Lots of news from District 1 board rep Nancy Jester

From “Nancy’s News” email blast May 21, 2012:

Budget Update

Last Wednesday, the Superintendent and CFO presented a summary of their proposed FY2013 budget to the Budget Committee. Here are links to the documents that were presented:

Budget Cover Letter
Budget Detail
Budget Summary

There will be two public budget hearings:

Tuesday, May 22nd at 6pm
Wednesday, May 30th at 6pm

Administrative and Instructional Complex
1701 Stone Mountain Blvd.
Stone Mountain, GA 30083

Please note that this proposal was drafted by staff for the Board and is a starting point for our budget discussions. For the past year, I have publicly inquired about, and expressed my frustration with, many line items that were significantly over budget. Their consistent variances from the budget suggested that these items were not properly budgeted for years. Still other discretionary items were also over-budget because of a lack of fiscal restraint. These factors, along with a $15 million increase in benefit costs from the state, and falling property tax revenue have resulted in DCSD starting the budgeting process assuming a $73.8 million budget deficit.

The new Superintendent and CFO have also recognized the budget problems that I have pointed out consistently since before they arrived in DeKalb. Their new budget has approached the fixed costs realistically. The Superintendent has reorganized the central office and eliminated many positions there. (I await her final tally regarding the number of positions. When I have these numbers, I will share them with you.) In my opinion we need to make even further cuts to the central office. We will need to take a hard look at all of our services and programs. We also need to usher in a culture of fiscal restraint. I have shared my thoughts about this publicly at meetings and privately with the new leadership team. While it is true that DeKalb’s millage rate has not been raised in 8 years, it is also the highest in the metro area. ( Click here for a listing of millage rates from around the state.) Sadly the opportunity to build greater reserves when the property tax base was expanding was not taken.


On Thursday, May 17th, the Superintendent and COO provided an overview of their planning for the upcoming SPLOST IV program. Below are links to the documents that were presented to the Board.

SPLOST IV Overview Presentation
SPLOST IV Schedule

New tab on my website

I’ve added a new tab on my website called “What’s Up With That?”. It’s an interactive blog where I’ll put up common questions that I receive along with my answers. You can also leave your comments. If you have something that you think might be a good topic for the blog, please drop me a line at:



Thank you Nancy!
Click here
to visit Nancy’s website.

About dekalbschoolwatch

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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104 Responses to Lots of news from District 1 board rep Nancy Jester

  1. concernforthekids says:

    I commend Nancy Jester for her transparency and communicating to her constituents.
    It seems to me that a school board member has the responsibility to their district to effectively communicate all of the school systems concerns and issues.
    What other School Board member even has a website?
    What other school board member communicates to their district?
    What other school board member knows what a computer is?
    These are important items that are needed in today’s internet world.

    The other piece of the school board puzzle is “Accountability” of the school system and how efficient our tax dollars are spent and what RESULTS are received from them.
    Another failing within our school system is the lack of accountability.

    Time to go to another 2013 budget committee meeting at 9:30am.
    I’m sure Nancy will report back about the budget meeting.
    Stay tuned.


  2. We really do appreciate Nancy’s commitment to the taxpayers and the community. We encourage you to sign up for her email newsletter – she is very good at communicating with the public.

    Wanted to note that within the SPLOST IV presentation there is some info regarding the citizen oversight committee that we find very important. There is an online candidate application process. We encourage those of you with the time, the ability and the dedication to apply to serve on this committee.

    SPLOST Citizen Committee
    Purpose of Committee:
    Citizen review of voter-approved project list
    Report quarterly to DeKalb County residents
    12-member Committee
    Online candidate application process

    Online Application Process:
    DeKalb County Residents apply online by June 10th:

    Appointment of members in June 2012
    No Board members or employees of the School District
    No economic interest or relationship with the District
    Experience in accounting, architecture, auditing, construction,
    engineering, finance, K-12 education, legal, planning, project
    management, and real estate is desired.
    First meeting in August 2012
    One meeting per quarter

  3. dekalbite2 says:

    What is the $3.98 million dollar expenditure for Arts School at former Avondale MS? Surely this is not DSA. We just spent $10,000,000 two years ago renovating Avondale HS for DeKalb School of the Arts (DSA) which only has a few hundred students.

