Say goodbye to Crawford Lewis.
The DeKalb County Board of Education severed ties this month with the embattled superintendent. The change occurs nearly two months after he temporarily resigned when police raided his home and office as part of an investigation into possible school district corruption.
“These have been the best (33) years of my life,” Lewis said April 16 standing outside the William Bradley Bryant Center for Technology in Decatur after the board vote. “It’s been an incredible journey for me. I am proud of the accomplishments made by my administration. … They are heroes in my estimation.”
Board members said the April 16 separation was mutual, and Lewis will leave the position he has held for about five years with about $85,000 or four months pay. The agreement, which was hashed out over the last month in executive sessions, was designed to avoid the large severance payout Lewis’ predecessor, Johnny Brown, received in 2004. Brown left the district with more than $400,000.
Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson immediately took over for Lewis, who has not been seen at any public board functions since. Lewis did make a statement after the separation contract was signed.
The separation ended more than a month of speculation as to whether Lewis would return to the superintendency. He stepped down Feb. 25 after investigators searched his Stone Mountain home and office in a long-term investigation into possible corrupt practices with school district construction contracts. His separation ended a 33-year career with the district.
The school board has not taken any steps yet to find Lewis’ replacement, board Chair Thomas Bowen said. The board will no longer cover legal expenses related to the construction investigation, and those expenses were capped at $100,000, all of which has been exhausted, he said.
“We want to do what in the best interests of the system,” Bowen said. “The board members wanted to get back to education. … It’s a very tough decision but something that needed to be done.”
Lewis leaves a district in turmoil. Tyson and the board are grappling with a $115 million budget deficit that will likely lead to the closure of four schools, across-the-board salary cuts and layoffs. And board members say the financial crisis is most likely just a preamble to larger budgetary terrors next year.
The board and the district have also navigated their way through the controversial process of considering four schools for closure without Lewis’ public assistance. A residents’ committee, created by Lewis and charged with recommending four schools for closure, largely failed, forcing the district to disregard its work and issue its own recommendations.
Former Chief Operating Officer Pat Pope has been the primary subject in the investigation. The district released copies of two search warrants for the district’s headquarters on North Decatur Road in Decatur and the Sam Moss Center in Tucker. Items law enforcement officials searched for included:
• All records pertaining to gifts received by Lewis, Pope and other district employees from vendors or contractors
• All records pertaining to the purchase of district vehicles for personal use by Pope and Lewis
• All records of communications between Lewis, Pope and school board members regarding construction projects under investigation and then larger criminal investigation into Pope
• All calendars and journals pertaining to Lewis
The search warrants listed a number of potential charges, including theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, theft by taking, false swearing, bid rigging and R.I.C.O.
Investigators spent hours in Lewis’ Stone Mountain home, collecting hard drives and other documents. They searched for documents related to seven school construction projects: Columbia High School, McNair Cluster Elementary School, Mountain Industrial Center, Arabia Mountain High School, Evans Mill Elementary School, Miller Grove High School and Tucker High School.
It was the second round of search warrants in the case. Investigators seized documents from a district building in Tucker where Pat Pope works on Oct. 13. The office of her husband, who has designed several county schools, was also searched.
The school board voted in November to give the majority of Pope’s responsibilities to two other construction management firms to protect its building programs from further controversy.
Now that he’s retired, Lewis said he plans to travel with his wife.