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Dekalb's effort at transparency raises questions about secrecy.

6:44 PM, Sep 6, 2012   |    comments
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STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- The DeKalb County School District faces a new round of criticism, after a board meeting to keep the public in the loop, sparks questions about secrecy in the system instead.

It all stems from a letter from SACS, the agency that accredits schools in our state, raising concerns about financial mismanagement and abuse of power.

The superintendent has until October 1 to respond and created a special team to advise her on how to do it. That team will include two board members, since several of the concerns listed specifically address individual board member actions.

As a matter of transparency, chairman Dr. Eugene Walker says the board met to put the letter on the record. But the board then made it just as public, that its discussion on how to respond to that letter would not be.

Whatever the accusation, or the response, those involved say this is about protecting kids in the classroom.

"They have essentially no reserves to depend on. In fact, the latest report is that they're even in a negative cash flow in their reserves which means if they have any unusual or unanticipated event between now and the end of the school year, it could seriously impair their ability to finish the school year," said Mark Elgart the President of AdvancED, known locally as SACS.

That's why some parents say they're frustrated the district decided to write its response in private. They wanted to hear the board's input. But Wednesday, it was made it clear, that wasn't going to happen.

"I'm frankly surprised a lot of this is going to go on behind closed doors, because part of the problem SACS is addressing is what goes on behind closed doors," said Molly Bardsley, a parent that attended Wednesday's board meeting.

District spokesman Jeff Dickerson argues most of the financial concerns are old news, budget problems well vetted in the public, that the district is already taking steps to correct. SACS letter stems from some 50 complaints, but Dickerson stresses those dealing with mismanagement have yet to be proven. Even SACS won't gives 11Alive News details, unless an investigation proves the allegations.

"It is not appropriate to discuss personnel matters, board behaviors, some of which this letter speaks to in a public forum," said Dickerson.

The district insists it's not breaking any laws. The letter is to the superintendent, it never even needed to go to the board. It's not a legal document and no votes are required. Eglart agrees. He says the decision is more a question about attitude.

Eglart added, "It's their choice but they are a public school system. They have an obligation to the community and I think one of the areas of our concern in governing effectively are you being honest and open with your community?"

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