The chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education is assuring parents that the board will work as a team to address being placed on accreditation probation.
Chairman Eugene Walker made a statement to reporters shortly after AdvancED, a national accrediting body that includes the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, announced the results of an investigation into board conduct. The SACS investigation report specifically describes the chairman’s interference with daily school operations and promotion of nepotism within the school. The report says all of the BOE members engaged in behavior that jeopardized the system’s accreditation.
Walker did not address the specific allegations raised in the report about his actions. SACS set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013 for the board to address the accrediting body’s findings.
“We received some disappointing news from SACS today, that our system would be placed on probation,” Walker said. “It’s disappointing but at the same time I want to reassure the community we represent and serve that we’ve not lost our accreditation and we do not plan on losing our accreditation. We’re going to work as a team, the board, the superintendent, our senior staff and we’re going to dissect and digest each one of the concerns and recommendations SACS presented to us. And we’re thankful that they’ve given us ample time to address these concerns.”
Here are some of the findings against Walker listed in the SACS report:
– Purchasing, which specifies the following: All purchases and contracts under $100,000.00 shall be reported to the Board monthly for information only, reflecting vendor, goods or services purchased, amount of purchase, and the name(s) of staff member(s) who signed the approval.
The board chair requested a report to document compliance with the policy. In turn, the Superintendent has indicated that the system’s technology structure and software are not designed to provide the detailed report without extensively revamping the database.
Reportedly, producing the report would require excessive staff time that would ultimately interfere with job performance in the delivery of services to staff and students. Meanwhile, the board chair unilaterally made an arbitrary decision, without further discussion and direction by the full Board, to set a new, lower floor for purchases for which the Superintendent needed to submit a report.
– During interviews, descriptions of the budget-making process were unclear and inconsistent. The board chair did not differentiate between having a balanced budget and operating the system in a manner that adheres to said budget. When asked about the potential negative balance in the general fund the response by the board chair was simply, “But we have a balanced budget.” When confronted with the fact that the Board had a balanced budget in previous years but that the failure of the system to implement the budget with fidelity and a lack of proper Board oversight and poor decision-making had resulted in unprecedented overages for the system, board members did not have a good explanation. The fact that the system had under-budgeted millions for utilities and legal work during the past several years was not properly explained. In addition, the system incurred approximately $12 million dollars in debt for new textbooks, yet numerous interviews revealed that no one could identify any school that had received new textbooks and it was reported that nearly all schools were struggling with ways to repair old textbooks with no resources allocated for said purpose.
– Various forms of evidence confirmed that there is Board interference in hiring considerations. One example includes an email dated August 24, 2012 from the board chair to the Superintendent containing the subject line: Candidate for TAPP Program.
The email from the board chair to the Superintendent read in part, “This is the individual I referred to the program that I asked you about, with his strong background and personal demeanor I feel that he would be a great candidate to work with our kids in our schools while filling one of our critical needs areas. Please know that I have met this young man and he is the brother of one of our Board… I would appreciate any assistance that you could provide.” This email confirms and supports the common belief of many stakeholders that there exists a problem with nepotism and preferential treatment in the hiring practices of the DeKalb County School District.