Less is More


Ga. Const. Art. VIII, § I, Para. I (2012)

PARAGRAPH I. Public education; free public education prior to college or postsecondary level; support by taxation

The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation. The expense of other public education shall be provided for in such manner and in such amount as may be provided by law.


Ga. Const. Art. VIII, § V, Para. I (2012)

PARAGRAPH I. School systems continued; consolidation of school systems authorized; new independent school systems prohibited

Authority is granted to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits. Existing county and independent school systems shall be continued, except that the General Assembly may provide by law for the consolidation of two or more county school systems, independent school systems, portions thereof, or any combination thereof into a single county or area school system under the control and management of a county or area board of education, under such terms and conditions as the General Assembly may prescribe; but no such consolidation shall become effective until approved by a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon in each separate school system proposed to be consolidated. No independent school system shall hereafter be established.

Only eight words.

Eight words are all that is preventing the separation of the large, unwieldy and corrupt DeKalb County School System into two manageable school systems. Only eight words: “No independent school system shall hereafter be established.”

It is entirely proper to address, in the state constitution, Georgia’s responsibility to provide a free public education prior to the college or post-secondary level. It is improper and irresponsible to dictate from the state constitution that no additional independent school system(s) shall be established – regardless of local needs.

Times have changed. The metro Atlanta area has experienced explosive growth. By simply removing those eight words – “No independent school system shall hereafter be established” – the large metro counties are given the option to craft a school system model that meets the needs of students and taxpayers.

DeKalb County School System (DCSS) is a billion dollar business steeped in corruption and run by foot-stamping amateurs – in every part of the business from the Board and the superintendent on down — except for the classroom.

In the past, DCSS has had outstanding, highly experienced teachers in the classroom. But, they are being driven off by:
• disrespect on the part of administrators and so-called managers with diploma mill degrees who have not been in an elementary or secondary classroom in years;
• repeated layoffs and pay cuts while The Palace continues to hire at $150,000+ a pop, refusing to make serious cuts in non-teaching staff;
• shocking reductions in teachers’ expected retirement dollars (at a minimum, DCSS teachers and other employees will lose about ⅓ of their expected Social Security payments because they will receive a pension from a system that does not pay into Social Security); and
• incredibly poor working conditions.

There’s little point in continuing to detail the problems. We all know what they are and they have become untenable, as well as insurmountable.

We have been studying the history of public education in Georgia (A History of Public Education in Georgia, O. H. Joiner, J. C. Bonner, H. S. Shearouse, T. E. Smith; A History of Education in Georgia, D. Orr). We could produce a timeline of critical events. However, the important thing to know is that much of what we are struggling with – including equalization funding — has dogged Georgia public education from the beginning (1734). Maybe after 278 years it’s time to try something else.

It’s time to look at what is working elsewhere. And that begins with smaller, more manageable school systems, centered around smaller geographic areas.

We are sending money – a lot of it! – to “poorer” rural counties through equalization funding. We are able to do that – albeit resentfully when it comes to “poor, rural” Gwinnett County — because over the years we had made DeKalb County a desirable place for businesses to locate and for people to live and work, leading to a much higher millage rate.

Meanwhile, because of eight (8) words in the Georgia constitution, we in DeKalb are prevented from doing what is right for our students and our taxpayers. It’s time to remove those eight words.

The goose that lays the golden eggs is almost dead.

“If government were put in charge of the Sahara Desert, within five years there’d be a shortage of sand”.                                                                              Milton Friedman, Economist

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38 Responses to Less is More

  1. d says:

    I don’t really believe the answer is smaller systems. People frequently complain about Gwinnett receiving the equalization money, but look at them, they’re much larger, have a board with only 5 people, and are doing great. They have some of the largest high schools in the state – their smallest schools have more students than our largest schools. What are they doing? One thing is consistency. Wilbanks has been superintendent forever (not that I want him here), most of their board has been there forever, heck Louise Radloff who represents the Meadowcreek area has been on the board since Nixon was in the White House. They also don’t put up with the BS that happens in DeKalb. They have two discipline alternative schools with capacities of about 500 each and offenses that in DeKalb would have a student back in a classroom after 10 days will have a student in a GIVE Center for a semester. Look at the Gwinnett website (http://gwinnett.k12.ga.us/gcps-mainweb01.nsf/9EFAE378EE3688A785257A1B0071CBF0/$file/Gateway-Review-6-12-12.pdf). They only let about 17% of the students who were possibly going to be retained be promoted without recommending summer school. Would DeKalb do that? I seriously doubt it. Maybe Dr. Atkinson should spend some quality time with Mr. Wilbanks and see what happens.

  2. booksrkool says:

    Thanks D!

  3. It doesn’t matter how many school districts DeKalb would be broken into, if the corruption and lack of focus on providing every child with an education continues to be at the forefront of those running the district.

  4. The Deal says:

    Too big. Break it up. Each community can and should take care of its own.

  5. September says:

    DeKalb is not working and, after years of watching the situation, I don’t think it can be fixed. Breaking it up into several smaller systems will force changes. Local communities need to have a bigger voice in what happens in their schools. I think at least three and possibly five school systems would be optimal. Imagine having a school board of five people who actually live in your community. Imagine a school system without the huge administrative bloat. Imagine having a superintendent who not only knows the principals and the work they do, but is also familiar with the teaching staff. I am the product of a small school system. I did not suffer. I got into a good college and did well when I got there. A large school does not guarantee a quality education. You have to have a strong instructional program to get good results. Sometimes, smaller is better.

  6. teacher/taxpayer says:

    Your list of what is driving good teachers away is excellent. I love to teach, but my time in this school system has made me more and more miserable. It hurts to be limited by bureaucracy and unable to really help the children excel, and it is frustrating to feel that no one above the classroom teacher is speaking up for us or the children. (If anyone is, then my apologies. Clearly no one at the top is listening.)
    The powers that be continually ask us to do things that are senseless. In their panic to find a fix for our achievement gaps, they latch onto new programs and dump them on us so fast we have no time to fuly understand or prepare so we stay only a step ahead of the children. By the time we finally can get up to speed, yet another quick fix is dumped on us — and the cycle continues.
    Big system or small, we just need leaders who will stop making instant, seemingly senseless changes! Even if there is a performance improvement, we are making so many simultaneous changes, there will be no way to isolate the actual cause of the improvement.

  7. DeKalb Observer says:

    DeKalb has systematically driven off good leaders, great families and top students. I am astounded at the names I read in the DeKalb Neighbor – top students at Atlanta private schools who are absolute stars athletically and academically – who live in DeKalb and have parents who saw things were headed in the wrong direction and left. Those in our Central Office could not be hired as dog catchers in REAL school systems. Moreover, they are not instructional leaders: this is why they keep buying packaged programs to “solve” the achievement problem. They do not value the wisdom and experience of the system’s best teachers because they are threatened by them. Seriously, cringe over the poor grammar and misuse of common words by these “leaders.” Tell me, how can they hope to instruct children when they do not use, or even recognize proper English? And the few good classroom teachers left are so beleaguered, with their salaries headed in reverse. And what will we be left with? More shuttered schools, more foreclosed homes and an ever-declining tax base as parents do whatever they need to, to get out of this county and get their children into decent schools. And perhaps then – when there aren’t enough taxpayers left to pay the exorbitant central office salaries – the “leadership” will finally realize the gravy train has left the station.

  8. Miz Merty says:

    DeKalb’s focus has been on the Central Office, creating massive numbers of jobs for incompetent people, keeping parents happy and not on the teachers and the students. The most respected and listened to people in the school system should be the classroom teachers. Give them a break from all the “Instructional Specialists”, can the canned instructional programs, clean up the lack of discipline and our teachers will raise DeKalb back from the ashes.

  9. bu2 says:

    Splitting Dekalb simply means we have 3 or 4 sytems, most of which have a lot of bloat and a couple of desperately poor systems.

