CEO Lee May’s Letter to DeKalb Schools Board

At the 12/17/2014 School Board meeting, the board hired PROACT to provide superintendent search services.  The question now up for debate is exactly what services PROACT will provide and what part the community will play in the superintendent selection.

DeKalb’s Parent Councils United (PCU) released a statement recommending a Candidate Selection Committee saying, “Please consider inviting [these community leaders] to your work session and including them in your deliberations.”

State Representative Scott Holcomb echoed PCU’s sentiments saying, “[PCU] is recommending that the BOE appoint a Candidate Selection Committee, comprised of recognized community leaders. Doing so would indicate that DeKalb County is ready to move ahead using best search practices by partnering with key stakeholders. ”

DeKalb CEO Lee May

Lee May, Interim Chief Executive Officer DeKalb County, spoke to the board at public comments and yesterday sent this letter to the DeKalb Schools Board and administration.

Interim Chief Executive Officer DeKalb County
Lee May

January 13, 2015

To: Dr. Melvin Johnson, Chairman
CC: James McMahan, Stan Jester, Marshall Orson, Dr. Michael Erwin, Vickie Turner, Dr. Joyce Morley; Board Members and Michael Thurmond, Superintendent

RE: Superintendent Search

Dear DeKalb Board of Education,

I pray all is well as you receive this message. I want to applaud and thank you for your leadership and commitment to our DeKalb County scholars as you embark on the selection process for the new DeKalb County School Superintendent. This decision will help determine the future and quality of education in DeKalb for decades to come. As CEO and a member of the Governing Authority, I am equally as concerned about education in our County. The quality of our school system has everything to do with the quality of life in our dear county.

I believe the process of this selection is also critical in the ultimate decision you will make. I believe broad public input into the process will help with community support of your ultimate candidate.

With that being said, I am offering my recommendation concerning the process and external participation in this process.

I recommend the creation of a selection committee that would interview the list of candidates offered by PROACT. The selection committee would then forward to the Board of Education a short list of 3 candidates to consider for a final selection.

The selection committee would consist of 14 members and be comprised of the following:
2 Board of Education members
1 Superintendent Michael Thurmond
1 DeKalb County CEO
1 DeKalb County Board of Commissioner
1 DeKalb Chamber of Commerce member
1 DeKalb Development Authority member
1 DeKalb State Representative
1 DeKalb State Senator
1 DeKalb PTSA member
1 ODE member
1 NAACP member
1 Leadership DeKalb member
1 Georgia Association of Educators member

This is a watershed moment in our county’s history and the decision we make today will have an impact for years to come. I thank you for your consideration of this proposal. This proposal allows for a broader base of input and support in the selection of this critical position.

Yours in service,
Lee May
Interim CEO, DeKalb County Government

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25 Responses to CEO Lee May’s Letter to DeKalb Schools Board

  1. “The quality of our school system has everything to do with the quality of life in our dear county.”

    How very, very true.

  2. Here’s my prediction:
    2 Board of Education members – Melvin Johnson, Joyce Morley
    1 Superintendent Michael Thurmond
    1 DeKalb County CEO
    1 DeKalb County Board of Commissioner – Sharon Sutton
    1 DeKalb Chamber of Commerce member – Jabari Simama
    1 DeKalb Development Authority member – Vaughn Irons
    1 DeKalb State Representative – Howard Mosby
    1 DeKalb State Senator – Ron Ramsey
    1 DeKalb PTSA member – Patricia Woodard
    1 ODE member – David Schutten
    1 NAACP member – John Evans
    1 Leadership DeKalb member – Benita Ransom
    1 Georgia Association of Educators member – Barbara Kirby

  3. Actually, Mr. May, upon reflecting on your letter to the Board of Education for DeKalb County Schools, we have these further comments:

    (1) You are “a day late and a dollar short.” Where have you been over the past 10 or 12 years? Twelve years is an entire generation of DeKalb public school students shortchanged and under-educated. Lost time and lost opportunities that cannot be regained. For many DeKalb County Schools graduates, their futures have been ruined — and the economic engine that was DeKalb County has been ruined, too — while you stood aside and did nothing.
    (2) Fourteen members on the Selection “Advisory” Committee will result in an evenly split vote if North DeKalb is fully represented on this committee. However, if the committee membership is as predicted by Decatur Parent nothing will change and corruption will reign supreme as usual.
    (3) Why didn’t you recommend senior representatives from the City of Dunwoody and the City of Brookhaven (one each) — DeKalb County’s two newest cities?
    (4) Oh, and there is no one listed here from the business world – just government employees and a couple of obligatory PTA representatives. What makes you think businesspeople don’t have an interest in our schools?