  4. The Deal says:

    I could not agree more about the praise for Nancy. I wish our system weren’t so large that we had to have separate districts and treat it like a state government, but that is the state we are in. School board members should not have to work like state legislators, but, here in DeKalb, they are given the power to do so, and that is what we are stuck with. With that said, Nancy is the only board member who rises to this challenge and is a professional in this job with respect to communication. There is too much information coming out of the behemoth school system, and Nancy is responsible and provides this information to her constituents. Thank you, Nancy! I wish you were my representative.

  5. dekalbite2 says:

    Interesting to note that 2013 benefits are projected at almost 25% of total compensation. $445 million for salaries and $140 million for $585 million. $585 million divided by $140 million = 23.9%.

    Looking at 2010 benefits and salaries, benefits were about 21% (20.9%) of the total compensation figure.

    So benefits went up 4%, and that just the Schoolhouse and Support section. The benefits percentage went up much more in the Division section (What group does Division represent that the benefits figure would go up so much?).

    Click to access budget-detail-2013.pdf

    Why is Dr. Atkinson not looking at outsourcing some of DCSS’s ancillary services in order to control the benefits cost since that appears to be rising so rapidly?

  6. justwatch says:

    It is for DSA — It should make everyone angry.

  7. justwatch says:

    I also commend Nancy, but I think it is worth noting that the culture of DCSS and frankly, most school systems, is that board members are fairly powerless to make change happen. All the questions in the world, didn’t change the behavior.

    It is a problem — a huge problem.

  8. justwatch says:

    Can you please report on what happened at budget meeting?

  9. dekalbite2 says:

    All taxpayers should be upset that we spent $10,000,000 renovating DSA for 300+ students and then turn around 2 years later and spend allocate almost $4,000,000 to renovate a new space. Why would they want to move these students again?

  10. Internet-Libertarian says:

    Don’t forget the money suck that is Fernbank and Corralwood. What are those numbers for SPLOST III and SPLOST IV?

  11. Mildred says:

    The previous $10,000,000 that was earmarked for DSA was actually used by Avondale High School, not DSA. Again, you people should get your facts straight before you lash out against one of the few worthwhile schools in DeKalb. I do not get it, really.

  12. justwatch says:

    But understand that in SPLOST IV DSA is suppose to move to Avondale Middle. So why spend any more money at Avondale High. (By the way whatever improvements happened at Avondale, benefited DSA.

  13. dekalbite2 says:

    @ Mildred

    I’m sorry. You are incorrect. It was earmarked for DSA, and it was used for DSA. It was extremely tough on the teachers and students at DSA because their wing was not ready for the opening of school. There were dancers in the hallways for weeks, and there were many, many other missteps and delays in construction that absolutely should not have occurred. The end of the year play was at 14th Str. Playhouse because their stage was not ready – and this was in the following May when it should have been ready by the beginning of the school year in August. Of course, this was under Pope/Reid’s reign.

    IMO – DSA is an excellent school with many extremely talented students, and you won’t find a more dedicated staff in any school in DeKalb or even the metro Atlanta area. However, spending millions to renovate Avondale HS and then more millions to renovate Avondale MS within a few years span for this magnet program or any magnet program is not fiscally responsible.

  14. I thought that Avondale students were housed in the old part of the building, while DSA students were housed in the renovated section. That is what it looked like to me when I picked up a friend’s child from the school a few years ago.

  15. dekalbite2 says:

    @ Nicole
    Yes. You are correct. The DSA wing was the renovated wing.

  16. justwatch says:

    I also want to point out that while the staff is dedicated, it is a huge year to year drain on the system’s budget to operate, taking at least 10 more teachers than earned from the state. It has a principal, ass’t principal and counselor for 300 students, which is equivalent to what an elementary school of 700 or so would have.

    It is nonsense to think that this right. Almost all the other metro systems house their fine arts magnets (which are very successful) within other schools, sharing resources and personnel. What DeKalb is doing with DSA and other small schools is stealing from the other students.

  17. justwatch says:

    Click to access approved-budget-detail-%282012%29.pdf

    It was 7 extra teachers this year, not ten. But considering none of the administrative staff is even close to being fully funded by the state — 10 is probably about accurate.

