We hate to say, “We told you so”… but

Good grief.  Read this article in the AJC and then come back to chat.

DeKalb faces $41 million shortfall for school projects

DeKalb County’s new school superintendent wants to shelve or scrap 35 building projects after discovering a $41 million shortfall in the sales tax-funded construction account.

The projects include improvements for disabled students, new school air conditioning systems, running tracks, emergency generators, kitchens and plumbing fixtures at facilities across the county.

Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson proposed the cuts at a special meeting of the school board Wednesday. School district officials revealed on Wednesday that they discovered a $41.35 million shortfall in the five-year construction sales tax program that expires this summer.

[Now go to our tab at the top labeled “Facts & Sources” then “Files” and download the documents presented to the board with suggested cuts to projects in a desperate attempt to recover over 40 million missing dollars.]

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So, basically, the very vocal people who had access to decision-makers (or actually ARE decision-makers in the case of Ramona Tyson pushing her pet multi-million dollar tech project at the William Bradley Bryant Center or Crawford Lewis and Pat Pope who pushed to create the gleaming new Central Office), or others who managed to bloat the scope of their school projects to so far beyond the original budget as to almost be unrecognizable, and who pushed and pushed, were able to grab the big piles of SPLOST money while they were there, leaving very little in the end for things like new AC units, roofs, emergency generators, upgrades to ADA compliance, and fixing cracked running tracks.

It appears that in their mad dash to use up the cash, our fearless leaders somehow ‘forgot’ to budget millions for interest on the bonds they borrowed and failed to create and adhere to a tight project list, scope and schedule, thus creating this crevasse of missing money ensuring that many promised projects at schoolhouses will never come to be, as SPLOST IV has its own legal list of projects it must adhere to, and finishing up the unfinished lists from SPLOST II and III is not part of the SPLOST IV deal.

We were actually told a very big, fat lie  by Interim COO, Barbara Colman back in August/September of 2010 that due to declining construction costs and coming in “consistently” under-budget, we had a nearly $40 million SPLOST III “Surplus”. In fact, Ramona Tyson used it to justify her pet tech project at the September ELPC meeting. (Read over the Q&A session at that meeting to see just how concerned citizens have been for a very long time.)

Although it’s not really very fun to be vindicated, but we must point out that the “crazy”, “uninformed”, “ignorant”, “radical” bloggers at DeKalb School Watch had tried for over two years to warn of the consequences of these truly bad decisions. Did the board and staff leaders not read the open letter from Faye Andreson? A member of the SPLOST II oversight committee, and a person with a high degree of involvement in SPLOST spending, Faye desperately pleaded with the board to watch their SPLOST spending. Additionally, after sending a written request for an explanation as to how certain projects jumped ahead in the queue and increased in scope, Faye was met with the following response from then board member Zepora Roberts, “By the way, your information in this letter has not been helpful because it is full of errors and omissions, and why do you think that I should provide you with additional information? Who are you anyway? It seems to me that you know it all, since you have designated yourself to try and tell the superintendent, staff and board members what to do. Please get a life Ms. Andresen.” And this one from Sarah Copelin-Wood, “Hello Faye, It is evident from your e-mail that you are continuing to weave your web of deceitfulness. It is also apparent that you are most definitely “Confused.” Therefore, let me help you – The Election Is Over – Get Over It. HAVE A GREAT ONE!!”

And so it goes. On and on. Time after time, as concerned parents and community members tried to wave the red flag of warning, they were dismissed, threatened, scoffed at or blatently ignored by members of our school board. But we were right. So whoopee. Now what?

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Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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199 Responses to We hate to say, “We told you so”… but

  1. Tucker Guy says:

    Can we NOT put astroturf in the football stadiums now? What a horrible waste of money! Also, I want to know how Ramona Tyson can be in charge of accountability? Why not start with holding her accountable for at least some of this mess.

