Transparency Be Damned!

We, the taxpayers ofDeKalbCounty, have only ourselves to blame for the financial shenanigans and the failings of DeKalb County School System.

The difficulty, though, is that it is a full-time job to babysit the very people who are supposed to be managing our school system.

In last week’s Board of Education meeting, the BOE was asked to approve a $150,000+ expenditure for cold storage for the school nutrition program.  A “motherhood and apple pie” expenditure with no real explanation for why that is needed – especially since all DeKalb County Schools have very large walk-in freezers and walk-in refrigerators.  Further, there are many school buildings sitting empty that still have their electricity turned on (documented right here on this blog).  That means their walk-in freezers and walk-in refrigerators are available for temporary food storage.

Setting those facts aside for the moment, it turns out that Boulevard Cold Storage (the “lowest responsive and responsible bidder”) is not and never has been registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

BOE member Sarah Copelin-Woods asked for an address for the business and was told it would be forthcoming.  The requested address is not listed in the agenda for the March 12 meeting.

So we looked it up.  The Street View photos accompanying Google map of the address make it look like a deserted and possibly abandoned building, not a thriving business.

This is interesting because Charles Waken, supposedly president of Boulevard Cold Storage, also operates Waken Meat Company, with the registered agent at the Boulevard Cold Storage location.  Also located there is Waken Co.  Three companies at one address that looks deserted.

Further, with more than 15 cold storage companies listed in the Atlanta area it is hard to believe that only one other company completed a bid on business from DeKalb County School System.  It is especially odd that a large national corporation like Nordic Cold Storage, 4300 Pleasantdale Road, Atlanta, GA  30340 made rookie mistakes like not attaching references and Georgia Immigration documents.

Nordic Cold Storage is a registered corporation.  Boulevard Cold Storage is not.  Who forgot to ask for that bit of documentation?

Here is a very interesting article about cold storage issues in Boston schools.  We would not be surprised if what is reported in this article is also happening right here in DeKalb.

Our interest piqued, we went to the DeKalb County Schools’ website > Departments > Purchasing.  On the list of bids awarded there seemed to be far fewer than there should be.  Each BOE meeting features a parade of department heads asking for approval of the “lowest responsive and responsible” bids.  Further, while DCSS lists current open bid requests, they do not archive closed bid requests on the website.

The online list of bids awarded is so poorly done that it is impossible to make any comparisons or conclusions based on what is online.  DCSS really should find someone on its staff who understands and can work properly with Microsoft Excel.  Meanwhile, using Microsoft Office we converted the published list of awards into a somewhat understandable document.

Read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions:  DCSS Purchasing Bids Awarded 2006 – 2013.  Find the list in the DeKalb School Watch archives.

We find it extremely interesting that of the nearly 200 companies listed as being awarded business by DCSS, approximately half of those companies are not registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.  So, are those sham companies?  And why are there multiple companies awarded a contract for the same item?  Were all of those companies identical in their bids?  So a single award was split between them?

At least one of these award dates goes back to 2006; many go back to 2007 and 2008.  And some of those seem to be in perpetuity.  One award date is even ahead of the curve:  2013.  No competitive bidding?

For several years this blog has been calling for complete transparency in DeKalb County Schools’ financial matters – ALL financial matters.  Our requests have been blithely ignored.  The most recent $41 million shortfall – brushed off by Superintendent Atkinson as “something messed up, something happened” – makes it clear that experienced and qualified adults are needed to provide oversight for the billion dollar business that is DeKalb County School System.

A $41 shortfall is a “mistake.”  A $41,000,000 shortfall is incompetence at best and fraud at worst.

We can’t know which until ALL DeKalb County Schools financial matters are completely transparent.  Remember – transparency is not a threat to someone with nothing to hide.

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95 Responses to Transparency Be Damned!

  1. justwatch says:

    Are you friggin kidding me? And, frankly, last week’s agenda was tiny. Very little business. Not one board member checked this stuff out. I think there were fewer than 10 items on the agenda, most very small. Again, no one on the board took a few minutes to review this?

    At least SCW asked the address.

  2. justwatch says:

    There is good news though — last week was a work session, all these items are to be voted on at the meeting tomorrow. Any board member can pull an item off the consent agenda, to be discussed and voted on. Think any board member will?

  3. I’m sure our Ethics King Ron Ramsey and his able bodied retired man, Mr. Tucker is on the case to find out what’s going on! I fear there are many more stones to be overturned over the next few months which will surprise no one here at DSW. One thing for sure, Turk was not as good as so many have said over the past few years. He should have caught this, or at least his direct report should have, who was that? Tyson?!

