Jim Redovian: The school system is too large

The Dunwoody Reporter recently published the following post by former District 1 board member, Jim Redovian.  He makes a very interesting point, one that we have often stated on the blog as well: The school system is much too large to efficiently deliver a quality education.

DeKalb County Schools: A view from the inside out

The very-much-maligned DeKalb County School System seems to find itself in the news almost weekly with a new crisis or shortfall.

It is easy to put the blame for all the problems squarely on those charged with running the system or those working in the system.

In the bigger perspective, however, I believe there is a much bigger factor that drives the weaknesses in the system. It is my opinion that the most profound deterrent to good operation is the overall size of the district itself.

If you look around the state, as well as the country, you will find that the most successful systems operate with a student population of 30,000 students or less and a much smaller geographical footprint. This puts the administration and the school board in a much closer proximity with the stakeholders. They live and play with those they serve and have a much better perspective on those they serve.

Systems like DeKalb and the other large urban counties in Georgia — with as many as 100,000 students or more, in some cases as many as 150,000 — are what lead to the large leadership and administration bloat.

Administration becomes so disconnected from the day-to-day operation trying to fulfill the needs and diversities of so many students and employees that it loses track of the ultimate goal of educating our children. Instead, it must spend too much time developing an environment that is safe and suited to serve so many individuals.

Each child is and has different needs.

Georgia has chosen to live and operate under such a system, and although it works for the majority of systems within the state, it puts the large systems, in my opinion, at great disadvantages.

Sen. Dan Weber did introduce a bill two years ago to look at breaking the larger systems into small entities by creating “cluster charters,” which would allow for more local governance at the cluster level.

That is an excellent first step. However, I feel we must go much farther. I would like to see a bill that would limit the overall size of a school district to a manageable size and those that exceed that size would be divided into smaller, manageable sizes.

Call me a dreamer, but if we want to move our children to the next level to compete in the future, we must look at ways outside of the box.

Another area we must look to improve is how the systems are governed. The school board has by law only the authority to hire and fire the superintendent, approve and oversee the budget, which, by the way, is developed and proposed by the superintendent and to set policy, which also is written by the superintendent.

The board has no authority over the day-to-day operation of the system, which includes the hiring and firing of employees. The superintendent is responsible for all administration, curriculum and day-to-day business.

The problem begins, as the superintendent and school board have to filter most of their decisions through insurance and legal requirements and not what, in many cases, is best for the students.

This is not a fault. It is a reality in today’s world.

On top of that, they must constantly adhere to a myriad of state and federal regulations, which take time from staff and teachers doing their primary jobs, that of teaching students.

It seems we are making teaching a secondary function for teachers. Government regulation is robbing our teachers of time to do what we hire them to do.

On top of the government regulations, another level of reporting comes from the accreditation process we have heard so much of.

None of these entities are not needed. However, we pay a dear price in time and administration to fulfill all their requirements, some of which are duplications.

The system is not performing because it is structured to fail. Although schools systems can be run using business practices, you cannot lay off students if you run short of funds, or they are producing fewer profits than others. Each child is an individual and all deserve the best we can give them.

Jim Redovian is a former member of the DeKalb County school board. He lives in Dunwoody.

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54 Responses to Jim Redovian: The school system is too large

  1. GTCO-ATL says:

    Why is he a “former” school board member?

  2. Dekalb Taxpayer says:

    Because he was a consistent supporter of Lewis and never asked the questions he should have asked. He voted for all those non teaching positions Lewis recommended and voted to eliminate hundreds of teaching positions rather than push Lewis to “rightsize” the non teaching empire.

    This is a good article, but the sentiments expressed in it were not expressed as DCSS became the biggest “Family and Friends” hiring and promotion machine in metro Atlanta.

  3. justwatch says:

    Sometimes looking backwards gives you the most clarity. That is probably the case here.
    When you are in the muck, it is hard to see through the dirt.

  4. September says:

    Redovian is right. We really would be better off with smaller school systems. There are a lot of you who will disagree, but it can be done. It seems to me that Georgia citizens have been asked to vote on amendments to the state constitution more than once in the past 20 years. This is not impossible.

