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New Nepotism Rule: Decatur Schools Can Hire Administrators' Relatives

Lame duck Decatur School Board member John Ahmann criticized the new policy, but failed to persuade his colleagues to adopt a more stringent rule.

could hire immediate family members of the superintendent and other administrators under a nepotism policy adopted Tuesday night over the protests of a lame duck member.

Board member John Ahmann, who is not running for re-election, tried unsuccessfully to persuade fellow school board members to adopt a more stringent nepotism policy that would forbid the system from hiring any immediate family members of the superintendent or board members. 

“We ought to do everything we can to make sure our judgment is clear,” Ahmann said. “The only one here who hasn’t had a family member who works for the school system is me.”

Board member Julie Rhame did not attend the meeting. In an email sent Wednesday, Rhame said she and family members had done pro bono work for the system and the Decatur Education Foundation, but had never been paid employees of the system.

The nepotism policy became an issue last month when the board hired the  chairman's son, Joseph A. “Andy” Wisniewski, as a part-time after school program provider at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center at an annual cost of $5,767. Ahmann objected but was outvoted.

Other school officials have family members who work or have worked for the system.

Superintendent Phyllis Edwards’ daughter Elaine formerly worked for the school system as an administrative assistant, splitting her time teaching public safety, according to an email from Edwards provided to Patch by Ahmann. Edwards did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

During part of the summer, the sons of board members Marc Wisniewski and Bernadette Seals worked in the system’s maintenance department, according to the email from Edwards.

Board member Valarie Wilson is married to Decatur Athletics Director Carter Wilson.

In an interview after the meeting, Ahmann also questioned Edwards’ hiring of Maria Lewis, who is the daughter of former DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis. Ms. Lewis worked as a community spokesperson for Decatur City schools until her job was quietly eliminated earlier this year in a budget cutting move.

Crawford Lewis was indicted last year on charges of racketeering, bribery and theft by a public employee. 

Ahmann acknowledged that the Decatur school system has done nothing illegal in these hirings, but argued that a school system aspiring to be among the best in student achievement “ought to set really high ethical standards. Georgia is not known for being a leader in ethics policy.”

The system also should refrain from hiring vendors that employ family members of the superintendent and board members, Ahmann said.

But Seals challenged that proposal, noting that it might prevent the system from contracting with Coca-Cola if the superintendent’s niece or nephew worked as a secretary for the mammoth Atlanta-based company.

Seals noted she worked as a paralegal at a large law firm and wondered if such a stringent policy would bar the system from ever hiring the firm, even though her firm prohibits employees from working on cases involving family members. Ahmann said he thought it would.

The board voted down Ahmann’s motion to amend the board’s proposed nepotism policy to prohibit the system from employing any immediate family members of the superintendent, with no exceptions.

Instead, the board adopted a nepotism policy that prohibits any employee from directly supervising or evaluating the performance of a member of his or her immediate family, except for assignments made before the policy was adopted.

The policy would affect the superintendent, associate superintendent, assistant superintendent, principals and assistant principals.

The policy defines immediate family members as a father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, grandparent, brother, sister, child or spouse of the employee, or any relative living in the residence of the employee.

In the adopted policy, the board declared that hiring anyone “related in certain degrees by blood or marriage to administrators or the superintendent could have a potentially adverse effect on the orderly administration of the school system.”

If the superintendent recommends hiring a family member, the board must take a separate, public vote under the new policy.

In passing this policy, the board passed up a less restrictive nepotism policy recommended by the superintendent’s staff that would have allowed the school board to waive the policy “in the best interest of the school system” and to let the system hire or promote family members they would otherwise directly supervise as long as the superintendent reassigned  the "immediate family member for evaluation purposes to another administrator." 

The administrator would also be unable to participate in any decision making affecting the family member.

In other action, the board approved a 2011-2016 strategic plan. Ahmann objected that the plan doesn't specify how much it would cost in dollars or staff time.

"How do we commit to a strategic plan without any idea of how much it costs?" asked Ahmann, who said the plan included at least 170 action items.

Both Seals and Wisniewski said they thought most of the goals would cost nothing.

Alvin Burrell October 13, 2011 at 12:03 PM
Good job, Diane. You have reported well on another unsettling development at CSD.

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