  4. DavidS says:

    This is just unbelievable. Additional questions:
    1. If this committee is “advising” the BOE, why would there BOE members on it? And why on earth would Mr. Thurmond be on it? Who has time to listen to him ramble on and on?
    2. NAACP? Really?
    3. And if this august list of “leaders” is so vital to the education of DeKalb’s students, where have they been before now? Surely they could have affected the bloat and mismanagement of the system if they had any interest in it.
    4. Why are there no teachers? No students? No taxpayers? These are the folks in the trenches – the users and the funders. Don’t you think they would have some interest in who’s going to be running the system? No one is more affected than these people.
    Is there any better way to stack the deck, so to speak, than to have the BOE populate this list?
    I would be more comfortable asking any interested taxpayer, teacher or student from DeKalb to put their name in the pot and, literally, draw 14 names.
    Concerned about confidentiality? As I recall, it was the Board itself that leaked personal information about the leading candidate last time we went through this process.

  5. Murphey says:

    I support community involvement but Mr. May’s list includes is heavy on professional politicians and light on parents. Do any of these people really know what is going on in the schools? Do you think a state representative and state senator would have enough time to do a good job on this task, which must occur during the legislative session?

  6. howdy1942 says:

    I appreciate Mr. May’s letter and his efforts in reaching out to the community to restore the trust of our people in Dekalb County Government. However, I respectively disagree with his recommendations of his proposed makeup of the citizens panel to provide input for the selection of a superintendent.

    This should be a citizens panel – there should be no board members nor should Mr. Thurmond be involved. The NAACP represents the interests of a specific race and race should not be a factor in selecting a superintendent. This panel should be one that would encourage recommendations and thoughts by the broader community and welcome their suggestions. I am convinced that, given the broad spectrum of business and professional experience in our community, our people can and should be encouraged to provide recommendations of specific people. Selecting a new superintendent is one of the most critical decisions that is ever going to be made in Dekalb County.

    The Dekalb County School System is badly broken. It is not even ranked within the top 100 school districts in Georgia. Of 57 school districts in the greater Metro area, Dekalb County is ranked 45 while the Decatur City School District is ranked number 2 and Gwinnett is ranked number 6. At a ranking of 43, the Atlanta Public School System is ahead of Dekalb. Accordingly, we cannot cite poverty nor can we cite race nor can we cite diversity nor anything else. The answer is very clear – the Dekalb County School System is where it is because it has been poorly governed and poorly managed.

    The State of Georgia has done much to try to help “fix” the Dekalb County School System. It has effectively replaced the Dekalb County School Board. It has voted to downsize the number of board members in an effort to improve the Board’s ability to communicate. Is has provided extensive assistance to Dekalb County to completing forms that would permit Dekalb to receive even more State funding. The Dekalb County School System imposes the highest property tax on its residents of any district in the State of Georgia. Yet, we continue to bring up the rear.

    Like the school system, the residents of our County are sharply divided. Druid Hills has taken the drastic step of seeking to be annexed by the City of Atlanta. Members of the Dekalb County Legislative Delegation are seeking to amend the Georgia Constitution to allow the creation of new school districts. Two new cities, Dunwoody and Brookhaven, have been formed and at least two more (Tucker and Lavista Hills) are likely to vote to become cities this year. At the very heart of all these efforts is the common desire to get out of the Dekalb County School System.

    The selection of our next superintendent should NOT be a political process and we, the People, should not allow it to be a political process. I wish that the State Government or the State Education Board would take charge of this process. If it does not, then it is very likely that we will be right back dealing with SACS. My message to Mr. Thurmond and to the Dekalb County School System is “For God’s sake and that of our kids and our people, think of someone besides yourselves and, for once, do the right thing”.

