Why Jester and Speaks Did Not Resign from DeKalb School Board

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Six members (instead of all 9, as required by current law) of the DeKalb School Board (BOE) were recently suspended from the Board based on undocumented — “We didn’t save our notes” — accusations from AdvancED/SACS. With the notable exception of Nancy Jester and Pam Speaks, the DCSS BOE voted to fight this in court, spending money that belongs in the classroom.  Jester and Speaks did not vote in favor of hiring lawyers to defend the Board. Many people have asked (and continue to ask) why Jester and Speaks did not simply resign and separate themselves from the others, now known as the School Board Six.

The answer is simple. If the Board had prevailed in court — state or federal — the remaining Board members (including Gene “I see color” Walker) would fill all vacancies, including the seats voluntarily vacated by Speaks and Jester, until next election cycle. If the BOE had prevailed in court, District 1 and District 8 seats would have been filled by the very members of the board who are more concerned with their own power than with our students and teachers and who voted against Nancy and Pam at every opportunity.

Did you want Gene Walker, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Jay Cunningham, Donna Edler and Melvin Johnson picking the representatives for District 1 (Dunwoody/Chamblee/Brookhaven area) and District 8 (at-large)? I didn’t think so.

Now you know why Jester and Speaks did not resign.

Here is the rest of the story: The DCSS Board withdrew their state case, taking it directly to federal court. The federal judge (Judge Story) vacated the stay and in so doing, Speaks and Jester are no longer on the DCSS Board of Education. So, resigning is no longer an option at this point. Per Judge Story, they are officially off the BOE. Yet, resigning earlier would have put Speaks’ and Jester’s seats at risk of being controlled by Gene Walker, Sarah Copelin-Wood, et al if Judge Story had ruled in favor of Walker. Speaks and Jester were truly between a rock and a hard place — damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.

Based on the damage done by the late federal Judge Newell Edenfield and his subsequent order for federal court supervision of DeKalb County Schools for more than 20 years, it was never a given that Judge Story would not rule in favor of Gene “I see color” Walker, et al.

Speaks and Jester — the two most rational members of the BOE and who cared the most for the children in their charge — gambled on behalf of their constituents … and everyone lost.

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47 Responses to Why Jester and Speaks Did Not Resign from DeKalb School Board

  1. hoyts says:

    DSW, thanks for the clear summary. And Pam and Nancy, thanks for hanging in there…

  2. dekalbite2 says:

    So if Nancy and Pam did not vote for these legal bills to fight for the BOE members removed from the Board, that would leave only 4 ousted members that would have voted FOR these legal fees ad finitum. To get the necessary 5 votes, one or more of the newly elected members must have voted for this court case fight.

    So who was it? It seems that taxpayers deserve to know how each member voted. Why should a simple question on how they voted on a bill that may cost so many tax dollars?

    Where can we go to find out which new member or members put taxpayers on the hook for these legal bills?

  3. Just another day in Paradise says:

    Aren’t they all just suspended? Still drawing full salary through the end of their terms? Can’t they decline accepting more money from the district as they are being replaced? That would be the responsible thing to do.

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    Who are you, board member(new)? It will come out, so please take responsibilty now.Thank you, DeKalbite2! “It’s now or never..”

  5. Thinker says:

    Thank you for clarifying this. I like both Nancy and Pam and I had wondered about this.

  6. educator90 says:

    Just to clarify, the three new board members voted for spending more money on this law suit. If this is so, they must go when they are up for re-election in 2014. Too much has been done behind closed doors and we, the people who pay their salaries with our tax dollars, deserve to know who voted which way, so that we can then vote appropriately.

  7. dekalbite2 says:

    @educator90

    Did all three vote to spend this money defending the ousted Board members? Walker, Cunningham, Copelin-Wood and Edler just needed one vote for a majority. If we don’t have the information on who voted for and who voted against this expenditure we can only assume all three newly elected members voted for it. Why be silent? Just say how you voted to spend tax dollars on this particular expenditure. Why isn’t this public record anyway? It’s not like we are asking for any particulars of the legal discussion.