    Splitting creates massive inequality issues with regard to property tax wealth. It all may be very nice for Dunwoody with Perimeter, but would be a disaster for south or southeast Dekalb.

    As long as we rely on property taxes, splitting the districts further is an absolutely horrible idea. Texas has experience with that and all the problems and lawsuits as their districts are not tied to the counties as much as here. Harris County (Houston) has approximately 20 school districts, from North Forest (so bad it is being dissolved) which would be comparable to taking the two poorest high schools in Dekalb County and putting them in 1 district, to Deer Park, which has 1 HS and most of the oil refineries in its district.

  10. Ned says:

    I’d like to see the one missing detail: the amount that Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and APS pay IN to “equalization” but this is a must-read for us all: http://www.ajc.com/news/poor-schools-still-get-1459452.html

  11. dekalbite2 says:

    The success of small systems like Decatur City Schools and Marietta City Schools would belie your argument. A good example of small local systems is Massachusetts. Massachusetts has mainly small systems with one high school, one middle school and a few elementary schools. Most of the superintendents sit in an office in the high school and have a secretary. Most of the school system employees teach in the classrooms. They have a lot of teachers and small administrative staff. Their small school systems model is one of the main reasons for the high Massachusetts student achievement rates which are the best in the nation.

  12. We don’t know the answer, either, but applaud DSW for continuing to try out new ideas and float them out there to see what might work. We should all be racking our brains to try to find a solution because the way things are going now we will ALL be in poverty and have nothing but Title I schools and uneducated children who will grow up to put vodka in their own children’s baby bottles. The irresponsibility of the current system must stop. Prepare for the worst on Wednesday. We’ve already got our lawyer on hold! This board is out of control, greedy and trying to cover up a lot more than we have probably ever thought could be possible.

  13. anon says:

    Annual forensic audits would be a great start – of all systems. How about an on-line register of the checks and p-card expenses? Let’s start making the systems account for the money they spend — the money belongs (really belongs) to the people.

  14. anon says:

    Also, vouchers are probably an easier way around it all… feed the money in to the lowest level in to the most possible hands and then see what happens — currently, the funds feed in at the top in large chunks — there’s too much opportunity for abuse and misuse of significant chunks of cash.

  15. philipcapers says:

    How about we start with making our school board smaller before breaking the DCSS up into smaller school systems? Last time I checked Gwinnett County has a larger school system then DeKalb and they only have 5 school board members .Let’s start with what we can achieve faster.

  16. DCSS also needs to account for revenue — i.e., rental income from Druid Hills High School and Briarcliff High School, etc.

  17. bettyandveronica1 says:

    phil- Isn’t that why we passed splost 4 so that we could have 7 and not 9? You mean to tell me 7 is still too many???? What? We couldn’t do anything in this county if there weren’t overpaid, overstaffed departments, including the bored board. What would we do with only 5 people to run this county’s school system?? What would we do without greed, graft, corruption, stupidity and nepotism?

  18. bettyandveronica1 says:

    I believe this is the $2.5million that was categorized in last years budget as “other”, “other revenue” and “unassigned”. I have been asking WHAT this is and why it is no longer available to us this year??? Anyone got any answers, I have asked Don Mc. several times and he has yet to respond to this question. Like I have said repeatedly, this budget was a 10th grade econ class attempt just like everything else that happens.

  19. Name One says:

    The school system is facing an incredibly difficult financial crisis, and Jay Cunningham is accepting trips to D.C. from lobbyists??!!


    D.C. junket
    In March, the Georgia Charter Schools Association paid to send Atlanta school board member Courtney English, DeKalb County school board member Jay Cunningham and state Reps. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta, and Ralph Long, D-Atlanta, to the Black Alliance for Education Options conference in Washington. The cost was more than $1,000 per person and included airfare, meals, lodging and conference expenses.

