DeKalb Board of Education approves interim superintendent’s contract

Vasanne Tinsley, interim superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, speaks to the news media on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, a day after the school board fired Cheryl Watson-Harris as superintendent. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Vasanne Tinsley, interim superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, speaks to the news media on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, a day after the school board fired Cheryl Watson-Harris as superintendent. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The move comes just days after the firing of Cheryl Watson-Harris

In a split vote, the DeKalb County Board of Education on Friday approved an employment agreement with Vasanne Tinsley, the district’s new interim superintendent.

The contract extends for one year, or until the board hires a new superintendent. Her annual base salary is $325,000.

Tinsley formerly served as a deputy superintendent of DeKalb schools before retiring in 2020. After the vote, she identified five immediate priority areas, including the district’s facilities, finances and staff retention.

“I want you to know that I’m going to focus on our emergency issues,” she said. “There will be transparency so you will know what we’re working on and where we are on those things that we’re working on.”

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DeKalb County Interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley (left), DeKalb School Board Chair Vickie B. Turner and board members Diijon DaCosta and Anna Hill held a news conference on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. A day earlier, Cheryl Watson-Harris had been fired as the district's superintendent. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

DeKalb County Interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley (left), DeKalb School Board Chair Vickie B. Turner and board members Diijon DaCosta and Anna Hill held a news conference on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. A day earlier, Cheryl Watson-Harris had been fired as the district's superintendent. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
DeKalb County Interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley (left), DeKalb School Board Chair Vickie B. Turner and board members Diijon DaCosta and Anna Hill held a news conference on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. A day earlier, Cheryl Watson-Harris had been fired as the district's superintendent. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Board members Vickie Turner, Diijon DaCosta, Anna Hill and Joyce Morley voted in favor of the contract. Allyson Gevertz and Marshall Orson opposed it, while Deirdre Pierce abstained from voting.

On Tuesday, the same board members who approved Tinsley’s contract voted to oust Cheryl Watson-Harris as district superintendent after less than two years on the job. Pierce opposed that decision. Gevertz and Orson were absent.

The firing sparked swift backlash from state and local leaders.

“Everyone is questioning this,” Gevertz said.

“We’ve heard from the governor of our state,” she said. “We’ve heard from legislators, our mayors, our commissioners. We’ve heard from the public. There are petitions out there. I’ve heard from students — a fourth grader yesterday questioned our judgment on firing the superintendent.”

During the contentious 90-minute meeting, Gevertz made a motion to reinstate Watson-Harris, which only Orson supported during the vote.

Orson said he could not support Tinsley’s contract because he believed “the actions leading to and culminating with the meeting” during which Watson-Harris was fired were illegal.

He told board members that the attorney general was looking the matter. “If, in fact, they conclude it was illegal, then any actions taken at that meeting would be invalid under state law.”

On Wednesday, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods asked state Attorney General Chris Carr to make a determination about whether any laws were broken. An initial found no violation, state Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Frick said. But on Thursday, she said “other publicly available information” had prompted her agency to ask the attorney general to take another look at the question again.

Gevertz also said she objected to hiring Tinsley for financial reasons.

“This is not about the individual,” she said. “This is about paying two people for the same job.”

When Watson-Harris was hired in the summer of 2020, she signed a three-year contract for $325,000 a year, plus monthly spending and car allowances, among other perks. The district has not disclosed information about her severance pay. She could be entitled to more than a year’s pay per her contract, the district said.

In the days following her firing, Gov. Brian Kemp said he was concerned there were politics in play in the decision. Woods had already been trading harsh letters with the school board. He did not criticize Watson-Harris.

In addition, all 12 mayors of DeKalb County cities decried the “chaos” wrought by the surprise firing in a letter to the board. They said the decision “could jeopardize the future outcomes for DeKalb students.”

By Friday, at least four DeKalb County commissioners had revoked their support for the reelection of DaCosta — or threatened to do so.

Turner, the school board’s chair, told Tinsley she was confident in her ability to service.

“Thank you for saying yes to our schools, our students, staff and families in DeKalb,” she said before the ending the meeting.

Reporters Tyler Estep and Ty Tagami contributed to this article.


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