DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County School's new interim superintendent is a politically connected former labor commissioner, and he says he plans to use that political clout to try and save the district from losing its accreditation and school board.
Monday evening was Michael Thurmond’s first DeKalb County Board of Education meeting at the helm and he told the crowd, "I don't have a magic wand."
Parents, teachers, and board members are putting a lot of faith in him, however, since the district goes before the State Board of Education for a hearing in just 10 days.
After that hearing, the state board could recommend the governor remove the entire DeKalb County Board of Education.
Thurmond said he hopes to reach some sort of agreement with the state to avoid the hearing all together.
"I am going to do everything I can possibly do, to talk to whoever I need to talk to at the Capitol, at the State Board of Education to ask for a second chance," Thurmond said.
During Monday's meeting, Thurmond received a flood of advice from board members and parents in attendance.
Board member Nancy Jester gave him a long list of suggestions even before the pledge of allegiance was recited.
"Watch the budget like a hawk," Jester said.
Parent Carla Weston-Brown later added, "We have selfish ambitions while our children suffer. We are counting on you."
Thurmond said the enormity of the job hit home when one parent came to the podium, citing scripture and said simply, "I welcome you and I'm praying for you."
Ultimately, the district could lose accreditation, making it harder for the district’s 99,000 students to advance to college and receive scholarships.
Millions in funding is also at stake. And time is running out as Thurmond starts his job.
One way the district could possibly delay a state hearing is to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law allowing the governor to remove a local school board.
Another county has already filed a similar suit and won an injunction, which stopped any state hearings until after the lawsuit is decided.
The head of the Organization of Dekalb Educators fired a warning shot of sorts at the board and Thurmond Monday, urging them not to use taxpayer money to fund a lawsuit.
'If the governor was to decide to remove you and you use taxpayer dollars, you will see a groundswell of anger from the citizens of this county that will hit you like a tsunami. Either do the right thing or get out of the way," said David Schutten.
Thurmond said a lawsuit would not be his first preference.
The board has not voted on or discussed in public the idea of a lawsuit.
Board Chair Eugene Walker has said publicly every option is on the table.
The district is set to go before the State Board of Education on Feb. 21.