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Cognia conducts follow-up visit with DeKalb School Board; audit of COVID money on board’s agenda

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Cognia conducts follow-up visit with DeKalb School Board; audit of COVID money on board’s agenda

DeKalb County School Board member Dr. Joyce Morley virtually attends the boards regular meeting on May 9, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — Cognia, a nonprofit accreditation organization, is conducting a follow-up visit with DeKalb County Schools after its previous report found the board was not working collaboratively.

In unrelated news, the school board at its Monday meeting will consider hiring a firm to audit how the school district has spent COVID-19 relief money.

Cognia and board members describe the follow-up visit as routine.

“DeKalb County Schools is Cognia Accredited,” a spokesperson for Cognia said. “As planned, Cognia is conducting an on-site Monitoring Review Nov. 8-11 as a follow-up to the Accreditation Engagement Review. A monitoring review report will be issued directly to the district 30-90 days after the visit.”

Decaturish first wrote about the Cognia observations in April. The report about DeKalb County Schools is mostly favorable and says the district often, “Demonstrates noteworthy practices producing clear results that positively impact the institution.” But the report includes some low-key criticisms of the board.

One of the few areas where Cognia found the district to be lacking involved the school board.

The report says, “Each governing authority board member is highly committed to the district and the students, but board members are not working together collectively in support of the mission of DeKalb County Schools.”

The report found that individual board members were not always supportive of the district’s efforts.

“Board members are elected to serve four-year terms and are elected one from each of the seven regions in the DeKalb County School District,” the report says. “This structure has the tendency to put board members in the position of being a ‘representative for my region.’ The team was very meticulous in discussing the roles and responsibilities of board members only with the board members themselves. No outside conversations were held. Support for various initiatives across the district was not consistent across the board member interviews.”

Cognia encouraged the board to renew its commitment to “assuring a culture of collaboration, transparency, and continuous learning.”

“The board may wish to further examine a system of reflection that looks at the board as a whole, how it works in unity, and public perceptions,” the Cognia report says. “Board members must fully understand and appreciate the important role they occupy in school district governance, and the equal importance of acting within, not beyond, this role. It is incumbent upon every board member to set aside personal agendas and focus their efforts on governing together in the best interest of the school system.”

“Change in behavior is ultimately the responsibility of each individual board member. While Cognia fully appreciates that board members can and will have differing opinions, Cognia’s governance standards expect board members to be professional and collaborative in resolving or moving beyond those differences, focusing primarily on areas of common interest and responsibility in service to the school system and its students. If board members embrace Cognia’s recommended practices, they are likely to find they enhance, not diminish, their ability to fulfill the significant responsibilities of their elected positions.”

Audit of COVID-relief funds

The school board will meet on Monday, Nov. 14 and one of the agenda items is hiring a firm to audit how the district spent its COVID-19 relief funds.

“CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) and ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds were released for use in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the Request for Proposals says. “The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is seeking highly qualified, capable and professional entities with experience with K-12 school districts comparable to DCSD, to perform an audit of DCSD CARES/ESSER Spending.”

The school board will consider awarding a $877,000 contract to FORVIS, LLC for the audit.

Investigative reporting by WSB-TV revealed DeKalb Schools gave $90 million in bonuses using COVID-19 relief money to 10,000 district employees.

To view the full agenda for Monday’s meeting, click here.

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