 20 page report that has been found to be false has to do with the accounting of the monies for the books. Read the AJC article again where Bergman and SACs were unaware that Edler wanted to bring a censure action but couldn’t due to board policy.

    This should not be about personalities, it should be about the law. I also agree with Don that SACs is attempting to hold the state and DeKalb hostage. To go from advisement to probation, skipping warning, and not having documented reasons why this was done should concern everyone. Add to that, SACs indicated the school district was making progress based on the recent visit yet did not move them to warning should also make citizens question the motives of SACs.

    Many on this blog begged for involvement by SACs. We got it.

  10. Well, good luck with that one, Cell. Remember EduKalb? They found us the last group of board members…

  11. Know this: Thurmond was brought in by Walker – regardless of who claims the credit.

  12. @betty: That may be your understanding — but again, this is the testimony:

    She said no one from SACS asked her about it, and Bergman could not refute that since his agency didn’t keep the interview notes. (He said SACS couldn’t afford the storage costs.)

  13. Another comment says:

    Who did Morley replace? Isn’t everyone saying that she is the big problem on the board now. She tried to fight about getting dual accreditation. Who did she replace.

    We all know that Nancy did a better job than Coleman. It was absurd to replace her with a 30 year old with no children, that didn’t know the basics about school.

  14. howdy1942 says:

    I’ve just returned from North Carolina and found an article in the local paper very interesting. The County Schools Superintendent will retire effective July 31, 2013, and is being succeeded by one of the District’s high school principals. It was refreshing to read the article describing a reception honoring the retiring superintendent. He was applauded by all members of the school board, the President of the PTA, several principals, and a number of current and former students. The progress that had been made during his 12 years as superintendent (he had served a total of 33 years in the district as teacher, principal, and then superintendent) was notable – improvements in technology, building renovations, student achievement, teacher development, services provided, and many other areas. He recognized his successor and her achievements and she was likewise received very warmly.

    I contrast that article to what is being said in Dekalb County. Our school system has been going downhill for years. There seems to be no respect for anyone at any level within the school system. We make the members of the school board that led us downhill for many years the “poor victims” because they were called to question about their performance. We condemn SACS for being the bearer of bad news and for refusing to break confidentiality – as is its policy – so the members of the failed board can confront those who gave less than rave reviews in a court of law. That confidentiality is at the heart of the interview process portion of the accreditation review.

    SACS accredits Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Auburn University, the University of Alabama, Vanderbilt University – I could go on, but you get the picture. Neither Dekalb County nor any other party in this County will be the least bit successful in trying to discredit SACS or its work. SACS had given the Dekalb County School System its report of its review. It did so in 2011 and it did so again in 2012. Rather than getting busy to understand the reports, rather than working with SACS, rather than truly accepting the deficiencies, Dekalb chose to dig in its heels and fight. SACS did not remove the school board members – the Governor did. Governor Deal followed meticulously the law passed by both Houses in the Georgia State Government and signed into law by another governor after being virtually forced to take action by the severe impact on the students in Clayton County because of the loss of its accreditation.

    For the sake of our students in Dekalb, I hope that the Georgia Supreme Court will follow the wise decision of Judge Story. The former members of the Dekalb School Board have had years of “due process” to lead our school system. It didn’t. Each member had the opportunity to discuss the findings with SACS. Apparently they did not. Each member had the opportunity to present his/her case before the State Board of Education. They had 14 hours – and few, if any, were prepared. Few could make intelligent responses to questions of the board. Now, each of member of the Dekalb Board has had the opportunity to again present his/her case for the Governor to consider. How many opportunities have our students had to present their cases? Aren’t the students the very ones who will bear the brunt of any loss of accreditation? Will we consider them to be “victims”? What will happen to the former board members if DCSS loses its accreditation? Really, not much. They have been paid all along so there will be no financial loss. They can even run again. Contrast that with the students. Judge Story understood the impact. Yes, we are a government of laws. The law used by Governor Deal has been on the books for three years and the former board members knew it was there. They, more than anybody, had their own fate in their hands. Maybe they thought that they were above this law or that the Governor would never use it. As I’ve posted before, I’ve been part of three SACS reviews and not once did they discuss who said what, which students they talked with, which faculty they interviewed, which administrators they met with – no one. They presented findings – some good, some bad. Surely our Board members knew and understood this important principle of confidentiality.

