Supremes back ouster of DeKalb school board
By JIM WALLS
Nov. 25, 2013 — The Georgia Supreme Court agreed unanimously today that the removal of six DeKalb County school board members did not violate the state’s constitution.
Gov. Nathan Deal suspended former board chair Gene Walker and five other members in February as the DeKalb school district faced an imminent loss of accreditation. Deal acted under a 2010 law authorizing removal of board members in such circumstances after a due-process hearing before the state Board of Education.
Walker filed suit in federal court, contending that legislators exceeded their authority in passing the law and that only voters could remove him through a recall election. He also disputed allegations of misconduct leveled by accreditors and argued that individual members could not be removed for actions of the board as a whole.
In an opinion released today, the high court disagreed, upholding the governor’s power to remove local school board members and the Legislature’s right to get involved to that extent in local school systems’ affairs. The opinion noted that Georgia’s Constitution specifically allows lawmakers to set “additional qualifications” for school board members and other elected local constitutional officers:
The public education of the children of DeKalb County may principally be a concern of the citizens of DeKalb County, but it also is an important concern of the People of Georgia as a whole. … [I]t would be odd to conclude that the Constitution puts members of local boards of education entirely beyond the reach of the People as a whole.
Individual school board members are not protected from removal, the justices added, when the board’s actions as a whole threaten accreditation:
When the conduct of a board threatens the school system with an imminent loss of its accreditation, it matters not to the public or the
children of the school system whether it is the fault of a single board member, the fault of every board member, or the fault of no one in particular, just an unfortunate result of well-meaning individuals who cannot or do not work well together. The imminent loss of accreditation is a failure of the board as a whole all the same.”
Walker can still petition for reinstatement under a different process, the justices noted, effectively telling him there’s a chance he’ll get his job back.