Paring DeKalb school board list begins

In-depth coverage

How education fares in a community affects more than students and teachers. Economic well-being and quality of life also can see fallout from a decline in the status of schools. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been following the accreditation issue in DeKalb County —- and in other metro school systems —- since concerns arose. Today, we report on the process to replace DeKalb board members.

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Vetting of the more than 400 candidates for the DeKalb school board began Friday with a sense of urgency as panelists hope to cull the list down to a few finalists by next week.

A nominating panel plans to work through the weekend to find replacements for the six board members who were suspended by Gov. Nathan Deal amid concerns the district could lose its accreditation.

The five panelists plan to brief DeKalb’s legislative caucus on their progress on Sunday and could deliver their finalists to Deal by the middle of next week.

The group will be looking at a range of factors, including each candidate’s vision for the school system, their ability to inspire students and how well they “represent the diversity of the community,” according to a document that surfaced on Friday. All but one of the suspended members is black.

Each candidate’s experience in governance, planning, policy development and working with school-age children will also be weighed.

The list of 403 people who applied to manage the state’s third-largest school system was released Thursday. Candidates include ex-lawmakers, former government workers, education experts and Donna Edler, one of the six DeKalb board members who got the boot.

“It’s an energizing process to see so many fine candidates offering to serve DeKalb County,” Kenneth Mason, the panel’s chairman, said in a statement.

The members are under intense pressure to produce a list of finalists quickly. The district was put on probation in December by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, its accrediting agency, and Deal last week announced his decision to suspend the six who were in office last year, sparing three new board members. A federal judge declined to block the move this week.

The three remaining board members aren’t enough for the legal quorum needed to make key financial and personnel decisions, leaving the school district in limbo.

“Time is of the essence,” said state Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur. “It’s critical we get the recommendations to the governor soon.”

On Friday, the nominating committee was holed up in a cramped room stocked with soft drinks, peanuts and Jelly Belly jelly beans on the 20th floor of a government tower as they pored over each candidate.

Many parents and politicians said they are impressed by the list of would-be school board members, but one lawmaker couldn’t resist a chuckle when he got ahold of the thick packet containing the candidates.

“Where were these people a few years ago?” said state Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta.

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