Stupid Is As Stupid Does

A regular reader of DeKalb School Watch blog sent us a copy of the Grand Jury Presentment issued on 4 May 2012.  If we had not seen the official stamp on the document, we would have thought it was a joke.  Maybe we could take care of the deficit by making a screenplay out of this.  It can’t be non-fiction because no one would believe this really happened.  One thing, though – unlike Dragnet, we won’t have to change the names to protect the innocent.

See below for the DeKalb County School System portion of the presentment – and our comments, flush right, italicized and in red …

DeKalb County Schools Superintendent

On March 20,2012 we had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Cheryl Atkinson and discuss her views on the state of the DeKalb County School System. District Attorney Robert James also joined our discussion and both were extremely cooperative and provided the Grand Jury with their insights.

Dr. Atkinson clearly realizes that there are many issues within the school system that must be addressed. Included in these issues are the “friends and family” mentality of hiring and contract bidding, allocation of resources to match skills with needs and overall fiscal responsibility.

[Actually, the issue is fiscal irresponsibility.  Atkinson must be FOR “friends and family” hiring since all jobs on PATS apparently are to be filled internally. ]

We discussed the issue of performing regular background checks on employees of theDeKalb County School System. Those who work with and among our children should havebackground checks performed on an annual basis to ensure that people with criminal records are not permitted to work for the school system. One glaring example of the need to complete frequent background checks relates to the case of Bobbie Neil Ward, who was working for Cedar Grove Middle Schoolas a secretary until her arrest in March 2012. Ms.Ward had previously been arrested in DeKalb County in 2005 and yet was somehow permitted to work within the school system.

[Speaking of “friends and family,” has anyone determined Bobbie Neil Ward’s connection?  A 2-minute search online brought up her mug shot and charges from as recently as 2010 and early 2011.  DCSS HR could not do the same thing?  Oh.  Right.  Gross incompetence.]

 This Grand Jury indicted Ms. Ward in March 2012 on 29 counts, including the abuse of disabled adults, aggravated assault, identity fraud and exploitation of the elderly. It is alleged that Ms. Ward was running a home health services business for the elderly, while she was also employed by the school system. The children ofDeKalbCountydeserve to have a safe environment in which to go to school and by weeding out those employees with criminal records we can better work towards accomplishing that goal.

It is clear that there is the potential for conflict when the Superintendent must gain approval for certain projects from the Board of Education. The Grand Jury believes that it is more than appropriate to re-consider the reporting structure and checks and balances that are currently in place to determine how greater focus can be placed on the successful education of our children.

DeKalb County Schools Board of Education

Board of Education Members in Attendance

Nancy Jester, Don McChesney, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Paul Womack, Jay Cunningham, Tom Bowen, Donna Edler, Pam Speaks, Gene Walker

 Overview

On May 1,2012 The DeKalb County Schools Board of Education visited the Grand Jury. District Attorney Robert D. James also attended the meeting. The Grand Jury facilitated the discussion by asking the Board of Education (hereafter ‘the Board’) a variety of questions. A summary of the conversation and additional insights are as follows:

Mr. Walker opened the discussion by stating that the Board had inherited problems created by others, and that there was great financial strain put on the school system and Board. The Board expressed confidence in Dr. Atkinson’s abilities to re-organize the school system and make positive strides on several fronts, and the Grand Jury echoes this sentiment.

When asked to confirm the mission statement of the Board Mr. Walker responded:  “To be the premier urban school system in the nation, preparing our students to be better citizens”. This is an admirable goal; however, the Grand Jury believes that the Board is not putting all of its effort and resources towards reaching this goal.

[Oh, Puh-leeze!  Admirable, maybe.  Over-reaching, absolutely.  Incorrect, most definitely. Here’s the stated mission of DeKalb County School System:  “To form a collaborative effort between home and school that maximizes students’ social and academic potential preparing them to compete in a global society.”  The chair of the Board doesn’t know and cannot articulate the mission of DeKalb County School System?]

 Fiscal Responsibility

The Grand Jury asked each member of the Board if they would agree to a forensic audit of the entire school system, with the goal being to uncover any potential financial landmines, and to ensure that the proper checks and balances were in place.

Those Board members responding in favor of a forensic audit were: Nancy Jester, Don McChesney, Sarah Copelin-Wood, Paul Womack, Jay Cunningham, Tom Bowen, Donna Edler, and Pam Speaks. Those Board members responding against a forensic audit were: Gene Walker.

[Gene Walker, against.  ‘Nuff said.]

Mr. Walker provided the Foreman of the Grand Jury with his reasoning in voting against a forensic audit when he stated that the audits completed by the State of Georgia did not uncover anything of concern.