    More on Jay:

  20. Name One says:


    According to court records, board member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham has at least 15 open court cases against him—most of which involve payroll garnishments to pay creditors. Of the cases, four were filed between 2002 and 2007, five in 2008, one in 2009 and five last year. In addition, there are seven cases involving Cunningham that are listed as “closed.”

    The garnishments in the open cases exceed $173,000. Records show that his board member check has been garnished by Ford Motor Credit in seven of the open cases. As a board member, Cunningham is paid $23,400 annually.

  21. bettyandveronica1 says:

    This payment will continue to go to Gwinnett. Their schools are in great shape, scores are way up, folks are moving there(especially from Dekalb). The more kids the more money goes to them. That is until the land gets valuable and Wealth per student rises. This could take some time given the economy, but eventually it will happen. They are at 70% now, it stops at 75%. But by then, their schools will be overcrowded and eventually they will be the “it” county to live in.

    There is no chance any of these tiny counties will ever see more money until the WPS % is changed and Gwinnett is just taken out of the pool. But they might get a little mad about that.

    Eventually, Dekalb may qualify (too many kids with low property values) and then we will have more money to waste, YIppee. It’s a cycle, schools suck, business leave, those who can get out ahead of the crash do move elsewhere, property values plummet. Suddenly we have too many kids with low tax digest due to low property value, WPS takes a nosedive. But by then they may have fixed the formula and we are left with screwed up schools, low property values and no new industry coming in with no hope of getting any extra funds.

    Thanks Burrell for not stepping in. Apparently the Dekalb school system and the Dekalb county government have nothing to do with each other. At least if we heard some discussion by the county commissioners that they were a little concerned, that would be nice. BUT NOOOO!

  22. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Anyone hear about a meeting tomorrow?? Budget committee, some kind of work going on? Honestly, they gotta talk about the 85mil at some point. It would stand to reason they are going to discuss and then come together on Wednesday for show and tell? Surely they are not gonna sit there on Wednesday, picking the whole thing apart right there at that meeting? So where, when, how are they discussing the finer deets? Anyone?

  23. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Anybody want a job? There are 115 jobs open for fy2013 as of right now. 26 of them are SFA facilitators and Academic Data Coaches. Salary range 40-80K.

    Some of this is just too funny. We are sinking and they are bringing in more and more folks. Why not just use the ones you’ve got on staff. Combine a few jobs, that would free up a few folks. Surely we have enough secretaries, office specialist, coordinators and directors/managers already. What kind of baloney is this? 115 job openings that start 7/2/2013. So much for getting rid of a few folks/positions and cost centers.

  24. Atlanta Mom says:

    We should fix what is wrong with our system. But breaking the county in two parts is not the answer. We need a system that provides quality education to all students in our state – whether they live in Dunwoody, Lithonia, or Calhaun. When our state’s wealth is concentrated in just a handful of zip codes, school taxes need to be distributed so that all students are adequately educated. The problem is not that there is not enough money to go around – the problem is that the people who have been distributing the wealth and making the decisions have not been doing a very good job. We need qualified leaders at the local, county, and state level to step up and make the right decisions for our students. Even if it means they don’t get re-elected.

  25. concernforthekids says:

    Name One,
    Interesting that you point out that Ford Motor Credit is a creditor that is garnishing his wages.
    Here is what is AMAZING about that. Maurice Cunningham, Jay’s brother, is the car dealer that he refused to pay.
    No car dealer, in their right mind, would extend credit to an individual that has a history of not paying their bills!
    No one, except a trusting family member.
    IMHO, our board member convinced his brother that he has changed his ways and is not a potential risk for default. Big brother believes Jay, the “Elected Official”, and allows him to purchase / lease a car.
    Jay Cunningham used his relationship with his brother to obtain financing for a car, promised to pay and “Stiffed him”! Walked away and stopped paying.
    If we elect people to represent 90,000 people from this county with a HISTORY of irresponsible spending how do you think the school system is this type of fiscal trouble?

