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As civic leaders remain silent on allegations against Decatur superintendent, parents seek answers

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As civic leaders remain silent on allegations against Decatur superintendent, parents seek answers

Commissioners, pictured left to right, are: Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers, Lesa Mayer, Kelly Walsh, Mayor Patti Garrett, and George Dusenbury. Photo obtained via the city of Decatur
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This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — Decatur Superintendent David Dude faces credible allegations that he was frequently absent but did not record his absences as vacations.

Public records show Dude received $100,000 in additional compensation for the vacation days he said he didn’t use. But civic leaders in Decatur have no comment about the allegations, deferring to the School Board which has to date not directly responded to them. Meanwhile, parents with children in City Schools of Decatur are bothered by the lack of answers and want more transparency from the School Board. They’re the rank-and-file parents, the ones who don’t always have time to attend School Board meetings to make their voices heard.

“I find the fact that there has been no response unbelievable,” said Nathan Griffin, who has two children in the school system. “Now I know that you can’t comment on an ongoing investigation, but these allegations – I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a court, I don’t know all the facts – at some point, if these things are true, I cannot believe there has been no formal statement from the School Board in the many weeks that these allegations have been out there.”

There were a smattering of public comments about the issue during the March 9 School Board meeting, enough that Board Chair Tasha White was compelled for the first time to address the issue in a public meeting.

At that meeting, White promised a statement at some unspecified date in the near future.

“We are very aware of the issues. We are taking it seriously,” said White.

One the people speaking during public comments was Susan Camp, a frequent critic of Dude and the school system. She started a petition calling for Dude to be placed on investigative leave and for the district to investigate the allegations. It has about 40 signatures so far.

There’s no evidence that independent investigation is going to happen.

How seriously the School Board is taking this is an open question for parents who want answers. White has not returned numerous messages seeking comment, and other board members won’t return messages or have declined to comment. Likewise, Decatur’s City Commission — which is separate from the school district but inextricably linked to it — won’t say anything about what’s happening in CSD.

Mayor Patti Garrett’s response to a request for comment was similar to other commissioners Decaturish spoke to.

“I don’t have a comment,” Garrett said. “I just feel like, they have their elected leadership and we have our elected leadership. I don’t think it’s really appropriate for me to make a comment.”

One thing is not in doubt: the allegations against Dude are serious.

David Adams, the school district’s former human resources officer, alleges in a lawsuit that Dude pushed him and former finance Director Susan Hurst out of the district after they raised questions about his time away from the district. If that allegation is true, it would be a violation of the Code of Ethics for Government Service, the lawsuit says. Misuse and misreporting of public funds would also be a violation of the Georgia Professional Code of Ethics for Educators, the lawsuit says.

Subsequent reporting by Decaturish revealed evidence that Dude took time off without recording his absences as vacation days.  In a story published this week, Decaturish revealed that the school district’s responses to our records requests omitted documents that are known to exist.

No one on the City Commission will comment about the allegations. Ditto for the Decatur Education Foundation, the nonprofit group that supports the city’s children, and the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, which advocates for students and parents of color. That’s not to say that members of these groups haven’t privately acknowledged their concerns, but no one in a position of leadership within the city of Decatur has wanted to publicly question the School Board about the matter.

Some leaders who spoke to Decaturish feel the School Board should be given time to address it. The board has already had numerous opportunities to comment on both the allegations in the lawsuit and the evidence uncovered in our reporting. So far, they have declined to do so each time.

That leaves parents wondering what’s really going on behind the scenes.

Bethany Turner is married to a CSD teacher and has a child in the district, said she was struck by the School Board’s “lack of oversight and accountability.”

“I’m starting to wonder if the School Board thinks that they work for Dude instead of for the residents of Decatur, because having read about the details of Superintendent Dude’s new proposed contract, I would love to know who wrote that contract,” Turner said.