[State of Georgia audits are NOT forensic audits.  How can someone who served as chair of the DeKalb Development Authority and on the State Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee not know the difference between a regular audit and a forensic audit?   A forensic audit is defined as, “The application of accounting methods to the tracking and collection of forensic evidence, usually for investigation and prosecution of criminal acts such as embezzlement or fraud.”]

During the discussion it was revealed that the Board had recently voted for a forensic audit, and that KPMG had been selected as the auditor. The Grand Jury asked what the scope of the audit would encompass and the Board had difficulty articulating any specific areas that would be the focal point or what the cost of the audit would be. The Grand Jury finds it troubling that the Board was unable to provide specifics of the audit; how did the Board vote to approve the audit without an understanding of the goals and scope of the project?

[See above …]

Legal Representation

The school system and Board retain two law firms as outside counsel: Alexander and Associates and Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan. According to several Board members, total contractual legal expenses are of the magnitude of$1.5 – $1.7 million per year and there areseparate arrangements for what was referred to as “complex litigation.” No one on the Board was able to provide any clarity regarding the expenses associated with complex litigation.

[It is unlikely that $1.5 – $1.7 million per year is even close to being correct.  We can’t know that, of course, because years of calling for transparency and an online check register has been met with a deaf ear.]

When asked why there were two firms handling the school system and Board’s legal needs there was no credible reason given. Sarah Copelin-Wood revealed that the Board wanted to have a minority-owned firm representing the schools and Board because “they understand the culture of the kids.”

[“The culture of the kids …” Hmmm – a great reason from the horse’s mouth for splitting DCSS into two school systems that can work more effectively with the culture of the kids.”   If we select lawyers on that basis, why not set up two independent school systems to work on that basis, as well?]

While ensuring there is diversity is an admirable goal, it should not be the primary reason for retaining the services of Alexander and Associates.  The Grand Jury asked about the selection process used to select the Board’s outside counsel and Paul Womack responded that three board members rated and ranked all three potential firms to reach consensus. Mr. Womack, who is the Committee Chair for the Budget, Audit, Finance and Facilities Committee, was unable to recall the differences (if any) in the fees proposed by the bidding firms.

The third firm, Brock Clay, was not selected even though, according to testimony provided to this Grand Jury in another case, they submitted a bid which was more than $400,000 lower than the bid submitted by Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan. Brock Clay specializes in education law, and represents the school systems of Fulton, Cobb and Clayton counties in Georgia.

While the Board is entitled to exercise discretion in the selection of its legal counsel , the decisions made to retain two (2) firms while not selecting a highly qualified, and significantly less expensive firm when the school system is in financial distress are highly questionable.

When asked about the process used to review legal bills, the general response from the Board was that there is no process in place. To the Board’s knowledge there are no policies or procedures for what the law firms representing the school system and the Board can and cannot charge for (e.g., excessive conferences between attorneys, excessive legal research, copying charges, excessive number of attorneys participating in conference calls and meetings, etc.), or what is considered to be complex litigation. The Board should consider adopting formal guidelines for its outside counsel. As part of the proposed forensic audit referenced above, the Grand Jury urges the Board to ensure that payments made to attorneys be examined closely.

[SIGH …]

Policies and Procedures

Mr. Womack indicated that the work Dr. Atkinson is doing to re-organize the school system is “uncovering things all the time” that need to be addressed. 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. Mr. Bowen indicated that certain “emergency” expenditures could be made and then brought to the Board for approval after the fact. This would appear to put the school system at unnecessary risk of rogue or otherwise inappropriate activities from employees if policies are not followed.

[And this qualifies as an “emergency” how? Like the Board’s “emergency” called meetings?  Multiple called meetings every month are simply a Board ploy to avoid videotaping, broadcast, streaming and stay out of the public eye.]

The Board was asked if they had approved the payment of $100,000 to Crawford Lewis’ legal defense as part of the Board’s Liability Protection for Employees and Board Members policy and all members responded affirmatively.

The policy explicitly states that it is intended to help defend “… civil, criminal, or quasi-criminal actions brought or maintained against members of the Board, the superintendents, principals, teachers, and other administrators and employees, where the Board determines that such actions have arisen out of the lawful performance of duties for the DeKalb County Board of Education.”

Also, the policy further states that liability coverage shall not apply to (among other things)“… any action based upon or attributable to any such person gaining in fact any personal profit or advantage to which they were not legally entitled.”

Further, the policy states, “provided further, that with respect to criminal or quasi-criminal actions, the Board may reimburse such persons for expenditures of the type described above if final judgment in such action is rendered in favor of such persons.”

