By Tom Bowen
9:14 p.m. Tuesday, June 15, 2010
DeKalb County parents and taxpayers have a growing number of probing and legitimate questions following the racketeering and corruption indictments handed down by a DeKalb County grand jury against former Superintendent Crawford Lewis and three others, and they deserve answers.
First of all, the DeKalb Board of Education does not condone unlawful behavior; neither do we allow indicted employees to remain on the job until a reporter starts “asking questions” as the AJC reported recently (“Indicted school officials cost DeKalb taxpayers,” News, May 28).
School board members started asking questions about the continued employment of the district’s former chief operating officer, Patricia Reid (then Patricia Pope), more than six months ago.
The board decided that the best course of action was to remove Reid from any decision-making over the construction program and reassign her to another position until her contract expired.
The board then decided not to renew her contract. The board considered this the best way to address concerns about the construction program.
Parents are again rightly asking why she remains in our employ until her contract expires June 30.
The answer: To take further action could trigger a fair dismissal hearing, which, according to DeKalb County District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming, could jeopardize testimony in upcoming criminal proceedings.
There have also been questions about why the board was unaware of the activities alleged in the indictment.
But District Attorney Fleming has been very clear on this point. “The indictment alleges that Board of Education members were intentionally misled,” she said at a news conference announcing the charges, adding that no board members were implicated in any way.
Ultimately, however, the final responsibility rests with the board. We accept that responsibility and will review our public bidding procedures and strengthen our ethics policies.
When internal reviews reveal irregularities in bidding and other procedures, we will report those to the proper authorities, as the school system did in this instance.
Whenever the focus of our board and administration, parents and supporters is shifted away from education, we face a challenge far greater than the controversy that distracted us.
We ask, therefore, for our community’s support in staying focused on the work of educating nearly 100,000 students who will return to classrooms in less than eight weeks.
We will continue to cooperate with legal authorities. We’ll continue to adhere to employment law and to respect the rights of the accused.
In the meantime, we need for our community of parents and public school supporters to pull together for a tough time ahead.
Especially during a time of public controversy and severe budget cuts, we need to do all we can to stay focused on educating our kids.
Tom Bowen is chairman of the DeKalb Board of Education.