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?

About dekalbschoolwatch

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. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Anyone who would vote for Tom Bowen deserves exactly what they will get.

    Just one more reason why DeKalb County School System … indeed, DeKalb County itself … must be split into at least two entities.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not accounting for the cost of the bond money is difficult to grasp.

    Chamblee HS budget will not be balanced with SPLOST IV funds, it’s all within SPLOST III. The repayment of QSCB funds is set at 57.7 million in SPLOST IV.

    The reimbursible funds from GADOE will be realized when MLKjr HS, Miller Grove HS, and SW DeKalb HS additions are completed. These are the three projects certain to move forward to completion.

  3. Anonymous says:

    How can that be with Chamblee since the project plan for SPLOST III was presented in 2007 and this project wasn’t approved until 2010? Were they planning to use some of the expected surplus from SPLOST III to pay for this? That does not make sense.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You must remember that the BOE controls the purse strings and must approve any expenditure over a certain dollar amount. I think the dollar amount is $50K. Dr. Atkinson should want a forensic audit done throughout so she can have an independent and clear sense of the state of the finances through the school district. If she is going to be held accountable for the finances, this is a must.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This sounds more like incompetence more than anything else regarding the interest. 10 million dollars was underestimated for Chamblee High School project. Does that mean it should go back to a vote for approval given bad data was provided? I think most people would say no.

  6. TheOtherDrucker says:

    Repost from an AJC comment
    If APS wants to provide some incentive [for the accused] and get this done with quickly, they should threaten to pursue RICO charges against the teachers and administrators implicated. Not only does that throw them all in the same suit, it provides the APS with a bunch of nasty options including freezing the assets of the accused.

  7. I just heard an interesting quote: The only thing more ruthless than a criminal is a politician trying to save his a$$.
    (The dollar signs are used on purpose and are particularly appropriate for Walker, et al.)

  8. Pizza Party at Jay Cunningham’s house tonight! Oh wait… sorry jay no money to pay for the pizzas…. sigh.

  9. He did such a wonderful job as Chairman of the BOE! Under his chairmanship, RTTT Funds almost missed because of an oversight with the former Super staff. State funds missed, due to staff oversight until saved by Senator Fran Millar. Now a 41 million dollar oversight, going to take any responsibility Mr. Bowen? Whoever runs against Mr. Bowen will have a plethora of video to use. Sorry Tom good luck with that County Commission thing.

  10. Anonymous says:

    When was the last time DCSS actually fired someone? Even Frankie Callaway seems to have a cushy job now. Of course there’s Pat Pope and Crawford, who actually resigned i believe. But they were indicted before they were forced out. Are they afraid to fire people? Maybe they should hire Dale Gribble to do it for them.

  11. Anonymous says:

    “She asked if the nutrition department has tasted the food that is served to the kids.”

    Great! A perfect description of one of our Board members compressed into her own question.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Why can’t the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts do the audit?

  13. Anonymous says:

    For fee. Or at least with our tax money. Let some of our it go to something in Dekalb that may actually benefit us as taxpayers.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I meant “free.”

  15. I Agree says:

    Yes, but I believe Lewis continues to collect his pension while awaiting “trial”.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’ve never trusted the hotline. I felt it went write to Ron Ramsey’s voicemail or to his inbox.

  17. justwatch says:

    A forensic audit is much more sophisticated and specialized than what the state could and would do.

    Please lets demand this audit. We are truly doomed if people don’t realize how needed this is.

  18. The audit is very important. I also would like to know how this happened? We haven’t heard much from Turk since he was shipped out to the Bradley Center, right?

    Tyson was in charge and I just can’t see how with this “shortfall”, added with the other Federal and State funding mistakes, can they keep Tyson on? I’m sorry Dr. Walker but it’s time we face reality here. it’s time we clean out the Palace totally! It’s time we move on to better things. Thank everyone for their service, have a party in the Palace Parking Lot and then Dr. Atkinson can start fresh. Wishful thinking I know, but we need to cut ourselves from that anchor that WAS the old DCSS. How many more skeletons will Dr. Atkinson find?

  19. soccermom says:

    This is not the first time Walker has not wanted the truth to come out. He has been covering up inappropriate behaviors for years. I cannot believe that someone was not aware their was a problem. I suspect it was important to wait awhile before making this public. It would not be appropriate to announce close to the time that the SPLOTS IV passed.

    Years ago Walker was involved in covering up money taken from the Dekalb NAACP. He is adjusted in covering up for others who do not do the right things.

  20. The Deal says:

    Shouldn’t a shortage of $41 million be caught in a mandated audit? Isn’t it an accounting error?

  21. The Deal says:

    Sure there is! Just put it on your P card, sell some books, put up some cell towers, or use the roofing and A/C money.

  22. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Another Eugene Walker quote (from the AJC article stating that DA James would not be investigating the school board).
    http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/dekalb-wont-call-special-1343499.html

    “We did not identify any overt influence in personnel matters,” Walker said. “We’re saying this one is over and in the next instance we’ll try to exercise more due diligence.”

    How many times do we have to go around in this circle? “That was then, this is now.” “We’ve placed policies to guard against that in the future.” “Those people have moved on and we have new people in charge.”… yada yada. Seems every 4-5 years the players change seats, but the music doesn’t stop.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Bowen is running against Commissioner Sutton. She spends County money on herself. She had a few bad check incidents that should have caused her more legal trouble, but were buried. Even Tom would be an improvement over her. Also, a win by Tom might shift the racial balance of the Commissioners. I somehow think that Tom has made a deal with Walker to try to pull this off.