To approve this payment for Mr. Lewis’ legal defense under this policy, the Board would have had to believe and determine that Mr. Lewis was lawfully performing his duties and that he did not gain personal profit.  Mr. McChesney commented that the Board was unaware that Mr. Lewis was the target of any investigation from the District Attorney’s office. If he was not the target of a criminal investigation then why would the Board have funded his legal defense under the liability policy?

[Why, indeed?]

Based on the explicit provisions above it would appear that the Board’s payment of $100,000 to Alston & Bird to defend Crawford Lewis violated this policy. Mr. Bowen attempted to explain that the Board was advised by counsel to make the payment to sever all ties with Mr. Lewis; however, they were not required to do so. This is, at the least, another example of poor judgment by the Board and at worst a gross violation of policies where there is no oversight to the Board’s actions.

[The Board is playing fast and loose with our money – our tax dollars! It is all Monopoly™ money to them!]

 Heery/Mitchell Legal Matters

The most alarming revelations that came from the Board were in regard to the Heery/Mitchell lawsuit and countersuit. Although the Grand Jury is not privy to all the facts and circumstances related to this case, it does note that it initially started as a breach of contract claim against Heery/Mitchell involving approximately $450,000. Following many years of litigation, this case has evolved into one involving more than $100 million in alleged damages and millions in legal fees. The Board claims that the legal proceedings have been delayed because the DeKalb County District Attorney’s office has not resolved the Crawford Lewis case. These are mutually exclusive events and the Grand Jury does not believe this is sufficient justification for a delay in resolving the Heery/ Mitchell situation, especially in light of the substantial legal fees incurred by the Board during this period.

[Who’s on first, What’s on second … but this is no laughing matter.]

Mr. Womack indicated that he was in possession of evidence showing $18 million or more in fraud, specifically related to false time sheets that were paid to Heery/Mitchell but that the District Attorney’s office would not evaluate the evidence. According to Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John Melvin, this evidence has never been offered to the District Attorney’s Office. The Grand Jury urges Mr. Womack to provide this information to the District Attorney’s Office immediately.

According to Mr. Womack, an audit of the Heery/Mitchell relationship was undertaken prior to filing the countersuit. When asked what the cost of the audit was, Mr. Womack was unable to recall the figure, although he estimated it to be over $1 million.

[And Womack chairs the Finance Committee!  He has really got to go!  The archives of this blog show that the actual cost was closer to $3.5 million.]

Quite shockingly, many Board members were unaware that this audit had ever taken place.

According to Mr. Bowen, the $110 million counter suit filed against Heery/Mitchell by the Board of Education was intended to pay the school system back for correcting errors made with schools that had been built, to build schools that Heery/Mitchell had committed to build but never broke ground and fraud committed by Heery/Mitchell.

If the Board had agreed to settle its claim that Heery/Mitchell owed the school system approximately $450,000 in contractual damages, the repair work and new buildings would have to be funded from within the school system’s budget. When asked what the actual cost of repairs and building would be Mr. Womack indicated that the total cost could be $180 million. It would appear that even a successful outcome of the countersuit would cause the Board to have an additional deficit of $70 million. The Grand Jury’s obvious concern is that the Board was advised to file a counter suit to fund the repair and build projects but the Board did not consider the totality of costs before agreeing to the claimed damages.

[Advised by whom?]

According to the Board, the suit does not request Heery/Mitchell to pay the Board’s attorney’s fees as part of the settlement, and at last count approximately $18 million had been paid to King & Spalding and an additional $19 million of fees was currently accrued. So even a successful judgment in this case would appear to create a deficit of approximately $107 million ($70 million in repair and building projects + $37 million in paid or accrued legal expenses).

[Perhaps the place to begin cuts and recoup losses caused by the Board is to eliminate Board salaries and the costly insurance that allows Board members to make million $$$ decisions with no concern over consequences.  Any board member not interested in continuing as an uninsured, unpaid volunteer is welcome to step down — and don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.]

When asked about the fee structure in place to have King & Spalding continue to prosecute this case, the Board appeared to be pleased with the contingency structure that had been agreed upon. When questioned about the economics of the case under this contingency agreement, Mr. Walker stated that this agreement would be renegotiated with King & Spalding once the case had settled. When asked if this intention had been agreed to in writing with King & Spalding, Mr. Walker responded that it had not been but that it would be a “good idea.”

[Completely fiscally irresponsible, if not downright stupid.  It is NOT possible that Gene Walker was admitted to Duke University, much less was able to do the work to earn an actual Ph.D.]