  8. Todd says:

    How is it that the Board, without a quorum, could have taken a lawful vote to fill board vacancies? I think the rule and law didn’t envision a skeleton crew. I don’t think the current three members of the Board can do anything at this point

  9. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Todd

    They couldn’t. But if Nancy (or anyone) had resigned and the Judge ruled with Walker and the board was reseated, the remaining board members (presuming there were 5 left) would pick the replacements. Those replacements would serve until a special election, but would have the power of incumbency granted to them.

  10. Concerned Citizen says:

    While all our attention is focused on the board and legal matters, abuse is overflowing! Do any of you know that HR has now screwed us again? All positions of teaching as of March 1 have been put out there for subs only! Do any of us care that there are still most of March, April, and May to go? If you don’t believe me, check the PATS system. As usual, if you turn your back, HR will run amuck. Does anyone else believe what they did is wrong? Parents, have you checked your schools for missing teachers? When you do, they will be worded as being available only to subs. I can’t help noticing some of the schools listing vacancies. An English teacher for Towers and Stephenson? Math teachers for….etc.Who is behind this approval? Would it be Ramoa or Howe? I want some answers from someone about why we are not replacing teachers, even if it’s late in the year. Again, and always, the students come last. Please don’t bother to deny what you’ve done, whoever you are. Shame,shame, shame. There are plenty of fully certified teachers out there willing to work, some of them retirees who cannot find work in this messed up school system. Whoever heard of NOT hiring teachers??? AJC, I hope you find my article because people need to know what is happening.

  11. Concernedmom30329 says:

    In the past, positions filled at this time of year weren’t guaranteed a contract for the next year, but I don’t recall they being considered substitutes. UGH.

  12. The administration is totally messed up in the school system – yet we are forced to continue to only focus on the board. In fact, one of the members of the state board couldn’t praise Ramona Tyson enough – showing just how uninformed the state board really is. Now, Ramona has stated to the state board that yet again, SHE is in charge of the SACS response. Thurmond has no idea what to do… and Tyson has sold him on the idea that she can handle it… well, check out how she handled it the last time.

    This is a very relevant comment found on the AJC blog:

    dekalbite

    March 6th, 2013
    12:42 pm

    ““Ramona Tyson is heading up the school district’s response to SACS, or so she stated at the SBOE hearing.”

    Surely not.

    This was her report to SACS in 2010. Thousands of pages scanned in (not even typed), totally unorganized. I am not making this up – scanned documents – many are crooked pages – they didn’t even take the time to scan them properly (see link to report below).

    PLEASE click on this report to see what was handed to SACS. Has anyone ever seen a report like this? No typing, just pages submitted by different departments, scanned in and saved:

    http://dekalbschoolwatch.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/response-to-sacs-inquiry-july28-2010.pdf

  13. Frankly, we cannot get independent city-based school systems quickly enough!

  14. Chamblee Dad says:

    Agrred 1000% we need to focus on more than the board, I know virtually anyone posting on here over the past few years (with a few notable exceptions) has railed against a list of problems that would scroll off the page. But I’ll just say this for now: “I can’t imagine for the life of me any planet where it would make sense for Ramona Tyson to still be working for DCSS!” Yeah I know it’s DCSS, but still, drives me crazy. That interim period did way more damage than most casual observers would know, present company excepted. There, got that off my chest.

  15. Concerned Citizen says:

    I really can believe she would do this kind of sloppy, disrespectful work. The report is a disgrace! Have we no employees of quality? I know many people whose work ethic would never allow them to submit a mess like this. How did we get Ramona? How do we get rid of her? What about Howe? Same questions.

  16. psdad says:

    Someone should pass that report along to our new Super. He should have some advanced notice as to what he should expect from Ms. Tyson.

  17. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    Thurmond has heard an ear full about Tyson from Walker… nothing to worry about. Tyson is the go to contact right now. Do you think Thurmond has seen her last attempt at saving SACS accreditation, it is 10,000 pages of fun!.

  18. dekalbite2 says:

    Surely Mr. Thurmond cannot put Ramona Tyson in charge of answering SACS.

    From the SACS report that placed DeKalb on probation:
    “Evidence from interviews raised questions about the system’s and school leaders’ use of a formal, systematic process to determine the number of personnel necessary to support the district’s and schools’ purposes, educational programs, and continuous improvement…. This can also be seen in the Board’s decision to eliminate over 200 early learning paraprofessional positions during the budget process despite all the research that supprts the importance of early learning as the foundation of future student success. According to interviews with stakeholders and board members, this decision was made with little or no discussion as to the education impact of such a reduction in staff.”

