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Decatur School Board will hire independent investigator and rescind superintendent’s contract

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Decatur School Board will hire independent investigator and rescind superintendent’s contract

City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude. Image obtained from City Schools of Decatur
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This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — After weeks of questions, the Decatur School Board has finally addressed credible allegations that Superintendent David Dude was frequently absent but did not record his absences as vacations.

School Board Chair Tasha White on Friday afternoon, March 12, issued a press release about the ongoing controversy surrounding the superintendent.

She also released a video of the statement:

The School Board will hire an independent investigator to look into the allegations against Dude and will also rescind and renegotiate Dude’s new contract, which was supposed to take effect July 1.

The School Board now says Dude is not required to work all days in a year aside from federal holidays. The School Board says he’s allowed to take time off during holiday weeks, like spring break, without recording that time off as vacation time.

It’s not clear from the press release whether the board believes Dude also is entitled to take off for long periods during the summer without using vacation days. Some CSD employees have alleged that he is often unreachable during the summer months. Evidence shows that during the summer of 2019, Dude was out of the office from June 11 through 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.

His predecessor, Phyllis Edwards, said she was expected to work during these breaks and the summer. She was expected to use her vacation days if she took time off during those breaks.

Public records show Dude received $100,000 in additional compensation for cashing out the vacation days he said he didn’t use. He’s allowed to cash out 30 of his unused days, according to his current contract.

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 office. They allege he violated of the Code of Ethics for Government Service. Misuse and misreporting of public funds would be a violation of the Georgia Professional Code of Ethics for Educators, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says 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 or what days he’s entitled to take off without recording it as vacation time.

Subsequent reporting revealed evidence that Dude took time off without recording his absences as vacation days. The school district hasn’t been totally forthcoming in responding to our records requests. In a story published this week, Decaturish revealed that the school district’s responses to our records requests about this story omitted documents that are known to exist. In response, Decaturish filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office. 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.

The contract that the board rescinded, which would’ve gone into effect July 1, appeared to make firing Dude for cause more difficult and made it more expensive to fire him for the board’s convenience.

In a press release, the School Board said, “The board takes allegations against the district and its employees very seriously, especially when they involve the superintendent. Active personnel inquiries are confidential, and the board has a duty to its employees to maintain the confidentiality of such matters. Nonetheless, we believe it is important for the public to know that in order to address the concerns that have arisen, the board will retain an independent investigator from outside the district to look into these allegations. The board’s intent in employing an investigator is to provide Dr. Dude with the due process and fairness to which he is entitled, while at the same time addressing the issues raised by the CSD employees and community.”

The School Board’s press release said Dude’s contract is being renegotiated to make it more consistent with other central office cabinet members, the group of individuals who oversee district operations.

“The board recognizes that Dr. Dude’s contract is different from any other employee in the District and that this has caused confusion about the meaning of his contract,” the press release from the board says. “Accordingly, Dr. Dude suggested, and the board agreed, to rescind his contract that was scheduled to take effect July 1, 2021, and sign a new agreement that provides for leave time that is consistent with other central office cabinet members. We believe this change will treat Dr. Dude in the same manner as all other cabinet-level employees and avoid further confusion in the future. That contract, like all other contracts, will be a public record.”

The board’s statement elaborates on the School Board’s interpretation of how Dude is required to use his 45 vacation days.

“The term ‘vacation days,’ as understood by both the board and Dr. Dude at the time this contract and the previous contract were signed (and the plain and ordinary meaning of the term) refers to days that Dr. Dude takes off from work while the school district is open and that Dr. Dude would ordinarily be required to work,” the press release from the board says. “Thus, holidays and school breaks, such as spring break, Thanksgiving break, federal holidays, etc. when the district is closed, do not count toward those vacation days.”

The School Board didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether those breaks include the summer months.

The School Board’s interpretation of Dude’s contract is different from what the expectation was under Edwards, Dude’s predecessor who served as superintendent for more than 12 years.

“You don’t naturally get spring break or summer, at least I didn’t get that,” Edwards previously told Decaturish. “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.