This comment left the Grand Jury puzzled by why it had not previously occurred to the Board to enter into a written agreement memorializing this understanding (if there is in fact such an understanding) potentially involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. Mr. Walker indicated that he and Mr. Bowen attended a mediation session with Heery/Mitchell in an attempt to settle the lawsuit. Mr. Walker indicated that a settlement was offered, however Mr. Walker was unwilling to provide any details because the discussions of the proposed settlement had been discussed in an Executive Session. The Grand Jury believes that the citizens of DeKalb County have the right to know what the proposed settlement was and the reasons for not reaching the settlement rather than proceeding down the path the Board is currently on.

[AMEN!]

 Conclusion

The Grand Jury of the March-April 2012 term strenuously urges District Attorney Robert D. James to convene a Special Grand Jury to investigate the actions of the DeKalb County Board of Education. This reiterates the calls from past Grand Juries.  The citizens of DeKalb County deserve to know that those responsible for the education of our children are, in fact, acting in their best interest and making the best use of public funds.

So, Robert James, do you still think the Board can “police themselves”?  At the very least, this Board is so stupid they probably should not be allowed to cross the street by themselves.  This stupidity is costing our children dearly.

When, exactly, Robert James, do you plan to start doing your job?

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46 Responses to Stupid Is As Stupid Does

  1. The Deal says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. And “Amen” on the Gene Walker and Duke University Ph.D. degree. I have always found that extremely suspect.

  2. Adam says:

    Frankly I believe Robert James is in over his head on this one. Allowing the board to “police themselves” really smells. In the end I hope the feds get involved. It’s the only way to root out the corruption.

  3. Jon Miller says:

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  4. Not only is Robert James way over his head in terms of experience and education, he also is part of the DeKalb County/DCSS “inner circle.” When I had knowledge of some work he did as county solicitor, he appeared to be taking his direction from Ron Ramsey. Robert James does NOT want — and will strongly resist with everything at his disposal — to bring Lewis to trial. His latest indictments appear to be an attempt to buy time. When he announced that he trusted the Board to police themselves, he looked like an abashed schoolboy doing Gene Walker’s bidding, instead of an adult officer of the court doing the right thing, serving the best interests of the citizens of DeKalb County. Robert James has made himself part of the problem.

  5. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    EXCELLENT SUMMATION! My wife and I are boiling and are headed for a walk before one of us kicks a wall. Much of this was brought to the medias attention 5 to 6 years ago and they ignored the citizens, because Clew had the media wrapped around his fingers. Remember Kristina Torres’ line, “Vociferous Parents” label? This was after a group gave her all the documents this group had uncovered through an Open Records request. Torres went right to Clew with our names and documents. Several media organizations, WSB-TV & FOX5 told us, “It was too difficult a story to tell and no one would believe it.” Facts are always freakier than fiction! The AJC should work on DCSS as hard as they worked on the testing scandals story they broke a few weeks ago. Hey AJC, this is your school district too, haven’t you moved your offices to DeKalb County near Perimeter Mall? I’m just sayin’……

    Hopefully this presentment will change your minds. Could it be you guys are nervous what you might uncover? The people with power in this county are on or working with the school board NOT the County Commission. The largest percentage of OUR tax dollars goes to schools NOT the county. Former BOE members told us years ago to FOLLOW THE MONEY! However, it’s hard to track it when DCSS has gotten so good at hiding it!

  6. justwatch says:

    What DeKalb lacks, that both Atlanta City Schools and Clayton Schools had, is a whistle blower. For whatever reason, we have no employees willing to come forward — even if offered protection — to a law enforcement agency. Both the bad behavior in Clayton and the cheating situation in Atlanta, was outed by employees. Where is our whistle blower?

  7. Achelous says:

    Downright scary. It’s staggering to see the complete lack of intelligence in a group of people assigned to look after an educational system….or district…or whatever.

  8. Tit For Tat says:

    I wish every parent and stakeholder in Dekalb County Schools would read your summation of the Grand Jury meeting with our “stellar” Board of Education

  9. Retired DeKalb teacher says:

    Good job on giving us the rundown on the Grand Jury report…please keep us informed!

  10. GTCO-ATL says:

    Where are the parents? Where are the teachers? We’ve been fighting the cell towers FOR them, ON BEHALF of them, but largely WITHOUT THEM… not because they are pro-cell towers, but because they are too afraid to do anything that would be seen as crossing the “system.”

  11. justwatch says:

    What you are seeing on the cell phone issue, is symptomatic of DeKalb County as a whole. Very apathetic voters/citizens and a do terrible government.

