Fernbank Science Center: Probably Sustainable as an Independent 501(c)(3)

Here is a suggested proposal provided to Crawford Lewis in 2006 regarding Fernbank Science Center (FSC).  This was created as a result of work done by the Institutional Development Sub-committee that was part of an overall committee set up by Lewis to look at the future of FSC.  This proposal was intended to be a discussion starting point

Lewis did nothing with the proposal.  Just like he ignored the written warning in 2006 that FSC was going to lose Fernbank Forest in 2012 if he did not act.

Things have changed now — at FSC and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  So, some of this proposal will read as very dated.  However, the important thing is that it provides a roadmap to FSC’s sustainability as a non-profit organization.   It is very sustainable through outside funding.  The late Dr. Ralph Buice wrote many successful grant applications to help fund FSC’s work.  FSC should also have a foundation to manage grant funds and seek more.

Scientific Tools and Techniques


Fernbank Science Center

delivered to all of DCSS and statewide through Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Scientific Tools and Techniques® (STT) Program at Fernbank Science Center (FSC) is an innovative magnet program available to 9th grade students in DeKalb County who show a special interest in mathematics and science.  STT® enrolls 180 DeKalb 9th graders each year; these students spend several hours a day for one semester immersed in science at FSC.  This unique program in science education incorporates classroom instruction, laboratory research, field trips, and individual study. Topics covered include aerospace, animal ecology, astronomy, chemistry, computer science, electron microscopy, geology, meteorology, microbiology, ornithology, physics, physiology, and plant ecology.  Classes for STT are held in both the Naturalist Center of the new Fernbank Museum of Natural History and Fernbank Science Center. The Fernbank complex is a unique partnership of the DeKalb County School System and Fernbank Inc., a non-profit corporation that oversees the operation of Fernbank Museum and leases the use of Fernbank Forest to DCSS.


Fernbank Science Center was founded in 1967 as a partnership between DeKalb County

Schools and Fernbank Foundation, a 501(C) (3) non-profit.  FSC is a unique application of

formal and informal science education. As far as can be determined, there is no other science program of this magnitude involving a partnership between a nationally recognized museum and a school system in the United States.

Academic evidence indicates that the STT program could serve as a model for enhanced science education. Fernbank Science Center’s STT program was shown in the early 1990s to improve students’ grade point averages, increase the number of science courses taken in high school, and create greater likelihood of pursuing further study or careers in science-related fields.

Fernbank produces extensive educational programs ranging from vocational horticulture to aerospace education. Fernbank is a curriculum-producing partner with NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) and produces curriculum for the program. As part of the SEMAA program, Fernbank pioneered the Parents Café program to involve parents in SEMAA activities while their child attends class. Parents Café provides continuing education in science and life and parenting skills.


Fernbank Science Center has more than 60 professional scientists and educators on staff; more than 2/3 of them have advanced degrees in one or more of the following disciplines: aerospace education, archeology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, ecology, entomology, environmental science, forestry, genetics, geology, the history of science, horticulture, meteorology, microbiology, neuroscience, ornithology, paleontology, physiology, physics, and science.

Critical Turning Point

However, FSC has reached a critical turning point precipitated by funding cuts, increasing costs of field trips for all students and transportation for STT students, lack of adequate instructional space and the growing realization that STT serves far too few students – only 2% — an average of about 9 students per high school — in a school system with more than 9,000 9th grade students.

Resolving the Crisis with Telecommunications

Digital telecommunications at Georgia Public Broadcasting can resolve this crisis and enable Fernbank Science Center’s STT program to be available to all DCSS 9th grade students, as well as offer STT instruction throughout all of Georgia.  What could say “Premier DeKalb” better than providing premier science instruction statewide?

Fernbank offers 12 units of instruction in STT – each unit approximately 9 days long, 2-1/2 hours per day.  Georgia Public Broadcasting could tape and edit each unit into engaging daily segments of instruction delivered via satellite and/or Internet webcasting by the highly qualified instructors on staff at Fernbank.  In the receiving classrooms, certified teachers would serve as facilitators / lab managers.  On-site teacher/facilitators would be assisted by teacher guides and classroom guides, containing lesson plans and labs, correlated to the Georgia Performance Standards and prepared jointly by Fernbank instructors and the certified educators on staff at GPB.

For schools that prefer to receive the instructional programs via satellite, media specialists are used to setting up their VCRs to tape and save programming.  Those who choose Internet webcasting and have a broadband connection can obtain the programs directly in their classrooms on demand.  Further, webcasting can be interactive, allows students to review lesson segments and enables students who missed a class to catch up – all on demand, via the Internet.  No taping or storage required.  All storage is in the GPB Digital Library.

Because each STT unit at FSC can stand alone, there is an opportunity to divide DCSS into 13 STT “clusters”, based on 9th grade sizes within each high school, and group classes in a central location within each cluster when specialized equipment must be used.  Students from each cluster might also make one or two trips to Fernbank Science Center for using highly specialized, non-transportable, expensive equipment or for instruction in Fernbank Forest or at Arabia Mountain.  Because each cluster would be studying a different unit, Fernbank instructors could amplify the instruction in person – at the cluster location or at FSC.  Also, because each cluster would be studying a different unit, some equipment could move from place to place, following the units. For example, during Weeks 1 and 2, the Ornithology unit might be taught in Cluster 1, while microbiology is taught in Cluster 2, geology is taught in Cluster 3, and so on.  At the end of the unit (approximately 2 weeks), clusters would rotate into new units of study.  So, for example, Cluster 1 might then study computer science, while Cluster 2 studies ornithology, Cluster 3 studies microbiology, Cluster 4 picks up geology, and so on.