    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/advanced-sacs-accreditation-review/special-review-team-report-(10-2012).pdf

    Ms. Tyson was the “school leader” who eliminated those 200 paraprofessionals. Here is a copy of Ms. Tyson’s budget that she asked the Board to approve (click on the image to see the details):

    http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/03/budget-recommendation.html

    In addition, she eliminated over 300 teaching positions. The BOE may have approved these cuts, but Ms. Tyson came up with them all on her own (well, maybe with a little advise from Lewis who the year before eliminated 275 teaching positions):

    http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2011/11/where-have-all-our-teachers-gone.html

    Thurmond must not be allowed to put the same employee in charge of answering SACS complaints when that employee was the superintendent who made the recommendations that helped get DeKalb Schools on probation. DeKalb would be a sure fire candidate to lose accreditation if this happens.

    Please email Thurmond for clarification:
    michael_thurmond@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us

  19. dekalbite2 says:

    Are all comments being moderated?

  20. Yes, all comments are moderated — but not 24/7. We all have full-time jobs that pay the bills and they take precedence. Why? Are you seeing a problem that we have missed?

  21. dekalbite2 says:

    @DSW
    I inderstand moderation is ultra time consuming. I know you are volunteers. Thanks for all you do. I understand the time you put in for no compensation is like a donation to the students and teachers of DeKalb.

  22. Another comment says:

    Heads should have rolled after this report. This report also made the case for outsoursing, the entire Payroll function to someone like ADP. It is obvious from this, that they only have a canned PATS program. It also makes the case to outsource the whole IT function to someone like IBM, rather than issuing all these smaller tasks to friends and family that do not interface. Virtually, everyone in the Palace should have been fired over this, for lack of editing and professional presentation skills. It proves that all of the administrative staff are being paid way above ability. These are nothing but a bunch of $8-10 an hour clerks that put this together. Certainly not $50K to $75K executive Secretaries or Admistrative Secretaries.

  23. howdy1942 says:

    @DSW2 – I also recall Tyson’s 25,000 page response – Does anyone really think SACS read it? Ramona’s thinking was probably “the more the better”. My experience in business for over 40 years was just the opposite.

    All of the previous bloggers are correct – I think that this administration is simply an extension of the dysfunctional board. This administration could be reduced by at least 50% percent and the performance and response would improve dramatically. I’ve been attending school board meetings for over three years and I remember well reports being presented that were full of holes and consisted of multiple PowerPoint slides that contained countless spelling errors. I also remember some board members, such as Nancy Jester, asking the most basic questions that the staff could not answer. I’m not sure that the staff had any idea of what they were presenting, but then most of the board did not care and did not appear to even begin to understand.

    I am very pleased that over 200 candidates have applied for this school board. I’m also pleased to know that Brad Bryant is among those reviewing the applications. I also remember the board meeting where Senator Fran Millar suggested Bryant’s name for interim superintendent. In what was one of the most racial responses that I’ve heard, Jay Cunningham stated “you can look at him and understand that he is not even a consideration” with backing from Eugene Walker.

    I’ve been very impressed with Governor Deal’s handling of this situation so far. Based on that, I think and am hopeful that he will appoint some well-qualified people to be on this board, people who understand the budget process, people who understand good governance, people who speak in complete sentences, people who put the needs of children first, and people who don’t take any crap. Someone on this blog stated it so well that if he “were a member of this administration that he would be freshening up his resume”. Dramatically cut the size of the staff, drop the legal cases, drop that “governance” training crew, reduce salaries for the top most administrators who remain, get that staff out of the teachers’ way, reduce the class size, and buy our kids some books and track their purchase and where they go. And let’s see if we can give our teachers a raise – we may not be able to afford much, but we can do something. Get somebody who knows how to be brief to prepare our response to SACS and that would not be Ramona Tyson. In fact, reduce Ramona’s salary back to where it was before she became interim superintendent, if not for her to retire. Finally, get a superintendent who is not a politician and who knows how to lead a school system.

