ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed an executive order to suspend six of nine DeKalb County school board members, as the state’s third-largest school system tries to avoid losing its accreditation.
“We didn’t take it lightly; I thought about it very seriously,” he said Monday after taking the weekend to weigh the state school board’s recommendation that the officeholders be suspended.
The move, which could still be subject to the outcomes of lawsuits in state and federal court, is the latest in a high-profile controversy over the management of the metro Atlanta system, which serves more than 100,000 children.
Calls to a DeKalb schools spokesman were unanswered.
The DeKalb school system was put on probation through 2013 and risks losing accreditation. An audit of the school system found evidence of fiscal mismanagement and unethical practices. The six affected board members were those in office during the time period at issue.
The governor named a five-member panel to select potential replacements that Deal, a Republican, could appoint to serve until special elections in the heavily Democratic county.
Under Georgia law, the suspended board members have 30 days to apply for reinstatement.
Deal issued the order despite a federal judge’s weekend ruling temporarily preventing him from replacing board members until after a hearing Friday in a lawsuit challenging the law that empowers Deal to remove elected officials.
The governor, who is an attorney, said he doesn’t believe his action conflicts with the court’s order. Deal said U.S. District Judge Richard Story blocked the permanent removal of the school board members pending the hearing. Deal argued that the members wouldn’t be permanently removed until after an appeal period that extends well beyond the next hearing.
“We will abide by what the court finally decides,” Deal said. But waiting, he added, would leave a “cloud hanging over these students and parents.”
Deal made his announcement flanked by several legislators who represent parts of DeKalb County.
The group included Democrats who don’t always align themselves with the governor. Other Democrats, however, suggested the governor should have waited.
Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, said the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, DeKalb’s accrediting agency, set a May 31 deadline for a progress report. That could give time for the board to demonstrate changes, he said.
“The sanctity of the vote is important to our delegation,” Mosby said. Nonetheless, the lawmaker was careful not to accuse the governor of “overreaching.”
“Full accreditation ... is what we are all fighting for,” he said.