  24. justwatch says:

    You do know that Bowen is African American, right. I am not a fan of Sutton, but surely DeKalb could do better than either of them!

  25. This is important! Can we please stick to the topic? Openness & transparency are important issues.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Not necessarily. An audit simply looks at the math and confirms what you have reported on your books is accurate. Think of it as if it were a mobster flick. 2 sets of books were used. “The Business” as was presented to the officials. The 2nd set of books, recorded where the money really came from and where it really went.

  27. soccermom says:

    I believe everyone has freedom of speech and can blog whatever they want. I do not believe that anyone has the right to tell others what they can or can not talk about.

    Others feel like they are sorto on topic. It may not be the topic you want to read about but it may be important to others.

  28. Anon says:

    I think everyone who want “intervention” at this point should also contact and send info/requests to the state attorney general about fraud, corruption, RICO and request a forensic audit and complain about the DA ignoring the Grand Jury’s request… may not help but surely can’t hurt and the more folks who contact him, the greater the chance for action…. just a thought. I also strongly urge everyone to contact legislators and scream loud for an on-line check and pcard register for all financial transactions of school systems (including SPLOST)… this is imperative.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Legally speaking and whether we personally like it or not, Lewis has not be found guilty of anything yet. This is all the more reason residents should push for a speedy trial so this can be resolved.

  30. I Agree says:

    Exactly. That’s the point. Don’t you think it’s possible that the trial is very slow to come to fruition due to the powerful inner circle of influence able to hold it up? Lewis benefits. Anyone involved in a cover-up benefits. And ample time is being allotted for things to get buried or go missing altogether. Mark my words, this trial will never happen on Dr Walker and Tom Bowen’s watch.

  31. I Agree says:

    Bowen is a Republican. He’ll never win, unless he changes parties. Which he will probably do.

  32. Miss Management says:

    @JackieHarris: Nothing on this blog post is off topic. I don’t know what you have an issue with. Your only comment so far has been “Don’t get so upset until all of the real facts come out.” Could it be that you are upset because of what is being revealed in this blog post and elsewhere?

  33. B Anderson says:

    One has to admit whatever belief we have had that oversight of any sort exists must evaporate in the face of the “oops -we forgot the bond interest payment” moment. NO one caught it.
    Further, who can possibly know what new decisions (money diverted) will result in this budget realignment. Once again in the midst of SPLOST chaos, the board is no longer cleaving to the legal contract they have with the electorate but are able to make changes as they see fit. Complete mismanagement has worked to further private/personal interests in the past and we see it is still an effective tool.

  34. Anonymous says:

    @ Tucker Guy
    So what is this new Office of Accountability that Ms. Tyson will be heading? Does it take the place of another department or is it a made up department adding yet another layer to DCSS?

    Just what is she accountable for? I didn’t realize anybody in the DCSS administration or BOE was accountable for anything – not student achievement or expenditure of tax dollars.

  35. The Deal says:

    You are so right, B. Somehow this group of jokers keeps screwing up things so badly that they are outside the realm of any rules or policies that have been written on whatever thing it is that they have screwed up (because whoever wrote the policies never envisioned things could be screwed up that badly). This lets them work the situation out without any oversight, and we know how that ends up.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Look at the promises made 5 years ago when SPLOST III was passed.

    From the DCSS webpage:
    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/progress/splost/faq.html

    “How much will SPLOST III generate over its five-year period if renewed?

    It is estimated SPLOST III could generate as much as approximately $645 million over the five-year period. SPLOST III funds will be divided between Atlanta Public Schools, Decatur City Schools, and DeKalb County Schools using the October 2006 student enrollment figures. This means that Atlanta Public Schools would receive approximately $20 million, City of Decatur Schools would receive approximately $15 million and DeKalb County School System would receive approximately $610 million.

    Why renew SPLOST III on March 20, 2007?

    If SPLOST is renewed, the school system will be able to continue addressing infrastructure needs. Making improvements to our aging infrastructure, providing improved technology, and maintaining a safe and healthy learning environment will provide our children with the quality learning environment they deserve. Without sales tax money, most of the projects identified will not be done.

    A Forensic Audit link in on the right hand menu bar (Forensic Audit Report Followup is the name of the link), but when you attempt to reach the Forensic audit, you are directed to a dead link.
    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/forensic.audit.follow-up.html

    Where is the Forensic Audit Report taxpayers were promised 5 years ago?

  37. The Deal says:

    It is supposedly a group that will review and ensure policies and procedures in all areas are in place and being followed, or, as people in normal working conditions would call it, the people who are making sure you are doing your job. So, it shouldn’t really be necessary, but, in DCSD, it is. No way in heck Tyson should be heading it up, as she has been in leadership in the most ineffective and corrupt group this system has seen.

  38. justwatch says:

    Plus a huge issue with accountability in DCSS is the school board itself and Tyson (nor any other employee) has the power to regulate them.

    Last year, Senator Emaneul Jones introduced ethics legislation for the DCSS board but it went nowhere.

  39. Watching... says:

    I disagree==Tyson makes absolute sense to head it. She is not stupid, but knows who is and has been shoveling in the correct direction against almost insurmountable challenges with both the board above her and the staff below her.

    I’ve almost decided that this blog isn’t worth reading, but has been taken on the quality of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in wonderland. Too many folks running around indiscriminately yelling “off with their heads.” Whatever else you wish to lay on Ramona, I will say publicly and for the record, in my opinion–and I am well positioned to know the facts in that 10 year struggle—the International Community School would never have received a lease for Medlock Elementary School without her steady persistent efforts. If you read this (and I hope you don’t) Thank you Ms. Tyson –Marney Mayo

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