  18. Gardenerontheside says:

    I’m confused. On this blog we complain about increased class sizes and then in the next breathe you also complain about a school that achieves because they actually have decent ratios. The problem with DCSD lies not with schools that are achieving, but in our awful legal fees, too many chiefs, and construction mismanagement. If you tear down the few good parts that we have, what exactly is left?

    PS Keep up the good work Nancy. I love the level of communication.

  19. justwatch says:

    With all due respect, there are schools that don’t currently have the basics — while a handful of schools have much more. I agree that there is MUCH fat to be cut, but 73 million isn’t going to be easy to find — even if the entire central office is laid off.

    Other systems have arts magnets without the huge overhead. Why are we so special that we should spend so much extra on so few students?

    DSA also succeeds because students must meet minimum standards to enroll and to remain. Classes could double and nothing would change in terms of achievement. And the costs would be more manageable as well.

  20. Terry says:

    I will have to see by her actions whether Ms. Jester is as good for the county as many of you seem to think. So far…. I’ll take an “ummmm… not there yet”. Also has anyone else looked into the rumor going around about dear Ramona and Cheryl being cousins. Wonder why the first three wanna’be supers deserted the field??

  21. dekalbite2 says:

    @ just watch

    You are absolutely right. The cost per student is very high. Look at this quote from DeKalb Watch:
    “$767,386 in administrative costs could be eliminated if DSA’s 322 students combined with, for example, Lakeside HS to create a “North Springs-like” magnet (Fulton). The redundancy in DSA’s administrative and support positions of Principal, Assistant Principal, Counselor, Bookkeeper, Cafeteria Manager, Media Specialist, CTSS, Campus Security, Custodian, Paraprofessional, and Secretary cost DCSS $767,386 in annual salary and benefits.”

    How can Dr. Atkinson and the BOE pack students up to 40 in a classroom and yet continue funding separate admin and support for these special programs? Why not house them in existing schools and save the huge admin and support costs of separate facilities?

  22. Miss Management says:

    slap – in – the – face – to the students of Avondale.

    For a long time the Avondale football team had to dress out in a trailer. Then the DCSS leaders just decide to close the doors on those Avondale students and ship them off to other schools, making their building a “Druid Hills Annex” LOL! Gee, it’s funny that Avondale was considered underpopulated enough to be closed, but DSA thrives with its tiny size. Are you people aware that DSA has an average class size of 15-18 or less? Come on….. that is just crappy.

    This is not a race issue – this is a class, power, access and privilege issue.

  23. Miss Management says:

    @Gardenerontheside – so let them eat cake right?

    Let’s think of an analogy. Say one guy at work gets $90 an hour for a job that everyone else gets $45. Then when people complain because the $90 guy has a much nicer car, he responds by saying, “Don’t complain about me, I’m doing just fine! You should try to get paid $90 an hour too!” (Which everyone knows is impossible, since the company doesn’t make enough money to pay everyone that much.)

    Isn’t it just better to pay everyone doing the same job the same wage – say, $65/hour?

    You simply can’t have more in DCSS without someone else having to give something up.

  24. Freda says:

    Cousins? I thought they were twins!

  25. Concerned Teacher says:

    Has anyone else seen the latest AJC article about the budget? So depressing!
    Some highlights:
    “The DeKalb County School District is facing its worst budget in recent memory, so officials are weighing wholesale elimination of programs, including pre-kindergarten, magnet school transportation and Montessori schools….That would just be the start of efforts to close a deficit of more than $70 million….While most school systems strive to keep at least a month’s worth of operating expenses in the bank, DeKalb has nothing in reserves….School officials around metro Atlanta have bemoaned their financial state, but many had some kind of cushion in reserves. DeKalb’s lack of a bankroll places it in a rare, and undesirable, class.”

  26. Terry says:

    Why are you surprised? DeKalb was put in the toilet by Lewis who passed the torch to his buddy Tyson. She did NOTHING to correct the situation. The “Golden Palace” was built (with WHAT funding??), cuts were NEVER made, construction continued and more staff hired. This blood-sucker mentality needs to be stopped! Tyson should be investigated as deeply as Lewis.