For the most part, however, the equipment used by FSC in their labs is not particularly costly.  A lab in each school could contain all of the equipment necessary for considerably less than the burgeoning costs of diesel, school buses and bus drivers – and serve far more students, as well.  Meanwhile, effectively utilizing telecommunications and the Internet, the irreplaceable FSC instructors would also reach far more students – not just with FSC instruction, but also with information – for interested students – about independent study opportunities, SEMAA, and other extracurricular science education offerings.

Meanwhile, other Georgia counties could also receive the benefit of electronic instruction along with the prepared teacher guides and classroom guides, including lesson plans and labs.

The costs of making STT available to all DCSS 9th grade students would be well within the current costs to serve only 2% of a single grade, yet far more students would receive this instruction.  Further, if the costs for creating STT in this manner are absorbed by DCSS as the STT costs most certainly are now, then DCSS could recover some or all of their expenses by charging tuition for use by students outside of DeKalb County.  Further, because STT episodes would be “evergreen”, FSC instructors could look at expanding their program by creating STT for earlier grade levels.

GPB Education & Technology Services:  More Than You Can Imagine!

 Prepared by Sandy Spruill

February 17, 2006

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Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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134 Responses to Fernbank Science Center: Probably Sustainable as an Independent 501(c)(3)

  1. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Also, cutting FSC from the DCSD budget will not “transition FSC to a nonprofit”. It will simply destroy it.

  2. dekalbite2 says:

    @ itsbrokedontfixit

    I’ll do this in 2 posts so it goes through the filter (filter doesn’t like weblinks):

    “I don’t know the actual figures, but, if memory serves, over the past 3 years FSC has been cut over a millon dolllars. That sure seems a lot to me!”

    You are right. You don’t know the actual figures. So here they are directly from the DeKalb County School System website.
    As you can see, Fernbank Science Center’s budget actually went up – not down by “a millon dollars”.

    Click to access approved-budget-detail-(2012).pdf

    (see page 5 of pdf file)

    Fernbank Science Center

    FY 2011 Actual budget

    FY 2012 Proposed Budget
    $ 4,228,296

  3. dekalbite2 says:

    “It seems that you are one of those folks described as “My mind is made up, don’t disturb me with the facts””

    In psychology, that’s called projection.

    Here are those pesky “facts”:

    Click to access proposed-budget-(2012-2013).pdf

    (see budget Request Summary – FY 2012- 2013 General Fund – about halfway through the pdf document)

    Fernbank Science Center

    (FY2012 Budget Expense)

    (FY2013 Budget Expense)

    Let’s put these figures from my former post and this post together:

    Fernbank Science Center

    FY 2011 Actual budget

    FY 2012 Proposed Budget
    $ 4,228,296

    (FY2012 Budget Expense)

    (FY2013 Budget Expense)

    Does it still look like Fernbank Science Center’s budget went down?

    Now this blog’s readers can see the information for themselves.

  4. dekalbite2 says:

    “They are the FSC staff that fabricate traveling exhibits that school teachers across the county check out to illustrate science and nature for school children. They make signs for nature trails, and for gardens, bird feeders and bluebird houses (little kits for the students to put together) for use in school gardens and a variety of other things to support science instruction across the county.”

    Good to know what the five Exhibit Designers and the Cabinetmaker do. Now here is their compensation for it:
    Designer $77,381
    Designer $63,360
    Designer $84,073
    Designer $65,827
    Designer $69,178
    Total: $359,819
    With benefits – $431,782 for five Fernbank Designers.

    Cabinetmaker $47,214
    With benefits – $56,656

    Almost $500,000 a year for the tasks you listed.

  5. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Thanks for the link so I could read the figures for myself. In 2009 FSC expenditures were $4,968,023 and the proposed budget for 2011 was 4,268,483. But the actual expenditures for FY 2011 are $4,052,572. Now the proposed budget for 2012 is 4,228,296. Turns out the really big cuts were a year or two earlier. However, as you can plainly see from 2009 to 2011 FSC expenditures dropped by $915,451 (just under a million as I guessed at). Also, you can see that FSC was working hard to be frugal and did not spend $215,911 of their allotted budget for 2011, I’m still looking for the 2012 and 2013 figures you quote as the 2012 school year is not yet over!!… And I am having a hard time understanding the 2013 expense figures since we are still in 2012????? SO, YES, THE FIGURES DO SHOW THAT THE FSC BUDGET AND EXPENDITURES WENT DOWN!

  6. dekalbite2 says:

    The $4.7 million line item does not Include bus transportation or facilities upkeep.

    Read my comment – in two years down the road – two means multiply by 2. Two years ago the FSC supporters argued that all FSC needed was some time to become self sustaining. Now it’s two years later and close to $5,000,000 or 6 to 7 million if you add transportation and facilities and we are still nowhere near FSC becoming self sustaining. In two MORE years, we will be NO closer to Fernbank being self sustaining.

    Look at the data:

    I’m just a plain old vanilla taxpayer who has been in DeKalb County many years. That I’m a dominant political force is totally out of the realm of possibility. I’m a commenter just like you. No ax to grind. Just looking at the data of student achievement, revenue and expense. I believe in Return on Investment and we are not getting that in DeKalb.