    I hate to irritate you, but at a couple of the schools some parents want them. They may not be advocating publicly or even privately for them, but they aren’t rallying the troops against them.

  12. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Another point of view. Blog host or Grand Jury comments appear in red, brackets, or **

    [Actually, the issue is fiscal irresponsibility. Atkinson must be FOR “friends and family” hiring since all jobs on PATS apparently are to be filled internally. ]

    Can you provide proof that all jobs on PATS are to be filled internally. If not, you are violating a request that you made to provide some type of proof for an allegation.

    [Speaking of “friends and family,” has anyone determined Bobbie Neil Ward’s connection? A 2-minute search online brought up her mug shot and charges from as recently as 2010 and early 2011. DCSS HR could not do the same thing? Oh. Right. Gross incompetence.]

    I don’t know Bobbie Neil Ward but I find it odd that her name was not redacted from the Grand Jury report. That said, can anyone provide information about a conviction for Ms. Ward? I didn’t know you could deny hiring based on an indictment. Do we know if she was cleared in a background check? There are too many unknowns to make a definitive statement that something was done wrong.

    ** It is clear that there is the potential for conflict when the Superintendent must gain approval for certain projects from the Board of Education. The Grand Jury believes that it is more than appropriate to re-consider the reporting structure and checks and balances that are currently in place to determine how greater focus can be placed on the successful education of our children.**

    This statement clearly shows that the Grand Jury does not understand the relationship between the Board of Education and the superintendent. How do you reconsider the reporting structure of constitutionally elected officials and their sole employee? Does the Grand Jury think the superintendent should not be accountable to the Board of Education? It would be interesting t0 hear what this Grand Jury would consider an appropriate relationship for the reporting structure.

    [State of Georgia audits are NOT forensic audits. How can someone who served as chair of the DeKalb Development Authority and on the State Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee not know the difference between a regular audit and a forensic audit? ]

    The question by the Grand Jury was if the Board of Education would agree to a forensic audit of the ENTIRE school system. Dr. Walker’s answer is correct on many counts. By the definition provided, a forensic audit is an investigation and prosecution of criminal acts such as embezzlement or fraud.” Is there proof of this for the ENTIRE school system? Multiple audits are performed in the school system by independent, state and federal agencies. If those turned up concerns, a forensic audit SHOULD be done. For someone to say a forensic audit is needed for the ENTIRE school system also says they don’t believe the results of the independent, state and federal audits performed. If that is the case, we have a much bigger problem. Otherwise this would be a costly fishing edition.

    [It is unlikely that $1.5 – $1.7 million per year is even close to being correct. We can’t know that, of course, because years of calling for transparency and an online check register has been met with a deaf ear.]
    Surprise, no disagreement with this assessment though if you can point to any government entity that can provide an accurate value for legal expenses, we’d like to know of them. The rest of the country could learn something from them.

    [And this qualifies as an “emergency” how? Like the Board’s “emergency” called meetings? Multiple called meetings every month are simply a Board ploy to avoid videotaping, broadcast, streaming and stay out of the public eye.]

    The Board of Education has a constitutional duty to approve the expenditure of funds, usually over $25,000. Are you suggesting that they should forego their constitutional duties until scheduled Board meetings, even when immediate decisions are needed? I agree that called meetings should be broadcast and available for replay also.

    [Advised by whom?]

    Before major decisions are made, the Board of Education consults with legal counsel. Didn’t you know this?

    [Perhaps the place to begin cuts and recoup losses caused by the Board is to eliminate Board salaries and the costly insurance that allows Board members to make million $$$ decisions with no concern over consequences. Any board member not interested in continuing as an uninsured, unpaid volunteer is welcome to step down — and don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.]

    While PTA officers are volunteers, they have insurance also. Are you aware of any elected officials that are not paid or insured, especially given their constitutional responsibilities? This is supposed to be a part time position that pays just over $20,000 per year. If you are willing to do this, announce yourself with these stipulations and we’ll encourage the entire county to vote for you. You probably wouldn’t last one month.

    [AMEN!]

    You want to know why an agreement wasn’t reached. Ask Heery & Mitchell. Do you think they really want to negotiate an agreement when it is alleged they overbilled the taxpayers of DeKalb by over $100 million dollars? They know that by stringing this along, citizens may get weary and urge the Board of Education to give up. Why are you OK with allowing a contractor to potentially overcharge taxpayers? This needs to go to trial so the truth can be shared.

    [So, Robert James, do you still think the Board can “police themselves”? At the very least, this Board is so stupid they probably should not be allowed to cross the street by themselves. This stupidity is costing our children dearly.
    When, exactly, Robert James, do you plan to start doing your job?]