    Bottom line, this matter is before Georgia’s Supreme Court. I hope that they rule for the rights of our children. Otherwise, we are all going to pay a terrible price.

  15. For more inspiring stories on just how good some school system leaders can be around this country read this >>

    EDUCATION WEEK: Leaders to Learn From >> Leaders of 2013

    Truly great school system leaders exist. We just need to find and hire them. It’s not as if the job doesn’t pay well…

  16. Joyce Morley replaced Donna Edler for District 7. Donna had been elected in 2010, replacing Zepora Roberts, who was an embarrassment. (Zepora threatened to ‘slug’ a television reporter who was questioning Zepora’s family members employment at DeKalb schools.)

    Governor names new DeKalb County School Board members

    Here’s Morley’s bio:

    Morley is the chief executive officer of Morley and Associates and is a nationally known public speaker and trainer. She is a certified counselor, a trained mediator and serves on several local and national governance boards. Morley has a doctorate in Counseling, Family and Worklife from the University of Rochester. She received her specialist’s and master’s degrees in Counseling Education from the State University New York College at Brockport, and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the SUNY College at Genesco. A Stone Mountain resident, Morley has lived in DeKalb County for more than 22 years.

    She has been nicknamed, “The Love Doctor” — read her life story at this link:

  17. Below are the bios of all of the appointed board members:

    Deal names new members of DeKalb County school board
    March 13, 2013

    Gov. Nathan Deal today announced the names of the six new DeKalb County school board members.

    “I tasked the nominating panel with finding excellent board members who will put the school system back on track toward full accreditation, and the panel performed a Herculean task with a quick turnaround so that the board could get back to work on behalf of the county’s students as soon as possible,” Deal said. “We had many outstanding community leaders offer themselves for service, and the high caliber of the candidates reflects well on the county. I faced an enviable problem: It was difficult to choose between so many great applicants. I truly believe that the board members will do an incredible job for DeKalb County. The volunteers who served on the nominating panel and as my liaisons to the county school leaders have given of themselves, and they have made a tremendous difference. I cannot thank them enough for their service.”

    Acting on the recommendation of the State Board of Education, the governor suspended six members of the DeKalb school board In February. He then appointed a panel to nominate replacements and tapped Brad Bryant and Robert L. Brown to act as his liaisons to the DeKalb board and Superintendent Michael Thurmond. The nominating panel received a total of 403 applications and interviewed more than 60 applicants before narrowing the list to six finalists.

    The new members of the DeKalb County school board, who will be sworn in at 1 p.m. today are as follows:

    District 1, John Coleman

    Coleman is a strategic planning manager at Invesco. Previously, he held a variety of leadership roles at McKinsey & Company. He also serves on various nonprofit boards. Coleman has a master’s in Business Administration from Harvard and a master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. He resides in Atlanta.

    District 3, Michael Erwin

    Erwin is a U.S. Navy veteran and has been a research assistant at Duke University Medical Center and the University of South Carolina. He has worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Services and is past chair of the NOAA fisheries committees on fish species and fish diseases in Maine and South Carolina. In 2008, he earned a Ph.D. in Biological Science from the University of South Carolina. He has been a member of the faculty at Georgia Gwinnett College since 2009 and teaches undergraduate students in biological science. He graduated from North Carolina Central University with a bachelor’s in Biology and a master’s in Biological Science. Erwin resides in Decatur.