  7. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Also, I am agog at the miraculous math you use. Your comment states that the FSC budget “actually went up — not down by a million dollars” implying to the reader that there was a budget increase of $1million. However, that is totally wrong and misleading. The FY 2011 proposed budget was 4,268,485 but actual expenses were $4,052,572. The PROPOSED FY 2012 budget was 4,228,296, but the ACTUAL FY 2012 expenses are not yet in and I expect that, like it was in 2011, the ACTUAL FY 2012 figures will come in below the budget. FSC is trying hard to save money any possible way. It is unfair to falsely potray them otherwise.

  8. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from when you use the term “self sustaining”. Does that mean that, in addtion to flat out doing everything possible to educate school children and to support the classroom teachers in their impossible situation, that FSC is supposed to raise it’s own revenue to operate? How would you propose to do that? Charge the public at private school tuition rates?

  9. dekalbite2 says:


    “Also, I am agog at the miraculous math you use…..However, that is totally wrong and misleading.”

    I’m so glad you could use my links. Now you are beginning to see that the data is there, but you need to do a little digging.

    You’ll have to provide me a link to the 2009 FSC expenditures like I did for you on the FY2011-2013 for me (and other readers and commenters) to verify. I could not locate your figures to verify what you say.

    Here was what a little research showed that you and other readers may want to look at. I would encourage you (and all readers and commenters) to look for themselves at the data. Don’t just rely on what someone posts. Take that extra minute and click on that link and read the data.

    Click to access approved-budget-detail-(2012).pdf

    What I do see for FSC proposed 2012 is salary was $3,445,449 (up from $321,379 actual in 2011) and benefits are $782,847 (up from $731,193) for 4.3% increase (page 5)

    Equipment, teaching supplies, etc. $210,500. Wow! This is just sad. $210,500 for equipment and supplies for FSC while the regular education science teachers who teach science to 95,000 had just $50,000 to split between them. That’s including those thousands of elementary teachers. (page 6)

    Media at Fernbank Science Center was proposed for $40,229 (same figure as the year before) (page 12)

    Site support is proposed for $1,105,218. (see page 10)

    See page 17. Bus Drivers
    “Used to pay bus drivers for Field Trips, Athletic Trips, Band Trips, Fernbank Trips, and all authorized extra curricular activities and Special Needs Bus Assistants.” Total is $1,730,188.
    Transportation to Fernbank is paid out of this, but it doesn’t say what percent of this is for Fenbank. We can figure out some of it though. 112,214 students came to Fernbank (an average of around ONE VISIT a YEAR per child). If we calculate 35 students to a bus, this would be around 3,200 bus trips to pay for. Bus drivers are paid for these trips at a rate of $18.16 an hour and a Fernbank trip takes around 4 hours of a bus driver’s time (they are paid to sit at Fernbank while the class is going on). So around 12,800 “bus driver hours” is around $238,000 plus cost for gas. Don’t know the mileage or we could figure out how much we spend in gas on those 3,200 FSC buses. Not to mention 3,200 more bus trips a year on DeKalb roads (really 6,400 since it’s a round trip) polluting the air.

    See page 11
    Except for transportation it would appear that the proposed figure was $4,438,796 plus transportation. Roofing, grounds maintenance, electrical, technology, etc. not really mentioned. To me that is what is considered Facilities maintenance and the Planetarium alone is quite large. No figure broken out for this although I’m sure the county has it.

    We are spending millions a year on Fernbank Science Center, millions we don’t have.

  10. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    You know, with all this stuff whirling around and the dysfunction apparent at so many places in the DCSD, the students get lost in the wash. Getting rid of FSC is a certain way to harm students that ARE IN FACT getting great instruction and to destroy the careers of some of the top instructors that can be found in DeKalb. And, of course, in spite of your continued attacks on the FSC budget and salaries, FSC staff are paid at exactly the same rate as other instructors throughout the county. I would like to suggest some fresh ideas on saving money and improving education in the school system. First, with tax funding in such short supply, lets look at the assets available to improve education: There are real property assets that can be sold and the revenue plowed back into the budget, there are parents and other community who are heavily invested in the education of their children (some, of course, are not), and (drum roll) there is the great untapped reservoir of the education system: the students themselves. One of the huge issues in the school system is always discipline. As class sizes are increased the pressure to maintain discipline is also increased and student activity is further restrained. The schools begin to seem like prisons. Yet we want these same children to graduate and become good citizens? Most of the students I encounter, especially in younger grades, hunger to help. They want responsibility, but we give them no opportunity to get it. I would suggest that we develop a plan to use students as academic coaches for each other. There is no better way to learn than to have to teach someone else. We could establish curriculum that gives those students who are qualified in the MS/HS the responsibility of moving into the primary grade classrooms as coaches for the students who are learning to read, write, and do basic math. Each older student would be partnered with two or three primary kids. They would attend class with them for a semester and be responsible for working with them to practice and develop competence in reading, spelling, writing, and basic math. Their semester grade would be based on their success with their two pupils. This would be a win, win, win situation. Older students get to taste real responsibility and develop their sense of responsibility. (They also get to practice and hone their own basic skill set). Younger students get one on one instruction to get a good foundation. The primary classroom teacher becomes a director and facilitator of the educational process in her classroom with lots of little “para pros” to help out… And the school system pays them with a grade. Upon graduation, those students who served as academic coaches receive special recognition on their diploma. It may sound a little strange, but the system we have sure isn’t working. And, if we can get students to accept some responsibility for their own education, life will be much better for everyone.

