DeKalb school board picks new chairman, a former state senator and teacher

On Monday, Eugene Walker was selected by a 6-3 vote of his fellow board members to assume the mantle of chairman.

Walker, a former state senator and high school teacher, succeeds Tom Bowen.

Walker said after his selection that his goal was to "unite the entire board ... to act in the best interest of the school children."

Bowen told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution before the meeting that he wasn't going to run again for the chairmanship this time. He said his service as leader occurred during a period with "some of the toughest challenges" the district had seen. With new superintendent Cheryl Atkinson in place since September, he said, "it's a good time for transition."

Atkinson replaced Crawford Lewis, who was indicted in 2010 in connection with an alleged conspiracy. Lewis and two other system employees were accused of theft involving money from the school system's construction fund. A fourth person, a design contractor, was accused of participating in the alleged enterprise.

The case is pending in court.

Bowen also was chair during a major redistricting that resulted in the closure of numerous schools, mostly in South DeKalb. And his time as chairman coincided with a recession that pummeled the school system budget, resulting in controversial cuts, such as teacher furloughs.

The effects of the financial stress will overlap Walker's term as the new chairman. In coming weeks, Atkinson is expected to make staff changes to save money. The school system hired a consultant to conduct an audit of all 15,000 jobs and salaries, with an eye toward streamlining.

The first phase of the audit -- a look at all administrative positions from assistant principal on up -- is due Friday. The review of the rest of the jobs is due in February.

Despite the rocky times during his chairmanship, Bowen wasn't ready to completely step aside. He didn't oppose it when a board member nominated him as vice chairman. Bowen was approved for that role by another 6-3 vote.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.