    Let me ask you this question, “How many DeKalb County Commissioners” are personally bankrupt?
    2/6 or 33.33% of the people that make ALL of the decisions for this county are personally bankrupt!

    We need change people! We don’t need the financially irresponsible leading our county!
    We need people who are personally responsible and accountable to lead! We need leaders!
    Anyone else believe this to be true?


  26. Miz Merty says:

    And you can also find that many of the small systems in rural counties are accomplishung more with fewer resourses. They are innovative with what they have.

  27. justwatch says:

    I suspect that they are at the point where a budget committee meeting doesn’t make sense as the entire board is going to pick at the proposal anyway. I think the budget committee has done their work with teh 73 million and the board together will have to hear Dr. Atkinson’s recommendation for the remaining 12 million and go from there.
    I believe, sadly, that there will be 5 votes for a 2 mil increase.
    What people need to understand though, is that will just give us enough money to cover the 12 million — it won’t bring back any of the 73 that has been cut.

  28. In fact, we won’t even collect all of the increase, as we will still have to give over our “Fair Share” to the state for Equalization.

  29. @Atlanta Mom: The State already does redistribute tax dollars as you propose. Please read this recent article from the AJC which describes exactly how our tax dollars are taken and ‘reallocated’ via what the state calls “Equalization Grants” to other systems. DeKalb pays in but gets zero back. Our contribution to the state program in the new budget is somewhere around $100 million.


  30. tired of them all says:

    I agree 100%! Since when is “conversate” a verb? Why do top leaders say “on tomorrow” or “on yesterday”? Subject/verb agreement is a joke. When that act is cleaned up at the highest levels I will consider leadership qualified to critique schools.

  31. tired of them all says:

    There are too many changes going on at once. Get to know our needs to see if your fixes will fit the system. Canned programs are like Chef Boyardee in an Italian Restaurant!

  32. Miz Merty says:

    Shouldn’t there be a clause in the Board’s mission and qualifying about moral turpitude?

  33. bettyandveronica1 says:

    The meeting is scheduled for 1pm on Wednesday. It is a called meeting. It would be improper/illegal for them to “meet” and discuss beforehand becasue they must give a 24 hour notice to constituents. So 1pm they will be discussing all the options. Yes, on Wednesday, they will meet and pick the whole thing apart right there.

  34. bettyandveronica1 says:

    sorry should have read 7/2/2012. The good news is the salary range as stated is most likely lower than in the past. As crazy as it seems to be hiring folks (I think there should be a freeze) at least they seem to be right sizing the salaries.

  35. @ wearyworker

    It seems that you have NOT done ANY research regarding the Georgia Constitution and the limit on school systems. We have done research and that’s how we know you haven’t.

    Introducing racism as a cause of the constitutional limit on school systems is highly irresponsible. For that reason, your comment has been withdrawn.

  36. another comment says:

    Same thing throughout New England and the Midwest. I went to one of these small school districts growing up. Only the very large cities like NY City have a large district. The rest of New York basically has 1 high school districts. They are at the top of the charts. Local control is the best with schools. County wide may work in the Counties with 2,200 students but not with 100,000 students. Not with racially divided and politically movated by race, boards in place. School Boards should not get paid, but serve for free as volunteers. They should also not be allowed to get any kickbacks from deal. But then with small districts, there is alot less in contracts, less payola. You don’t have $1M book orders. You can’t give $10K consulting agreements to buddies or it becomes real apparent.

  37. bu2 says:

    Decatur has a tax base. What would happen to South Dekalb with no tax base? Wilmer-Hutchins in the Dallas area and North Forest in the Houston area were similar to South Dekalb. Both were absolute disasters and had to be merged into other school districts.

    Again, maybe it would be good for Dunwoody, but it would be awful for much of the county.

  38. Concerned DeKalb County School System Parent says:

    So I hear these comments saying that if all the children’s problems can’t be solved, then all children must suffer. I disagree. If you can split the system and relieve those in some areas, that’s better than all suffering. Since when is “all or nothing” a logical and rational approach?

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