  11. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    You forgot (intentionally?) to include the data I just gleaned and reported on this blog from the budget sheet. The proposed FSC budget for 2011 was $4,268,483 and the actual spent was $4,052,023. In other words FSC, of their own accord saved $215,911 for the last fiscal year. I don’t believe the actual numbers for 2012 are in yet since the school year is not completed. The phrase “budget expense” is most certainly incorrect for 2013. “Proposed budget” has to be the proper term. So, yes the FSC budget expense over the last 3 years HAS GONE DOWN!
    Sorry, but the figures speak for themselves.

  12. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    We reported on the cuts made to Fernbank last year at the old DSW blog. Fernbank was slated for a $104,000 budget cut in the cuts made last year. View the 2010 cuts here:

    And a blogpost discussion on the cuts here:

    Question: Were all of these cuts actually made? It seems we revisit the same cutbacks year after year. There have been continued reductions in Assistant Principals, Counselors, CTSS, Media Clerks, Teachers, Parapros and programs like magnets and Montessori. Either these are cuts on top of cuts – or they have been slated to be cut – and then were never really cut. This new budget from Atkinson will be the third round of major cuts to the classroom. And it looks suspiciously the same as the two before.

    Anyone care to file an Open Records?

  13. Miss Management says:

    @itsbrokeletsfixit , so basically, your point is: Keep Fernbank for the few students who benefit from it and let the rest teach each other. Good one! Do they get to eat cake once in a while too? Oh, and then, the Fernbank teachers will so kindly visit ‘other’ schools once a year and ‘teach’ them all the science they need to know. How very nice!

  14. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    How callous and shallow can you be???? First you act as if FSC is indifferent to the plight of the schoolchildren in Dekalb when nothing could be further from the truth. Second you are critical because the FSC staff is not large enough to visit all the science classrooms in DeKalb County. Are you even interested is solving our school problems or do you just hate FSC?

  15. dekalbite2 says:

    “And, of course, in spite of your continued attacks on the FSC budget and salaries, FSC staff are paid at exactly the same rate as other instructors throughout the county.”

    No problem with Fernbank teacher salaries. They earn every penny.

    The problem is with 28 admin and support personnel – one for every teacher even as the forest is gone and the teachers spend over 50% of their time in the schools now.

    I notice you keep avoiding the cost of the admin and support at Fernbank Science Center.

    Please comment on why we should keep spending almost $500,000 a year on the compensation for five Exhibit Designers and one Cabinetmaker.
    Look at the Fernbank Designer salaries (they maintain the relatively few Fernbank exhibits) – from the 2011 state Salary and Travel audit:
    Designer $77,381
    Designer $63,360
    Designer $84,073
    Designer $65,827
    Designer $69,178
    Total: $359,819
    With benefits – $431,782 for five Fernbank Designers.

    Cabinetmaker $56,000 a year in salary and benefits.

    We can employ a science teacher with a Masters degree and 5 years of teaching experience for $52,000 including benefits. Please explain why we should pay $500,000 a year for Exhibit Designers when this would buy us 10 science teachers?

    This is what happens when you keep the status quo. No one to stand up for the kids in the regular education classrooms.

  16. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    FSC is keenly aware of their small staff in such a large school system. The question is how best to leverage FSC instructors into improving science education in the county. I believe we might be able to use students to accomplish that. It is CERTAIN that getting rid of FSC will not improve science education and that it will deny many Dekalb students who wish to become scientists the support they need to do so.

  17. Miss Management says:

    @dekalbite2 – I disagree. I have a problem with some of the teacher salaries at Fernbank. They are out of line. There are some with only a Masters Degree in say, Biology, who make over $90,000 a year! (I can publish the list if you’d like, or you can download it yourself from GA Open Records – they are called “Other Instructional”. They are fighting for their jobs because they know darn well there’s a snowball’s chance in h*ll that they would EVER get another ‘teaching’ job at their current pay. They don’t have to try to teach science to a group of 35 or 40 at a time every day or keep track of enormous piles of paperwork or grade tests or – or – or … No – they should be paid in line with other teachers. Or they should be moved to a classroom. And then perhaps ALL classroom teachers should actually be paid more than support teachers. ? !

  18. Ned says:

    What if we cut only partially, and thus forced FSC to pursue grants and donations–like many charters have to do to stay afloat? No one, I don’t think, wants to lose FSC, but preserving its budget untouched in the current environment, even with its very powerful friends, may no longer be sustainable.

    We need to seek a middle ground

  19. I Disagree says:

    Pretty hostile there “itsbroke”. You are obviously not a math teacher. DeKalbite was talking about the TWO YEAR cost of Fernbank including benefits and transportation costs – while the in-fighting over their budget continues and stalls. Pay attention now.