  7. Teachers Matter says:

    An NAACP representative but not one teacher — very telling.

  8. DeKalb Observer says:

    @Murphey: This list does show exactly who the DeKalb CEO values: Politicians and high-ranking public administrators. The rest of us chumps can fly a kite.

    @Teachers Matter: Very telling indeed!

  9. Bottom line: This is another exercise in futility. The school administration already knows who they want to have the job – and we wouldn’t be surprised if it was professional figure-head Michael Thurmond himself – it’s a cakewalk job when you simply act as a figure-head for $300k and a $2000/month receipt-less expense account! We would like to see his tax records to see if he ever made that much as a figure-head lawyer at his firm. Then again, they could be gunning for Beasley – nephew of former super Johnny Brown who was fired and handed a $400,000 exit package!! Surely Beasley has had some great coaching!

    It’s a farce folks. We have gone down these paths of hope over and over and over again – only to be met head on with reality – those in charge are not letting go of their power and control — no way no how. We can all dream – but this will never happen the way we dream it should. A few politicians and the NAACP will be making the decision. Taxpayers of DeKalb be damned.

    Sorry – sometimes we just can’t contain our true feelings. Carry on with your discussion…

  10. howdy1942 says:

    @DSW – So we are left with only one bidder to find us a superintendent and that one bidder was rejected by the Atlanta Public Schools. That just about says it all!

    Sadly, I think you’re right. We are either going to get Thurmond again or we are going to get some other DCSS administrator. Maybe even Melvin Johnson or, better yet, Ralph Simpson. Or could we possibly get Ramona Tyson?

    If Lee May wants to truly understand why Dekalb County is having such a problem in economic development, he need look no further than the Dekalb County School System. @DSW, I remember speaking before the Dekalb County Commission about four years ago and I begged them to get involved with the Dekalb County School System. That was at a time just before the School Board got Dr. Lewis to leave and had decided not to fire Ms. Pope (just let her work to the end of her contract). Given all that has gone on at the DCSS and all the cityhood movements that are threatening the tax base of Dekalb County, I would have thought that Mr. May would have been more demanding than to simply “write a letter”. And I don’t think I would have included any words like “applaud” or “thank you for your leadership”, but rather I would have probably said that you guys are destroying our County!

  11. The comments here are spot on. No parents, teachers, or students are even blinked at in this proposal. I can’t fathom how many times I’ve thought that politics needs to get their hands off of education. Even though GAE and ODE members are listed, we know it will be the bloated top and not an actual educator member. I wait with bated breath. I am sure the true story will end up being a continuation of the normal circus act following a brief intermission.

  12. dekalbteach says:

    How can you include GAE and ODE but leave PAGE out?

  13. DecaturMax says:

    Mr May’s proposal rings of “at large” district elections. If each group elects or appoints a representative by a majority vote. The minority will have no voice. It will not be a 4-3 vote but a 12-2. It will look like the people have spoken with one voice and not the tyranny of a crooked majority. Just ask the NAACP in Fayette county what they think of “at large” representation.

    I want the best candidate…no color requirements. Anyone appointed should have to feel the same way. Sorry NAACP. This is not the place for you. At least Gene Walker would be honest about his #1 criteria.

    The search committee would do a great job of representing the “status quo”. There is a vested interest in jobs first, no transparency and flexing legla muscle including attorneys 50k per month unspecified legal services, 2.5M anti-city legal fund. Sorry teacher. No money left for you!

  14. Peace says:

    I give Lee May credit for at least trying to steer the BOE in the right direction. Lee May is a very young guy who is in his mid-thirties so he was not in this position 10 -14 years ago to make a difference. As we leave our comments on this blog as DeKalb County residents, we have a right to express these same opinions to the school board. I agree with most of these comments as I am very disgusted with the school system in Dekalb. I placed my son in a private school this year as I could not deal with the incompetence of DCSS and gamble with my son’s future. Ronald Ramsey is a State Representative but he is also the Chief Legal counsel for the DeKalb School system. God Bless

  15. DecaturMax says:

    I emailed my concerns to Lee May. To his credit, he either responded or had a response ready.