Dude’s new contract, which goes into effect July 1, appears to make firing Dude for cause more difficult and makes it more expensive to fire him for the board’s convenience.

“Who wrote that? And what possible oversight would that be subject to? Because it appears as though superintendent Dude starting July 1 would be able to act with even more impunity than he does now,” Turner said.

So far, school district officials have declined to say who wrote the contract.

“The board and the superintendent have a crisis of credibility in the eyes of the community now, and it’s on them to remedy that,” Turner said.

D.J. Turner, no relation to Bethany, is a Decatur resident and CSD parent who also has questions. He said the problem could simply be bad bookkeeping by the school district. Dude has been responsible for documenting his own vacation since he was hired in 2015, but he input those vacation days into the district’s payroll system on Jan. 27 of this year in response to a records request from Decaturish. Or, D.J. Turner said, the problem could be more serious than people yet realize.

Either way, answers are hard to come by.

“The concern is the fact that there is a very large disparity between how bad this can be and how minimal it can be and the fact I’m receiving no information from the mayor, the school board, from anybody, really,” D.J. Turner said. “Even David Dude himself.”

He said the board’s lack of public statements creates a perception problem.

“The board is the entity that is supposed to be supervising his work,” he said. “They approve his contracts. They are basically the entity that keeps him in check in terms of making sure he’s doing a good job. It concerns me that they aren’t willing to address it in a timely manner. Not that they’re doing anything wrong. It just gives a very bad perception.”

Amanda Styles, another parent with a child in the district, said all parents have an interest in the school district doing well.

“I’m really disturbed to see the allegations that have come out and I really want to see the school board take it really seriously,” Styles said. “I’m worried about the fact that the renewal of his contract is coming up and you know, I hope that they’ll be doing good due diligence given what’s come out.”

She said the School Board’s response to the allegation so far “seems lukewarm.”

CSD parent Stacie Buckley said the lack of public response from leadership is hard for her to understand.

“For the life of me, I don’t understand how we can possibly be in a situation here no one blinks an eye over the fact that someone records vacation four years in arrears,” she said.

She also noted that it didn’t require delving too far beneath the surface to find inconsistencies between the days Dude reported being off and the documents showing he was gone.

The strongest piece of evidence in support of Adams’ claims is an auto-responder email from 2019. The auto-responder email sent from Dude’s email account on June 11, 2019 says Dude would return on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. But according to vacation requests he entered into the school district’s payroll system, Dude’s only vacation days in the summer of 2019 were on July 12 and July 15.

The Temporary Delegation of Authority documents for the summer of 2019 shows that Dude appointed a temporary superintendent from June 14 to July 6, 2019 and from July 7 through July 15, 2019.

“There’s a ton of smoke here and I can’t believe no one wants to further investigate,” Buckley said. “I have a huge problem with that.”

CSD parent Dan Williamson called the allegations against Dude “appalling.”

“He shouldn’t take time off that he’s not [recording] as his vacation time,” Williamson said. “It’s a way of increasing his compensation without authorizing it. That’s not the kind of thing anyone else would be able to get away with. It feels like a misuse of resources to me.”

CSD parent Anne Meyer said, “As a parent it’s concerning that their allegations keep piling up.”

“It’s one thing after another and your taxes go up and your taxes go up and the quality of the schools are at stake now, with all this unchecked stuff going on are we going to lose teachers? Because they’re not getting raises,” Meyer said.

Bethany Turner also is concerned that the controversies surrounding the superintendent might result in the district losing good teachers.

“The teachers in CSD have gone through almost an entire academic year of watching and reading about this conduct,” she said. “Our district is poised to lose some of its best and brightest and most experienced teachers because of the conduct being displayed by the board and the superintendent and that is something our community will be reckoning with for years if it happens. Teachers are not interchangeable. They are not a dime a dozen. If they want this district to continue to be this shining beacon on a hill, the community needs to put pressure on the board to act in ways that’s in the best interest of the community.”

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