  4. Anonymous says:

    What I would like to know is why the board’s “financial watchdog” Nancy Jester didn’t catch the interest error; or Don McChesney, the self-proclaimed numbers guy? They have been looking at the financial data much longer than Dr. Atkinson.

  5. justwatch says:

    Yep — Big Fail on everyone’s part this time.

  6. I wonder if there was a cover up? Could someone have tried to cover this mess up long enough so no one would notice? I think Jester looked at the audit that a major firm did on the SPLOST II and III expenditures. Even the auditor did not catch the interest payment, which leads me to believe that someone tried to cover this up. Could a big part of it been the Palace costs? Who knows, but if Belcher would NOT even mention the auditors name, except to say, a major firm then there is more to this story. I guarantee you if Jester were given proper numbers she would have caught it, but if she was given and trusted the final auditors report, what else should she go by? I don’t think we have heard the end of this story since Atkinson just turned on the lights and the bugs are still scattering.

  7. Anom says:

    Media Guy; No one is being questioned anymore. The Board meeting was pathetic…a bunch of “I’m gonna get back to you on that; top level administrators who can’t read and are beyond nervous at salaries of $163,000 +??? Woods and Ramsey’ raises of 50,000 when we teachers get NO-thing. Transparency/ When is every penny, consultants etc. will be open to the public.. I think I see another “GAME CHANGE’., only Deomcrats this time on the Board. DEMAND TRANSPARANCY!!!!!!

  8. justwatch says:

    Here you go. A last minute agenda change, creating a new classified position.

    https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=4054&MID=23929

    I wonder if any board members will ask whether this position replaces any others.

  9. Anonymous says:

    What if the interest was underestimated? It could have been there as a line item (thus seeming OK by auditors) but based on an incorrect interest rate thus lower than it should have been. This would put the onus back on the auditors for not recognizing this and recommending a change. Maybe that is why Belcher did not mention the name of the auditor because there could be possible liability on their part.

  10. Attend the Emory LaVista Parent Council meeting and ask questions of the senior staff !!

    The Emory LaVista Parent Council (ELPC) will host their next meeting on Wednesday, March 21st at Druid Hills Middle School (3100 Mt. Olive Dr., Decatur, GA 30033). Refreshments begin at 8:45 a.m. and the program will begin at 9:15 a.m. This month’s topic: Who’s In Charge? Meet the New DCSS Senior Staff!

    All parents are invited. Plan to join us and meet Dr. Atkinson’s senior staff and learn about their responsibilities and plans!!

    To join the ELPC email list, please email: mailto:emorylavistaparentcouncil-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

    You can also visit us at http://www.emory-lavista.org/

  11. justwatch says:

    The company’s name for this contract was listed on the agenda (which again, was very small) and any board member could have googled it. No one did.

    I have often felt that part of the way the staff controlled the board was by having these huge agendas which are not published very far in advance. In this case, the agenda was tiny, so that can’t be the excuse this time.

  12. Friends, there will be no transparency because it would obviously show how inept our leaders have been at DCSS. The fact that so many from Clew’s regime are still working for the system, should be reason enough that NOTHING is going to change until Mr. Walker and his cohorts, on the BOE, are shown the door. How a man and our BOE chair, who has been accused of sexual harassment and the state having to use OUR tax money to settle the charges, is ludicrous! This man Walker is an admitted racist and has no time for the teachers who are trying to make our system better. Plus, where is Ron Ramsey? He is given a huge raise and yet he continues to take his little leave of absence to play under the Gold Dome. His substitute is a retired lawyer who is now getting a pension and a salary from DCSS.

    These folks at DCSS can not handle the truth. Keep spouting the truth and watch as these people try to destroy the very people who speak the truth. Sound familiar? DeKalb County has become a cesspool of corruption and now our DA is actually one of them! Where is J. Tom Morgan, he was a respected DA and was fair no matter what the color of your skin is. It’s sad that Walker has the ability to make our DA act in such ways, as letting the public know that the accused sexual harasser and the BOE he leads can police themselves. Riiiiiiiiiight……..

  13. Anom, we must continue to question them., especially during public comments, when they are allowed. Walker likes to control the message and has his lackeys get on the public list to speak. We must continue to get on this list and get in front of this feckless BOE and tell them how we feel. I think it’s time we start addressing Mr. Walker as the Sexual Harasser in Chief of the BOE! I am so angry that Georgia taxpayers paid for this man to get off charges of sexual harassment. Do you think the state would have settled out of court for a regular employee of the state, had they been accused of harassment?