  2. As far as we can tell, all SPLOST IV projects remain unaffected. These are promised projects from SPLOST II and III that will be cut. They will not “return to the queue”, they will simply be cut. This is most likely what will happen as when we vote in a SPLOST, there is a published list of projects associated for voters to approve. Legally this list cannot be altered. Maybe there’s a workaround, and we can use SPLOST IV money to go back and build the roofs and HVAC, etc instead of astroturf or something, but watch the fur fly on that one.

  3. justwatch says:

    Because of mismanagement in DeKalb and Cobb’s early SPLOST, a law was passed that limits SPLOST funds to the projects that were published at the time of the vote. So, as I understand it, there is no way to put these projects on the SPLOST IV list.

    I wonder if it is possible to do a “recall” of the SPLOST IV vote? I wonder when this problem was really discovered.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Barbara Colman really did not lie. She was not given all of the facts by DCSS staff. They did not and do not have access to the financial system. This was a set-up from the very beginning. I hate to reveal too much for fear of being found out, but this is not as it seems. Yes there is a shortfall but BC never knew it.

  5. Tucker Guy says:

    Yes. Please don’t hold Barbara Colman responsible. She just reported the numbers she was given.

    Does anyone else remember Ramona Tyson bragging about how nothing gets done without a lawyer looking at it first? She is the pants-on-fire person.

    Accountability? HA!

  6. anonymous321 says:

    We may have some misinformation from the AJC. SPLOST IV has 90 million dollars in Capital Renovations including HVAC systems. Many many schools are listed under that umbrella. This information is from the Dekalb website.

  7. Yes, but are they the schools listed as being cut from the SPLOST II and III lists? Compare the plans for HVAC on SPLOST IV with the cuts just recommended by Atkinson posted under “FILES” in our “Facts & Sources” tab above. Let us know what you find out.

  8. So yes, granted Barbara Colman did not intentionally lie. However, as Interim, and as an industry professional, she really should have insisted on an audit before promising to spend money she was ‘told’ was available. We all wondered (aloud!) how a surplus could be at the time, given the fraud and management issues of the past. There’s no way that someone serving as a short-term interim could have brought the entire program into the black in such a short time – and we all KNEW Pat Pope was running on ‘funny numbers’… Why didn’t anyone insist on a SPLOST audit after finding out that the top two leaders had been fudging contracts and (allegedly) funneling money? Who in their right mind would simply just carry on from where Pope and Lewis left off – trusting their numbers? Marcus Turk should never have handled SPLOST. SPLOST accounting should be handled completely by an outside accounting firm.

  9. Anonymous says:

    An outside firm was handling the SPLOST money ie Barbara Colman and the Contractors. She did have her company’s audit firm come in – unfortunately they just didn’t use DCSS financial system. They started out with the right numbers then the two teams (DCSS and Contractors) stopped communicating about the money. Its not as black and white as it seems.

  10. The Deal says:

    Thanks again, Fernbank, er, Friends of DeKalb Schools, for campaigning for SPLOST IV. After all, it was supposed to guarantee a smaller board seamlessly, and it was supposed to continue the “great” work that has already been done with SPLOSTs.

  11. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Barbara Colman is responsible. A clerical worker could “just report the numbers she was given.” Barbara Colman was paid big bucks to provide project oversight. She did a very poor job and she should be held accountable.

  12. Don’t get so upset until all of the real facts come out. The Board of Education passed so many change orders that it made me dizzy. However, there are so many new and different folk meddling in the pot now, I seriously doubt if Atkinson knows or understands what really happened or if there is really an unexpected short fall. When the facts come out, I will then place a judgment on my opinion.

  13. Who did Barbara Colman report to? Ramona Tyson? If she did Ms. Tyson must go! Ms. Colman was an interim and knowing the issues from before regarding staff providing actual facts it does not surprise me one bit. Remember when the staff told Ms. Tyson there was nothing from the boxes of the old audit? This old administration must be held ACCOUNTABLE. Colman reported to the Super right? Then the buck stops at Tyson. Ms. Tyson resign and take us out of this misery of having to live the old days over and over and over again. I don’t think Fran Millar can find the funds for this massive error.