  5. Miss Management says:

    I think the new calendar will be a big driver for Dunwoody to break away and form their own school system. I doubt that the Dunwoody community wants year-round school with week long breaks interspersed here and there. So many people in Dunwoody are from the north and the midwest and value the long summer breaks to visit family and enjoy quality family trips. Just a guess.

  6. anonymous says:

    I have been thinking along the same lines for many years. As a Dekalb classroom teacher all of the things he talked about are true. A small local school district automatically prevents some of the big problems that a large system has. In Dekalb, as a teacher, many times I have felt like the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. There are so many deadlines from so many different people for all of us. Now, in the last year, many people at different schools feel that there is a lack of leadership on the local and county level. I think that the lack of leadership stems from the county. There are some weak principles out there that are not efficent instructional leaders. I feel that this is what has lead to so many schools not making AYP. A smaller school district would be able to have a better grip on situations like this. At one time, our school did have efficient instructional leaders and I know the difference. During those years, our school always made AYP.

    I like a lot of the ideas that Dr. Atkinson has and I have great respect for her. It is too bad that the district isn’t smaller so that she could expedite her ideas in more of a timely manner.

  7. Dekalb Taxpayer says:

    “I think the new calendar will be a big driver for Dunwoody to break away and form their own school system.”

    That will take a Georgia Constitutional amendment (it is against the Georgia Constitution to form any new school systems). I don’t think the legislature will take this up simply because they have taken charter schools up as their chosen cause – we will vote on that Constitutional amendment this fall.

    This Republican dominated legislature has been very short sighted in that they see charter schools and vouchers as the salvation of public schools. Locked into the charter/voucher solution, they have entertained very few other methods of improvement.

    Bringing your cost center closer to the end user is a successful business model. Look no further than Decatur City Schools and Marietta City Schools, two small school systems with stellar student achievement (Marietta City has even higher poverty rates than DeKalb).

  8. Anom says:

    The new calendar will not be pushed down our throats simple because it works in small school districts. Summer is a time for family and friends to go to camps, travel and relax. Life is worth living! There is a time and place for everything, and summer is not the time for in school learning when there is so much that is learned out of school through live experiences. Let’s watch and not let this slip in on us.

  9. anothercomment says:

    It is absolutely absurd that Georgia has a limit on the number of School Districts. It is also absurd that they have County wide school Districts in these densely populated counties. I grew up, up North in one of the top 10 States. 99% of the Districts are under 15,000 students. A large District constists of two high schools. Most Districts only have one high school, one middle school and three or so elementary schools that feed into them. Then the high schools and middle schools are on one campus so their is only one bus run, not multiple bus runs. The bus just stops at the middle school first and then goes on to the high school less than a quarter of a mile away. They share some fields. All the schools have pools in them, both the high schools and middle schools. If you don’t know how to swim by 6th grade PE you are taught. I did that in 8th grade taught the 6th graders who couldn’t swim. Two Districts share a Vo-tech school and send their Jr. And Seniors every after noon to this campus that is accross the street from one Districts high school. Students can get a General Diploma and take Vo-Tech classes and learn a trade. Both the district I went to and the neighboring one are in the top Newsweek Districts and they operate like this.

    What people don’t realise is the so called Blue states up North, even the Purple states like Ohio and Red States like Indiana all have been set up with more local control. In none of these States in the North East or Midwest do you have a large County dictating control, you have local control, the local Cities. The cities, which are more likely called towns, bouroughs, villages, etc.. have local control of their schools.

    The bigger effect is you do not have these bloated Administrations. The Supt. make $150K a year. That was the advertised and filled amounts for the two neighboring school districts in NY State that I grew up in last year. The High School Principal make less and everyone makes less than that. There are no area or asst Supt. The Principals are the Assistants. The other big difference is that the School Board positions are unpaid volunteers. They are not paid positions. You do not have people living on their School Board positions and then giving out big contracts and jobs to friends and family. In fact people don’t even know who they are because the schools are top performers that run smoothly. People also choose to live in thier neighborhoods, they buy in. They stay there. People do not have to be worried about being redistricted if their is only one high school per district.