    Citizens are responsible for policing the Board of Education. Laws provide recall options if citizens believe a personnel change is needed before a term ends.

    While the service of our neighbors is appreciated on the Grand Jury, they worked on suppositions and speculations rather than facts. Board members won’t know the specifics of every action they vote on. If they do, they are not doing their job. They should take a strategic view of the school system and allow the employees to handle the operational issues. The Board of Education should rightfully question all expenditures to understand how it will ultimately impact student achievement. They shouldn’t know to the dollar how much is spent on 4th grade math books, staff members should provide that information if it is needed.

  13. FRED THE CHAIRMAN says:

    Fred in DeKalb: I respectfully disagree with several of your comments, but the primary object of my disagreement is with your last statement. In terms of the interview with the Board of Education, the Grand Jury was not focused on whether or not to indict, which would have taken into account facts and testimony provided by law enforcement. The Grand Jury was interviewing the Board of Education, and the “suppositions” were based on the information provided by the Board. So, the proverbial ‘garbage in garbage out’ mantra would apply here. The Board intentionally did not provide specific information that they should CLEARLY have known.

    Suffice it to say that you should be VERY thankful for the work done by this Grand Jury, and if others do their job with equal skill then one way or another the citizens of the county will know where they stand regarding the School Board.

    Best Regards,

    THE CHAIRMAN

  14. Fred in DeKalb says:

    FRED THE CHAIRMAN, thank you for being respectful in your disagreement. I would appreciate if you could provide specifics with the other comments I provided. Several spoke on the constitutional responsibilities of the elected Board of Education members. As a reminder, there primary responsibilities are to:
    1. Hire a superintendent to handle the day to day operations of the school system.
    2. Work with the superintendent in setting the strategic direction for the school system.
    3. Work with the superintendent and community in setting policies for governing the school system.
    3. Approve the budget for the school system.

    For a Board of Education member to have specific knowledge of a billion dollar organization with over 15,000 employees would suggest they may be overstepping their responsibilities by getting involved in operational issues. They should have a general understanding of what is needed however should rely on the superintendent and staff for any specifics. Would Senator Johnny Isakson have specific knowledge about the challenges with the Chamblee rebuild project since federal government funds are used? No, but he would have a staff member brief him on the highlights and could speak on that. He could only do this if he was briefed before a question was asked.

    As I understand from wikipedia, the grand jury is a type of jury that determines whether a criminal indictment will be issued. Grand jurors can issue subpoenas and question witnesses and they may pursue an investigation anywhere it leads. If the grand jury wanted specific information, they could have requested the appropriate staff memberts appear with some combination of the superintendent or Board or Education members. Given this grand jury only spoke to Board of Education members for a few hours on a wide variety of subjects, it is reasonable to question if they had preconceived opinions coming in to the interview.

    As stated, I am appreciative of the work of the grand jury. They are not infallible. Citizens can disagree with their opinions.

  15. Thank you for the work of the grand jury you chaired! We appreciate so much your efforts. We know it cost you time away from home, family and work. We are grateful for your service.

    Fred in DeKalb is a long-time apologist for — and employee of — DeKalb County School System.

  16. Fred in DeKalb says:

    dekalbschoolwatch , I’d prefer you simply say I have a different point of view. I am frustrated with the recent past of this school system however I can confidently say that a large majority of the over 15,000 employees are hard workers, doing their best in trying times. They had nothing to do with the shenanigans of a few however they are being thrown under the bus with everyone else. There are many students graduating every year then doing amazing things when they leave. Some students have been inspired by an employee of the school district to reach for the stars because they may not have had positive role models at home. Maybe you don’t see that but I do.

    I refuse to use a broad brush in describing the school district as some of the posters do. I want to make sure their is some sense of balance to the discussions. Isn’t that the objective of a blog? If everyone has the same opinion on everything, this could simply be called a gripe blog with nothing constructive or positive coming from it.

  17. justwatch says:

    The Grand Jury in GA is allowed/required to investigate government inefficiencies. For example, every Grand Jury in GA visits the jail to report on the conditions. They are responsible to report on problems at the jail.

    In GA, every felony must be charged by a Grand Jury, but not everything a grand jury does is related to crime.

  18. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    Fred, This blog brings out many things about the best and brightest in our district. Talk to Kim Gocke at Cross Keys and others. However, we have had serious corruption an malfeasance uncovered and until all the perps are brought to justice, I will be happy to speak truths about the former regime that failed our system. Our success over the past 7 years is non-existent as a whole. There have been success stories and the teachers should celebrate their success. However when so much money is wasted and spent for things that do not effect the school house or teach students and the data only shows failures, then what should stakeholders do? Not speak at all? The truth hurts and we will be experiencing a whole lot of that as the trials begin and people start taking oaths to tell the truth.

