Four of six ousted DeKalb school board members ask governor for jobs back

They’ve already been rejected by him once, but that hasn’t stopped most of the suspended members of the DeKalb County school board from asking Gov. Nathan Deal for their jobs back.

Four of the six suspended members are petitioning Deal for reinstatement, three of them filing their requests this week after the first last week.

The deadline is Friday for the remaining two. One of them, Nancy Jester of Dunwoody, said she will not be petitioning. The other, former board Chairman Eugene Walker, could not be reached for comment. He is following another path that could lead to reinstatement: a lawsuit before the Georgia Supreme Court.

In their letters to Deal, the petitioning board members made a case that reinstatement would be a good thing — for the voters who elected them and for the students. Each argued they could help the district maintain accreditation, which the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has threatened to take away over allegations of school board mismanagement.

Continued service on the board to which she was “duly elected,” wrote suspended south DeKalb board member Sarah Copelin-Wood this week, “is more likely than not to improve the ability of the DeKalb County School District to retain its accreditation.”

Pam Speaks wrote in her petition earlier this month that she was an “exemplary” board member. The other two — Jesse “Jay” Cunningham and Donna Edler — petitioned this week and, like Copelin-Wood, wrote that their presence on the board would “more likely than not” help DeKalb keep accreditation.

Their claims come in response to the state law Deal used to suspend them. The law, which Walker is challenging in court, authorizes the governor to remove school boards in districts at risk of losing accreditation.

Mark Elgart, the head of SACS, could not be reached for comment, but he recently told the new school board members, and the three whom Deal didn’t suspend, that the district had begun to address some concerns and likely wouldn’t lose accreditation at the end of the year, even if it remained on probation.

The petitioning board members will next face an administrative law judge. The governor must wait at least 30 days after Friday to hold the hearing. Deal said if a petition reaches his desk, he won’t instinctively rule it out.

“I am willing to consider their applications. The law provides for that,” he said. “I won’t out of hand reject it.”

Jester, the suspended Dunwoody board member, said previously that she would resign from the board. She sent a resignation letter to Deal, but did not finish the process by sending a similar letter to the DeKalb superintendent or other officials, as the law requires. She and the other five suspended members have continued to collect their board paychecks, according to DeKalb.

Jester said Wednesday that she’s been awaiting advice from the governor. She worried that if she completed her resignation, it would allow her former colleagues — most of whom were political opponents — to select her successor were they to regain their seats. Under state law, school boards do select successors for resigning colleagues, depending upon the timing of the next election.

By not petitioning and thereby allowing the governor to remove her, Jester said, she believes she would automatically be reinstated should the high court strike down the law Deal used to suspend the board. “I guess if the Supreme Court rules in Gene’s favor, I would go back on,” she said.

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