Thursday, August 19, 2010
Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Lonnie Edwards spent nearly an hour at a press conference yesterday sharing the story that inspired him to write a book, but skirted around specific questions on how his former school district purchased and used that book.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that several administrators in the DeKalb County, Ga., school system used school funds to purchase books they wrote. An internal investigation by the school district into the book sales resulted in the firing of two principals and the demotions of two others.
One of the two fired, Yvonne Sanders-Butler, authorized $11,494 in school funds for her book while serving as an elementary school principal. The district demoted and cut the salaries of two other principals who sold copies of their book to the district.
Edwards worked in the DeKalb school system from 1971 to 2004, rising to the position of assistant superintendent. During his time there, the district spent $12,745 to buy copies of his book "A Teacher's Touch: Reaching Beyond Boundaries," according to the Journal-Constitution. DeKalb County Schools spent another $3,424 on the book after Edwards left the district.
"A Teacher's Touch" tells the story about Edwards relationship with Nancy Johnson Miller, a disabled student at the DeKalb County school where he taught physical education in 1971. Miller was born without fingers, and Edwards, who was the only black teacher in the school, helped her gain confidence in her abilities. At the news conference, Edwards showed a television clip to reporters and approximately 20 JPS staffers of his 1996 appearance on the "Sally Jessy Raphael Show," where he was featured for making a difference in Johnson Miller's life.
Edwards maintained that he did not coerce the school district to buy his book, and that it served as an "inspirational" book for teacher in his former school district as well as other school districts. After reporters pried for more details on how the district used the book, he said schools purchased approximately 100 books for libraries in the DeKalb County School System.
"I couldn't put myself, as the district-level administration, personally involved in that kind of thing," he said. "But when they asked to buy it, I made it available for them and told them they could get it from Border's bookstore in Buckhead ... or churches selling it around the city."
Edwards said he did not approve purchases of the books, and that schools could have bought the book with their own resources.
"I don't know how they bought them," he said. "The schools bought some; some employees bought them. Some of the other staff might have bought them from various areas of revenue. If they wanted to buy the book, I don't know where they got their resources from."
Edwards, JPS superintendent since 2008, said he is not aware of JPS purchasing any copies of his book. The Jackson Free Press submitted a public-records request Wednesday for any purchases the district has made of "A Teacher's Touch." The district now has six working days to respond to the request, as mandated by state law.
Jeff Dickerson, communication consultant for the DeKalb County School System, said the district is not pursuing any action against Edwards.
"The school system is not investigating Edwards. No local law enforcement is investigating Edwards," Dickerson said. "At the time the book sales were made, there was no prohibition, no policy, prohibiting the sale of goods and services by employees to the school district. And, in fact, there is still no prohibition."
Despite the fact that there is no policy for other district members, DeKalb County Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson told the AJC that the use of funds to buy the books was "unethical" and "disturbing." The fired principals, however, told the AJC that the district knew about the purchases for years but did not take action until reporters started asking questions.
Dickerson confirmed that individual schools have educational-material budgets.
"It is entirely possible that principals, assistant principals and others with control over local school funds could have purchased the book because they thought it was an instructional tool for teachers or students or others without Edwards knowing about it," he said.
Jackson Public Schools spokeswoman Peggy Hampton said she did not know if the district had a policy regarding district employees selling goods or materials to JPS, but would find out and report back this afternoon. Follow the JFP for updates on this story