  24. We have not seen anything official stating that Nancy Jester resigned. We are not sure where this is coming from. She did write a blog post saying thank you to her constituents, but that was in response to being dismissed by the Governor. She did explain why she hadn’t resigned earlier, although she had thought about it. Her reasoning is pretty much the same as we have written here. Actually, we’re not sure you can resign if you’ve already been fired.

  25. disgusted teacher says:

    @Concerned Citizen, We were told in our faculty meeting yesterday that there is a hiring freeze in the DeKalb County School System so no teachers, principals, assistant principals, counselors, etc. can be hired. I’m not sure if this has any effect on hiring at the county level. We were also told to expect more budget shortfalls for next year.
    Yes, my heart sank. I’m struggling now. Not sure what I’ll do if I have to take another pay cut next year.

  26. Concernedmom30329 says:

    This is from an email sent from a principal. NOTE TO MARCH We are watching you and if you go after principals for communicating with parents, we will let Thurmond and the World know what we think of you. So stop and stop now.

    Principals received an email today from Michael Perrone, Chief Financial Officer, that there is a hiring and spending freeze through the end of the year. The email also said that the district is expected to be within budget at the end of the current year. This freeze is to maximize cost savings.

  27. dekalbite2 says:

    So hiring substitute teachers is how they will balance the budget. Once again, they are balancing the budget on the backs of the students. I guess this will preserve all those non teaching jobs for the adults in the system. The “Friends and Family” got Johnson and Thurmond in there just in time. Why can’t DeKalb get a BOE chair and superintendent who put students first?

  28. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Robert Brown??
    Deal also announced that the State Transportation Board member from the 4th Congressional District, Robert Brown of DeKalb County, will join Brad Bryant as a second liaison to the county’s school board to monitor progress.

    The “Save Dunwoody from Save Dunwoody” blogger reports on Robert Brown’s new role.

    http://dunwoodytalk.blogspot.com/2013/03/moving-forward-or-backword-in-dekalb.html

    “One of the warrants authorized investigators to get lists of phone numbers for incoming and outgoing calls at a Decatur architecture firm, R.L. Brown and Associates. “

    Soooo … a construction person is going to help pick board members … nice …

  29. dcssfrustratedparent says:

    @DekalbSchoolWatch – you have shown your hand with your 3/6 16:15 post – you are NOT interested in all the students of Dekalb County Schools but rather your onclave and a potential “independent city based school” Thank you for being so honest – as long as we get ours – the rest of DCSS can fend for themselves.

  30. dcssfrustratedparent says:

    On Nancy Jester’s resignation – who will she actually resign to – when she actually resigns(AJC article today says she has not sent a letter to the BoE chairman yet)? If the BoE can not legally meet since there are only 3 members – can a resignation actually be accepted – legally ? This could mean that Nancy creates a huge public groundswell about how righteous she is ….. etc but if the State Supreme Court sides with the school sytem BoE then she could be back on the board since she “never legally resigned” – just a thought.

  31. Chamblee Dad says:

    Posted here, as most active current thread: the list of 400 is out. Any regular posters or moderators on the list? And I’m talking other than those who’ve run before – Ella & Denise.

  32. howdy1942 says:

    Quite frankly, I like this way of selecting a school board. People who are interested apply. Their credentials for the position are scrutinized in an open and honest manner. Then two names for each vacancy are sent to the Governor who then makes the decision on the final six.

    Contrast that with the present process. First, only those who have financial backing can run. Second, they may or may not be qualified. If a college degree were required, then Copelin-Wood, Cunningham, and McMahon never would have been considered for the school board. Just think of the difference that would have made! Third, in today’s process only the most powerful in a community are candidates, regardless of qualifications. Fourth, preachers would have no impact. New Birth and others would have little, if any, impact. Fifth, people would be screened by their past record of being able to get along. References could be gathered and backgrounds could be scrutinized.

    My take is that this is a far better process than what we have now.

  33. Concerned Citizen says:

    How do I find the most active thread – with the list of candidates? Thank you.

  34. dekalbite2 says:

    Melvin Johnson’s contributors show Eddie Long (pastor of New Birth) contributing $500 and Eddie Long’s company Religious Works, Inc. contributing $500. Wynndolyn and Ed Bouie, Felicia Mayfield, RobertFreeman (former superintendent), James Hallford (former superintendent), Cassandra Littlejohn (former BOE member) are other familiar names among his contributors.

