DeKalb Schools’ former HR chief, missing from work for months, quietly returns in demoted position

Leo Brown, DeKalb County Schools’ human resources chief, recently demoted to another position, quietly returned to work in late February after more than two months away, officials said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported about Brown’s absence in February after district officials were slow to respond to questions about his whereabouts. Brown had last reported in to the office in December. District officials never said whether Brown was working or confirmed his absence.

Instead, they let Brown do that himself. In a statement announcing his demotion, he thanked the district for supporting him through “recent health challenges.” Board member Joyce Morley said she’s concerned she and other board members were never given a reason for Brown’s demotion.

“A lot of times when you hear things, I’m hearing it at the same time,” she told a reporter.

The school district’s history of mismanagement under a different superintendent and board has led to a willingness by parents and the community to focus on and question school decisions. But the district has said little about why an employee reassigned to another department is allowed to keep a salary ($175,000) nearly three times the maximum amount it designates for the position he was demoted to.

Brown was not eligible for sick leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, having worked for the district less than a year before he left. Officials responded to an open records request for documentation related to Brown’s leave of absence by saying no documents existed.

The district announced Brown would become a compliance officer last month. The position pays a maximum salary of about $64,000 a year, but Brown will keep his former, larger salary until his contract ends June 30.

School board members have addressed ongoing teacher recruitment issues and morale problems with increased frequency in recent months, questioning Brown during their monthly meetings about the continuing trend of many jobs still open, and about what’s being done to step up recruitment efforts. Two months before school ends for the year, the district still has more than 40 teacher vacancies.

Board member Stan Jester said he plans to spend some time during the budgeting season look at how the district employs administrative staff.

“At the top of my mind … I’m not sure why we have contracts for our central office staff,” he said. “When somebody is demoted or moved to a position that has a lesser salary, why do they keep their original salary, which often is much more than the salary that position pays? It’s happened several times lately.”

Brown’s absence came as the district struggled to deal with staff woes amid a national teacher shortage. The district has hired more than 80 uncertified teachers since September after being awarded strategic waiver school system status, which allows flexibility from some state rules while holding districts to more strict standards. The district, however, has more vacancies than it did this time last year, when it did not employ uncertified teachers.

Brown was brought to the district by Superintendent Steve Green. The two previously worked together at Kansas City Public Schools.