  10. September says:

    I earned my high school diploma in one of those small New England school districts. One high school, one middle school, and two elementary schools. Today that same district has only one elementary school. We also had middle and high school students riding the same bus to school. The bus went to the high school first and then on to the middle school. Members of the school board were elected volunteers. They lived in the community so you would see them at the grocery store, church, or out walking in the neighborhood. If you had a question or concern, you could call them on the phone or meet them for coffee. Real local control means better schools. Schools that are better able to meet the needs of the community they serve. My hometown would never have allowed the misuse of school funds. Teachers or principals who weren’t performing up to standard weren’t allowed to stay on the job.

  11. As aside: This announcement came via email.

    Possible Charter School for Aspergers or HFA

    If you have a child with a diagnosis of Aspergers or HFA in public school and you live in a metro-Atlanta school district (DeKalb, Fulton, APS etc.), several parents are exploring the prospect of forming a state charter middle/high school designed to work with these youth (their gifts as well as their struggles). The State Constitution allows for state “special needs” charter schools. Parent support is needed.

    If you are interested in helping, call Devon Christopher at 404-358-3102 or email devonchristopher@gmail.com.

  12. Jim Redovian says:

    Actually that is not true, I was only board member to vote against the list of hires presented to us. Check the minutes.

  13. This is true. Jim Redovian asked for the complete list and wanted the option of voting for or against individual hires, however that was not an option. The list of hires presented for approval was on a CD and contained hundreds of names. Perhaps if the board had culled the list back then as Jim proposed, they would have found the list of unverified employees the audit has uncovered!

  14. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Correction, a new calender will be shoved down our throats because in her mind, there are so many children that don’t have the ability to be occupied during the summer. Financially. Which is total crap because absolutely every camp has scholarships, ymca, day camp & sleep away, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4H, there is a way but there doesn’t seem to be any real neccessity on the part of the parents to figure a better way out for their kids.

    I was a latch key kid who waited all school year to head to camp. My mom was single working parent with some support but she found us stuff to do. If a parent allows their kid to sit on their butt, get into situation they shouldn’t be in, get in trouble, it’s because the parent is lazy. period. Once again, its the many who will suffer for the few. It is the parents responsibility to make sure their child is a productive member of society, this starts young. It is not the business of the school system to figure out what to do because children are being left idle. Yeah Yeah it makes it tough to remediate in the fall but as long as this cycle is allowed to happen it will continued, $$ or not.

    My solution: the 10 worst schools, they should go year round, a real balanced calendar. Until their scores are up or the administration who have partnered with the communtiy deem it is no longer neccessary. DCSD must get drastic with THESE schools, not all.

  15. justwatch says:

    Please understand that in DeKalb, you might as well say the 10-15 strongest schools shouldn’t be on this calendar, not the way your propose.

    DeKalb is full of mostly poor students who aren’t getting what they need at home, not the other way around. I believe this year’s free and reduced lunch rate is 75percent system wide. That is a huge number. (I know some will argue that there is fraud, and there is, but not enough to make much difference in the total number.)

  16. bettyandveronica1 says:

    I disagree. The ten worst school as recently identified by the county should be on a full year schedule. The administration should do what ever it takes to get these schools moving. I don’t think it would have to be forever. The other schools, should remain as they are until the county does what needs to be done with the 10 worst. Because these truly are the kids that we need to work the hardest on. Trouble is, they think the one size fits all will work for these schools. it won’t. They have to get innovative in these communities and do what it takes. Put the hammer down, stop talking about it and make the decision and do it. I am not talking about the entire system. only the 10 worst as previously identified by the school system I hear what you are saying, but there are many schools that are performing not just 10-15.

    I think saying we have many poor students we should change the entire system to suit these children is a cop out. Parents are responsible for their kids, period, rich, poor, yellow, green black, white, middle class. It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. It is the parents responsibility to educate, feed, clothe, and shelter their children.

