Hello everybody. My wife and I just returned from a great cruise to Alaska. We saw tons of wildlife foreign to city living – bears (brown, black , and Grizzly), bald eagles and more. I thought our vacation would be free of any discussion about the politics in Georgia or DeKalb. But then I didn’t expect to meet a judge at dinner.
It turns out that we shared a dinner table with a justice on the state supreme court of a northeastern state. I was jolted out of the wilderness and back to DeKalb. I filled him in on the Georgia State Supreme Court’s recent hearing on the constitutionality of SB84 – the law invoked to remove 6 board members earlier this year. I tried to succinctly relay both sides of an issue to him. He looked sort of stunned as I was describing the situation. When I finished, he immediately jumped to the “due process” issue and asked where along the way, each individual was granted their due process rights. I related to him that in my opinion that step somehow got skipped. In fact, a judge at one point stated that the individual hearings constituted the necessary due process. I’m not sure the judge read the statute completely because in these individual hearings the ONLY standard for their reinstatement is that they “are more likely than not” to help the district retain or re-attain accreditation. In each of the individual hearings, the accreditor (SACS) said that they have no documentation of any wrong doing for any of the individual board members but their opinion was that these folks wouldn’t help in that regard. The law, with its “more likely than not” language actually prohibits the application of due process because no facts or findings are required. Here’s the recipe:
- District decides to be accredited even though there is no Georgia law that requires a district to do so.
- Accreditor writes a report based on “anonymous sources” with allegations that are not directed to any particular board member.
- Accreditor uses report to justify placing district on probation.
- Board is removed and replaced with appointees selected by the Governor pursuant to SB84.
- Board members can ask to be reinstated but the criteria for reinstatement in SB84 is that board member must be “more likely than not” to retain or re-attain accreditation.
- At individual hearings, accreditor just needs to give thumbs down on any given board members. No facts, findings or substantial testimony needed.
- Repeat as necessary to get what you want.
I described the history and contents of SB 84 along with the relationships between SACS and our local legislators to my dinner partner. He was amazed that elected officials could be removed without evidence or wrongdoing and further troubled by the criteria for reinstatement. He didn’t see how accreditation could be used to remove someone from office. He was adamant that some wrongdoing must be proved. He asked what had been proved in the state board of education hearing. I replied nothing. The agency placing the district on probation admitted it had no notes or actual proof of any wrongdoing. I told him that all they had to do was say these people on the Board were not doing their job collectively and “poof” they were all sent packing. OK, all were gone, except the inexplicable violation of SB84 that allowed three members to stay on the board. SB84 just doesn’t provide an exception for any board member regardless of when they were elected. The judge thought that this in itself was a technical defect that should cause the whole series of actions to be overruled.
I told the judge that we had a BOE that did not see eye to eye about many things. But, a few people were removed from the Board who generally opposed many majority votes. They threw out the baby with the bath water. In today’s AJC, an article about one of the recent hearings stated that, “Bergman (the General Counsel for SACS) could produce no specific evidence of wrongdoing”……..”but SACS produced a report that alleged meddling and other misdeeds by unidentified board members.” “They all are accountable for the actions of the entire board,” Bergman said. (emphasis added) Let that be a lesson for you! Think about the implications of that. What if your child was held accountable for the misdeeds of other students in their school and punished thusly? Do we remove all legislators because, as a whole, their legislative body produced a result we didn’t like? Do we remove all the state supreme court justices because we do not like the decisions of the majority? Who gets to trigger these events? Who decides who is “more likely than not” to help any situation? Should evidence that stands up to judiciary scrutiny be required or are anonymous allegations against unidentified people good enough?
In recent reports, Dr. Elgart has been going out of his way to criticize previous board members. He says he’s worried about the upcoming elections and supreme court case. He’s holding accreditation hostage to his “concerns” and preferences. I’ve heard a legislator express the same thing. It looks like they are trying to influence the outcome of the pending case and the election. Why do they feel it necessary to harm children and communities just to score points in their political battles? I say, accreditors should worry about the credibility of their own product. How many failing districts with “boards of distinction” do they accredit? (Hint: plenty!) Our legislators should worry about their own elections. They might be surprised when someone runs against them. No one can really control the electorate. After the Civil War the Radical Republicans said they would control for a hundred years. It was pretty much over by 1876.
As dinner was coming to a close, the state supreme court justice looked at me and said “I would like to take a trip to Georgia to see what is going on”. So here I was in Alaska and I was able to get an outsider’s take on some of the issues. I will be the first to admit that there are tension and turmoil in DeKalb and, for many years, the board of education has reflected the civic reality present here. The truth is the newly appointed board does too. They’ve made some terrible decisions ($1 million for cars for administrators, etc.) and they’ve squabbled during meetings (see Dr. Moreley vs. Mr. Orson re: accreditation and legal fees). We did have some people on the previous Board that represented the county well but were constantly outvoted. History has proven the wisdom of their votes and warnings. They have been punished for doing their job. And, while I disagree with Dr. Walker on most issues, I do believe SB84 was used to violate his rights to individual due process. Remember your rights and mine may be next. We’ll want them intact when we need them, so we should tread lightly and not be so quick to dispose of them for people with whom we disagree.