And now for the SECOND Grand Jury presentment!

Go to our FILES under the FACTS & SOURCES tab and download the latest Grand Jury presentment. Now read the part about Dr. Atkinson and the DeKalb School board.  Now close your mouth.

Some highlights (or perhaps lowlights would be a better description):

  • Gene Walker stated that the board inherited problems created by others.
  • He stated the mission of the school system as, “To be the premier urban school system in the nation, preparing our students to be better citizens.”  The Grand Jury didn’t think the board was putting all of its efforts and resources into reaching this goal.
  • When polled as to whether they supported conducting a forensic audit, all voted yes except Gene Walker who didn’t feel it was necessary as the state audited the system and did not uncover anything of concern.
  • When revealed that the board actually had voted for a forensic audit recently, and selected KPMG as auditor, none of the board members could really articulate any specific areas of concern or what the focal point should be – or even the cost of the audit.
  • Shocking: Back when the board had the big debate over legal services and chose to split the business between Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan and Alexander & Associates, there was a third firm that had submitted a bid. That firm, Brock Clay, who specializes in education law, had a price that was $400,000 less than the other firms, yet they were not given the contract.
  • Sarah Copelin-Wood stated that the board hired Alexander & Associates in order to to have a minority firm representing them, since they “understand the culture of the kids.”
    We also learn that there is no system for reviewing the legal bills.
  • And outrageously, the board broke their own policy and voted in favor of paying for Crawford Lewis’ defense.

Read it. And weep.

About dekalbschoolwatch

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85 Responses to And now for the SECOND Grand Jury presentment!

  1. momfromhe11 says:

    Read it. Can’t weep. Too busy screaming inside my head.

    Even I remember that they voted for a forensic audit, and they don’t?

    I am so glad Ms. Copelin-Wood was there to say the truth about the selection of the law firms. I remember the board meeting where that happened, and it was exactly as she said. – I’m sure some of the other board members really wish she weren’t so forthcoming…

  2. Dekalb dweller says:

    DSW2, thanks so much for providing this information. It appears that the grand jurors possess the knowledge and skills that we yearn for in our board members. And why do attorneys hired by the school system need to “understand the culture of the kids”?

  3. wiserthanmyself says:

    You must–MUST–go to this link to see Dr. Atkinson’s personal address to reassure us all of how appreciated we are. In typical form, this came as a Newsflash Friday afternoon around 2 PM, when the week is winding down and there isn’t much time to discuss such issues with our colleagues. We will get a “small token” next week!–tote bag? Pen? How about our TSA back, or even knowing whether we have jobs? (And note the background and layout of the shot).

    This does show, however, that Dr. A has the ability to communicate with us directly–why is this the first time we’re hearing from her, in print or in video? I wondered whether she debated introducing herself with “Hello. I’m Dr. Atkinson, your Superintendent”–I certainly didn’t recognize her and I’m sure that’s true for many other employees, as well. But that would sound pretty strange after all these months on the job.
    Check it out. The link is a little tricky. ]

  4. momfromhe11 says:

    Yeah, I wondered what the “small token” will be, as well.Please let us know, teachers – hope its something you can actually use or bring home to the family.

    Pleas know you have a VERY LARGE amount of my appreciation!

  5. Teacher Reader says:

    Teachers are paid a salary, given benefits, and work 186 days or so a year. Why should the district be purchasing them anything? I don’t want my tax dollars used to purchase any employee a gift, just as I don’t want my tax dollars wasted on the more expensive law firm, because they are black. I want the district to be a good steward of the money that I send them and provide an education that I could be proud and willing to send my child to school to receive.

