UPDATE – 6.17 pm
By Jody Steinberg
After hours of closed meetings with the school board and attorneys, DeKalb Schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis announced April 16 that he was leaving the job, effective immediately.
Lewis, who has been on leave while the DeKalb District Attorney’s office investigated school system construction contracts, said his termination is by “mutual agreement” with the school board.
The termination talks dominated the closed board meeting, and delayed the start of the scheduled board meeting. Dozens of constituents and reporters endured the repeated delays to hear the board discuss school closing recommendations and the latest version of the 2010-2011 budget.
That meeting was cut short as board members adjourned to continue with a “personnel matter.” As rumors were confirmed that Lewis was with the board, school advocates and media waited for word of Lewis’ departure, which follows a controversial year for the school system.
Lewis, a 35-year employee of the DeKalb school system, initiated the D.A.’s investigation of Chief Operating Officer Pat Pope, who was responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of funds raised through the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST.
In January, Lewis became the target of disgruntled teachers and employees, who complained bitterly when the board approved a new, three-year contract and gave him a $15,000 raise at a time when school system employees were taking cuts in salary and benefits.
Lewis’ new contract redefined the terms of his departure from the job. He is entitled to four months of salary and benefits, worth about $85,000. That was a departure from his previous contract, which resembled that of his predecessor, who was paid more than $400,000 when he left the job.
Under Lewis’ previous contract, explained board member Don McChesney, the school system might have been liable to pay him salary and benefits for the balance of the contract. “Everybody was so focused on the $15,000 raise, they missed the good stuff in the contract that was for our benefit.”
Lewis can claim retirement benefits from the state almost immediately. After 30 years he is entitled to 60 percent of the average of his top two years’ salary plus 2 percent for every year over 30.
Speaking to reporters in front of the William Bradley Bryant Center of Technology, Lewis called the termination a “mutual agreement” between himself and the board, and confirmed that his severance was in compliance with his new contract.
“The board needs a superintendent who can be here 100 percent every day and, as you know, my attention will be devoted to the D.A.’s investigation,” Lewis said, adding that he is looking forward to retirement.
“These have been the greatest 35 years of my life,” said Lewis, thanking his colleagues, parents, and students for their support. “Who’d of thought that an elementary school PE teacher would one day be superintendent?”
After his brief announcement, Lewis bid goodbye to school system employees and reporters before leaving the William Bryant Center on Lawrenceville Highway in his school-issued car (which will be returned).
Ramona Tyson will remain interim superintendent, although the board is expected to announce a search for a replacement soon.
ORIGINAL 2.59 pm ======================================
DeKalb Schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis today announced that he was leaving the job, effective immediately.
Lewis, who has been on leave while the DeKalb District Attorney’s office investigated school system construction contracts, said he was departing the job by “mutual agreement” with the school board.
“The board needs a superintendent who can be here 100 percent every day and, as you know, my attention will be devoted to the D.A.’s investigation,” Lewis said.
He announced his departure in a written statement released following a series of closed –door school board meetings that lasted more than four hours altogether.
Lewis said he’d been with the district for 35 years, starting as a teacher. He said he is looking forward to retirement.