  35. howdy1942 says:

    @dekalbite2 – Thank you for your last post – need I say more? I’ve just been giving this a lot of thought today. Interested parties were invited to apply. The names of the applicants were then published for all to see. A screening committee will then present 12 names to the Governor. I’m certain that they some set screening criteria defined – education, experience, stake in the school system, length of time one has lived in the community, community participation and leadership roles.

    It just seems like we have not had very good candidates to run for this office. My understanding that were they to remain in office, that Jay Cunningham would be running against Eugene Walker. Not tell me, what kind of a choice is that? Reminds me of that movie “Dumb and Dumber”. It is not so much the electorate – it’s just that their choices are not very good.

    I now have some optimism that we will be able to retain our accreditation and make some progress through December 2014 in turning the Dekalb County School System around – it is a huge, I mean huge, mess right now. My concern is the longer term, beginning with the elections in July 2014. Will Zepora be running again? How about Walker? Or Cunningham? Or Copelin-Wood? I cringe at the thought!

    Can you just imagine how much money, to say nothing of the angst, this whole episode has cost? Go back just to Crawford Lewis. There were is his legal bills of well over $100,000. There are the costs for Dekalb County to prosecute him in court – as well as Pope. There is the cost of that interim superintendent Ramona Tyson – she got a raise to $245,000 plus an expense account – she is still being paid that. There was the time and expense of responding to SACS in 2011. There was Heery, which could have been settled for $500,000 and now has cost over $30 million and has still not gone to court. There was the cost of paying a recruiting firm to find Dr. Cheryl Atkinson and then, after only 18 months, there was the cost of a$114,000 severance package. Now we are on our fourth superintendent in four years – paying him, including expense accounts and allowances, well over $300,000. Then there is paying for that law firm to provide “governance training” that could have been obtained from a law firm already employed by DCSS for new charge at all. Then there is the cost of this board’s and Walkers litigation – heaven only knows how much that will be. Then this thing had to take two full meetings and more by the State School Board. The State has paid at least two attorneys to go to Federal Court. Now we must pay them to go before the Georgia Supreme Court. Then there is the selection committee that must review over 400 candidates and make recommendations. Then there is the liaison of Bryant and Brown. And there is the time of the Governor himself – he probably had bigger fish to fry than Walker! I’ve probably missed a lot here.

    I think I”m going to be sick now!

  36. dekalbite2 says:

    No wonder there is no money for teachers and students.

  37. A South DeKalb Parent says:

    I know of a few open positions that have not even been listed online where the teacher will not be returning, yet the positions are being filled with substitutes. The caveat is that only certified teachers can be hired for long-term subbing positions. If you do not have a certified teacher as a substitute (a certified teacher acting as a sub is like a neutered teacher, with limited access to student information… all for ~$11/hr and no benefits to speak of), your child’s class will have sub after sub until the end of the school year.

    They have to pay for the lawyers somehow…

  38. Did Thurmond reschedule with the principals that he stood up?

  39. Thurmond has rescheduled with the Dunwoody Homeowners Association — he will be with them tomorrow, Sunday, March 10 according to the Patch:

    Interim DeKalb School Superintendent to speak in Dunwoody Sunday night

    Michael Thurmond will be at a special called Dunwoody Homeowner’s Association meeting Sunday night. The meeting will be at the Kingsley swim/tennis Club- 2325 North Peachtree Way. It will begin at 7:30.
    Contact:

    Stacey Harris DHA President
    staceyharris70@hotmail.com

  40. “I think that this administration is simply an extension of the dysfunctional board.”
    Bravo Howdy! This is our problem in a nutshell!

    If Thurmond (who failed at what he was hired to do: Protect the suspended Board members from the governor’s axe) wants to save his reputation, he should immediately demand every employee at the County Office submit their resumes, job descriptions, and performance evaluations to him. Those who clearly are not qualified should be fired. He does not need the board to do this. Hiring and firing staff is solely his job. Let due process kick in. I don’t care. Let a new, smart, and reform-minded board hear their pitiful appeals.

    These people, with the acquiescence of a corrupt, dishonorable Board, have destroyed this school system.

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