DeKalb school board's future delayed by federal judge

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has learned that a federal judge has responded to a request to keep Gov. Nathan Deal from announcing the possible suspension of members of the DeKalb County School Board.

Sources said the judge signed the order over the weekend.

Deal was set to make some sort of announcement on Monday at 11 a.m., but moved the announcement to 2:30 p.m. The move comes after the state Board of Education recommended six of the nine DeKalb board members be removed from office following allegations of abusive behavior and financial mismanagement . The judge's ruling allows Deal to make a decision, but that decision cannot be enforced until a hearing is held Friday.

"I am out there sort of wondering where will this take us and what implication does it have for the law," said Nancy Jester, who is in jeopardy of losing her job, although she calls herself the whistleblower in the case. She also told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman she is not responsible for any mismanagement.

The DeKalb system, the state's third largest public school system, is at risk of losing accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  

Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he's concerned that the board's dysfunction could taint the broader Atlanta metro area if left unchecked.

"We don't want anything to occur that will jeopardize what a diploma from a DeKalb County high school might mean, so everything that can be done to facilitate and bring this all to some logical conclusion serves us all," he said.  

On Friday, parents delivered to the governor a petition with more than 1,800 signatures asking him to remove the board members.  

"We have declining student achievement. We have financial problems and it is time for new leadership in DeKalb," parent Gil Hearn said.

Hearn is the founder of Parents for DeKalb County Schools, a group that was created to connect parents across the county to discuss issues related to the schools system during this time of uncertainty.

"The board has asked for a second chance, my children only get one chance for an education," Hearn said.

The school board has asked a federal judge to keep Deal from acting pending a Tuesday hearing on a lawsuit challenging the state law that allows the governor to suspend members at the recommendation of the state board.  

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has put DeKalb County on probation because of a report the association issued in December about abusive behavior, nepotism and questionable financial decisions by board members. An ensuing shakeup left the board with a new chairman and new superintendent.  

Even with the changes, the Georgia Board of Education agreed Thursday to recommend suspending six DeKalb board members.  

Rather than suspending the six, Deal could consider a plan pushed by some legislators to allow the governor's office to monitor the school board's progress in a tightly controlled agreement if the county would abandon its legal challenge to the suspension law.  

"There are options other than removal," Democratic Sen. Jason Carter of Decatur said. "Otherwise, the problem he faces is that there's fallout in both directions. If he doesn't remove the board, there's criticism from people who want them removed. And if he does, you're removing people who are duly elected."  

Democratic Rep. Billy Mitchell of Stone Mountain said the governor should wait to see if the board will be responsive.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution contributed to this report.



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