Updated: 7:05 a.m. Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 | Posted: 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013

State board recommends suspending most of DeKalb school board

ATLANTA —

After a nearly 14-hour meeting, the state board of education decided to recommend the suspension of the six veteran members of the DeKalb County school board.

The state board met with DeKalb school and county officials at the state board's headquarters in downtown Atlanta all day Thursday.

In the end, the state board of education decided that they will recommend to Gov. Nathan Deal that six of the members of the board be suspended. The other three were newly elected in November. Deal is set to announce his decision at 11 a.m. Monday.

The state called several witnesses throughout the course of the day on Thursday, including the director of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the financial director for the State Board of Education.

"DeKalb is high risk," said Lewis Byars, financial director for the State Board of Education.

"Have you seen any sense of urgency to deal with issues?" asked Channel 2's Erica Byfield.

"(It's) difficult to answer. High risk before deficit, now even higher," Byars answered. He further explained for the last two years instead of fixing financial woes, the board let the district fall into an extreme deficit.

The SACS director said issues have existed with the DeKalb School Board for nearly a decade, and the board is dysfunctional and does not put the students first.

DeKalb interim school Superintendent Michael Thurmond spoke on behalf of the district.

"Let's end the madness and let me go to work," he told the board.

DeKalb's attorney, Robert Wilson, tried to undermine the credibility of SACS and its December report justifying probation. The 20-page document reported threatening and abusive behavior by board members and a squandering of money that should have gone to the classroom. It quoted no source by name, but Elgart said every anecdote was corroborated.

But Wilson, a former DeKalb district attorney, said the information could not be independently corroborated, and tried to get the report dismissed, saying it was full of "misinformation," "group innuendo," "group suggestion," "rank hearsay" and "double hearsay."

"We have no way of testing the reliability of that information," Wilson said. "We have no one that we can examine or cross-examine."

SACS still reported some fundamental financial problems that were corroborated: The school district has spent more money than it has, and has weak financial controls that raised concern among state auditors. Louis Byars, director of financial review at the Georgia Department of Education, said auditors identified weaknesses that leave the district open to fraud.

Board member Eugene Walker said he plans to fight the state board of education's ruling.

"There was no mismanagement. There was so nepotism. As far as evidence, I mean, I don't see what evidence they used to say we were such a chaotic, dysfunctional system," Walker said.

A court hearing will be held Feb. 28 in the lawsuit filed by the DeKalb School Board, challenging the constitutionality of the governor removing board members. Depending on the outcome, the governor could then decide if the board members should be removed.

Channel 2's Erica Byfield and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article

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