By Dave Oedel
When eight Atlanta public school administrators and teachers on April 14, 2015 were sentenced to stiff jail sentences ranging from one to seven years, the contrast with Bibb County’s own public schools scandal involving former Bibb school superintendent Romain Dallemand was notable. Dallemand and his cronies have not yet been charged despite millions of dollars apparently being wasted on useless electronics and an outrageous real estate deal involving the Promise Center.
The suggestion of shadiness or outright self-dealing in the Macon case seems palpable, and is widely rumored, yet no prosecution has been mounted. Mauldin & Jenkins, the accounting firm that audited the system under Dallemand’s short period of leadership, found more than $50 million in irregular expenses under Dallemand during his two years as superintendent.
In the Atlanta test cheating case, longtime Atlanta district attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr., charged aggressively under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act. After a six-month trial and eight days of jury deliberations, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter sentenced stiffly, moreso than in other cases involving cheating scandals on school tests under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Some called the tough sentencing of teachers and administrators in Atlanta unprecedented. Most agreed that it got everyone’s attention to see and hear the handcuffs snapped onto the wrists of teachers and administrators whose crimes amounted to engaging in the inflation of student test scores to satisfy superiors, gain bonuses, secure honors, and avoid reprimands. At a news conference on April 17, 2015, teachers and administrators sentenced to prison time vowed an appeal. However, most defendants in the case apologized, and accepted lesser penalties under plea agreements.
Racial dimensions of the Atlanta case were whispered about, especially after the sentencing. Although Atlanta’s district attorney Howard is a longtime African American official, Judge Baxter is white, and all the eight defendants who were sentenced on April 14 are African American. Most of the affected students are African American.
In Macon, suspicion appears widespread that the white district attorney, David Cooke, and the white U.S. attorney, Michael Moore, both Democrats, are finding it awkward to mount aggressive prosecutions against an African American former superintendent and/or his cronies. Both prosecutors seem reluctant to take on an official who was supported by prominent members of the black community, including elected officials of the school board who are themselves African American.
Cooke will himself either need to run for reelection or seek higher office as a nominee of the Democratic party, and will then be relying on African American votes to succeed in either event. Although Moore is an Obama presidential appointee, the U.S. attorney position is often viewed as a stepping stone to an elective or appointed office, and any race that Moore might run or positions to which he might be appointed would presumably benefit from solid relationships in and endorsements from the black community.
Nonetheless, if prominent convictions can be secured in a mere test-cheating scandal in Atlanta, it seems even more likely that convictions could be secured in the Macon context where more than $50 million dollars in irregular expenses over a period of only two years were catalogued. Race considerations aside, the interests of students and taxpayers should be paramount.
Given the Atlanta convictions, if prosecutions are not mounted in Bibb County involving the misspent $50 million, further elective prospects of the local prosecutors would seem to be compromised. Recent developments in Atlanta tend to suggest that the local prosecutors here in Bibb will now look a little more carefully at just where all that money ended up.