Michael Thurmond may be just the man to save the jobs of DeKalb's embattled school board.
Whether that's a good thing, remains to be seen.
Thurmond was appointed DeKalb's interim school superintendent Friday afternoon, after the board of education narrowly approved a severance package for former superintendent Cheryl Atkinson. Rumors had been circulating since last week that Atkinson was on her way out.
DeKalb's school system is currently under probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The board is set to appear before the State Department of Education on Feb. 21 to brief state officials on its progress in meeting SACS recommendations to keep the school system accredited.
The state board is then expected to decide whether or not it will recommend that DeKalb's school board be replaced. Gov. Nathan Deal has the power to remove any elected school board that fails to meet accreditation standards, if the state board recommends that action.
Thurmond's appointment may be just the thing to forestall such a move.
Thurmond, along with former Attorney General Thurbert Baker, was the last Democrat to hold statewide office. In 2010, both men left their positions to seek higher office - Thurmond, to run against U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, and Baker, to run for governor. Both men lost.
But Thurmond served three terms as labor commissioner, and overall received high marks from Republicans and Democrats. Prior to becoming labor commissioner, he was a state legislator from Athens from 1987-92. He then headed up Georgia's Department of Family & Children Services.
DeKalb's school board approved Thurmond on Friday by a vote of 7-2. They may be hoping that Thurmond's network of contacts in the state's legislative and executive branches - Thurmond has served in both - will forestall any move by the state board to replace them.
What remains to be seen is how much influence Thurmond himself still possesses. Republicans have solid majorities in both the House and Senate. When Thurmond and Baker departed, Republicans won their seats. Today, no Democrat holds any statewide office.
Also, Thurmond and current DeKalb board of education chairman Eugene Walker go back to 1992, when they both ran unsuccessfully for Congress. If Thurmond allows himself to be seen as Walker's handpicked leader whose job is to simply save the DeKalb school board, Gov. Deal won't think twice about replacing them if the state board recommends it.
DeKalb County's political influence looks to be in serious decline. Its school system is under probation. The home and office of its CEO were just raided by law enforcement authorities as part of an investigation into the county's watershed operations. One neighborhood - Brookhaven - just formed its own city, and another - the Lakeside community - is looking into the possibility of doing the same thing.
Now, Thurmond takes over a system that is racially and geographically divided. He told the AJC on Friday that he took the job because he wanted a challenge.
He's got one.