    Going year round, a real year round system, for these 10 schools would be a huge departure for these students and parents, but all they ever talk about is the lost time, how do deal with remediation.

    we fix the lost time in these 10 schools by year round school. period. money, programs parents centers won’t do it. They can and should make this move in these communities.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Splitting the school district sounds like a great plan for those in the north part of the county. I’m sure that a North DeKalb district would quickly become a model school system as it would be supported by high property values, involved parents and less of the burdens of the effects of systamatic poverty. I doubt anyone would be willing to say the same for what would likely happen in the South DeKalb district, which would have a dramatic reduction in funding and even less support than the schools have now.

    We should be helping all the children in DeKalb, not dividing them.

  18. EAV MOM says:

    Didn’t intend to comment anonymously, The post above is mine.

  19. Anonymous says:

    This thread mentioned the restructuring plan. As an educator I am upset that this document was buried in a hole and we had to dig high and low to find it. Then once “they” found out we discovered it they sent a NewsFlash through first class stating that the pay scale was based on someone working 284 days a year (exact number not sure about, but close) and they have to know that teachers, paras, some secretaries, and other schoolhouse personnel only work 10 months or 190 days…so why make a salary scale based on an impossible salary schedule. Unbelievable.

  20. anonymous says:

    The teacher pay scale is on 239 days and that is probably because jobs, such as instructional coaches, will be paid on the 11-month salary. It seems as though they will paid on a teacher’s salary since their job description was not listed separately.

  21. Anonymous says:

    anothercomment, what were the taxes paid by residents to support your smaller school district? How does that compare to the taxes you pay in DeKalb?

    Also consider, residents here complained about Dr. Atkinson being paid about $275K for 100K students. Are you OK with paying $150K for 15K students? If we subdivided DeKalb in those increments, we’d have 6 school districts that would pay $900K in superintendent salaries.

  22. gurulikedrucker says:

    @EAV Mom I’m confused by your comment – “I’m sure that a North DeKalb district would quickly become a model school system as it would be supported by high property values, involved parents …”

    Maybe you know something about the current distribution of resources that we don’t? I guess I naively assumed that resources were distributed equitably throughout the county based on student population (except for those special need based programs that are primarily federally funded). But you suggest that the current distribution of resources might be depriving these “North DeKalb” schools of the resources necessary to fund the progress that they might otherwise achieve? Please enlighten us with details.

  23. Get Green Apples says:

    The difficult thing for us to judge is whether the poverty-stricken children really do make up 75% of the school district, or if they are middle class encourage to apply for free / reduced lunch because that’s what everyone else is doing. The poverty numbers of the schools do not come close to the 2010 census numbers, do they? If so, every poverty stricken family would have to have a child every year for 7 years in a row to remain consistent with the median age of the poverty households, yet on par with the number of children in poverty in our school system. Unless, of course, we are educating children in poverty that are coming to us from other nearby counties…. I wouldn’t put it past Beverly Hall to want to ship some kids over to DeKalb to make her number look better.

    I know I was told to leave the income portion blank on the application and just see what comes back. I refused to complete it. After that, they “forgot” to serve my child breakfast for a week and sent home a note that I should send her lunch because she didn’t want to eat the school lunch (after only a week at school). I refused. After that, my child started complaining that they never had the choices that she asked for – which was strange she her grade was one of the earliest to the cafeteria. There is definite pressure on the families to either sign on with the “program” to help the school achieve Title I (as if this is a goal we are all aiming for) even though our neigbhorhood is above average in HH income levels. Doesn’t make sense.

    Why couldn’t they shorten the summer for the children who are identified as “needs improvement” so they do not lose what they learned during the year? Or make the summer program a voluntary sign-up for parents who cannot afford other options. I don’t think you can always blame the parents of low-incomes for the performance of the students – I’m sure many wish they had the time to spend witht them, but they may be busy trying to find work, or working multiple entry-level jobs to stay afloat. I don’t know how single-parents manage the stress of day-to-day life on top of raising a child, too. Add to that any dicipline issues or learning disabilities and you are expecting a lot from people who are already struggling.