  19. Dekalbite says:

    @ Fred in DeKalb

    Here are some facts, not opinions:
    Our student rate of achievement is the lowest in the metro area.

    We have experienced the steepest rate of achievement decline in our low income Title 1 schools.

    Our students do not achieve at the same rate as demographically similar school systems in the metro area.

    We have non teaching cost centers that consume more per pupil dollars than other metro school systems including demographically similar school systems.

    Lack of performance is the key to parents/taxpayers discontent far more than shenanigans.

  20. Dekalbite says:

    @ Fred in DeKalb
    “Citizens are responsible for policing the Board of Education. Laws provide recall options if citizens believe a personnel change is needed before a term ends.”

    Citizens should not have to depend on elections and recall petitions if an investigation proves that there is impropriety or illegality on the part of public officials – that goes for any public official local, state and federal. We have a legal system paid for by tax payer dollars that is responsible for policing private and public persons and entities.

  21. Fred in DeKalb says:

    @ Dekalbite
    “Citizens should not have to depend on elections and recall petitions if an investigation proves that there is impropriety or illegality on the part of public officials – that goes for any public official local, state and federal. We have a legal system paid for by tax payer dollars that is responsible for policing private and public persons and entities.”

    No disagreement. The key to your statement is if something is proven. When that is the case, our laws help guide us on the appropriate action.

    An indictment does not mean the accused are guilty. It simply means there is enough evidence to go to trial. We need the trial to begin so everyone can see the evidence. If found guilty, the accused should face the maximum penalties allowed. If found not guilty, we need to be able to move on. This can only be determined by a trial.

  22. Name One says:

    DeKalb must take an unflinching look at cronyism
    http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/05/06/dekalb-must-take-an-unflinching-look-at-cronyism/

    Mo Downey’s latest Get Schooled post says it all: We need to stop tolerating cronyism, nepotism, corruption, etc. There are too many BOE members who served on the board during these years of corruption, and did not hold the Central Office accountable.

    There are too many Central Office administrators on payroll who either looked the other way, or did not perform their duties well enough to ensure safeguards were in place to stop the corruption. Ramona Tyson and Ron Ramsey are at the top of the list. It is unfathomable to that the person who is in charge of internal affairs, Ron Ramsey, and his associate Robert Tucker, are still on board with six figure salaries after the Superintendent and COO were indicted on a large number of charges.

    Dr. Atkinson inherited a mess, but has kept on most of Lewis’ key administrators. And we as voters, keep on re-electing Tom Bowen, Walker, Womack, SCW, etc. As Downey implores, we all must take an unflinching look at DCSS, from top to bottom. The focus has to get back to the classroom.

  23. Fred in DeKalb says:

    DeKalbite, here is a fact. Georgia is no longer using the measure from the results of the CRCT (along with several other states) because they believe the information does not reflect a true measure of student growth. As a result, people like you consistently call various students, teachers, and schools failures because of this faulty measure. This despite true growth that may have occurred over the year but not reflected on this faulty instrument known as the CRCT.

    If your facts are based on my facts, I would say your facts can be thrown in the garbage pile with the CRCT.

  24. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Another observation of the grand jury report. Unless there is more to the report, they met for over two months. They met with school board members for several hours on May 1. Five pages of the 15 page report (1/3) was dedicated to the school system. Does this seem strange to anyone else?

  25. Dekalbite says:

    @ Fred in DeKalb
    “DeKalbite, here is a fact. Georgia is no longer using the measure from the results of the CRCT (along with several other states) because they believe the information does not reflect a true measure of student growth. ”

    Fred, here is a fact. DeKalb will ALWAYS be measured on how students perform on standardized testing. In the past, the ITBS scores were published in the newspaper, and everyone looked to see which systems and schools had students achieving on grade level and which schools or systems did not.

    i remember when someone told me to look at the prices of houses that were EXACTLY alike on Willivee Drive in the Medlock/Fernbank area. On the side of Willivee zoned to Fernbank, the houses were tens of thousands of dollars more just because they were zoned to Fernbank, and Fernbank had higher test scores. And this was long before NCLB ever came into existence or was even a gleam in Governor George Bush’s eye.