    District 5, David Campbell

    Campbell is a senior manager with Georgia Power, where he supports the company’s energy conservation efforts. He is a certified public accountant with managerial experience. Campbell received a degree in Business Administration from Albany State University. He is a former chair of Leadership DeKalb, a member of the DeKalb 100 Black Men and an active member of St. Phillips AME. He formerly served on the Stephenson High School Council and resides in Lithonia.

    District 7, Joyce Morley

    Morley is the chief executive officer of Morley and Associates and is a nationally known public speaker and trainer. She is a certified counselor, a trained mediator and serves on several local and national governance boards. Morley has a doctorate in Counseling, Family and Worklife from the University of Rochester. She received her specialist’s and master’s degrees in Counseling Education from the State University New York College at Brockport, and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the SUNY College at Genesco. A Stone Mountain resident, Morley has lived in DeKalb County for more than 22 years.

    District 8, Karen Carter

    Carter serves on the faculty of Georgia Perimeter College where she is chair of the Business and Social Science department. She received a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications from Denison University and a law degree from Ohio State University. Carter has served as a classroom teacher and has held several senior administrative roles in the field of education. She is a graduate of Leadership DeKalb and is an active community volunteer and a PTSA member. Carter is a resident of the Lakeside Community.

    District 9, Thaddeus Mayfield

    Mayfield is a senior partner with FOCOM, Inc., a Georgia-based business development firm. He holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from Mercer University and received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Tougaloo College. He co-chaired the successful Friends of DeKalb Education SPLOST IV Campaign and is an active member of several business and civic organizations in the metropolitan area. Mayfield is a resident of Lithonia.

  18. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    @GETtheCELLoutATL, to paraphrase Joan Rivers, Can we talk?

    Elgart loves Atkinson. The only reason she left is because she refused to follow policy DJE despite Dr. Walker’s constant requests and she destroyed evidence when the courts ordered her to turn over the text messages. She had already stopped showing up for work when Thurmond came in.

    Michael Thurmond
    The AJC reported that Orson recommended Thurmond because he saw Thurmond speak once and was “impressed”. Orson goes on to say that the “lack of an educational leadership background seemed an asset“. GETtheCELLoutATL, does that sound plausible?

    How about this version
    Michael Thurmond, Gene Walker and Melvin Johnson go WAY back …
    The relationship between Gene Walker and Michael Thurmond goes back 20 years to when they worked in the gold dome together. We all know Walker and Turk are close, right. Thurmond lives next door to Turk’s mom. Property Tax Record 1 and Property Tax Record 2.

    Melvin Johnson has worked for/with DCSD for 20+ years. Here’s an article with a picture from 20+ years ago of Melvin Johnson and Dr. Walker singing together. A few months before Thurmond was hired as Interim Superintendent, Johnson and Thurmond were speakers at a race relations symposium together.

    So, did Walker and Johnson bring Thurmond in, or should I plan on Tony Robbins being our next Superintendent?

  19. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    DeKalb has endured fraud and racketeering for 10+ years while getting glowing reports from SACS. In 2007, the darkest days of corruption in DeKalb, SACS fully accredited the DeKalb School District with no warnings saying “Effective leadership at all levels”. Where has SACS been? No warning for racketeering or spending their entire fund balance savings. The school district didn’t get its first financial warning until Oct 2012.

    Here are all the SACS reports. See for yourself the glowing reports and progress well made, according to SACS, over the last 10 years – http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/sacs-casi-accreditation

  20. Stan Jester says:

    SACS in the news
    SACS used to be a well respected organization. Accrediting leadership calls into question their effectiveness.

    ACTA Calls on Secretary of Education for Accreditation Reform
    The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to prevent the wrongful intrusion of college accreditors in state governance matters

    The Rise of the Accreditor
    SACS put the University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by no less than Thomas Jefferson, on “warning.” SACS’s action comes in the wake of efforts by the University of Virginia’s governing board this summer-later reversed-to remove President Teresa Sullivan in favor of a leader more aggressively focused on cost controls.

