More than 400 people applied for the six openings on the DeKalb County school board by Wednesday’s deadline, and the governor’s office, under pressure to get the vacant positions filled fast, promised the process won’t be “weeks-long.”
The school district can operate without a board for only so long before it hits a wall: People can’t be hired or fired, discipline can’t be meted out, contracts can’t be signed and policies can’t be written. The three members Gov. Nathan Deal did not suspend are too few to meet legally.
As a hand-picked panel sifts through the applicants for Deal, the booted board members are battling in court to get their jobs back. But one of them said she is bowing out. “I don’t know what the others will do,” Nancy Jester told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Jester hadn’t sent a formal resignation to the school board chairman or the governor by late Wednesday.
None of the other five, except former board chairman Eugene Walker, could be reached. “You know I’m not going to resign,” Walker said. “No way.” He said he will keep the lawsuit alive, too.
A federal judge on Monday allowed Deal to replace the board members but indicated that the legal dispute would be heading quickly to the Georgia Supreme Court. DeKalb contests the legality of a 2011 law that predicates suspension on the actions of private accrediting agencies. In December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put DeKalb on probation and threatened to strip accreditation altogether over allegations of school board mismanagement. That triggered a hearing by the Georgia Board of Education and a recommendation that Deal suspend the six members who were in office last year, two-thirds of the board.
The ousted board members can petition the governor for their jobs back, but the process will take two to five months from last week’s suspension. Deal, meanwhile, is moving full-speed to find replacements. He solicited applications via email and assembled a five-member panel to vet the applicants. There were 403 by the 5 p.m. deadline.
“We’re gratified that so many people want to chip in to help the children,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson.
The panel is expected to begin meeting Friday to sift through the applications.
Robinson said there was no self-imposed deadline, but “it’s going to happen as quickly as possible. It’s not going to be a weeks-long process.”
Jacques W. Hall Jr., a DeKalb County real estate agent and unsuccessful former school board candidate in south DeKalb, was among the applicants. He said he would serve “with integrity and purpose” and focus on children. The suspended board members were accused of focusing on “adult” issues, such as infighting and nepotism.
R. Alexander Fitzhugh, a father of two and book publisher from Ellenwood, said he applied because he wants to make school more compelling by tailoring classes for disinterested students. “I feel like they have I.D.D., interest deficit disorder,” he said.
Jester said in the morning that she waited until Wednesday to announce her decision because a school policy calls for the board to replace those who’ve resigned. With the federal judge’s decision freeing Deal, Jester said she felt more comfortable that the governor would get to name her replacement.
“I hope that we don’t have a long protracted fight over the issue, but there might be,” Jester said of the ongoing lawsuit. “I don’t think that’s very healing for the community. That’s one reason I wanted to resign — it distracts from the focus on kids and taxpayers.”