by Dr. Eugene P. Walker
Does the end justify the means? When the living is easy, the answer is always yes. When things are going south, however, we ponder how we didn’t see the warning signs. This is not one of those times.
These days, we celebrate the accomplishments of the DeKalb County School System. Believe me, there is nothing better for our children and the greater community than to have the SACS school accreditation threat lifted from our shoulders, at least for now. The school superintendent has done a yeoman’s job, with the appointed school board members, good and competent people all, finishing the job properly. Indeed, it was a job well done.
The trouble is how it was done. SACS made an arbitrary decision that had the cascading effect of usurping the will of the electorate, one of the most revered privileges in our Constitution and sacrosanct principles of the Civil Rights movement that many of our forefathers died for. Without the standards of due process, reasonable doubt or even the Open Records Act to constrain them, SACS’ allegations and subsequent retribution of probation went unchallenged. This led Gov. Nathan Deal, no stranger to hijacking the will of the democratic voters, to bend another law. Not that it was constitutional to begin with, but he removed myself and 5 other board members. Circumstances notwithstanding, his choice under the law was all or none.
The State Constitution, Article 8, section 5 reads, "Each school system shall be under the management and control of a board of education, the members of which shall be elected as provided by law." As it pertains to appointed members of the school board, it says “Members of such appointed board until December 31, 1993, on which date the terms of office of all appointed members shall end.” As we know, the state supreme court ignored this.
Meanwhile, the Governor had to break the law, which he used to remove a partial board, and in doing so he scored the winning goal: SACS backed away nicely, praising the School Superintendent Michael Thurmond all the way. The appointed school board didn’t have anything to do with that choice; Thurmond was the guy the elected board hired. The people rejoiced and the Governor shored up his re-election bid in the process. With the chorus of accolades still in the air, has anyone noticed that the promises of transparency with SACS complying with the Open Records Act are still unkept?
One of the things we teach our children is that it is not whether we win or lose, but it is how we play the game. We should do the right thing the right way. While there is victory in the air for the DeKalb School District and all of its top manager, the community and even Gov. Nathan Deal, I submit to you that the rulebook has been tossed aside. This becomes a problem the next time our state constitution is circumvented, or the next time the folks under the gold dome want to expand their reach into local government.
Dr. Walker is a former member of the DeKalb County Schools Board.