    A school in the Bronx NY spent the majority of their money on program to help the families in poverty and set up after-school mentor programs for the kids and continued over the summer, rather than purely focused on tutor-type services to drill test taking skills and they far outperformed others with a lot larger tax base. http://www.newschool.edu/milano/nycaffairs/SchoolsAccountability_MeasuringProgress.aspx

    Similarly, there is a study about a district in kansas city, kansas that had unlimited funding and failed miserably. http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

    Money, by itself, does not solve education problems. In fact, it has been said that money is the root of all evil. How much more waste of our hard-earned tax dollars must we see before we realize that throwing money around in DeKalb is not helping anyone except friends and family.

    If we all believe smaller districts would work, then why did we just jump on the bandwagon to reduce the board to fewer school board representatives, giving them larger territory to cover? We can’t just cut off the highest income parts of the county and let them cover their own expenses, leaving the poor areas to fend for themselves. But, we also can’t expect to hand a kid a Marta pass to skip over to a school in Dunwoody and all their problems will be solved…. different schools have different children with different needs. Too much time is wasted trying to make everything equitable among schools when the student populations would be better served with customization of the schools to their needs. Where are the principals in terms of advocating for what they need?

    We rarely, if ever, hear a principal speaking up, do we? That’s likely because their leadership is more a mission of carrying out the plans of their board member who wants to direct funds to friends and family. The principals don’t advocate for the children, the teachers, the community … as we saw with the cell tower issue among others. They are spineless, or if they do speak up, they are fired. How do you solve that??

  24. Get Green Apples says:

    btw, we appreciate Mr. Redovian posting here to give us some insight. Even if we are critical, we do appreciate the guts it takes to explain his decisions and offer suggestions, and to set the record straight.

  25. anothercomment says:

    Try this one the district only has 3% Free Lunch, so everyone pays their own way. People aren’t scamming the Free lunch program. That is another thing that local control does when everyone knows one another, The taxes aren’t that bad when everyone pays their own way. They don’t have any of these joke special option sales tax Splosts. They have Vo-Teck programs. They have 98+% graduation rates. I can’t even count 3 people in my class of 350 that did not graduate. With a non-college prep option with Vo-tech the option decreases. With your next door neighbor being the lunch lady, their are alot less bogus free lunch applications. No need for Tilte 1 people. The truely poor get food stamps but make their lunches, and send them to school. I worked in the grocery store and saw that.

    The taxes are not any worse than what they pay in Dunwoody. But why shouldn’t the people of Dunwoody get the schools they pay for.

  26. anothercomment says:

    So are you saying you filled it out and did not qualify and they refused to give your child a free lunch? It is a Federal Crime to fraudulently fill out the Free lunch application. Are the only people not filling them out the Federal Employees in the district, who know they could be cross referenced and then will loose their jobs. When the Schools encourage the parents to falsely fill out the Free lunch applications it is Fraud. When will this be turned over for investigation.

    I am certainly sick of both of my children being shook down in the cafeteria by all the free lunchers wanting them to buy snacks or drinks off of their cash accounts in the cafe. I no longer stock my kids accounts with funds to prevent this abuse. It isn’t right! I pay the Property tax, the income tax, and then my kids get bullied in the cafe for snacks. Then we see the free lunchers buying games at game stop. It is more than irritating.

  27. Anonymous says:

    At least what you were saying is clearer now. You want a school district that does not have poor people.

    You should know that the Free Lunch program is a part of the USDA. Who do you think is making money off of that in the name of feeding poor children?

  28. justwatch says:

    Having visited lots of small school systems, most do pay about what you are saying but they don’t have many other people in the central office. In many cases, principals report directly to the superintendent.

  29. concernforthekids says:

    There is a very easy way to confirm the free and reduced lunch for each and every child. Have each parent who enrolls for “Free and Reduced” sign a 4506-T IRS form which gives the school system the ability to verify their tax returns! Simple and easy and most of all, it makes the lying cheating, felonious parent accountable!
    End of story and fraud!
    Why do our board members think about cell towers instead of preventing fraud within the school system!
    CFTK

  30. justwatch says:

    The federal government sets the rules, policies and regulations related to the free and reduced lunch program. Not the state, not the local school system. The feds. For whatever reason, the US Dept of Agriculture has never (regardless of the political affiliation of the President) choosen to tighten the rules. I believe that this is in part because the public school system is a huge consumer of, and therefore purchaser of, food in this country.