    I have a lot of problems with the CRCT and the pressure on teachers who have little to no control on the policies, procedures and programs they are mandated to teach by administrators who have scant experience or interest in the classroom, but it has its place as feedback for the taxpayers who foot the bill. The questions asked are very basic. For example, a 4th grader is asked to compute double digit addition and double digit multiplication problems and convert fractions. He/she is asked to identify the main idea in a story and supporting details. If most of your 4th graders in a school cannot perform these tasks, then shouldn’t this information be public so taxpayers can evaluate how the administration is spending their tax dollars? I can guarantee a prospective home buyer will want to know the academics of the local elementary school -past, present and future. That’s just reality in the United States. Hiding the academic achievement from the general public is just not going to work.

  26. anothercomment says:

    Gene Walker, Aka Affirmative Action gone wrong!!!

  27. anothercomment says:

    He also seems to be resisting indicting Andrea the adultress, blackwidow!

  28. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    You know Gwynn Keyes Fleming was happy to hear from O’s EPA. I sure wish J. Tom Morgan was still around. He was a very fair and honest DA. Seems like things really changed when he left the DA’s office.

  29. Dekalbite says:

    If you cross them, you won’t be a teacher. They quietly leave the system when they can. After all, they have families too.

  30. Dekalbite says:

    Citizens do not “prove” wrong doing. That is why we have a legal system. Your term “policing” is misleading. Citizens are not police.

  31. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Dekalbite, don’t you have better things to do than question my use of the word policing? I knew what you meant when you used the word, exactly as I did. I believe most who read my post knew what both of us meant. Policing is regulate, control, or keep in order with. If you prefer the words ‘hold accountable’ that is fine but my definition for policing can be found at,

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/policing

    I’m still hoping FRED THE CHAIRMAN shares several specifics of his respectful disagreements.

  32. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Why is my post from 7:44 pm on Monday, 5/7 still awaiting moderation on Tuesday when it primarily provides a link to a disputed definition of policing? Is my different point of view not welcome on this blog anymore?

  33. @Fred, and others who post comments: Once again, we reiterate that this blog is run by a volunteer staff, all of whom have full time jobs. The WordPress spam filter places questionable comments in a folder for us to review and approve (when we get time!) Some things that will trigger a trip to the spam folder include links, exceedingly long comments or email accounts that have been reported to blogger as spam. We do the best we can here, and will find your comment and place it in the post. Please do not be paranoid. Understand that we are simply regular, taxpaying citizens who try our best to monitor what happens to our annual $1.2 school system budget.

  34. concernforthekids says:

    Maybe Fred in DeKalb can start his own blog?

  35. My thought, exactly.

  36. Anonymous says:

    and yet the voters approved SPlost after Splost giving the board more millions to waste….I quit giving after Splost 3 paid off Spolst 2….they all need to be fired and the new board needs to clean house within the system…..

  37. atlanta wombat says:

    Thank you for this forum!
    Just wanted to share a few things:

    DeKalb teachers are terrified to speak out against the administration. Though it shames me, I (like many others) suffer silently (and gripe privately) about the current state of affairs.

    Some of us have concrete proof of unethical (and perhaps criminal) conduct within our schools. We have reported incidents of malfeasance and misconduct and been either ignored or retaliated against for our efforts.

    An earlier blogger suggested that protection could be available for those who might wish to come forward. Protection is not what is needed. We need employment. Today’s “heroic” whistle blower becomes tomorrow’s unemployed snitch.

  38. atlanta wombat says:

    It seems to me that DCSD is more interested in “spin” than actually getting about the business of education. At this stage in the game, I would appreciate it if the Board of Education and the DeKalb Central Office would do the following:

    1. TELL THE TRUTH!
    2. Admit that you have erred (grievously, in some cases), and be honorable enough to accept the consequences of your actions.
    3. APOLOGIZE.
    4. Drop the defensive posturing.
    5. Subject your actions to scrutiny and critique.
    6. Invite and encourage dialogue.
    7. Reach out to successful school districts for advice.
    8. Adopt PROVEN strategies and monitor their implementation.
    9. RESPECT YOUR TEACHERS.
    10. Remember: DCSD is NOT a private company. Those adults interested in the big bucks need to leave the public sector and try their luck in a Fortune 500 company. Our purpose–the sole reason for the existence of a public school system–is to provide a free quality education for every child. DCSD should NOT be the “jobs factory” it has become at the central office.

    Again, thank you for this opportunity to share.

  39. Thanks for the fresh air, Wombat!
    By the way, does anyone remember Lewis threatening the Board with stopping Channel 24 if the Board didn’t approve $300,000+ for new lighting in the “Palace Board Studio”?
    Get a load of this (is the Dekalb Commission taking lessons from Lewis’ leadership style?):
    http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/dekalb-commission-ceo-in-1433806.html

  40. That was $300,000, not $300. As in thousands.

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