  20. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    OK, you have decided that the support staff at FSC is superflous and should be cut. The reason you give is that we could hire another classroom teacher or two. It’s true that that is a possible reallocation of assets. Before that decision is made you should give some thought to why those jobs are there in the first place. FSC instructors have traveling programs that they deliver to classrooms all over the county. Most of those programs have kits (many with expendable supplies to be used for hands on instruction in the classroom), that are developed by FSC faculty and staff and then fabricated by those talented folks you keep describing as useless. Another way that FSC extends their support to classroom teachers is by developing stand alone traveling kits and exhibits fabricated by the support staff. These are taken by DCSD couriers to schools all over the county and used by the classroom teachers to support their instruction. This has been in place for many years and it is still a very active program at FSC. Many classroom teachers are using these kits and exhibits to enhance their instruction. In fact, a number of these were (and are) fabricated at the request of classroom science teachers. Of course, the exhibit staff also design and build the exhibits that you see when you come to the science center. And, oh yes, they do make cabinets for instructors to store all this stuff in. If you will look in the science supply catalogs you will see that a lot of money is saved by fabricating your own stuff and in that way it can be designed precisely for the programs or equipment storage it will be used for.

  21. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    You are correct I am not now a math teacher, but I have taught a lot of math and statistics which was my minor in grad school. I am amazed that all this negative energy is focused on FSC. Your opinion may be that FSC is not an efficient way to use DCSD funds to teach science (I disagree but it looks like your opinion); but it is very inaccurate and highly misleading to say or imply that FSC is disfunctional and does not deliver top quality science instruction not only at FSC but into classrooms all over the county. Or to say or imply that FSC does not support classroom teachers/instruction throughout the school system. We both know that an incredible amount of DCSD funds have been (and are being) squandered on a variety of things that have little or no benefit to DeKalb school children.
    I am saying that FSC provides substantial benefit to students across the county in critical subject content that will be increasingly significant to our students and our society in the future. The petty and mean spirited discussions about costs of transportation to and from the science center are distracting the the central issue: “What is the best way to use our funds to provide our children with the best possible science education using the resources available?”
    And I believe that the correct answer to that is to rethink ways we can leverage FSC to improve the coverage of top quality science instruction and deliver it to all the classrooms in the county. I also think that using students may be a way we can do that.

  22. dekalbite2 says:

    @ Ned
    I respectfully disagree because much of the cost is facilities. Another is transportation. It is an old building on very little land and needs $2,000,000 in renovations. When a building needs renovations, it generally means it has higher ongoing maintenance costs than other new or recently renovated buildings.

    Do we really want to continue pouring our tax dollars (because it will still be millions a year even if we cut some of the admin and support) into a science education model that brings children on buses to see a science instructor?

    This is the way it works. Load up the bus with 35 students and bring them to the science center. With traffic in DeKalb it can take up to an hour to get there from the north and an hour to get there from the south. It takes 20 or 30 minutes to get them all off the bus, checked in and into the room they will have the lesson in. The lesson is generally an hour to an hour and a half. Then they get loaded back on the bus and the bus may go another hour to get back to their home school depending on the traffic and where the school is located. So you are talking 3 to 4 hours of paying a bus driver. The drivers stay there and wait at FSC and while they wait, we pay them an average of $18.65 an hour (average rate for bus drivers on field trips). Indeed Fernbank is one of the prime ways bus drivers make supplemental compensation (and BTW this money for transporting the children to and from Fernbank Science Center comes from the GENERAL FUND that we use to pay for teachers). Based on the visitation numbers in the budget, around 3,200 buses came there in 2012. Now this is a one shot teaching deal. MOST students get one 1 hour to 1.5 hour lesson a year there. This is an exceptionally expensive way to give most students ONE science lesson a year, and this is TOTALLY unsustainable from an economic standpoint.

    Let’s look at the outreach programs. Fernbank teachers have been encouraged to go out to the schools and teach lessons. Looking at the budget, you can see that the number of visits they made means this is a one shot deal for students as well. This is okay for enrichment, but no one who has taught science can possibly think one lesson a year can bring mastery of a concept, and our students are sitting in such large science classes it is extremely difficult to teach them the basic concepts. Do we want to spend these millions on one enrichment lesson per student when half of our 8th graders do not know the most basic science concepts?

    If we cut the thousands of buses that bring the students to Fernbank (which we should – UNBELIEVABLY expensive and inefficient way to deliver science enrichment), then the teachers will be doing most of their day with outreach programs – i.e. going to the schools. If they are going to the schools, then why do we even need a building for the science center? Why not just base the Fernbank teachers in the schools throughout the county and let them run select programs from there? Perhaps more than 90 students a semester could take STT.

    I know the Fernbank community does not want to lose the science center. Real estate agents in the Fernbank area tout the science center, but this should be less than what this particular community wants and more about what is cost effective for taxpayers and educationally effective for students.

  23. dekalbite2 says:

    “Before that decision is made you should give some thought to why those jobs are there in the first place. FSC instructors have traveling programs that they deliver to classrooms all over the county. Most of those programs have kits (many with expendable supplies to be used for hands on instruction in the classroom), that are developed by FSC faculty and staff and then fabricated by those talented folks you keep describing as useless.”

    So creating kits for students under the direction of the teachers should require this kind of compensation:
    Designer $77,381
    Designer $63,360
    Designer $84,073
    Designer $65,827
    Designer $69,178
    Total: $359,819
    With benefits – $431,782 for five Fernbank Designers.

    Cabinetmaker $56,000 a year in salary and benefits.

    We do not pay teachers with PhDs in physics who teach over a 100 students a day this kind of money. Sorry. This is way out of line.

  24. dekalbite2 says:


    “The reason you give is that we could hire another classroom teacher or two. ”

    No I did not say that. I said 10 highly qualified, experienced science teachers.

