DeKalb school administrator resigns after admitting he copied other people’s work

A DeKalb County school administrator who copied other people’s work in a report for which he was paid taxpayer money resigned nearly two weeks after admitting his infraction.

Ralph Taylor tendered his resignation from the DeKalb school district Monday. He was hired by Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson in December 2011 as associate superintendent for support services, days after collecting a $10,000 independent contractor’s fee for an audit addressing school safety and alternative programs.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in mid-January that more than a third of the 15-page report was copied — much of it word for word — from the works of two other authors.

When confronted with this Jan. 14, Atkinson pledged to investigate. Two days later, the school district issued a statement from Taylor. It said he’d made an “inexcusable mistake” in not attributing portions of his report and that he was vowing to relinquish his fee. His statement also contained a denial: “I am not a plagiarist, and plagiarism was not my intent,” it said.

At the time, the AJC asked whether Taylor would suffer any sanction, such as the loss of his $117,000-a-year job. A district spokesman, responding for Atkinson, said Taylor’s employment was unaffected because the infraction occurred when he was a consultant rather than an employee.

On Tuesday, though, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said Taylor had resigned and received no severance package. She also said she understood that Taylor was to repay the $10,000, but she couldn’t immediately confirm whether he had repaid it.

Plagiarism is a violation of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission code of ethics. It can result in suspension or revocation of certification.

Internal documents show Taylor was given little written guidance on what to produce for his report, though clearly the evaluation needed to be original and tailored to DeKalb. The school district website says Atkinson contracted with him and other consultants during her first 90 days as superintendent in 2011 “to evaluate specific division functions, processes and services.” The consultants’ work was needed “to make operational changes to improve organizational efficacy.”

Last week, Atkinson responded to a list of questions about Taylor and some of her other consultants. The consultants were selected “based on their educational expertise and previous professional experiences,” her statement said.

Atkinson and Taylor both worked in the mid-2000s for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where Taylor held a director-level position. Taylor’s resume, obtained from DeKalb last week under the state open records law, indicates he used Atkinson as a reference when applying for the staff job that he left Monday.

The school district didn’t say whether Taylor resigned voluntarily or was forced to quit.

Parent Pyper Green said Atkinson’s justification for not firing Taylor two weeks ago was unwise and further undermined trust. “That was stupid,” Green said.

Green, mother of a student at Southwest DeKalb High School, already was upset over a recent aborted attempt at redrawing attendance lines. The handling of the plagiarism incident, Green said, “is just more evidence that (Atkinson) is not doing the right things.”

Others were willing to give Atkinson some slack.

“I was surprised at the plagiarism,” said Allyson Gevertz, who has children at Oak Grove Elementary and Henderson Middle schools. However, she said the incident hasn’t undermined her confidence in Atkinson.

Still, Gevertz said of Taylor, “I’m happy that he’s resigned.”

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