  6. DeKalb Observer says:

    WOW. Every Dekalb parent needs to read the Grand Jury’s presentment. What strikes me is that, here is a group of citizens who are saying exactly the same thing that this blog and the original DSW have been saying for three years. I urge all the DCSS apologists out there — Fred, Melanie, anom – to dispute what these citizens, who have interviewed witnesses and examined evidence – have concluded. DCSS is corrupt and led by an inept board that is harming children irreparably. And that video message from Dr. Atkinson? How embarrassing. She may mean well, but she is obviously unpolished, inexperienced, not at all savvy and completely ill-equipped to clean up this mess. And the production values of the video!Geesh. I guess this is what you get when the daughter of a former school board member – with NO TV experience – is in charge of video production. Friends and family at work again.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I guess you forgot the fireside chats she held for teachers and staff shortly after she arrived. I attended it and appreciated the opportunity to meet and speak with the Dr. Atkinson at that time. I’m willing to give her some credit for wanting to address the staff after this cluster.

  8. Dekalbite says:

    Can you provide a link to the Grand Jury’s presentment? I would like to read it.

  9. wiserthanmyself says:

    I didn’t forget. And I think that speaking to the whole district should be routine, not special and not just when the feet are to the fire. Those chats were very limited, and came right at the start of Dr. A’s time here. At least one consequence, changing the pay periods, didn’t seem popular although she said it came out of opinions that employees voiced at the chats. That’s the trouble with “episodic”, non-scheduled contact–she may get a biased picture of what a group of employees wants. With one set of chats back in the fall, and then this today, I still maintain that this superintendent has done far too little to reach out to us.

  10. Dekalb voter says:

    I wonder if Fernbank is happy with providing the votes that Eugene Walker needed to win?

  11. wiserthanmyself says:

    Some of the teachers at our school reacted just this way–we don’t want to be responsible for any $$ for “tokens” of appreciation: we just want fair wages and fair wage disclosures.

  12. Rae says:

    I am at a loss for words….what are they thinking???
    No wonder our school system is in such a state.

  13. Rae says:

    At the top of the page, go to: Facts and Sources, Files

  14. momfromhe11 says:

    @DeKalb Observer (and the rest of us): Sometimes the wheels of the gods grind exceedingly slow, but they grind exceedingly fine (I hope)

    @ DeKalbite: At the top, click on “Facts & Sources”, then click on “Files” and you will find the link

    @Dekalb voter: Yeah, me too. I bet they are not even noticing – they still get a brand new school (unless Gene decides to move the funding to another school after the July election, seeing as how he knows he won’t represent Fernbank by the time of the next election)

  15. Tucker Guy says:

    I read it and I am sick. I can not believe the BOE. They have absolutely NO respect for their position and our money.
    That $100,000 to Crawford Lewis was hush money (in my opinion). They approved it against their own rules and he didn’t talk to the DA about them.
    I wonder what percentage of the $37 million in legal fees will find its way back to the BOE because they too “understand the culture of the kids”.
    Every BOE who was around with Crawford Lewis should be indicted for corruption. If not corruption, then GROSS STUPIDITY!

  16. Anonymous says:

    I hope my “small token” is my delayed contract!

  17. The Deal says:

    What a stupid video. I’m sorry, but after all of the Grade A screw-ups just this week, I think the DCSD teaching staff is due a little more than this. How about a completely honest explanation of what happened with the contracts, an apology for how it was handled, an apology for how the no-contract situations were handled, explanation of what she has done to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and some factual reassurance, i.e. what specific things is she going to implement that will help teachers.

  18. The Deal says:

    Our BOE is not only incompetent, they are racist, malicious, vindictive, and truly ignorant of anything that would help them do the job they are paid to do. How absolutely embarrassing that they could not answer questions about some of the district’s largest expenditures and important votes. I have sometimes thought I am too hard on this board or blow things out of proportion, but there is no possibility of gross exaggeration with this BOE. They will take a small problem (half a million dollar lawsuit) and turn it into a best-case scenario $107 million deficit without batting an eyelash. DeKalb Schools need to be taken over by the state until the entire board and anyone who worked closely with Crawford Lewis are fired.