  14. justwatch says:

    Jackie

    I agree with you about the change orders. However, much of the 40 million is being charged off to interest on bonds, that DCSS took out at the beginning of SPLOST IV to get started on projects before revenue came in. Apparently, and the question is do we believe this, someone forgot to create a line item for this debt, and while we have apparently been paying it down since revenues came in, the mistake was just discovered.

    I am so incredibly skeptical of the fact that no one realized they were writing a check for a line item that didn’t exist.

  15. justwatch says:

    Nope. Not right. Look at each item and you will see that every item has a specific list of schools for each project, even the code requirements category.

    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/splost-iv

    The item on capital renewal says Renovations, modifications, and upgrades to existing buildings and facilities that will include, but not be limited to, roofing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, kitchens, and program-driven modifications as needed, including but not limited to:

    It lists about 90 schools with specific projects. This means, that about half of these projects won’t be completed in order to finish SPLOST III projects. How is that fair to the voters?

    The vote for SPLOST IV continues to be a fiasco, advocated for by those who had the most to gain and virtually nothing to lose. Enjoy your new buildings and don’t worry about those students, who 6 years from now, will still need new AC or roofs.

  16. Tucker Guy says:

    “When the facts come out…” When has this BOE or system administration ever given out the correct facts?

  17. Tucker Guy says:

    If this really was a SPOST IV mistake, then I want to know who will be held accountable. By that I mean fired; not reassigned to a no-work job at the same salary, but fired.

  18. justwatch says:

    Opps. That should say SPLOST III not SPLOST IV, in terms of interest on the bonds.

  19. Is this the reason Turk was let go? This is a major error and I’m surprised, the adults that are now running the insane asylum, took this long to find the error. When will these oh by the ways stop!? We’ve called for salary audits, but I think we need to totally audit all the books now, general Fund, Title 1 Funds, SPLOST funds and the like. So many folks wanted to have the past SPLOSTS totally audited before anymore were passed. But Noooooooo, once again the Jay Cuningham’s of the world, who actually campaigned for the measure, which is illegal, are not held accountable. I remember those letters from “Slug You” Roberts and SCW to Faye, they were disgusting. When will these folks understand that they work for us!?

  20. Anonymous says:

    I believe this is the reason Marcus Turk was reassigned. He could only be fired if he knowingly did this and covered it up. He was probably reassigned because they felt he should have known to account for the interest being the CFO.

  21. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Jackie, I think these “are” the facts. Apparently, it’s a fact that there is not enough money to cover the remaining projects on the docket. Go to the Facts & Sources tab at the top of the blog, pull down to FILES. Download the latest files showing the proposed necessary cuts. They didn’t budget for interest on the borrowed bonds first and foremost. That used up over $20 million in unbudgeted costs. That is a fact, unfortunately. All that said, without another forensic audit, we can’t know the details as to where the money was spent.

    On another note, the folks at Heery/Mitchell are probably jumping up and down. These budget revelations and as you say, dizzying change orders by the board, will certainly only help prove their case.

  22. Teacher Reader says:

    This is WSB’s reporting of this: http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/dekalb-schools-call-meeting-over-41-million-shortf/nLHxD/

    These two sentences say it all to me:
    “Superintendent Atkinson also called for an audit of SPLOST funds and all DeKalb County school finances, but the board chose to not take any action in favor of further discussion.

    Board Chair Eugene Walker cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the shortfall. “No money has been misplaced,” he said. “Nothing egregious has occurred.” ”

    Why didn’t the DA investigate the school board? Few people are able to truly police themselves and most of the board members have time and time again shown that they are not worthy of our trust. When will this stop and someone step in? This is public money, not corporate funds. Atkinson needs to be supported by us, as it’s clear to me more and more that the majority of the board is out to get her and see her fall!!!