    I responded to this message suggesting Michael Thurmond should not play a role in picking his successor & he should consider adding city representatives and someone from the Latin American Assoc. & other ethnic associations if the NAACP was included. I reminded or let him know that John Evans (Dekalb NAACP) has a history of advocating based solely on race. This county has every shade of people that want good schools and not just black run schools. How could anyone think an African American can not get a fair shake in Dekalb county and needs NAACP to get involved?

    From Lee May:
    Thank you for sending your thoughts to me about your proposal. Let me assure you that the purpose of my proposal was not to divide, it was intended to broaden the amount of input around the county. I understand your concern about the NAACP, my inclusion of the group was simply intended to have an entrenched organization in the county included. This group has been around for almost a century in DeKalb. The NAACP would only be one of 14 group members on the committee.

    Many have mentioned the City of Atlanta’s process in selecting their Superintendent. My proposal is very similar to the process they used. I simply want a representative group of leaders and stakeholders as a part of the selection process. This group would help dwindle the list down to 3 finalist for the BOE to consider.

    Of course, I am open to amendments to the process if there are others you would like added I would recommend submitting that to the BOE for inclusion.

    I want the best candidate as well, not a black, white, hispanic, man, women! I want the best candidate as you do. We have to get this right, we don’t have the luxury of having a mis-fire on this issue. Our children are counting on us.

    As a reminder this is the list of groups I would like included:

    2 Board of Education members
    1 Superintendent Michael Thurmond
    1 DeKalb County CEO
    1 DeKalb County Board of Commissioner
    1 DeKalb Chamber of Commerce member
    1 DeKalb DeKalb Development Authority member
    1 DeKalb State Representative
    1 DeKalb State Senator
    1 DeKalb PTSA member
    1 Organization of DeKalb Educators (ODE) member
    1 NAACP member
    1 Leadership DeKalb member
    1 Georgia Association of Educators member or other educator focused organization

    Total 14 members

    Thank you again for your concern,
    Lee May

  16. For anyone interested in finding out more about ProAct (the single search firm considered by DCS, already rejected by Atlanta Public Schools), go to their website [] and request a copy of their book, Searching for Super. It is also available on Amazon, but it is free if you go directly to ProAct. It is likely that no one on the school board, with the possible exception of Stan Jester, has read Searching for Super. The book contains ProAct’s excuses for not being able to find anyone outside of DeKalb County Schools to take the overpaid job of superintendent, even after a “nationwide” search. Oh, what the heck, call it a “worldwide” search. Regardless, they will present Michael Thurmond, Morcease Beasley or Ralph Simpson as the next superintendent. Why not Ramona Tyson, you ask? Thank you. We are glad you asked that. Because Ramona Tyson is already being ridiculously overpaid and her job is to work behind the scenes to maintain the Friends-and-Family power structure which maintains the ridiculously high salaries in the Palace in the face of abject failure to perform with regard to educating all of DeKalb County’s public school students.

  17. @Decatur Max: Interesting that your comments to Lee May were acknowledged, but essentially brushed aside. We can expect no real assistance from Lee May or the County Commission.

    Further, we are deeply, DEEPLY concerned that Lee May, even after having it pointed out to him, has no interest at all in placing a Latin-American on this committee. Latins account for about 14% of our student population in DeKalb – for comparison whites account for only 10% of our students countywide while African-Americans account for about 75% of DCSS students. In African-American minds, there is only one minority and it is African-American. PROVEN in DeKalb over and over again. And their prejudice was blatant in the last search, as an excellent candidate, Dr. Duron, a Latino from Texas, was essentially kicked to the curb by our African-American board leaders.

  18. @Peace: Lee May has been in a position to make a difference for as long as he has been on the DeKalb County Commission. Lee May is not trying to steer the BOE in the right direction. He is sending a message of support for status quo.