    This goes way beyond a classroom teacher or two (which BTW – parents and children do not feel that classroom teachers are so unimportant. Without classroom teachers, our entire school system ceases to exist. Classroom teachers are the bedrock of the school system, and most children gain almost all of their knowledge of math, science, social studies and language arts from classroom teachers.)

    Just the five Designer and one Cabinetmaker compensation ALONE ($500,000 a year) would allow us to hire 10 classroom science teachers with Masters degrees and 5 years teaching experience.

    You may think that 10 competent science teachers instructing as many as 140 students a day every day is not important, but that is a mistake that our past administrations have made. They have not valued the highly qualified classroom science teachers.

    Ask the principals of our schools where MOST of the students do not know basic science concepts if they would like to have 1 or 2 extra highly qualified, experienced science teachers. Ask them what it would do for student achievement.

  25. Miss Management says:

    “What is the best way to use our funds to provide our children with the best possible science education using the resources available?”
    And I believe that the correct answer to that is to rethink ways we can leverage FSC to improve the coverage of top quality science instruction and deliver it to all the classrooms in the county. I also think that using students may be a way we can do that.

    And you would be correct to assume that many of us disagree. Many of us think that quality daily science instruction by a certified teacher in a manageable classroom for regular hands-on lab work is the best use of educational dollars.

  26. Ned says:

    Excellent points.

    I have to agree that 1 or 2 visits a year to FSC and 1 or 2 by FSC staff does not a science curriculum make. Obviously, for those living closer to FSC the facility is of greater use.

    That said, I don’t live close (Clarkston) and we have made use of the observatory, the planetarium, and the FSC proper over the years. While I won’t say single visits have inspired my children to become the next Neil Armstrong or Marie Curie as some on here claim these have been worthwhile endeavors–much more worthwhile than endless lawsuits DCSS will inevitably lose, a massively bloated security staff, or laying off less than one quarter of the staff outside consultants recommended for elimination–and it seems like we could cut AND require FSC to come up with its own funding, in part, as many DCSS charter schools have to do.

    Public-private partnerships are possible, so long as parochial interests don’t put their needs ahead of the county as a whole (again) AND we all keep in mind that even eliminating FSC 100% would be less than one tenth of one year’s budget shortfall whereas the other cuts we all know are more in order would also be much more effective.

  27. Miss Management says:

    Are these salaries anywhere near in line with similar teachers and/or maintenance/security crews around the system? Do these people work 10 or 12 months per year? Teachers, do any of you get paid this well? Are these FSC science teachers considered this much more valuable? (Also, FWIW, if these teachers are really traveling around the county every day, wouldn’t their annual expenses be higher?)


    $95,963.12 $1,175.05 Astronomer
    $75,423.17 $642.27 Physical Science Instructor
    $46,635.94 $0.00 Physicist
    $71,174.07 $0.00 Biologist
    $80,921.87 $363.15 Biologist
    $83,412.27 $0.00 Horticulturist
    $55,475.93 $640.90 Chemist
    $66,396.69 $572.61 Physicist
    $61,609.77 $379.95 Chemist
    $60,255.73 $495.90 Biologist
    $72,697.17 $536.50 Biologist
    $56,513.47 $1,391.99 Physical Science Instructor
    $87,166.17 $0.00 Horticulturist
    $77,381.77 $0.00 Designer
    $80,921.87 $545.43 Geologist
    $97,621.77 $0.00 Aeronautics Instructor
    $73,641.39 $682.56 Biologist
    $90,541.57 $0.00 Librarian
    $77,551.09 $498.04 Biologist
    $65,827.37 $0.00 Designer
    $71,174.07 $156.00 Meteorologist
    $82,492.07 $718.59 Biologist
    $53,376.33 $771.45 Botanist
    $75,423.17 $1,170.80 Astronomer
    $61,519.17 $161.42 Ornithologist
    $67,196.47 $1,026.00 Biologist
    $69,178.97 $0.00 Designer
    $90,716.57 $0.00 Ecologist
    $59,325.73 $917.47 Entomologist
    $84,073.57 $0.00 Designer
    $84,073.57 $2,821.93 Astronomer
    $63,360.87 $0.00 Designer
    $97,621.77 $740.58 Ecologist
    $75,140.49 $818.09 Geologist
    $47,214.49 $0.00 Cabinet maker
    $44,429.57 $18.13 CTSS
    $56,329.67 $0.00 Planetarium Technician
    $65,818.57 $0.00 Planetarium Technician
    $97,633.77 $0.00 Director
    $91,083.37 $0.00 Administrative Coordinator
    $50,566.97 $0.00 Administrative Assistant
    $39,702.67 $0.00 Administrative Assistant
    $39,248.06 $0.00 Administrative Assistant
    $34,628.77 $0.00 Bookkeeper
    $43,707.97 $0.00 Scheduler
    $37,799.37 $0.00 FSC Reception
    $6,751.54 $0.00 FSC Reception
    $7,837.28 FSC Reception
    $52,067.97 $0.00 Plant Engineer
    $29,928.33 $0.00 Custodial Staff
    $24,639.21 $0.00 Custodial Staff
    $31,496.07 $0.00 Custodial Staff
    $45,002.87 $0.00 Grounds crew
    $45,002.87 $0.00 Grounds crew
    $34,604.54 $0.00 Grounds crew
    $34,656.57 $0.00 Grounds crew
    $34,012.87 $0.00 Grounds crew
    $31,629.92 $0.00 Grounds crew
    $47,268.17 $0.00 Security
    $42,010.20 $0.00 Security
    $47,268.17 $0.00 Security

