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Reinstating DeKalb board will not help keep accreditation

Accreditation CEO says ousted members failed to provide ‘effective governance’

Five of the six suspended DeKalb County school board members have asked the governor to give them back their jobs. All have a common message: My reinstatement would “more likely than not” improve the district’s chances to remain accredited.

Not so, says Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED, the Alpharetta-based parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which placed DeKalb schools on probation in December.

“The previous Board of Education had ample opportunity to provide effective governance and failed to do so. There is no evidence to support claims that reinstatement would be advantageous to accreditation,” he said in an emailed response to questions from Atlanta magazine.

The claim is crucial because state law specifically says members should be immediately reinstated “if it is determined that it is more likely than not that the local board of education member's continued service on the local board of education improves the ability of the local school system or school to retain its accreditation.”

Some suspended board members pointed out other facts in their favor. Pam Speaks said that she was “an exemplary board member willing to improve” and that she had never been told she “personally committed any infraction.” Jay Cunningham noted that he won election in 2010 by 64 percent of the vote. Donna Edler submitted a formal legal petition through her attorney.

Board members also claimed the SACS report contained inaccuracies. Former board chair Eugene Walker, who is suing to overturn to the state law that led to his removal, said SACS issued “unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations for the express purpose of causing harm.”

Elgart noted that DeKalb “had the opportunity to appeal our findings, but chose not to do so. As a result, the system accepted our findings and committed to making the necessary improvements. The most significant areas in need of improvement are student achievement, fiscal responsibility, and governance.”

Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond has previously said that when he came into his position, he learned that DeKalb had not responded to the SACS report. He has declined to comment on why. The district’s separation agreement with former Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson prohibits any “disparaging comments,” he said.