  19. justwatch says:

    I have often wondered why no one from Fernbank is willing to call out Walker. Are they so desperate for a new school and to avoid redistricting?

  20. justwatch says:

    Unfortunately, gross stupidity is not a crime. Don’t we wish it were?

    Heery Mitchell has listed some (all?) of the BoE members who were around when the contract was ended, as potential something or others in the lawsuit. I suspect that part of all this relates to decisions that were made and continue to be made in this lawsuit. Watching out for their own.

    I think the most important part is the settlement offer. What was it? For how much — could we cover our costs of the lawsuit thus far.

    I do believe that HM took advantage of a weak construction program at DCSS and lined their pockets (or their subs pockets) and didn’t serve the role of construction manager as envisioned. Google Heery Mitchell and Dallas schools for another system where there were far too many shenanigans.

  21. Anonymous says:

    There may be more coming, but at least part of the small token of appreciation is an 8.5 by 11 thank you note that reads

    On Behalf of Dr. Cheryl Atkinson
    “Happy Staff Appreciation Week”
    May 7-11, 2012
    Thank you for your commitment towards victory in every classroom!

  22. But isn’t it “Teacher Appreciation Week?” Not “Staff Appreciation Week.” No slight intended to other staff, but next week is for teachers!

  23. Heery-Mitchell may be at fault in this litigation, but given the track record of our Board, tons of fault lies with the Board too. And weren’t Patricia Pope and Crawford Lewis supposed to be witnesses for the Board against Heery-Mitchell? Need I say more.

    Some of you speak as though Heery-Mitchell is solely liable in this suit. Do you ignore the crap our side has pulled?

  24. Miss Management says:

    Yikes. “Victory in the Classroom” sounds ominously like “Premier DeKalb”. Nothing but a marketing tag line. Just saying it doesn’t make it so.

  25. The blogger formerly known as Cerebration says:

    I need to clarify. I think even the grand jury is a bit confused. It’s probably the use of terms. Before the board filed a counter claim in the HM suit, they approved $3.6 million for a ‘study’ recommended by Lewis, which Womack referred to as an ‘audit’. I think that what was meant was a ‘study’. It was paid to a company called Neilsen-Wurster/Marsh. They were the ones who came up with the idea to file a counter claim for somewhere between $85 and $120 million. I have a hard copy of their report. It was given to me by a reporter who got it from the boxes of evidence at the courthouse. All Neilsen-Wurster/Marsh did was evaluate ‘some’ projects, decide that they were overbilled by a certain percentage, and then applied that percentage to all of the SPLOST II projects.

    I think it’s a different thing than the audit the board just approved. Not sure anyone clarified that in the report or at the interview with the GJ.

    I have blogged and blogged and blogged about this. Who in their right mind would think it’s a good idea to spend $3.6 million to investigate a $450,000 claim? Here’s a recent post I placed at Maureen’s blog referencing Jim R, who had posted a comment blaming H-M:

    Strange – where it all began. Maybe some former board member can explain why on earth that board approved Dr. Lewis’ request for $3.6 million to be paid to Neilsen-Wurster/Marsh to do a “study” to see how much to counter sue Heery/Mitchell for on their $500,000 claim. Of course, through a weird formula Neilsen-Wurster/Marsh came up with they estimated DCSS should file a counterclaim for between $85 and $125 million. Now pay us our $3.6 mill thank you very much. Seems like a really outrageous request to me. Why is it that no one on the board at the time thought that $3.6 million was too much to spend on a $500,000 claim? Why?????

    Of course, now we know that Dr. Lewis may have been motivated to toss the hot potato in another direction – so the board would focus on the “evil” Heery/Mitchell and not Lewis’ own shenanigans.