    For a more colorful perspective, Google: SACS, John Trotter, Beverly Fraud, AJC

  21. DeKalb Inside Out is exactly right. In fact, the Walker/Thurmond friendship continues to this day — they chat often… Make of it what you will. Touche’ Dr. Walker.

  22. @Inside Out: For a recap, read the Wikipedia’s definition of DeKalb County School District (it’s embarrassing)…

    The DeKalb County School District (DCSD), is a school district headquartered at 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard in unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, United States.[1] DCSD operates public schools in areas of DeKalb County not within the city limits of Atlanta and Decatur.

    Led by Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond the school system has nearly 100,000 students, 143 schools and 13,285 full-time employees. The student-to-teacher ratio is 23-to-1. In 2005, the school system graduated over 5000 students. Of those students, 7.8% received a dual diploma, 79.4% received a college prep diploma and 12.8% received vocational diploma. After graduation, 62% were eligible for the Hope Scholarship. In 2011, the school system will graduate 6,130 students.[2]

    On December 17, 2012, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools announced that it had downgraded the DeKalb County Schools System’s status from “on advisement” to “on probation” and warned the school system that the loss of their accreditation was “imminent.” [3] Cheryl Atkinson’s former school district, the Lorain City Schools in Ohio is operating under a warning by the state of Ohio.[4] Former DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis was indicted in 2012, along with former DeKalb County Schools Chief Operating Officer Pat Pope, and others, on criminal charges related to a school construction scandal.[5]

  23. Dr. Atkinson was the ‘nail in the coffin’ for DCSS. And we have the great Eugene P. Walker to thank for his color-focused decision-making and bully leadership — insisting on hiring Atkinson over Duron or Cox, simply due to her race.

    The old DSW blog posted many, many facts regarding Atkinson’s bankruptcies and her lies on her application,

    However, Walker bullied his way through, denying the obvious and cobbled together a voting block only able to assess by race. They trumped the three no voters, Jester, Speaks and McChesney, and actually [rudely] turned their backs or walked out as the three read statements explaining their no votes. Time will sadly show just how right these three were… Regardless, one lost his seat in the next election and the other two were fired by the Gov. along with the rest (those actually responsible for hiring Atkinson).

  24. Concernedmom30329 says:

    The judge has ruled on the first two cases of the board members that he heard. He is not recommending that either Speaks or Copelin-Woods be returned.

  25. howdy1942 says:

    @DIO – perhaps you are right about Dr. Atkinson. She seems to be a missing piece to this whole nightmare that all of us in Dekalb have endured for a long time. I wish that there was a way where she could be required to explain, from her perspective, exactly what had been going on prior to her leaving in January of this year, what went on during January, what Eugene Walker and the Board demanded of her, and the reasons for her leaving. I think that she could provide a lot of information on which to make better decisions regarding Walker, et. al.

    @Concernedmom30329 – I also saw the report. In many ways, I feel for Dr. Speaks. She often voted against the majority on this Board and displayed a quiet courage to vote “no” on some of those terrible decisions made by the former Board during January of this year. However, she was part of a failed Board and it is for this collective failure that the DCSS Board was removed. Copelin-Wood was removed for some very good reasons – she never should have been on the Board in the first place. She was consistently late to most meetings of the Board – the Board had to wait a half-hour for her before they could take four minutes to elect Melvin Johnson as Chair. She was conspicuously absent at the State Board meeting when she was called to testify. Sadly, I am fearful that the same people who elected her will do so once again if she chooses to run. The same is probably true in the case of Walker and Cunningham, unless they are forced to run against each other.

    I sorely miss Nancy Jester. She seemed to be the only member of the Board who ever did any research. She was either ignored by Walker and his crowd or rudely cut off. I really don’t think anyone on the Board could understand her obvious points and didn’t want to let facts stand in the way of what they wanted. She took the high road in choosing not to appeal, probably because she understands the chaos into which the DCSS will be thrust if the former Board is reinstated or if the Georgia Supreme Court rules that the individual rights of Walker rise above those of our students.

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