DeKalb County mayors tell school board to 'right this ship'

DeKalb County’s 12 mayors are expressing their concern over the recent firing of Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris. The mayors, who make up the DeKalb Municipal Association, released a statement late Thursday.

The mayors are challenging the DeKalb County School Board to "right this ship."

"We’re concerned that the DeKalb Board of Education’s recent decision to remove Superintendent Watson-Harris could jeopardize the future outcomes for DeKalb students. This decision may have a long-term impact by making it difficult to attract and retain a new superintendent as well as other leaders," the statement reads in part.

The statement comes as fallout from the board's abrupt decision on Tuesday continued. On Wednesday, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, who was tasked as superintendent in 2013 in righting that same "ship" mired by scandal, arrests, and threats of losing accreditation, responded to the recent turmoil in the district.

"I would hope that our school district leaders would recognize that it's very important to maintain stability," Thurmond said. "I'm concerned about some of the language and messages now permeating the media. The last thing we need to do is go back down the road from which we've come, and we need to be focused on the best interest of the children."

The DeKalb Municipal Association agreed citing Thurmond in their statement.

"We stand with DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond on his call for the School Board not to take DeKalb backwards. The board’s actions over the last few days indicate a need for new policies and procedures to address governance of the DeKalb School District," the mayors' statement continues. "We are ready to work with the DeKalb legislative delegation to craft legislation which will protect DCSD students and educators. Serious changes are needed to prevent the chaos that seems to occur every few years in the DCSD."

The mayors said the board's latest abrupt decision is just a symptom of a larger problem with the district. The DeKalb Municipal Association said there has been too much focus on minutia while broader chronic issues persist. They said those issues are both in governance and management. It was so concerning to the mayors,the association formed a specialized committee a week ago to help the county address those problems.

"Cities make up 60% of the County population, and it is our duty to be engaged in ensuring successful outcomes for students in DeKalb. To that end, on April 21, 2022, the DeKalb Municipal Association formally established an Education Committee made up of mayors and council members," the mayors wrote. "The purpose of this committee is simple – improve outcomes for DeKalb students. Education is a lifeline for our communities’ children. A good education, in a safe facility, should be the norm across DeKalb."

Other than the firing of the superintendent, the mayors did not cite any other specific issues. They also did not offer any specific solutions.

"A strong school system will lead to a better economic future, reduction in crime and a healthier population for DeKalb and its cities.vAs leaders, we know that governing can be difficult.vThe first step is acknowledging that there is a problem. We implore the DeKalb School Board to take the steps necessary to right this ship," the statement concluded.