    $3,674,144.85 Base Salaries (without benefits)
    $17,244.81 Expenses

  28. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Yet another attack with unsubstantiated accusations. No one at FCS is paid on a special scale. Every salary there is based on the school system scale of pay. A number of the FSC instructors and staff have been there a long time and are at the top of their pay scale in the county. You keep trying to set up a us vs them between FSC instructors and Classroom instructors while much of what FSC instructors do is to work with and support classroom teachers, above and beyond just going to their class with a program. I know of a couple of FSC instructors who travel 2 or 3 times a week and never put in for travel pay. They pay for their own transportation as a way to give some back to the county and help out a little. They also drive to schools to meet with teachers and students to work on science projects, help with school gardens or nature trails, attend science competetions and help with judging or with coaching students (and/or supporting the local coaches) for competetive events and do not ask for travel compensation. Maybe that is why the travel expenses are low.

  29. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Of course we pay PhD’s more. Unless they have just begun their teaching career. They are on a much higher pay scale.

  30. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    After all I have said, do you really think that I do not have high regard for the classroom science teacher???? You asked what the support staff at FSC did, while implying that they did basically nothing but occasionally work on an exhibit or two. I tried to show you that they are an important and hardworking part of the staff that helps to stretch the effectiveness of the small FSC instructor corps of scientists and that in doing their work they save the county funds that would need to be used to purchase support materials for science classes at FSC and around the county. You may not think highly of their work, but I can tell you that FSC instructors, a number of classroom teachers, students, and those who visit the Center believe they are very professional and do quality work.

  31. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    I doubt that there is a public school in a metropolitian system anywhere in the country that would not like to have “1 or 2 extra highly qualified, experienced science teachers”. I also doubt that there is a public school system anywhere that would not like to have a Fernbank Science Center to support science instruction. It’s like the old song says: “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, they paved paradise and put in a parking lot”

  32. dekalbite2 says:

    @ Ned
    I think we are in an “every nickel counts” economy in DeKalb.

    Saying the money is not much in the broader picture is what has been the excuse for leaving every special program intact. It’s ONlY $5,000,000 or $7,000,000 or $10,000,000 – chump change in our budget. However, if you add up those millions, you’re talking about the difference in solvency and insolvency for the school system or kids sitting in classrooms they can’t move in and kids sitting in reasonably sized classes that can offer some extra help on both ends of the achievement spectrum.

    Even if we lay off the staff you refer to recommended by the MAG audit, if there is a more cost effective and educationally effective way to deliver science instruction for the MAJORITY of our students, then we should move in that direction. Science achievement has declined dramatically in DCSS. Pursuing the same course will not bring improvement. The science education dollars spent for Fernbank would buy us over 100 science teachers with Masters degrees and 5 years experience. That’s powerful for kids. To those who would say the funding will not be used for additional teachers, I say it will help us hang onto the number of teacher we have and not let the numbers dwindle by attrition, a practice that has the same detrimental effect on students as letting their teachers go. 40 to a classroom is 40 to a classroom for students no matter how it is accomplished. Perhaps we can afford more than pennies a year (50 cents) per child for science equipment in the regular science education classrooms if we re-employ those dollars spent on FSC .

    I taught science some time ago in a very low income school in DeKalb, and IMHO – DAILY science instruction in a reasonably sized regular education classroom with ample opportunities for laboratory and hands-on learning is what makes the difference in mastering science content or not mastering science content for low income students, many of whom have reading comprehension problems. Just because students are not reading on grade level, they are not intellectually incapable of mastering science content and concepts. That’s why DAILY science instruction by qualified teachers in reasonably sized classrooms with hands-on engagement is so vitally important for our low income students and is what we need to move toward if we want to improve science achievement in our Title 1 schools. This model improves science content mastery for higher income students as well. Why do you think the Fernbank Elementary parents fund a special certified science teacher to provide hands-on science for every child at Fernbank Elementary School? How terrific for kids if every elementary school could have a dedicated science teacher for hands-on engagement like Fernbank Elementary. Of course, that arrangement is privately funded by their parents and is out of the question for our low income schools.

    “Public-private partnerships are possible….”
    Fernbank Science Center will NOT find funding outside the school system with its current organizational scheme and facilities needs. It is extraordinarily top heavy, needs $2,000,000 worth of renovations and lacks the personnel with grant expertise to pull that option off. It is so much easier for the administration and the Board of Education members to just pack the classrooms and not tangle with Fernbank Science Center supporters.

  33. itsbrokeletsfixit says:

    Some FSC instructors are 10 month and some are 12 month. Those with the higher salaries are 12 month employees.

  34. dekalbite2 says:

    Do you think principals would prefer Fernbank Science Center once a year visits to their classroom or 1 or 2 more highly qualified science teachers in their schools? I know the answer to that one and you do too.

  35. educator90 says:

    Seeing this article in the Patch about Petitions make me sick (http://vahi.patch.com/articles/petitions-to-save-fernbank-science-center-gain-momentum). Too many have lost site at what is at stake.