  23. A few understand they are public servants but a few don’t care and won’t care.
    SCW showed up to a policy committee meeting yesterday an hour late and did NOT participate in the meeting. She asked if the nutrition department has tasted the food that is served to the kids.
    The policy committee did recommend reporting to SACS any ethics violations by the board.
    This has never been a requirement. Now it will be once the whole board approves it.

    AMG,
    I agree with a full audit.
    I suggest former DA Mike Bowers and his team from the state (They audited APS and the other DCSS) cmoe in and audit the books. Can anyone get in touch with the Governor?
    Thanks for your concern.
    CFTK

  24. Miss Management says:

    This is a simple budget switch – the SPLOST IV budgeted cost for a new Fernbank school should just about cover these unmet obligations from SPLOST III.

  25. I Agree says:

    Spot-on Teacher Reader! Why, indeed? What is really going on behind Gene Walker’s curtain? How would Gene Walker “know” with certainty that “nothing egregious has occurred”? Why is he not banging his fist demanding an audit, you know, “for the people”.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I read the AJC article again. 26 million was due to an accounting error for not factoring in interest with the bond repayment. That was a smart decision to get the bond up front so that projects could be started right away but not factoring in the interest with the repayments should warrant termination. This was an expensive mistake to make.

    10 million is for underestimating rebuilding Chamblee High School. This may end up being the most expensive high school built in the state when all is said and done. Could they have purposely underestimated the construction costs to secure Board approval so they could move forward with this project? This impacts SPLOST IV since repayment of the federal money was to come out of this. That means at least 10 million dollar project reduction for SPLOST IV unless they can find the money elsewhere.

    5 million dollars was expected reimbursements from the state for construction projects. It would be interesting to find out if this will be lost due to projects being shelved or because of the other shortcomings.

    All this is strange because Marcus Turk indicated SPLOST receipts were running a surplus at one time. Ultimately he is responsible for reporting the financial standing of SPLOST. Perhaps he is the person since Dr. Atkinson did not name the responsible party. The Board can only make decisions off the information they receive. If they can not trust that information, we have a bigger problem.

  27. I Agree says:

    @Turk: We would all have lots of extra money if we ‘forgot’ to pay our credit card bill every month! Duh.

  28. Anonymous says:

    The bottom line is Colman mispoke. Internally, no one supported her claim that there was a surplus. But once it was made a part of public record, it was too late. The mad dash to “find” $31 million began. Marcus Turk “robbed Peter to pay Paul” with the bonds… there’s no other explanation. Does anyone know where he is right now? Has he been fired? Nope. Just sitting around counting paper clips these days. Too bad his salary can’t be used to help with the deficit….

    The SPLOST IV lists can’t be altered, so there won’t be ramifications to the list of projects that were voted on in November.

  29. Teacher Reader says:

    If you as a tax payer and resident of DeKalb trust that we don’t need a total financial audit and that the Board can trust the information that they have been given, in my humble opinion, you have a problem. The Superintendent is asking for a total financial audit, which is very telling to me. Something must not be right and there must be things that we don’t know and won’t come out in leaks because it would make friends and family members look bad. There is more to this and it looks like Walker is setting Atkinson up to fall. I don’t trust him or many of the board members. Anyone who doesn’t want to know the truth is not worthy of trust.

    I personally don’t care why the money is “lost.” I want my money to be taken care of in a way that shows that it is respected. These “mistakes” are no longer mistakes, as they keep happening time and time again. People learn from mistakes and take measures to ensure that they don’t happen again. In DCSS “mistakes” happen over and over again, I call this fraud.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Teacher Reader, supposedly audits were conducted of SPLOST funds and projects. As I understood, annual audits were mandated by law. Performing an audit is not necessarily the solution some make them out to be given the discoveries made.