    This is why I quit the blog. It’s so frustrating to publish these things over and over again only to be called hostile names, uninformed or otherwise put down by certain members of the board and staff. If the staff and board would go back and read some of the postings on this subject on the old DSW blog, they might actually learn something. But they won’t. They’d rather call us out and call us names. So sad. So glad I don’t have children in the system anymore. But I would challenge all citizens of DeKalb to demand change. Demand it now. This situation is a very serious mess.

  26. Anonymous says:

    It’s more like “victimization in every classroom”. ( for the teachers)

  27. anonmom says:

    It’s pretty crazy to spend $3.5 mil to figure out how much to counter sue for on a $500k collections case and then to rack up $37 mil in fees… something just isn’t right. Also, you the BOE hired the most expensive firm in town to do it and it’s dragged on for years. So, what really was the motive? Now, in the inbetween, Dr. Lewis, tries to get his “friend” in the DAs office, Ms. Keyes, with whom he had a father/daughter relationship to go “after” Ms. Pope for some reason (I think he thought he could control Ms. Keyes) — but, alas, Ms. Keyes found too much on her “friend” and he got himsllf a bit too entwined and there was that 1000 paragraph, power point indictment. Then Dr. Lewis gets the taxpayers to hire another really big and really expensive firm to defend him in his criminal case. Then, Ms. Keys, mid-stream, mid-prosecution, gets a very nifty exit out of the criminal case to head EPA — a presidential appointment, facilitated by Congressman Johnson and lots of ties to NB Church. Then The new DA comes in with little “tough” competition and other ties to NB and some wonder why the prosecution of the criminal case wasn’t ever removed to another county or agency… gee, even Ms. Keyes was then handling such a sitution for another county…. So, this week a new indictment was handed down but still, no trial and more fees being paid by taxpayers. It, too, is still in DeKalb. The civil case, still proceeds, also in Dekalb but the school system’s best witnesses are caught up in the cirminal case — the criminal case has to be won by the DA “beyond a reasonable doubt’ and the civil case only has to be won by a “preponderance of the evidence” standard so there’s a “catch 22″ as to which should come first other than to come back to – just why wasn’t it settled way bach when — if you’re going to owe $500k on a contract (which apparantely DCSS did) and you get sued for what you owe, why spend $3.5 million, plus all these fees, to try and avoid paying — if you lose, you still have to pay. If you win, you have to figt appeals and ultimately, you have to collect — is the school system really going to ever collect $100 million? I really don’t think so…. even if it wins. So, DCSS should be sent to binding arbitration in some random corner of the universe and some panel of 3 arbitrators (one chosen by each side and one chosen by the other 2) should resolve this and reach some number that both sides are forced to live with. Then the criminal case should go to trial and not necessarily in DeKalb County. The whole mess is all very strange if you really start looking at all the moving pieces. Again, one starts to wonder — where are the journalists really investigating all of the moving parts….. Did you really see the look on Dr. Walker as he leaned over Robert James as Robert James announced his “confidence” that he could work with the school board after the first grand jury request? Looked a bit suspicious to me …..

  28. anon says:

    BTW, here’s the list of board members who were on the board when the Heery case was filed;

    The board members at the time of the whole fiasco starting were the late Elizabeth Andrews, Cassandra M. Anderson-Littlejohn, Lynn Cherry Grant, Frances Edwards, Chip Franzoini, Bebe Joyner, Simone Manning-Moon, Zepora Roberts and the only one still on the board, Sarah Copelin-Wood. Most of these board members also hired Crawford Lewis, first temporarily and then permanently.

    I know many parents who begged their board members not to hire Dr. Lewis as the permanent super. No one listened and those fears clearly turned out to be justified.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Fact-checking is in short supply. Manning-Moon was gone when this started. She wasn’t even around when a discussion of the “study” came up.

  30. Anonymous says:

    We urgently need intervention from outside the county – the Governor or a state prosecutor with no biases – to step in and take decisive action. Perhaps we should start filling the Governor’s email box with messages and pleas for help.,2657,165937316_166563415,00.html

    Kudos to the Grand Jury for slogging through this muck – I hope it is not simply ignored or brushed under the carpet.