    1. We are at least $73 million in the red, could be more if property values are assessed lower than expected.

    2. We already have classrooms with well over 32 students in them. Do we really want these classes to get larger?

    3. We have a bloated administration in both support and administrators throughout the county. Not enough cuts were made here, and we need to take personnel to the bare bones. Make people work for what they are earning, or have them find another job.

    4. What happens when taxes are raised to the max. allowed by law and property values fall even further?

    5. Why do other school districts no longer have pre-k, separate magnet/choice programs, and no science center? Could we learn something from how they spend the money for their budget?

    6. Is there a way to house the science teachers in other buildings were space is available, so that the district does not have to pay for security, maintenance, and the other expenses involved with the science center? The exhibits frankly stink and would not be a loss. The space pieces would be a shame to lose, but since kids aren’t able to look at them when visiting anyway, it’s really no big deal.

    7. What happens when the teachers win their law suit against the district and we need to pay them? Where will this money come from? How about the construction company? How much more will be paying to have this law suit continue? How much will be paying for the suits against Lewis and Pope?

    8. When do we focus on providing EVERY student with a quality education, small class sizes and high rigor? Only these changes will increase student achievement!!!!

    9. When will get and keep high quality administrators who have quality degrees and who were exceptional educators

    10. When will we begin to hold Atkinson accountable for her high salary, making tough decisions, and turning this sinking ship around? So far, she has a failing grade in my book-wait in DCSS that means a 60 or a 70 depending on the school you’re in.

    Sarcasm aside, I really am tired of parents who don’t understand that we are in financial ruin. There is no money in the bank for a rainy day and we can’t ask mom and dad for a loan to bail us out. I’d hate to see what these individuals finances look like, as they obviously don’t have a true understanding about needs and wants.


    Spending more on something does not mean it’s necessarily better. Right now our budget doesn’t allow for the fancy stuff, we have to deal with the black and white econo brand labels of my youth. I look forward to the heated meeting on Wednesday night and hope that I am able to explain that we need to make as many cuts as necessary to not only cover the budget shortfall, but also to begin putting money into reserves.

    What DCSS needs is Dave Ramsey’s approach to getting back in financial order as the longer we prolong the inevitable, the more property values and therefore tax revenue will go down. Currently DCSS does not look good to anyone who wants to send their kids to public schools from out of the area, class size increasing will have a large negative effective on parents making the choice between a home in DCSS and another section of the metro area. Fernbank being here or not being here will have less of an impact.

  36. educator90 says:

    Putting kids together would be a great way for parents to volunteer, if this is truly what these “designers” are being paid this kind of money for. These salaries are outrageous. DeKalb is not a jobs/employment program. Our primary mission should be laser focused on providing the best education for every child in the district, and that simply is not happening.

  37. educator90 says:

    I’d hope that they’d prefer highly qualified science teachers, but given some of the principals, I wouldn’t be too sure. Really the entire system needs an overhaul and needs someone to step in and take a no bars hold approach to slashing, letting go, and starting over. I was hoping Atkinson had the guts to do this, but it becomes more and more obvious that she is part of the friends and family gang.

  38. Ned says:

    @dekalbite2 (6:51 pm):
    You note:
    “Fernbank Science Center will NOT find funding outside the school system with its current organizational scheme and facilities needs.”
    That’s my point. I’m not disagreeing that daily or at least weekly science instruction is FAR, FAR more effective than 1 or 2 “inspirational” encounters with FSC in a year. That ridiculous argument has been advanced but certainly not by me.
    What I am saying is that I wish we would look at how to alter the “current organizational scheme and facilities needs” in such a way that public-private partnership could lessen the loss of what is good about FSC–and there is good there. I am not saying $7 million is nothing, but neither is, say $3.5 million, when compared to where the real potential savings lie in the DCSS budget, and cutting FSC dollars from DCSS significantly while still giving it a chance to seek other funding and new “organizational scheme and facilities needs” (which should have been done years ago, I’ll grant you) at least may still be possible.
    Don’t let the BOE throw FSC away 100% just so they can save $ for some of the crap they’re doing. I hope you don’t believe for 1 second that closing FSC is going to be reflected in any way other than continuation of the Friends and Family network.

  39. dekalbite2 says:

    “You keep trying to set up a us vs them between FSC instructors and Classroom instructors….Every salary there is based on the school system scale of pay. ”

    You sound an awful lot like a Fernbank Science Center instructor.

    Miss Management has a point as she looked at the salaries for Fernbank Science Center instructors. Look at the salary schedules for DeKalb teachers and then take another look at the salaries Miss Management has posted from the state Salary and Travel audit although her figures must be a little old because many of the 2011 salaries are higher:

    Some of the Fernbank Science Center instructors are not certified. How can they be paid on a Teacher’s Salary Schedule if they are not certified? One instructor I looked up from the FSC website makes $80,921 a year in salary according to the 2011 state Salary and Travel audit (do you want me specify the position), yet there is no teacher certification on file for this employee. Exactly what pay scale is this employee placed on? The state of Georgia does not allow personnel who are not certified teachers to be placed on the teacher salary schedule with the exception of provisional status (very low pay).

    There are other employees paid much higher than the teacher salary schedule that are not certified.

    Your brought this up.

    Miss Management is correct. These are valid questions.

  40. educator90 says:

    A quality science education in a normal sized classroom, every day, would have a more significant impact on the children of DeKalb than the current Science Center Model.

    I’m tired of people defending Fernbank Science, when so few kids are touched by the real programs, and so much money is spent to keep it in its current configuration.

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