School & District Management

Georgia Governor Suspends School Board Members; Legal Battle Looms

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — February 28, 2013 2 min read
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The governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, suspended six of the nine board members of the 99,000-student DeKalb school system in suburban Atlanta Monday, the Associated Press reports.

Following a unanimous recommendation from the state’s board of education, the governor exercised powers granted by a 2011 law that allows the state’s leader to suspend and remove board members. The school system, Georgia’s third largest, is in danger of losing its accreditation in the wake of a scathing report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools detailing corruption in the school’s board. As of December, the school system is on accredited probation.

With two-thirds of its members suspended, the school board is unable to make any legally binding decisions—five members must be present in order to make budget or policy changes.

Tomorrow, a federal judge in Atlanta, Richard Story, is hearing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law that allows Deal to suspend board members (here’s one of the suspended board members with the case against the law). The governor has exercised this ability before: Board members in Brooks County were suspended last winter, board members in Miller County were suspended this spring, and one in Dougherty County was suspended this summer.

The DeKalb board members are currently suspended without pay and must wait 30 days to ask to be reinstated, according to the Associated Press. A nominating committee has been created to find new board members, though the confirmation of any new members will depend on the outcome of the legal challenge.

Deal’s move is very unusual, said Kathy Christie, the vice president at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. The school board officials are, after all, elected officials. She said that while several states have laws allowing the state to take over failing districts, and some of those laws, including a 2011 Arkansas statute, allow a governor to suspend elected school board members, she was not aware of any governor outside of Georgia taking such action. A North Carolina law that allowed the state to depose school board members was repealed in 2007.

She was not surprised that the law was being challenged. “It’s a big deal for the governor to step in,” she said. But, she said, taking such a step to address a dysfunctional board will have at least one effect: “No matter what, it gets people’s attention,” she said.

The DeKalb school board members’ lawsuit against the state is being funded partly by public dollars, which has caused a bipartisan group of state legislators in to propose legislation to prevent the use of public funds to pay for lawsuits.

Here’s a helpful Q&A from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has been following the saga closely. And here’s DeKalb School Watch, a blog that’s been documenting the district’s dysfunction.

I wrote about the St. Louis school district getting its accreditation back after five years earlier this fall. Here’s the Education Commission on the States’ collection of states’ accreditation laws.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.