UPDATE Tuesday morning: A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Education said today:
The internal investigation was launched in response to complaints filed by current or former employees of the Chief Turnaround Office and received by our office.
To ensure we were doing our due diligence in response to those complaints, Superintendent Woods directed an internal review. We would have done the same for any traditional DOE office.
The review has absolutely nothing to do with the perceived politics around the Chief Turnaround Office and there’s no factual basis for suggesting that it does.
I didn’t think Eric Thomas, the state’s chief turnaround officer, would stay in Georgia long given that he never developed a strong ally in Gov. Brian Kemp or a camaraderie with the state Department of Education.
Former Gov. Nathan Deal wanted the turnaround office since he couldn’t win voter approval of his more ambitious Opportunity School District. The charge to the office and Thomas was to select low-performing schools for attention and provide help to turn them around. When Deal left office, capital insiders observed Thomas and his mission were met with general indifference by the new GOP leadership and a cold shoulder from DOE.
That coolness just plummeted to freeze levels. The chill between Thomas and DOE was clear in a WSB-TV report tonight in which Thomas learned from reporter Richard Belcher that his office was under investigation at the behest of state school superintendent.
Belcher asked Thomas about fees as high as $900 to $1,100 per day paid to consultants. In defense of the expenditures, Thomas said the DOE purchasing office approved the list of candidates and those hired were among the lowest bidders. (Thomas had staff and funding shortfalls that likely made consultants necessary.)
In a September letter, State School Superintendent Richard Woods asked his internal auditor to investigate the school turnaround office for allegations of discrimination, possible conflicts of interest, misuse of state and federal funds and whistle-blower action by a staff member, according to WSB.
Thomas would not tell Belcher whether he suspected these allegations emanated from a disgruntled employee.
Thomas has been seeking an exit out of Georgia this year and has applied for several education leadership jobs outside the state. Thomas was among the finalists this year for superintendent posts in Greenwood County, S.C., Canton, Ohio, and Rochester, N.Y.
He was also under consideration in April to be Michigan’s state school superintendent.
This latest development may accelerate his efforts to move on from Georgia.
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