  27. justwatch says:

    My understanding is that we are the only system with no reserves. Have you all heard that Turk had NO line item for substitute teacher expenses, for example? There are 40 million dollars worth of expenses this year that had no category.

    I know I sound like a broken record — but other systems don’t have a Fernbank Science Center, expensive magnet schools, huge legal bills (remember the AJC article on that one), niche little schools that DECA, etc. We are making our selves so special that we are going broke and impacting the children.

    Also, Cobb and Gwinnett don’t provide pre-k in their public schools, with the exception of special ed pre-k, I think Fulton offers it in some schools, but they only pay the state wages which are less than DCSS pays.

    What a mess.

  28. justwatch says:

    Thank you Miss Management. Well said and well stated.

  29. Very true. Dr Lewis always bragged that DeKalb offered more choice schools than any system in the nation. Guess the price of it has come home to roost.

  30. dekalbite2 says:

    @ Concerned Teacher
    “…wholesale elimination of programs, including pre-kindergarten, magnet school transportation and Montessori schools….That would just be the start of efforts to close a deficit of more than $70 million”

    It’s only depressing that DCSS is just now considering these steps. These are ALL measures that ALL of the other metro systems eliminated many years ago or never instituted. DeKalb is one of the few school systems that still run Pre-K in the schools. The other systems long ago let the day care centers take over Pre-K or never took this on to begin with. Certified teachers teach the classes no matter if it is in the local schools or Pre-K. The difference is the state absorbs ALL of the cost of Pre-K if it is in daycare situations. Since DCSS is already losing $80,000,000 a year that the state takes in Equalization and never returns, any small portion of our educational expense that the state will fully fund should be welcome.

    Other metro school systems have never done magnet school transportation. Parents have always been responsible for the transportation of their children to magnet schools. In addition, most magnet programs are within an existing school, thereby saving MILLIONS on not having to duplicate administrative and support services such as principal, assistant principal, secretary, custodians, counselors, media specialist, etc.

    Fernbank Science Center at $7,000,000 a year most certainly should be considered as an unnecessary expense. The Fernbank Forest has reverted back to the Fernbank Museum, most of the personnel at Fernbank are admin and support, and our science scores are abysmal. DCSS has not funded the regular education science classes while it has spent millions on this center. NO other metro system supports a science center and they have much higher science achievement than DCSS. If it was not for the very powerful Fernbank community, this center would have been closed, and most of the programs and services it runs (STT, SEEMA, etc) would be housed in the regular schools at a fraction of the cost.

    If DeKalb had made these changes years ago, these millions could have been flowing into our reserves and we would have been much better off financially.

    DCSS does not have the tax base it had 20 years ago or even 4 years ago before the Great Recession. Poor planning by the administration and BOE has led us to this impasse. Our strength is our children – ALL of them. We must adequately fund the regular schools and the content and grade level classes that teach math, science, social studies and language arts to ALL of our students. Gifted, ESOL and Special Ed services are funded by the state so those programs should be self sustaining. Only after we set our financial house in order can we see if we have extra money for programs and services above and beyond the basics.

  31. MsMerty says:

    Amne, Dekalbite2! I wish smeone who was computer savy and internet savy would add up the cost of all these pockets of special programs( Fernbank, Leadership Prep, Destiny, Gateway, Early College, Transition,Truancy,etc) and compute the ratio of cost to students served. Not hating, but times are lean.

  32. Dunwoody Mom says:

    There are areas of the county which do not have day centers as close as school buildings. How about a few pre-k centers strategically placed in the county? A few of the empty schools could actually be utilized instead of sitting empty and rotting. I hate to see cuts in Pre-K, as studies show that this is an important element in a child’s education – the earlier we get to them the better they will do.

  33. dekalbite2 says:

    Totally agree on Pre-K as an important element in a child’s education, and you brought up an important point. However, Rockdale County, a county with almost every school Title 1 and excellent student achievement, has a much widespread population, and they run a very successful Pre-K program in the daycare centers. Perhaps DeKalb should see how other demographically comparable systems run their Pre-K and address this problem.

    DeKalb Schools has always done things the “DeKalb Way” (that’s actually what they have called it for 40 years) with little regard to how other systems perform the same task.

