DeKalb Schools to vote on separation agreement with superintendent

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - The DeKalb County School Board has agreed to a deal that is expected to end the not quite 17-month tenure of Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, sources confirmed to Channel 2’s Richard Belcher.

The board and attorneys for Atkinson worked out an agreement which allows her to leave Friday and pays her $114,583 through June 30. 

Full payout of her $275,000 annual contract would have cost the financially troubled school system about $440,000.

The agreement is listed on the agenda for a meeting Friday, followed by the approval of an interim superintendent.

There has been speculation for weeks that Atkinson an the school board would part ways.

On Monday, Channel 2's Erica Byfield interviewed former State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond after he met with the board behind closed doors. Thurmond declined to say whether he is discussing taking the job of interim superintendent at the state's third largest system but said, "I am here to help."

Details of the tentative agreement with Atkinson were posted on the school system's website. The posting may be a legal requirement before the board can formally approve the deal.  The board had a specially called meeting Thursday afternoon and was scheduled to meet behind closed doors in what it called an executive session.

 The agreement obtained by Belcher said Atkinson will leave as of midnight Feb. 8, 2013. Both sides are to work out a joint public announcement before 5 p.m. Friday, and both agree that it will be "brief and non-disparaging."  In another section, the separation is described as "mutual and amicable" and adds "the Board and Atkinson will refrain from making any public or private statements of a disparaging nature as to the other." 

 There is no mention of an investigation of Atkinson's texts and emails which the board directed a private law firm to undertake late last year. The dispute, first reported by Byfield, arose after an attorney representing several former school employees alleged that the superintendent had authorized the system's legal counsel to offer those former employees new jobs with the school system, if they would drop their open records demands to see the superintendents texts and emails.

 The school board hired former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers and his firm to represent Atkinson during the internal investigation, and last month board chairman Eugene Walker told Channel 2 Action News he expected the internal investigation to be completed and presented to the board in time for a private discussion on Jan. 23.  Walker later said the report was not ready for release.

Atkinson's departure would come just two weeks before the DeKalb County School Board is scheduled to make another appearance before the State Board of Education. The state agency could recommend that Gov. Nathan Deal suspend all nine members of the DeKalb board because the system was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges, an accrediting agency.

SACS gave DeKalb until the end of the calendar year to make significant improvements in the way the board operates or risk losing its accreditation. But the state could intervene well before that.

It's not clear whether the departure of Dr. Atkinson will affect how state authorities and SACS view DeKalb's progress.