    This mistake didn’t result in anyone making money. Fraud is when someone knowingly makes a misrepresentation of the facts, usually for their personal gain. If anyone can show this happened, I’ll join you at the courthouse in filing an action against them.

  31. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Who is running this hen house … er, aslyum for the criminally inept? If the BOE is responsible for setting policy and the superintendent is responsible for day-to-day operations, why is the BOE even voting on Atkinson’s request for a full financial audit? That should be something that Atkinson is well within her rights to order.

    Who is responsible for appointing Tyson to be in charge of accountability? Was that Superintendent Atkinson? Or was that the BOE? Putting the fox in charge of accountability for the hen house … or, in this case, putting Tyson in charge of accountability for the criminally inept.

  32. Anonymous says:

    There is only one conclusion: Taxpayers of Dekalb County must demand a forensic audit.
    Parents for Dekalb County Schools, here’s an issue you can help with.

  33. Anonymous says:

    There is a big difference between the mandated “Audit” and a “Forensic Audit”.
    The audits that have been performed would not necessarily uncover anything illegal, only accounting errors. We have seen some creative accounting practices that have passed the standard audits.

    Only someone that is hiding something won’t want a forensic audit.

  34. Teacher Reader says:

    Anonymous, Someone wasn’t doing their job. I understand that audits aren’t the end all be all, but 41 million dollars is a great deal of money where I come from to just go missing. I believe that if Dr. Atkinson is asking for an audit, that she has her reasons. Right now, even though she wasn’t my first choice as superintendent, I trust her more than I do the president of the school board. Maybe audits were done in the past, but who did them? If they were done, why is Atkinson asking for another? Were they done properly? Was data missing from them? Dr. Atkinson has the right, as the head of our school system, to know what is really going on with the money. How can she make spending decisions when she is not really aware of the financial situation or if the finances are changing constantly?

    We do not know if someone profited from this error, but I do feel that a huge breach of confidence has been violated on the part of those in charge of the finances in the district, and I, for one, wonder what Dr. Walker wants to hide by blowing off Atkinson’s request for an audit of the district. It doesn’t add up.

  35. Teacher Reader says:

    Very true.

  36. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Do you get the feeling that DeKalb County School System’s (or District or whatever) house of cards is about the come crashing down?

    We must keep up the pressure by contacting everyone we know who might possibly be able to assist us. Or contacting someone who knows someone who knows someone who can assist us. Think six-degrees-of-separation. A full, turn-every-page, forensic audit is essential as a starting point.

    The question right now is WHO within DCSS (or DCSD or whatever) will decide that they do not want to go to jail for years to protect the likes of Ramsey, Tyson, Turk, Walker and Womack, et al?

    The first person with significant information to be a whistleblower will get the stay-out-of-prison deal. Others will simply be collateral damage, seeing their families, children and grandchildren on visiting days which, if they are lucky, will be at a prison somewhere in Georgia — not an airplane ride away.

  37. no duh says:

    It’s my understanding there is a legal requirement to set aside the interest on this kind of loan. Don’t know all the technical terms, but should have been impossible to lose this or spend it on anything but the interest. And if DCSD did lose it or spend it on something else, they broke the law.

  38. no duh says:

    Call the DA! Oh wait…nevermind… sigh.

  39. Tom Bowen just filed his paperwork to run for the DeKalb County Commission in 2012.
    Another lame duck Board Member.

  40. Absolutely. True.

    BTW — if you are reading this blog and are thinking about saving yourself instead of taking the fall for Ramsey, Tyson, Turk, Walker, Womack, et al, a word of advice: Do NOT use the DCSS “Whistleblower Hotline.” Do NOT go to the DA’s office. District Attorney Robert James is clearly under the thumb of Gene Walker.

    Contact the Office of the State Inspector General. To report fraud and abuse, call 866-435-7644.

    More information may be found in the Files section of the DeKalb School Watch blog.

    Save yourself — or encourage a friend or family member to do so.

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