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A Super Deal (Part 3): Records show gaps in superintendent’s schedule; sources say he’s often gone

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A Super Deal (Part 3): Records show gaps in superintendent’s schedule; sources say he’s often gone

FILE PHOTO FROM 2016: City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Dr. David Dude (center) listens to people speak during a rally across from Decatur High School. Photo: Jonathan Phillips
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About this series: Decaturish.com dug deeper into the allegations contained in a lawsuit filed against City Schools of Decatur by the district’s former human resources director. The lawsuit alleges that Superintendent David Dude took more vacations than his contract allowed and that the board advanced him money to buy a home. Our investigation sheds new light on those claims and reveals new details about his most recent contract. This is the third part of a three-part series about our findings. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here

Decatur, GA – Superintendent David Dude is the target of a lawsuit by the City Schools of Decatur’s former human resources director and is accused of taking more vacation time than his contract allows.

New evidence supports claims that Dude is frequently absent in excess of the vacation days he’s recorded in the district’s payroll system. According to his current contract, Dude is allotted 45 vacation days each school year. He can cash out 30 days each year. Since 2016, Dude has cashed out $100,000 worth of unused vacation days, money he received in addition to his other salary and benefits.

Dude has not returned numerous messages seeking comment for this story. On Feb. 22, he did a sit-down interview about other matters unearthed in previous reporting by Decaturish. The new information about his absences came to light following that interview.

Two employees of CSD, one of whom works in Dude’s cabinet, the group of individuals who oversee district operations, and another familiar with the inner workings of CSD’s central office, said Dude is often absent and unreachable during the summer months.

The cabinet member asked to remain anonymous out of fear of losing their job. The other source feared retribution for talking to the press.

“Dude is typically one hundred percent off the radar over the summer,” the cabinet member said.

The other source, an employee familiar with how things operate at the central office, supported those claims.

“He is frequently unreachable by his cabinet,” this source said.

According to the lawsuit filed by the former human resources director, Dude is required to work 255 days per academic year. However, upon reviewing his contracts, Decaturish was unable to find any language specifying the number of days Dude is required to work.

Dude’s individual calendar going back to January 2018 shows 100 days with nothing on the schedule. These are days are not included in the 40 vacation days he’s reported taking since 2017. According to his calendar, at least 36 of those days were in the months of June and July.

In addition to the calendar, a source provided an auto-responder email from 2019 that indicates Dude was out of the office for longer than his recorded vacation days.

The auto-responder email sent from Dude’s email account on June 11, 2019 says Dude would return on Tuesday, July 16, 2019.

“Greetings,” the auto-responder message says. “I am out of the office until Tuesday, July 16th [2019]. If your email requires a response, please resend it after then. If you have an urgent need, please contact our central office at 404-371-3601.”

Decaturish received the same message in an auto-response to an email sent to Dude on June 19, 2019.

But according to vacation requests he entered in the school district’s payroll system, Dude’s only vacation days in the summer of 2019 were on July 12 and July 15.

Phil Hartley, an attorney who specializes in education law, said there’s no state law that governs when a superintendent is supposed to work. It depends on what the school board and superintendent have negotiated. Hartley cut the interview short when he disclosed that his firm has been hired in connection to some of the litigation against CSD.

School Board members did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

Some days on his individual calendar with nothing on his schedule occur during the winter, spring and holiday breaks.

His predecessor, Phyllis Edwards, said she can’t speak to how things work now, but during the 12-and-a-half years she was superintendent of CSD, she was required to use her vacation days if she wanted to take off during the summer or during the traditional breaks during the school year.

“You don’t naturally get spring break or summer, at least I didn’t get that,” Edwards said. “If I was given 30 days of vacation that had to be taken from that pot.”

Edwards said the summer is a busy time of year for superintendents. While students go home, there’s still plenty of work to do. Superintendents must close out the previous year and get ready for the next year. There’s a budget to develop — the school district’s fiscal year begins on July 1 – and there are often building projects that occur while the students are away.

“There’s so much to do,” Edwards said. “The general public thinks everything shuts down. It doesn’t. This where you have to do all your preparation and wrap up the end of the year. It doesn’t just shut down.”

Edwards’ description of the superintendent’s summer workload is backed up by DeKalb County Public Schools and Atlanta Public Schools.

A spokesperson for the Atlanta school district said, “Our superintendents work during the summer months.”

A spokesperson for DeKalb County Schools concurred, saying, “The superintendent does not take the summers off. The superintendent is a 12-month employee.”

Dude has been responsible for documenting his own vacation since he was hired in 2015, but he input those days into the district’s payroll system on Jan. 27 of this year after responding to a records request from Decaturish. It was also nearly a year after the school system’s auditor recommended he record his vacation days in the school district’s payroll system. The same records request also produced Dude’s individual calendar going back to 2018.

It’s possible that other records from City Schools of Decatur will fill in the blank spots on his individual calendar. Keri Ware, an attorney for the school system, is still compiling records in response to our records request.

Out of the 100 days with nothing on the schedule in the individual calendar, 20 of those days are completely blocked out with “DNS,” which stands for “do not schedule” according to Ware.

“[Dude] has confirmed that the difference between his individual calendar and the combined calendars is that the ‘DNS’ (do not schedule) has been removed from the combined calendars, as it was clogging up the calendars,” Ware said.

His individual calendar shows 78 are blank, aside from “do not schedule” in the morning, evenings and at lunch. Three of those days on the calendar say that Dude was out of the office for the entire day.

There are also times where Dude reported being on vacation but has events listed on his calendar.

According to his vacation days logged into the school district’s payroll system, Dude took vacation June 15 through June 19, 2020. But according to his calendar, he had meetings on June 16, June 17 and June 18, 2020.

There are other parts of his calendar do not appear to align with days he was known to be out of the office, like Dude’s trip to Costa Rica. The trip came in the wake of City Schools of Decatur’s decision to cut the length of Spanish language instruction. When he was interviewed about the trip in 2018, he said the Spanish immersion program he was taking began on Jan. 29 and ended on Feb. 16 of 2018.

According to his calendar, on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, 2018, he had meetings on his schedule, and his calendar on Feb. 13 said he was “in schools” all day.

David Adams, CSD’s human resources director, sued the district in January. He claims Dude pushed him and former finance director Susan Hurst out of the district when her allegations about Dude’s taking more vacation days than his contract allows were reported to the school district’s attorney. Hurst and Adams both left the district in December 2019.

Dude in a Feb. 22 interview said he believes Hurst alerted the school district’s auditor to the fact that he wasn’t entering his leave in the school district’s payroll system.

Editor’s note about this story: While researching this story, Decaturish reviewed Dude’s individual calendar and subtracted the 10 paid federal holidays, weekends, medical leave and the vacation days he recorded into the district’s payroll system. Any day with something on his individual calendar was excluded from this list of days used in this story. We also excluded any days he reported attending conferences. 

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