  19. Let us remind you of the pain, secrecy and sabotage (not to mention racially-based arguments) of the last superintendent search. We ended up with Dr. Atkinson (the only African-American left in the running) who one day, after some (apparently damaging) text messages were discovered and used in a court battle with an employee (and later ‘accidentally’ destroyed), just stopped coming to work. She sent her lawyer who negotiated a $100,000 exit package for her resignation. We were without a superintendent for weeks, until the board hired Michael Thurmond behind closed doors – in secret – without a public search at all – one week before 6 of the 9 were dismissed by the Governor. (So in reality, it was that ‘horrible’ fired board that actually hired Michael Thurmond — in secret no less!)

    Read more at the original DSW >>
    Wednesday, June 22, 2011
    DeKalb School Board waiting for Superman

  20. Trooper11 says:

    Not to mention some on the past board begged to have pictures to be included in the last super search. I wonder if they were color photos?

  21. I am sure Lee May doesn’t intend for the State Senators or Reps from Dunwoody or Brookhaven to be the ones on the committee.

    No one places the out going Supt. or 2/7 board members on the committee that narrows down the candidates.

    It looks like it is time for the Gov. to rotate the appointment to Interim County Executive to someone else. Perhaps Nancy Jester would bring some accountability to the county.

  22. howdy1942 says:

    I am really disappointed in Mr. May’s suggested “citizen” committee. Why have two school board members on this “citizen” committee? Why have the present superintendent on this “citizen” committee? Why have the Dekalb CEO AND another commissioner on this committee? And how on earth is any State Senator or Representative going to have the time to be on this “citizens’ committee while the Legislature is in session? Look, there exists at least 40% of this County that is making every effort to get out of the Dekalb County School System. Maybe somebody ought to ask them why they want to do that. Perhaps those views ought to be at least 40% of this “citizen” committee. In that 40%, think about INCLUDING Druid Hills and Dunwoody – let their voices be heard! Then include a substantial representation from our business community and also include teachers from each of the seven school districts. Also, I would be deeply concerned about having Mr. Evans or the NAACP represented on this committee. Mr. Evans has already stated in his comments to the school board that the next superintendent ought to be black. We need to keep this superintendent above racial bias and focused on the best candidate. It is very appropriate to make this observation on this Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend – he is the one who has called for a society in which people are “judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin”. Mr. Evans does not pass that test.

    I would think that Mr. May, the Dekalb County Commission, and the School Board would be very concerned that at least 40% of its residents and, most likely, more than 50% of the County’s tax base are actively seeking to leave the County. That ought to be very troubling.

    Let’s turn this around – think about what the possibilities might be for Dekalb County IF we could find a superintendent who could unite our communities and fix our schools. Think about the economic development prospects. Think about the potential tax base. We wouldn’t be straining to find the dollars to pave our roads, to pay our teachers, to attract and retain the best teachers, to educate our kids, to generate some positive news stories – BUT we first need to take this process of finding a superintendent seriously and really find a good one.

  23. When you place a requirement on a superintendent to be of a certain race – in this case African-American, then you immediately eliminate a vast percentage of qualified candidates. African-Americans account for approximately 13% of the entire U.S. population, so by only hiring an African-American, the board is eliminating 77% of candidates right off the bat (assuming the candidates represent the same diversity mix as the United States overall). But, our last board at least, found this one qualification important enough to eliminate all others. Hopefully this board will see people as individuals and evaluate them based solely on their qualifications and leadership ability. This is their one last chance to keep this county school district together, in our opinion. Another ‘Atkinson’ fiasco and the break-up will begin in earnest.

  24. Refugee from DCSS says:

    Has May just given up on North DeKalb? Does he assume that the local school district amendment is going to pass, Dunwoody, Brookhaven, etc will form their own districts and be gone? Then he doesn’t have to consult their opinions anyway, because they’re leaving soon?

  25. Lee May was appointed to his current Interim CEO position by the Governor who favors most of the same things that the cities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody profess to favor as well, so your concerns about his involvement do not make sense. He has been favorable to the idea of a fully incorporated county and has left his former district without representation by refusing to step down so that a special election can be held. If anyone is being under represented in these matters, it would be those residents and not the ones who have been monopolizing the conversations and the time of the state legislators to the point that many of them have become resentful of our entire county and the demands it has placed on their time as a legislative body. At some point, we all need to realize that you can’t expect government to fix a government problem.

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