That school district hasn’t become less busy since Dude became superintendent.

Two employees of CSD, one of whom works in Dude’s cabinet and another familiar with the inner workings of CSD’s central office, said Dude is often absent and unreachable when they need him 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.

So if Dude is allowed to take off during holidays and school breaks, why does the School Board allow him to cash out 30 of his 45 vacation days? That’s in lieu of paying him a higher salary, the School Board says.

“The vacation days, and the option to cash out a portion of unused vacation days, was part of Dr. Dude’s agreed-upon compensation package in both his original contract and his current contract,” the School Board said. “This practice is an alternative to paying a straight, often much higher, salary.”

Dude currently makes $219,000, not including the vacation payouts and bonuses.

Here’s the full statement:

Statement by the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education

A message from CSD Board Chair Tasha White

The Board of Education has received numerous inquiries about the lawsuits filed against the District, including the allegations regarding Dr. Dude’s leave. While we cannot answer specific questions related to pending litigation, we are providing this statement in order to address some of the overarching concerns expressed by the community. We regret if our silence, until this point, was construed as complacency. The Board takes allegations against the District and its employees very seriously, especially when they involve the Superintendent. Active personnel inquiries are confidential, and the Board has a duty to its employees to maintain the confidentiality of such matters. Nonetheless, we believe it is important for the public to know that in order to address the concerns that have arisen, the Board will retain an independent investigator from outside the District to look into these allegations. The Board’s intent in employing an investigator is to provide Dr. Dude with the due process and fairness to which he is entitled, while at the same time addressing the issues raised by the CSD employees and community.

The lawsuits brought against the District by Cheryl Nahmias and David Adams are being defended by Harben, Hartley, Hawkins, LLP, counsel assigned by CSD’s insurance carrier. The other litigation matters are being defended by CSD’s general counsel, Wilson, Morton & Downs, LLC. On the advice of counsel, the Board cannot comment specifically regarding any pending litigation.

With regard to Dr. Dude’s contract, there has been some confusion over the interpretation of certain language in that contract, which may have played a role in the belief that he has taken more leave than he is entitled to take. Dr. Dude’s current contract (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2021), which was negotiated and agreed to by Dr. Dude and the Board, provides that he is entitled to receive 45 “vacation days” each school year. The term “vacation days,” as understood by both the Board and Dr. Dude at the time this contract and the previous contract were signed (and the plain and ordinary meaning of the term) refers to days that Dr. Dude takes off from work while the school district is open and that Dr. Dude would ordinarily be required to work. Thus, holidays and school breaks, such as spring break, Thanksgiving break, federal holidays, etc. when the District is closed, do not count toward those vacation days.

Dr. Dude’s current contract also provides that he can “cash-out” up to 30 days of unused vacation time each year. The vacation days, and the option to cash out a portion of unused vacation days, was part of Dr. Dude’s agreed-upon compensation package in both his original contract and his current contract. This practice is an alternative to paying a straight, often much higher, salary.

The Board recognizes that Dr. Dude’s contract is different from any other employee in the District and that this has caused confusion about the meaning of his contract. Accordingly, Dr. Dude suggested, and the Board agreed, to rescind his contract that was scheduled to take effect July 1, 2021, and sign a new agreement that provides for leave time that is consistent with other central office cabinet members. We believe this change will treat Dr. Dude in the same manner as all other cabinet-level employees and avoid further confusion in the future. That contract, like all other contracts, will be a public record.

We appreciate your inquiries, attendance, and comments at meetings. We will endeavor to keep the community informed of these matters to the greatest extent possible while respecting the limitations placed on us by law.

Many of you have expressed your frustration, you have questions and want answers. Please know that the Board hears you and we are actively engaged in finding solutions. I won’t sugarcoat this. These are tough times. And some have lost faith that your school leadership can get us all through this. The Board is here and we show up every single day. If we all can continue to walk towards each other and lean into each other, we can and will get through this. I cannot stress enough how important your children’s education is to this board.

The Board wants to be as open and honest as possible with the community about this process and we recognize that we are accountable to you, the voters.

Thank you.

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