  31. Victimization cuts both ways. For the students, too.

  32. justwatch says:

    The challenge for the panel of Judges charged with deciding whether a special grand jury can be empaneled is not a small one. They must weigh costs, which are not small, with the benefits, which could be huge, if there is criminal activity that can be proved related to the current board.

    I wish the investigation could be expanded to employees.

  33. You may recall that Gene Walker also made his famous “I see color …” comment with reference to insisting on a second law firm because it was Black.

  34. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Odd. She’s listed as one of the people added to the lawsuit a while back. The current board voted to cover all of the former board member’s legal expenses in the case too.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Recently, I inquired about the placement of a trashcan outside of Clarkston High School near the band parking lot; I was advised that it was due to a lack of funding. It is hard to believe that the school system can agree to pay millions in legal fees but claim a lack of money prevents them from purchasing a trash receptacle. What else are our kids going without?

  36. Dekalb voter says:

    ” A specific example Mr. Womack provided was the expenditure of approximately $450,000 in Title I Federal Funds to purchase text books without the approval of the Board. The Title I funds were set to expire and rather than not using them a decision was made by a staffer within the school system to procure supplemental text books. Mr. Walker indicated that this purchase did not violate the Board’s policies; however, Mr. Womack strenuously disagreed with Mr. Walker’s position. ”

    Wasn’t this why the former Director of School Improvement over Title 1 lost the position?

    IMO – this area desperately needed a change in management because after 7 years of the same management Title 1 schools saw a steady decline in their rate of making adequate yearly progress. It is not fair to kids to leave the same personnel in charge who made decisions that did not move students forward and in fact led to a decline in making adequate yearly progress. That could be said of all of the upper level managers under Lewis. They had years and years to make improvements, yet they presided over an historical decline in student achievement rates. Dr. Atkinson is right to eliminate many of the Directors and Managers on the student achievement rate alone. We need personnel at the top who can improve our student achievement rate.

  37. @ Anonymous

    What were the dates of Simone Manning-Moon’s service on the DCSS Board?

  38. Well, trashcans don’t submit invoices and then hold your feet to the fire until you pay up, no matter how outrageous your charges.

  39. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    FWIW, we want to make a note that not all board members currently on the board are responsible for or even have much knowledge of the ‘sins’ of the staff and board of the past. For example, Nancy Jester has voted “No” on many questionable items that have come before the board.

    When she was asked to approve an expenditure for legal service for Dr. Lewis, she voted no. This was some action subsequent to the contract legal payout the previous board approved for him. At the public meeting where the vote was taken, Nancy was the ONLY board member to vote ‘No’.

    The meeting was February 15, 2011. Here’s the link to the minutes: Read the bottom of page 2 to see the description of legal services and then the first 2 paragraphs on page 2.

    Nancy is always the only board member insisting on monthly reports for cost centers, especially the legal costs, which are usually mysteriously buried within other line items away from the public eye.

    Also, note that Nancy didn’t vote for SPLOST when the resolution came before the board due to concerns about past corruption, current litigation and a lack of a focused plan. Again, she was the ONLY board member to vote NO.

    Nancy, Don and Pam – although they now support her in every way possible, did not vote for Dr. Atkinson to be superintendent, and they pointed out their outrage at the leaks associated with the two candidates that went before her but were booted out due to wranglings behind the scenes.

    There are other instances where Nancy, Don, Pam and/or Donna voted ‘No’ to questionable requests, but they have been consistently ‘out-voted’ by Gene Walker, Jay Cunningham, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Tom Bowen and Paul Womack.

    So, you see, we don’t feel the entire board is at fault. We blame past boards, past administrators and current board members and staff who continue to protect the status quo or their personal agendas at any cost to the children of DeKalb.

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