  14. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Transparency is NOT a threat to someone who has nothing to hide.

    How about it, Superintendent Atkinson?

    You are squandering the taxpayers’ goodwill and support by appointing Crawford Lewis’s senior staff to senior staff positions in your own administration … Ramsey, Tyson, et al. Do you think that you are protected by partnering with the very people whose corruption and incompetence brought DCSS to historic lows in student achievement? You are not! You are a loose end who now knows too much and, as such, a threat to their continued existence.

    Without substantial taxpayer support, you will be history as soon as Gene Walker figures out how to do it. Steen Miles’ attempt failed miserably, even though it was probably orchestrated by Gene Walker.

  15. The Deal says:

    Isn’t the school level audit due to be released soon?

  16. Cynical In Chamblee says:

    Regarding the comment: “The most recent $41 million shortfall – brushed off by Superintendent Atkinson as “something messed up, something happened.” Who was in charge of “the something (the money)?” I believe it was a couple of friends and family members from the previous administration, Mrs. Ramona Tyson and Mr. Marcus Turk. They should be held responsible and should not be raking in big fat salaries and accruing benefits. In any other type of legitimate organization or business, they would have been released immediately for financial incompetence.
    Will the madness ever end?

  17. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Actually, Tyson and Turk should be FIRED for malfeasance and investigated for RICO crimes. Tyson was a direct report to Crawford Lewis; Turk was a direct report to Tyson. Because of the nature of their jobs, both Tyson and Turk had to know everything that was going on in the Lewis administration. As the Chief Financial Officer, Turk also was responsible for making sure that all financial transactions were correct, accurately entered into the DCSS ledgers, and appropriately handled. As the Chief Operating Officer and subsequently the Interim Superintendent, Tyson had the ultimate responsibility. It’s time these people were held legally — and financially — accountable.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Elder showed class tonight by correcting her statement about Redan last week. How about it jester, I hear your Dunwoody rant and rave from last week was full of false statements. Your tantrum appeared childish..even more so now that you were incorrect about the work at Dunwoody. Care to set the record straight???? You know…be truthful…….

  19. justwatch says:

    http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/dekalb-school-board-buys-1382725.html

    Womack admits they shouldn’t spent the extra money and Cunningham is offended that Womack brings it up.

    I AM OFFENDED THAT THE MISTAKE WAS MADE. So there. I truly hope someone is losing their job over this.

  20. May I ask what rant and rave you are talking about? Please provide us a link, a transcript or at least a synopsis of what she said. I’m interested to hear what she said and where she said it. Thanks!

    Since construction has started on Chamblee High, don’t you think it would be a good idea to continue the project and get it done? I can’t figure out how Dunwoody High had a beautiful reno finished yet they need more money. Was an there an additional project or were these things part of the original reno? I’m very angry DCSS staff let us down again with another mistake, but we must have some accountability. Who is at fault? The taxpayers of this county have a right to know, it’s OUR money! Why is Cuningham so upset that Womack brought this up? Is there something we shouldn’t know?

    Something tells me the building of the Palace is in this mess. If our leaders had been more concern about student facilities and NOT the $2000 chairs maybe this wouldn’t have happen? Maybe we need to stop funding the money pit that is the William Bryant Center. How much money have we poured into that gem? Once again the kids take the hit and Jay Cuningham gets his $2000 chairs.

  21. dkconfidential says:

    AMG: Anonymous 1014pm has left an interesting comment. They must be a staff member who doesn’t like Mrs. Jester’s opinions and/or are threatened by what she is exposing. I hope they know that the incomplete renovation is their fault. Why do we have to fight so hard to get them to finish what they left undone or damaged? I hope she “rants” some more. That seems to get their attention. As far as setting the record straight, there is so much shoddy work and damage done that I’m sure anonymous doesn’t want Mrs. Jester to speak out about it again. It will only remind the public of the problems with SPLOST and poor job performance by employees.

  22. Maybe because Ms. Jester did not state any mistruths about Dunwoody. If you saw the Board of Education meeting last week the Dunwoody School Council President spoke about the situation at Dunwoody. An email outlining the situation at Dunwoody was also sent to the other members of the BOE and the Dunwoody community.

  23. AMG, Dunwoody HS is not asking for more money – just the allotment that was promised to them in SPLOST III.

  24. Paula, Thanks for clarifying that they are not asking for more money. I was just wondering what had happened with the reno project and if this was added or just the funds that would finish the project. If this was part of the original reno, it should be finished, period!

