The DeKalb County school board has been asked by an accrediting agency to answer allegations that it has mismanaged its financial resources over the past five years.
In an Aug. 28 letter addressed to Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson from AdvancED, the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the accrediting agency states it has received numerous complaints about the management of the school district.
“It was from a broad base of the community—from parents, taxpayers and staff, to public officials,” said Mark Elgart, president of AdvancED. “We weren’t just looking at one person with an ax to grind.”
According to the letter, the primary concerns shared in the complaints are that the board has failed to conduct itself in accordance with locally approved policy, state law and the AdvancED accreditation standards. Elgart said another concern is how the board has managed the district’s budget over the past five years.
“Findings over the past five years show that they’ve been repeatedly under budgeted,” Elgart said.
Elgart said in the previous five years the board has overspent in utility costs and legal fees and has still knowingly adopted a budget that isn’t in line with the districts costs or resources.
“The district has overspent, which has left them with little to no reserves, and they continue to slash resources,” Elgart said.
The letter also lists other concerns such as undue influence by the board in the hiring of personnel, interference with budgeting procedures and accounting, releasing confidential information leaked from executive sessions and undermining the authority of school administrators and supervisors throughout the system.
Currently, the DeKalb County School District is has an “on advisement” status with SACS, which means the accreditation agency has given the district a list of concerns to address. Elgart said since the last SACS assessment, the district hasn’t made adequate progress on addressing those concerns.
“The system indicated that they were working on those issues and we haven’t seen improvement; we’ve seen a continued pattern of concern,” Elgart said. However, board chairman Eugene Walker said the board believes it has addressed all of the issues.
“Certainly, we welcome any inquiry by SACS, any at all [looking] into what we are doing,” Walker said. “But, we’re also concerned about the timing of this and what it seems to suggest. We just had a full review back in March and we were reaccredited “on advisement” and none of these things were brought forth.”
DCSD has been given 30 days to respond to the allegations and Elgart said if the agency believes the district is in violation of any accreditation standards or policies, a special review team may be appointed to visit the school system. Elgart said the district isn’t in danger of losing its accreditation at the moment.
“There is a potential that could change depending on the outcome of that investigation,” Elgart said.
“There needs to be a change in the culture of the school system and there needs to be a structure of accountability,” Elgart said. “It needs to be a system that is truly honest with itself and its resources.”