ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal removed six members of the DeKalb County School Board on Monday, trying to save the state's third-largest school system by exercising a relatively new power in Georgia that allows him to supersede the choice of voters.
"I feel it's my responsibility to act," he said at a news conference announcing his decision Monday. "This is a matter of urgency."
But whether his decision will stand rests on legal challenges to his move. Judge Richard W. Story of Federal District Court on Friday is expected to review the governor's action, and a constitutional challenge is being mounted this week in a state court.
There is little question that the 138-school district, which sprawls largely east of Atlanta and was once considered a model suburban school system, needs help.
A tough, 20-page report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December described a board engaged in open warfare with itself, questionable staff hiring practices and fiscal irresponsibility that led to what is likely to be $16 million in debt once audits are completed.
Although district lawyers have disputed it, the report says the board approved borrowing $12 million for new textbooks, "yet numerous interviews revealed that no one could identify any school that had received new textbooks and it was reported that nearly all schools were struggling with ways to repair old textbooks with no resources."
The school system, with nearly 100,000 students, was put on probation through the end of 2013 and risks losing accreditation.
"This is a district that has money but has just flat out mismanaged things," Mark A. Elgart, president and chief executive of AdvancED, the parent organization for accreditation groups that evaluate school systems across the country, said in an interview after Mr. Deal said he was pulling the board members and appointing a nominating committee to replace them.
"It's been part of their operating environment for over 10 years," Dr. Elgart said. "You have basically a tenured system in stagnation."
The governor acted after a marathon 14-hour hearing on Thursday in which the Georgia Board of Education recommended suspending six of the nine DeKalb board members. Under a 2011 law, the governor may step in and replace board members in failing school districts.
At the hearing, district lawyers argued that the report was full of innuendo and misinformation.
The board replaced Superintendent Cheryl L. H. Atkinson this month in what for a decade has been a revolving door of superintendents.
Michael L. Thurmond, a former state legislator who took over as interim superintendent, said that replacing the board would erode public confidence and that racial differences could be at the root of some of the board's discord and needed to be discussed more openly.
The district contains a slice of Atlanta on its western boundary and has a mix of urban, suburban and more rural areas. Almost 55 percent of the county is black, according to recent census figures. Nearly 38 percent of residents are white, 9.8 percent are Hispanic and 5.2 percent are Asian.
Dr. Elgart said that there have been racial divisions between the county's north and south for years, and that the issue is less about race than socioeconomic differences, the result of a shrinking middle class and a growing disparity between wealthier property owners and the poor.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.