Issue of Race Weighs Heavily as 6 New DeKalb School Board Members Selected

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    Gov. Nathan Deal’s office announced that he will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday to announce the six new appointees to the DeKalb County School Board.

    The six former school board members were removed by the governor last month after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put the district on probation and threatened to revoke the school district’s accreditation if action was not taken. The agency cited mismanagement, nepotism and in-fighting as the reasons for the board’s ineffectiveness following a six-month investigation.

    Deal said the three remaining board members were allowed to keep their seats because they were newly elected. However, the group is unable to vote or conduct any business because regulations stipulate that at least half of the board must be present to vote.

    Around 400 people applied for the six vacant seats. The governor plans to name the six replacements Wednesday, about a week after a nominating panel began reviewing the applicants. The group had previously narrowed the list down to 63. That list of semi-finalists includes former lawmakers, education experts and community leaders.

    The nomination process has recently become wrought with racial overtones. Five of the six removed board members were Black and a number of parents in the predominately White area of north DeKalb have expressed a desire to form their own school district.

    According to published reports, a Monday meeting between Gov. Nathan Deal and leaders of several civil rights organizations, including local NAACP chapters, took a fiery turn after the governor reportedly told the groups to “find some good Black people to run” during the closed-door meeting.

    The remarks came in response to whether Deal should be specifically seeking Black candidates to replace DeKalb County’s ousted school board members. The groups said Deal was implying that finding qualified Black candidates would be difficult.

    “The governor said to please get involved and make sure these Black candidates are good Black candidates so we can have a functioning board,” Robinson told the AJC. “Gov. Deal wants to make sure every student graduates in schools that have kept their accreditation.”

    Deal responded to the criticism saying the NAACP was focused solely on the issue of race.

    “I was very disappointed that not once did the group who met with me yesterday discuss the issue of accreditation,” he told reporters.

    That was just the most recent in a string of heated exchanges between civil rights groups and the governor. On March 1, Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP called Deal a “dictator” in his defense of the removed school board members.

    “We fought to long and bled too hard to allow our officials to be removed by a dictator,” he said at a press conference.

    DeKalb is one of the nation’s wealthiest majority-Black counties, but acrimony surrounding the racial split between the predominantly White northern suburbs and the rest of the county have long been an issue and have been brought to light more forcefully in recent weeks. Some north DeKalb residents are looking into creating a separate school district for their communities.

    Parents from the Atlanta suburbs of Dunwoody, Chamblee and Brookhaven gathered last week to discuss the possibility of forming their own school district, which would break away from the beleaguered DeKalb County schools.

    Dekalb’s NAACP President John Evans called the move “just another attempt by these people to get away from Black and poor folks.”

    Parent Matt Blankenship, whose two children attend elementary and middle schools in the Dunwoody area, told the Daily World that he attended a Sunday night meeting about the idea because he’s concerned about how DeKalb County schools operate.

    “I don’t claim to know the answer to the problem, but common sense tells me that the DeKalb school district is just too large for one board to manage well,” he said.

    DeKalb County is the state’s third-largest school district, serving about 99,000 students. It was placed on probation in December.

    Since the suspensions, several proposals that were prompted by DeKalb’s circumstances moved forward. The Senate Education Committee approved legislation allowing DeKalb students to qualify for the HOPE scholarship if the district loses its accreditation, as did another item that would forbid the board from using public funds to pay for its legal challenge to Deal’s suspension of six members.

    A five-member nominating panel has been working since last week to vet the group of candidates. Several well-known applicants are among the 63 candidates the panel interviewed. Among them are former state School Superintendent Werner Rogers, ex-state House member Doug Teper and Kathleen Mathers, who led high-profile state test-cheating investigations.

    The new board members will be announced by Deal as well as the so-called DeKalb County School Board nominating panel, Robert L. Brown, Jr. and Brad Bryant, the governor’s liaisons to the DeKalb board.

    Deal selected former DeKalb school board member and current executive director of the Georgia Foundation for Education, Brad Bryant, to serve as liaison to the remaining members of the board and Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond.

    “The stakes in this case are high; the future of almost 100,000 students hangs in the balance,” Deal said in a press release. “Therefore, I have accepted the unanimous recommendation of the State Board of Education to suspend six members of the DeKalb school board. I have met with Superintendent Michael Thurmond, and I believe he can play a vital role in getting the system back on track. I look forward to a positive working relationship with Superintendent Thurmond on behalf of the children of DeKalb County.”

    Other members of the school board nominating panel included Kenneth Mason, Chairman of the State Board of Education; Garry W. McGiboney, the Associate Superintendent of Policy and Charter Schools at the Georgia Department of Education; James E. Bostic, Jr., the managing director at HEP & Associates, an educational consulting company; Alicia Phillip, President of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; and Sadie Dennard, a region external affairs manager for Georgia Power’s Metro East Region.

    The announcement of the six new board members will be made at the Governor’s Office.

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