    I kept saying that we should have TOTAL accounting of SPLOSTS I,II and III before we voted for another. Either they kept this information from us before the SPLOST vote on purpose or we have a bunch of incompetent people in our Palace uh er Central Office. Once again I ask, where did the funds for the Palace come from? Remember folks the Palace was NOT on the original list of SPLOST III projects.

  25. Hey DK, I’d love to know what type of shoddy work happened at DHS. I also hope the contractors at Chamblee High School do not so the same there. We must demand accountability and if Dr. Walker can’t take the heat then maybe he should just resign his chairmanship of the BOE and take care of his sexual harassment habits that seem to dog him over and over and over again!

  26. Teacher Reader says:

    Shoddy work happens in every school that has had construction. The district has never had construction companies come back and fix work that was not done properly. We’ve had leaking roofs in new buildings and roofs that didn’t leak before the new roof, that leak after a new roof is put on. Why were these companies not called back to fix the work? Why are we not doing inspections on work that is complete to make sure that it is being done correctly. We are having buildings rebuilt with no accountability for the companies that are doing the work. It’s a wind fall for any company doing construction here in DeKalb. I don’t have any first hand knowledge of DHS, but I do know from a teacher stand point of being in new buildings that cost millions to build and wondered where the money went as the materials used were just plain poor and not worthy of industrial use in a school.

  27. what a sham says:

    Interesting that now Dr. A is going to find away to move the projects to SPLOST IV. So much for the money / projects not being transferable. Maybe now some of the schools in SPLOST IV will start to realize that nothing is really guaranteed until it is finished.

    Worst thing is all this fighting about money detracts from the real problem – producing educated children who are ready for college and/or a career. I am thinking that this boon-doogle of an accounting error is reflective of the level of math DCSS teaches.

  28. This is just not about Dunwoody HS either. I believe Redan is losing over $2 million from their SPLOST allotment. It affects schools all over DCSD. I appreciated Donna Edler’s comments last night. This is about integrity of the SPLOST program and following through on the SPLOST III projects that were promised to the taxpayers of DeKalb. If this were all know back in November, would SPLOST IV have passed?

  29. Teacher Reader says:

    What upsets me about this situation is the North vs. South, Black vs. White issue continues, something I am fed up with.

    The majority of people making education, financial, and any other decision are Black. Really one side of the county is not getting more than the other, even though one part of the county pays significantly more in school taxes than the other.

    The decisions of Lewis, the school school board, Tyson, Beasley, and many others are why the county is the pits. People were making decisions without enough knowledge, and weren’t questioning what others were telling them. People were getting friends and family deals for projects at all levels and employment and no one questioned.

    When I taught for county, I remember questioning Dr. Simpson about the zero policy and multiple chances to get work in/done. I remember his answers, not being satisfied and questioning again.

    I really am sick and tired of the race card being played. The problems in the school district are because no one with any authority is willing to stop the corruption. The DA had the chance and didn’t do it and SACS is a worthless organization that seems to be another money laundering agency as it’s done nothing to help improve the quality education or decisions that those with power in the district are making.

    Schools are not employment agencies, but are here to educate children. Schools do not need plush offices and fancy digs. Schools do not need tons on money spent on electronic devices that will be obsolete soon after they are purchased and are not used to the fullest due to time constraints and lack of teacher education on the devices. Schools do not need to spend large sums of money to provide a quality education. Pouring more money into an already sinking product does not make sense.

    I see our taxes being raised for a “mistake” that should have been caught. I see no downsizing in the size of district, or at least not enough to make up for this error. The tax payers will be asked to pony up yet again. I for one, am tired of paying for a product that I cannot let my children use, as it’s such an inferior product. I don’t want my children taught to teach a test. I want them to be taught to think, to read, to solve problems, and to know true history. I am not a snob. I just want my children to be educated. Something that I realized was not going to happen in DCSS, which is why I left the district and I worked at a “good” school.

    I look now and wonder, are these “problems” really a way to get the seasoned teachers with great knowledge and understanding out of the system? I know many teachers who have retired over the past few years, not because they disliked teaching, but because they disliked what it had become, the lack of discipline, the pressure of making students perform when the students’ desire is low and lacking. These seasoned teachers are the teachers who really understand how to teach reading and math, and know that memorizing math facts is key to understanding higher level math. Computers, smart boards, and the internet are great tools, but students really need basics and a strong foundation first. There is a reason why many Silicon Valley Families are opting for educating their children without technology, even though they earn their paycheck from technology. They understand that our children are not learning to think, problem solve, or have a strong foundation in basics. I wonder when the average parent is going to get it. I wonder when black parents will stop the black/white issues and begin looking at those who are running the district and begin to hold them accountable for the product their children are receiving regardless of their race, church affiliation, and politics.

