ATLANTA - Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed an executive order to suspend six of nine DeKalb County School Board members, as the state's third-largest school system tries to avoid losing its accreditation.
``We didn't take it likely; I thought about it very seriously,'' he said Monday after taking the weekend to weigh the state school board's unanimous recommendation that the officeholders be suspended.
The move, which could still be subject to the outcomes of lawsuits in state and federal court, is the latest in a high-profile controversy over the management of the metro Atlanta system that serves more than 100,000 children.
Calls to a DeKalb schools spokesman rang unanswered.
The DeKalb school system was put on probation through the end of 2013 and risks losing accreditation. An audit of the school system found evidence of fiscal mismanagement and unethical practices. The six affected board members were those in office during the time period at issue.
The governor appointed a five-member panel that he charged with selecting potential replacements that Deal, a Republican, could appoint to serve until special elections in the heavily Democratic county.
The suspended board members have 30 days under Georgia law to apply for reinstatement.
Deal issued the order despite a federal judge's weekend ruling temporarily preventing the governor from replacing board members until after a Friday hearing in a lawsuit challenging the law that empowers Deal to remove certain elected officials.
The governor, who is an attorney, said he doesn't believe his action conflicts with the court's order. Deal said U.S. District Judge Richard Story blocked the permanent removal of the school board members pending the upcoming hearing. Deal argued that the members wouldn't be permanently removed until after an appeal period that extends well beyond the next hearing in Story's court.
``We will abide by what the court finally decides,'' Deal said. But waiting, he added, would leave a ``cloud hanging over these students and parents.''
Deal made his announcement flanked by several legislators who represent parts of DeKalb County. The group included Democrats who don't always align themselves with the governor. Other Democrats, however, suggested the governor should have waited.
Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, noted that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, DeKalb's accrediting agency, set a May 31 deadline for a progress report. That could give time for the board to demonstrate changes, he said.
``The sanctity of the vote is important to our delegation,'' Mosby said. Nonetheless, the lawmaker was careful not to accuse the governor of ``overreaching.''
``Full accreditation ... is what we are all fighting for,'' he said.