  31. justwatch says:

    I need to correct myself. This administration is interested in halting fraud. They are piloting a program…

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-07/news/ct-met-school-lunch-fraud-0308-20120308_1_lunch-program-school-lunch-free-lunches

  32. Concerned DeKalb Mom says:

    In general, I agree with Mr. Redovian’s comment that the size of DeKalb County School System is a hindrance to its success. But, I would hesitate before designating size as THE predictor of failure or success in a school system.

    Fairfax County, VA, a suburb of Washington, DC, is a school system with 177,000 students. Their annual school budget is over $2 billion. There are 25 high schools (included in that number are 4 secondary schools which house grades 7-12). It is an EXTREMELY diverse population in terms of race and ethnicity. They have 12 school board members–9 district representatives and 3 elected at-large. If size were the issue driving success/failure for public school systems, Fairfax should be among your lowest performing, but to the contrary, they educate their students very well.

    DeKalb faces several challenges in its quest for improved student achievement. Poverty, fiscal mismanagement, school house leadership, etc…size is only one of those challenges.

  33. Jim redovian says:

    I would agree with you in this case size is not hurting success. I would also agree that there is much diversity both racially and nationality, however there is little economic diversity, making it easier to develop curriculum for all 177,000. Of the three factors, race, ethnicity, or economic, status, the third is the one with the largest gap

  34. Anonymous says:

    Jim, are you suggesting the school distict be split based on economic interests? Those types of discussions usually leads to charges of ‘racism’ since economically speaking, minorities, at least in the metro area, are typcially at the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Good information, justwatch. Fraud in the Title 1 program in not DeKalb issue, it goes to the highest levels in government. Follow the dollar and you will be suprised at what you see.

    Does anyone believe the transgression of the Secret Service detail in Columbia is the first time that something like that has happened? Has anyone ever been to an out of town, multiple night conference? If so, you would be surprised at what normally good Christian people do when no one is looking and there is alcohol around.

  36. Concerned DeKalb Mom says:

    Jim, I agree that there are substantial economic differences between Fairfax and DeKalb. Fairfax does has its pockets of poverty, however. I’m curious to know how much research our Board does (a sincere question here, not a jab) into how other school systems deal with similar issues? I think it would be fair to look at Montgomery County, MD, and Charlotte-Mecklenberg in NC, and even Raleigh, NC or Orange County, NC, as basis for comparison.

  37. Jim redovian says:

    No, what I’m saying is that Fairfax works better larger because of its economical make up.
    My only criteria for split is pure numbers as well as geographic expanse, which becomes to impossible to administer

  38. Jim redovian says:

    Actually, the research must be done by the administration, however the board could request this information, but to fairly answer your question this type of research does happen, however it always seems to disappear and nothing ever gets put into action, usually business as usual.

  39. anothercomment says:

    There were poor people including my family. The difference is pride! People who have pride do not use the government for support. The only support my family ever took from the gov’t were the Pell Grants and Student Loans that got me through school. The district I went to had a lot of small farms. People ate off their farms.

    The districts don’t have this huge free lunch fraud. So what if the Free lunch program is part of USDA it does not mean that it is a free for all entitlement program. That people falsely claim the qualify . That teachers and administrators push people to falsify applying for so the schools get Title 1 and more $.

    I am a Liberal who believes that everyone can be successful. But we have to wipe out this systematic poverty. So you can get a free lunch, and still have enough money so you and your kids have $300 hair styles ( weaves), nails, designer purses, designer shoes, and clothes, the latest cell phone. No! you don’t need that. My mother dropped out of high school, but somehow she read to us every night. I learned to read when I was 3. 3 out of 4 of us have college degrees. The other child has had a highly technical Union job for 28 years. Not one of 4 children has ever been arrested.

  40. justwatch says:

    This is the truth. The board often asks for information, but never seems to get it.

Comments are closed.