A presentation by DeKalb County School District 1 Board Rep. Anna Hill at the Dunwoody Homeowners Association on May 1 turned contentious as attendees questioned the school board’s decision to dismiss its leader, Cheryl Watson-Harris, after only 20 months in her position.
Hill, who refused to answer specific questions about the reasons leading up to Watson-Harris’ dismissal, instead discussed her issues with the superintendent’s “lack of continuity,” “non-responsiveness” and “lack of resolving issues” regarding repairs needed to adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act standards in the district’s schools.
Hill noted the building with the most expensive ADA repair list is in District 1 – Oakcliff Elementary, with a price tag of $1 million to come into compliance.
“Her termination was not a knee-jerk reaction,” Hill said of the board’s decision on April 26 to fire the superintendent. “I have sat down on repeated occasions to discuss unmet needs, and they have not been met. I pleaded with the superintendent to address these needs with few results.”
Hill said she “wished I could share details” with the group regarding the board’s decision but said “more will be coming out about this at a later time.” She declined to comment as to when this additional information would be revealed.
The board, on April 26, voted 4-1 to terminate Watson-Harris’ contract, and are obligated to pay her 12 months of her $325,000 annual salary. Dr. Vasanne Tinsley was appointed interim superintendent at the board’s April 29 meeting and will receive an equivalent salary.
At the DHA meeting, Hill revealed that there are many variances in budgeted-vs-actual facility improvement expenditures across the school system that total more than $200 million and have yet to be resolved.
Some of the attendees at the DHA meeting were not receptive to Hill’s statement, accusing her and the board of putting all the blame for DeKalb’s woes to Watson-Harris. They also asked her what steps she could take to raise accountability regarding the board’s “lack of professionalism” during its regular meetings, which has allegedly included personal attacks on other board members, the members’ tendency to use profanity during the meeting, and what one attendee called “crazy tirades” between board members on a regular basis.
“Unfortunately, I joke that each meeting is like a Thanksgiving meal – you know there’s going to be a blowup, you know the history, but you don’t know what the trigger is going to be,” Hill said of the board meetings. “All I can do is control myself. I get along with all my colleagues on the board.”
Hill said, in addition to ADA issues, she is disappointed with issues surrounding staff morale, teacher retention, “stagnant and declining” student achievement and “atrocious conditions in at least half of the schools.”
In other action, the DHA board discussed sidewalk and trail improvements to various areas in the Dunwoody area, early voting and improvement plans at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport.