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Longtime Decatur residents fed up with School Board, superintendent start new petition

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Longtime Decatur residents fed up with School Board, superintendent start new petition

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education. Top row, left to right: former Superintendent David Dude and School Board Chair Lewis Jones. Bottom row, left to right: School board members James Herndon, Tasha White (Vice Chair), Heather Tell and Jana Johnson-Davis. Image obtained via City Schools of Decatur

This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — A group of longtime Decatur residents fed up with the current Decatur School Board and superintendent have started a new petition calling for more transparency and accountability.

It’s the second petition circulating following revelations about Superintendent David Dude’s use of vacation time. The first petition garnered 183 signatures. The new petition has 114.

A spokesperson for School Board said the board intends to respond to the new petition, but had not done so as of Monday morning.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which certifies educators, on April 8 voted to remand complaint filed against Dude to the Decatur School Board, which has said it plans to investigate allegations that Superintendent Dude was frequently absent but did not record his absences as vacations. Public records show Dude received $100,000 in additional compensation for cashing out the vacation days he said he didn’t use.

The School Board on March 12 made the announcement that it would be rescinding Dude’s contract and the board would be hiring an independent investigator. A month later, the School Board has done nothing publicly regarding the investigation or the superintendent’s contract. Likewise, the School Board has declined to answer numerous questions about the situation.

The first petition, started by resident Susan Camp, is calling for Dude to be placed on administrative leave while the school board investigates the allegations.

The second petition calls for more accountability from the School Board, particularly as the board is weighing a tax increase.

Amanda Jolley is one of the residents behind the new petition. She’s lived in Decatur for 26 years. She said the tax increase is going to be hard on her family because they no longer have children in the school system but also aren’t old enough to qualify for an exemption on school taxes. Petitioners also are concerned because central office costs are going up along with Decatur’s taxes.

Jolley thinks it’s time for the School District to part ways with Dude.

“I think he ought to be canned, honestly,” Jolley said. “I think he has so eroded the public trust that I don’t think he is going to be at all effective in that role in more.”

Her husband, Dale, said the School Board likely hopes it can bury the controversy by ignoring it.

“We both know they’re not going to do anything,” Dale Jolley said. “They’re hoping they can ignore it and it will go away. That’s sad. That’s irresponsible.”

He said while he’s not yet in favor of the School Board getting rid of Dude, he does think the board is shirking its duties to monitor and manage him.

“The superintendent should be held to a higher standard than teachers,” Dale Jolley said. “He should be held to a higher standard than custodians. He’s setting the pace for the entire school system and the School Board is doing the same thing. Basically what we’ve got is a system that’s on autopilot.”

Amanda Jolley also asked why the School Board rescinded David Dude’s contract if they aren’t going to hold him accountable.

“What’s the purpose in that if they’re not going to investigate him? If they’re going to go ahead and sweep this under the rug and give him a contract, then what was the point of withdrawing that in the first place?” Amanda Jolley said. “Dale is exactly right. He has to be held to a higher standard. He’s making a lot of money and I don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth as Decatur taxpayers for this person.”

Beth Byrnes, another person involved with the petition who has lived in Decatur for 32 years, said she became frustrated because she sensed the School Board was lukewarm toward supporting an extension of the senior school tax break.

“Then we started reading the stories about the School Board wanting to raise our taxes and Dr. Dude’s questionable practices and it became too much,” Byrnes said. “Tell us what’s going on. Where is this investigation? We just want some accountability and we feel like we’re not getting it from the School Board.”

Byrnes also thinks it’s time for the School Board to find a new superintendent and thought that even before the current controversy due to her prior interactions with the superintendent’s office. She noted that CSD is the current target of five federal lawsuits, all filed during Dude’s tenure.

“It’s ridiculous, to have all these accusations and lawsuits,” Byrnes said. “When there’s smoke there’s fire somewhere. If they do a fair investigation and they find nothing, I’m good with that. Our schools are what keeps our property values up and makes Decatur a good place to live. If they ruin that it’s going to hurt everybody.”

So what is Byrnes definition of a fair investigation?

“Somebody who is impartial, who doesn’t know anything bout what’s going on and would look at the facts, look at all the information that’s out there and make a determination,” Byrnes said. ” … I think it should be investigated and a determination made.”

Bob Pauley, another longtime Decatur resident, is supportive of the petition but thinks there are other steps the city of Decatur can take to hold the School Board and superintendent accountable. He believes the city’s charter gives city commissioners some latitude to investigate the matter even though the school district and the city are ostensibly separate entities.

He specifically cited code section 3.20 which reads, “The city commission, at any time, may appoint one or more city commissioners or other persons to investigate the conduct and business of any officer, employee, department or other agency of the city, may compel the presence of persons or the production of books and papers and may swear all persons summoned, as may be necessary or pertinent to the investigation.”

The School Board is part of the city’s charter, which defines the powers and duties of the School Board and how School Board elections are conducted.

City officials, who have so far declined to comment on the controversy surrounding Dude, did not immediately return a message seeking comment on whether they think the city of Decatur has the power to investigate the School Board. Later on Monday afternoon, April 12, City Manager Andrea Arnold said her reading of the charter is that the school district “has exclusive authority to handle affairs related to the school superintendent.”

Pauley said the city may claim it has no oversight because the School Board often acts independently, but called that a “bail out.”

“They have an elected responsibility for oversight of this thing,” Pauley said.

The School Board will have its next meeting on April 20. It will begin with a closed-door executive session at 5 p.m. An agenda hasn’t been posted yet.

Editor’s note: Here is City Manager Andrea Arnold’s full response to Decaturish.com’s question. 

Section 3.20 of the City’s charter states, “The city commission, at any time, may appoint one or more city commissioners or other persons to investigate the conduct and business of any officer, employee, department or other agency of the city.”  The school system and its employees are not officers, employees, departments or agencies of the city.

Article VII of the charter speaks to the public school system. Section 7.11 (c) states that:

The board of education shall have the exclusive right, power and authority to:

(1) Prescribe the curriculum of the public school system of the city;

(2) Appoint and employ a superintendent of schools and all other employees of such school system at the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, and to fix their compensation;

(3) Suspend or remove the superintendent of schools, or any other employee at the recommendation of the superintendent, for cause satisfactory to it.

(4) Make such by-laws, policies, rules, regulations and orders for the government, discipline and conduct of the school system and of the superintendent of schools, employees and students as it may deem proper and not in conflict with the laws of Georgia; and

(5) Generally to have power and authority to do and perform all acts necessary to and in promotion of the best educational interests of the city, not in conflict with this Charter or the laws of this state.

My reading of this is that the school board has exclusive authority to handle affairs related to the school superintendent.

– Andrea Arnold

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