  30. justwatch says:

    It was revealed last night that the system and its officials have known since JUNE that there wasn’t enough money for the Chamblee project. They made no effort to amend the SPLOST project list and they certainly weren’t straightforward with the information. Had they revealed this information, and found the other errors/mistakes/criminal acts, the SPLOST IV list certainly would have looked different.

    By the way, AMG, Chamblee parents ought to be just as outraged about all this. Eighty million dollars is simply too much for a high school and Chamblee’s feeder schools will suffer because of it. The system is refusing to look for ways to save on the Chamblee project and that is wrong.

  31. @Teacher Reader

    Please send an e-mail to dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com. We would like to re-print your comment as an article, with some minor editing.

    Thank you,
    DeKalbSchoolWatch

  32. Trust me Just, Chamblee parents are outraged. What’s making them really nervous is that the budget will be scaled back and what was promised will not happen. The lack of transparency with SPLOSTS and everything else has hurt the students of DCSS.

  33. @AMG, I have not heard that the Chamblee plans were being scaled back. Any details?

  34. Anonymous says:

    FYI, there is a Community Construction meeting at Chamblee Charter High School this Thursday at 6:00 in the cafeteria.

    This is our chance to find out what happened and let our concerns be heard.

  35. murphey says:

    FYI, there is a Community Construction Meeting at Chamblee Charter High School this Thursday, 3/15, at 6:00 pm in the cafeteria.

    Come find out what is going on, ask questions.

  36. The Deal says:

    Not only would the SPLOST IV list have looked different, it might not have even been approved by voters, which is why, I suspect, that this didn’t come out until now. I wonder if there are legal channels we could explore to have the SPLOST IV vote rescinded because the school board purposely deceived the public?

  37. Dunwoody Mom says:

    AMG, the issue, from what I understand, is not with the contractor. These are items that should be taken care of by DCSD, using the “leftover” DHS SPLOST III funds, which the school was given permission to use. But then again, I’ve “heard” a couple of different sides of the issue, so who knows. I have 2 years left before my youngest graduates and I’ve almost had enough of DCSD – and I’ve been a part of this school district as a student (10 years) and a parent (15 years) and I am so weary of all this drama.

  38. I didn’t say they were being scaled back, I said that parents are nervous they might be scaled back due to the “mistake” by the Palace guard. I’ll be at the meeting and report any news. The one thing I do appreciate is that the NEW leadership is trying to be forthright and honest about the timelines released by the former leaders and that the new timelines seem to be more realistic than the earlier ones.

    I’m not giving the new guys any leeway though. it’s time for honest talk and transparency. I know wishful thinking when it comes to DCSS, however the construction of Chamblee High and the timeline are tied to those Federal Bonds and there is a deadline when construction must be finished to be able to use that money.

  39. momfromhe11 says:

    @AMG & The Deal,
    I agree that the SPLOST 4 vote might have gone differently – one of the first things I thought about when this came out. What I wonder as well is whether the “make-up” SPLOST 3 projects being moved to SPLOST 4 (if that is actually allowed legally) will change the order of SPLOST 4 projects.

    Either way is a mess – if SPLOST 3 is “front-ended”, then people won’t see their SPLOST 4 projects happen when they expected (or the project might not be what they were led to believe). If SPLOST 3 are “back-loaded”, then the schools they benefit will have to wait even longer (like years longer). And there is the ever-present possibility that the SPLOST 4 money may run out too soon, so everyone will want their project done first, just so there is still money left.

    I cannot see any way that this situation is going to do anything but promote the “us-vs-them” mindset that has plagued the school system for so long.

    Oh, BTW, Pam Speakes had them remove the cold storage item completely from the consent agenda. At first, I thought this was good, but now I wonder when it will be taken up? Does this mean we never see a public discussion of it? Will the whole issue just disappear down a rabbit hole and the deal will be struck behind closed doors?

  40. @ momfromhe11

    Re: Boulevard Cold Storage

    Just to make sure that credit is given where credit is due …

    DeKalb School Watch notified Nancy Jester that the selection of Boulevard Cold Storage was highly questionable. Nancy reviewed the available information and contacted Superintendent Atkinson with additional questions. No answers have been provided, but Superintendent Atkinson — not Pam Speakes — did remove the cold storage item from the consent agenda at last night’s BOE meeting.

    Why was Nancy Jester contacted about this questionable agenda item? Because Nancy Jester is the only BOE member who reliably checks and answers her e-mail.

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