If Sarah Copelin-Wood isn't the worst and most embarassing board of education elected official in the state, lord help the person who is. Copelin-Wood is Example No. 1 on why there should be term limits for board of ed members, not just in DeKalb, but state-wide. If we're going to elect her to multiple times on the board that supervises education for our children and votes on a billion dollar entity, maybe we deserve what we get.
The DeKalb County school closings process was derailed by a board member telling task force members how to vote, pitting schools against each other and charging racism is a factor, one task force member said.
Citizens Planning Task Force member Marcia Coward said she is filing a complaint against board member Sarah Copelin-Wood with the board and the superintendent.
“I know that Sarah Wood made phone calls and pitted one school against the other in her own district. I think that’s very wrong,” Coward said Saturday. “She’s supposed to represent all of the schools in her district.”
Coward’s complaint is the latest drama in the state’s third-largest school district, which also is facing a $115 million budget shortfall, a superintendent under criminal investigation and a standardized test cheating scandal.
The board assembled the 20-member task force and charged the group with recommending four elementary schools to close at the end of this school year. But after weeks of reviewing data, the task force voted on Thursday to not close any schools, leaving the decision up to the school board.
The nine-member board will have to do that without the leadership of Superintendent Crawford Lewis, a DeKalb educator for 33 years. The board is in the midst of negotiating a “mutual separation” agreement with Lewis, one of several people under investigation by the district attorney’s office for possible wrongdoing involving the district’s multimillion-dollar school construction program.
Coward said the task force would have been able to move forward with its decision on school closures if Copelin-Wood had not intervened in numerous task force meetings.
Reached at her home on Saturday, Copelin-Wood denied the allegations and refused to answer some questions.
“This is a lie,” said Copelin-Wood, who represents District 3. “The person who would do that [made the allegations] was mad they didn’t get their way. I don’t have to answer to them.”
Chairman Tom Bowen said the school board will review the complaint, but he said no board members were supposed to be involved in the task force.
“The public task force was instituted by the board to get independent, direct feedback from the public on the issue of school closings,” he said on Saturday. “The board will have the final say on any school closings. So there should be absolutely no board influence on that process.”
Coward left Thursday’s task force meeting early to attend a DeKalb Council of PTAs meeting, where she was elected president. She did not participate in the final vote when the task force chose not to close any schools, but said she would have voted on four closures.
“In my opinion, we had all of the data relative in making that decision, but we were not able to because of all of the turmoil,” she said. “We felt pressure because Sarah passed notes back and forth to the people [task force members] that she knew she could influence. That kept the confusion going and made it an unfair process.”
Copelin-Wood said it was a public meeting and she had the right to distribute information. “I had things I wanted people to consider,” she said.
Each of the nine board members, along with Lewis, appointed two residents to the task force. At the first meeting, Copelin-Wood did not appoint any residents to serve and said she wanted to be the representative for her district. After task force members made complaints about her behavior to the board, Copelin-Wood appointed two citizens.
However, she attended all of the other meetings and sat in the front, passing out fliers and encouraging parents to speak during the public comment session.
“As a board member, she [Copelin-Wood] has the responsibility to stay neutral and not make this a racial issue because it was not a racial issue,” Coward said. “But she kept making comments about black and white task force members.”
Copelin-Wood declined to talk about allegations of racism on Saturday or say if she wanted schools to close. However, she said she is angry that all of the schools on the closure list are in south DeKalb. The 10 schools on the possible closure list -- eight of which are in Copelin-Wood’s district -- are primarily in African-American neighborhoods.
“What I wanted is none of anybody’s business,” Copelin-Wood said. “If she [Coward] wants to ask me something, I think she will be a big enough woman to ask me.”
Copelin-Wood has served on the DeKalb County Board of Education since 1998 and is up for re-election later this year.
Vice Chair Zepora Roberts was the only other board member to attend any of the task force meetings, but she made no statements.
The board is slated to vote April 12 on $115 million in budget cuts, including closing four schools to save $2.35 million.