  34. bettyandveronica1 says:

    prek is an important part of childs education. The fact is that if it wasn’t supported by the schools the market place would take over and then cost for it would be absorbed by the parents and the other facilities. This is fact, folks. Free market works. For the county to say now that in two years we are no longer going to have prek, it would be the best cost savings we could put on the table longrange. Yeah, Yeah, the children. There would be some that don’t get the services but low cost prek existed before the schools started paying for it. We just don’t have the money anymore. Parents have to be responsible for their children, what a concept.

  35. The Deal says:

    Our problem is not too much choice; it is horrendous management. Plenty of school systems around the country offer choice and do it well. We are just stuck in a system that is void of administrative know-how. We just keep spinning our wheels, implementing initiatives that have nothing to do with where we need to go, and, all the while, our student achievement plummets.

  36. Dunwoody Mom says:

    Agree, we have got to get out of the mindset of “DeKalb Way”, or “this is way it was always done”. Look where the school district is now. Financially broke and academically beyond struggling.

  37. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    I’m glad Jester has been out front on so many of the issues. Like MMO has done today, with her Open Records Request about the map vote, we must demand transparency by our BOE. Eugene ” I see color…” Walker will do everything in his power to win. Win at all costs, costing our kids a good education and wasting our tax money on his crony attorney friends. He keeps asking to change the rules on gift acceptance limits, so he can get that free meal paid for by his attorney lobbyist friends. Let’s try to change things and make our BOE honest!

    Summer break begins Friday. How many here recall all the things this BOE has done under the cover of summer vacation? Stay alert! There will be last minute meetings, there will be items added to agendas (like Womack did with the cell tower vote last summer), votes will happen and the results will disappear from minutes, entire meeting minutes will disappear and will never be added to the website. We must keep them honest this summer! Demand information, they’re spending OUR money recklessly.

  38. Leo says:

    Pre-K is an important program, but when you move it out of the schools, free state-provided pre-k is still available. I’m in Dekalb but near the Atlanta city line. There are at least 2 Georgia funded Pre-Ks within 3 miles of my house excluding my elementary school but they technically fall in the Atlanta School district. Several are in churches and I believe that we’d see more of these programs thoughout Dekalb if we pulled it out of the schools and moved it into private centers. No one would be taking away pre-K. Instead, the same service would be offered at a different venue.

  39. dekalbite2 says:

    @ betty and veronica
    “The fact is that if it wasn’t supported by the schools the market place would take over and then cost for it would be absorbed by the parents and the other facilities. ”

    I think you misunderstood. From the standpoint of the students, state funded Pre-K in daycare centers is like state funded Pre-K in the local schools. It is funded by the state of Georgia so it cost NOTHING for the parents. It is FREE in the local schools or in the daycare centers. In addition, EVERY Pre-K class has a teacher certified in Early Childhood and follows the same state standards whether it is located in daycare centers or in the local schools.

    From a financial standpoint, it is better for DeKalb Schools to have it in the daycare centers because the state absorbs every single bit of the cost. When the Pre-K is in the daycare centers, there is no administration and support cost for the school system, and the school system bears no facilities cost as well.

    An advantage to the children is that they can go seamlessly from their Pre-K day with a certified teacher to after school care at the daycare center. There is no van or bus that has to pick them up and take them to an after school program (not all schools have after school care in the schools). That is important for 4 year olds.

    It’s easy to see why all of the other school systems moved the Pre-K program from the school system to the daycare centers or started the program in the daycare centers in the first place.

  40. concernforthekids says:

    Guess who owns a Pre-K center in Lithonia?
    Guess who is getting paid by the State of Georgia to operate a Pre-K center?
    Guess who owes the federal government over $250,000 in unpaid taxes from the Pre-k center?
    (The music from Jeopardy is playing currently….)
    You guessed it!
    None other than the WIFE of a State Senator and DIRECTOR of the Legal Department at the DeKalb County School District, Ron Ramsey’s wife, Doris Ramsey!
    Private Pre-K has been done in DeKalb before and they are still not in jail!
    Let’s try someone else besides a DeKalb School System administrator to open a day-care center near our schools.


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