An oversight body has placed the DeKalb County School System on probation until December 2013, with a warning that the school could lose its accreditation if it doesn't correct its mistakes.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools started an investigation into the district two months ago after parents and district observers complained of fiscal mismanagement.
The district had to close a more than $80 million budget gap this summer. Since then, a financial audit has shown that the district didn't reduce the front office staff as much as was budgeted.
The threat of accreditation loss means the district is at risk of being decertified, which could pinch federal money flowing to the district and devalue a degree in the district - making it difficult for students to be admitted to college and get scholarships.
“I’m disappointed that they’re going to put us on probation. Nobody wants to be on probation,” school board chairman Eugene Walker said. "We’ve not done anything egregious."
SACS leaders are looked at the school board itself in the most recent probe, say officials.
"The big concerns are the effectiveness of the school board to govern the school system and the second is the ability of this board to be good stewards to the system's resources, principally the financial resources of the system," Dr. Mark Elgart of SACS told Fox 5.
In particular, the district's legal bills and utility costs have come under scrutiny.
Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson has cooperated with SACS investigators and says more than 300 central office jobs have been eliminated.
"We not only had to deal with our budget and a deficit, we worked hard to address whatever concerns were brought," said Atkinson.
The local blog Dunwoody School Daze noted the probation and commented that the district might need more help.
"O.K. Gov. Deal, the ball is in your court," said the posting.
The district will have until May 31, 2013 to make progress in complying with a special review team’s improvement plans and subsequently must complete those by Dec. 31, 2013. The requirements are:
1. Devise and implement a written, comprehensive plan for unifying the DeKalb County Board of Education so that the focus can become serving the needs of the children of the DeKalb County School District.
2. Ensure that all actions and decisions of the DeKalb County Board of Education are reflective of the collective Board and consistent with approved policies and procedures and all applicable laws, regulations and standards, rather than individual board members acting independently and undermining the authority of the Superintendent to lead and manage day-to-day operations.
3. Establish and implement policies and procedures that ensure segregation of duties of the governing board and that of the administration including the elimination of Board working committees that result in board members assuming administrative functions that should be the responsibility of appropriate staff.
4. Implement and adhere to fiscally responsible policies and practices that ensure the DeKalb County Board of Education will adopt and ensure proper implementation of budgets within the financial means of the school system and that support the delivery of an educational program that meets the needs of the students.
"There is significant and irrefutable evidence that the DeKalb County School District is in a state of conflict and chaos,” Elgart said in a statement Monday. "This failure to govern effectively has resulted in a decline in student performance, financial mismanagement, and lack of integrity and ethics in recruiting, appointing and evaluating personnel at all levels of the school system."