In defense of Sarah Copelin-Wood

At the board meeting yesterday, Sarah Copelin-Wood came out fighting. Now, I have no issue with her fighting for a cause, but I do have an issue with her coming to that fight unprepared. Sarah, for whatever reason, has missed quite a few board meetings of late and therefore has some holes in her knowledge that can frustrate those who have kept current.  That said, I respect that she is nonetheless unafraid to push the superintendent, staff and her fellow board members to get the answers she seeks.

It seemed on the surface that Sarah asked some rather dim questions, however, when one digs deeper and tries to fill in the gaps in her position statements, one sees that she is indeed fighting for the children and the parents and taxpayers in her district.  She is the only board member who consistently verbalizes her concern for the children’s test scores and educational outcomes. Sarah knows on a visceral level that ‘something’ is not right, ‘something’ is not equal and ‘something’ does not add up. So she pushes. And lo and behold! It is Sarah who asks the question that brings about answers we all seek, such as getting the superintendent to admit that 817 people have been cut from their jobs – and of those, 537 were classroom teachers! And another 56 were music/PE/other coaches who are also teachers! Sarah pushed even more and got the superintendent to promise to provide a full list of those people whose jobs were cut for the next discussion. We look forward to seeing that list as well.

She also pushed the new CFO into admitting that the reserves he keeps saying are in the negative $6 million are in the negative due to our savings being earmarked for upcoming obligations and bills.  That does not mean that ‘today’ we are overdrawn by $6 million in the bank, but that our savings are obligated beyond our fund balance. People need this kind of clarity and Sarah puts herself on the line to get answers for her constituents.

Sarah Copelin-Wood is a true American. No matter how frustrated some may get with what they consider her banal questions and drawn out comments often lacking a specific point, she does represent the voice of her people and we all deserve to have our voices heard at the table.  This is America, a government of the people, by the people and for the people – and Sarah Copelin-Wood is a vital part of the American political process.

Give her latitude. Give her credit. Get a cup of coffee and leave the room if you don’t wish to hear her speak, but please do not mock her in her attempts to do the work of her people.  She is an American and she is bravely participating in the American political process.

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75 Responses to In defense of Sarah Copelin-Wood

  1. Dawg93 says:

    That’s great and all, but we’re talking about someone who’s been on the board since 1998. She may not have been there when a lot of the problems began, but she’s been there long enough to help make changes and help prevent the current state we’re in. So her dim questions and seeming lack of preparedness at yesterday’s meeting left me with zero faith in her abilities as a board member for DCSS, especially given how long she’s been on the board that has resided over this complete trainwreck of a school system.

    I respect your opinion, as you are much closer to this than I am, but I’m having trouble finding much good in her tenure on the board.

  2. Excellent post! Thank you School Watch! SCW also made a good point about the fact that “projections” are nothing more than just that – projections. And, this system does not have a very good track record with numbers.

    The new finance guy is here for a reason and that is not likely due to a sudden desire from the top to become open and transparent. It’s scary to think that we are “self-insured” and yet we are “projecting” a zero reserve situation by the end of the fiscal year.

    One more lawsuit and we’re belly-up for sure!

  3. Denise says:

    I am sorry; I was rendered speechless there for a moment. We have an issue with incompetence in the central office. I’m talking about people who are not qualified to do their jobs and keep botching things up. Maybe they are nice people and have the best intentions and really care about the children. And maybe they are American. But that does not make them good at their jobs. And that does not make Sarah Copelin-Wood good at her job. Which is to be a board member. And pay attention. And know what’s going on. So we can move forward, not stagnate in the mess we’ve been standing in all these weeks and months now and years now.

  4. Dunwoody Mom says:

    The author of this post has a right you their opinion, however, as a consistent viewer of the BOE Meetings, Ms. Copelin-Woods rarely comes to the meetings prepared. Her job is to come to the BOE meetings, having reviewed the material beforehand, to understand what is going on. She does not do this. This is not a personal attack on Ms. Woods as the author seems to want to believe, but an observation based on years of watching and listening to Ms. Woods at the BOE meetings.

  5. William says:

    Sarah Copelin-Wood is an embarassement. However, I do agree that she is representative of the people who continually send vote her back in… and they certainly deserve her “leadership”.

    H.L. Mencken said it best. “People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard.”

  6. True. But this particular meeting she took a real beating in the blogs and the live blog at the Patch. It is sad really. The people of her district deserve to have their voices heard and their needs met. She is trying. Someone needs to step up to the plate next go round and take over for her.

  7. Oddly, she did get some answers that we have been seeking though! Would you have known that we’ve lost another 537+ teachers had Sarah not asked the question – several times? She was stonewalled the first few times she asked, but she kept asking. I was speechless when the answer came back that 817 people have been let go so far – and nearly 600 of them in total are some kind of teacher. Now we plan to chop out the media specialists, clerks and parapros – all people who have daily interactions with students. Who will be left to ‘manage’ the classroom?

  8. How is asking “how much money do we have in the bank right now?” a dim question? I actually thought it was rather telling that the Finance hot shot couldn’t answer. How can you be the chief financial officer and not know how much money you have in the bank??

    And how is it that she had to ask it several different times without getting an answer? The answer she was finally given was zero, but that was not correct either. She kept asking because she was not getting an acceptable answer.

    And, she was right to ask about the personnel cuts because we have people losing their jobs supposedly because of the budget crisis, but where is the line item that shows how much is being saved by the cuts already made? If the Superintendent is adding employees at the same time she is firing others then we should be given a net amount. There needs to be a hiring freeze immediately so that a shell game isn’t being played right under our noses.

    We’re all so busy watching the front door to see who comes in and out that we’re totally missing the back door where the same people who just walked out the front are turning around and using to walk right back in.

  9. Dr. DeKalb says:

    No one is saying she is an excellent leader or that she comes prepared. But, she still has to vote on a budget, so I would rather have her ask all the questions she thinks she needs answered in order to cast an honest ballot then to have her sit quietly for fear of ridicule or fear of asking a “dumb” question. Cunningham, on the other hand, just uses his time to hear himself talk. And, Speaks rarely speaks. Questions are always enlightening and I would rather hear more board members pushing for the details rather than basking in their own 15 minutes of fame.

  10. Denise says:

    Those are facts she already should have known. If she had questions, she should have asked them before a board meeting where they were supposed to vote on the budget, not hold them until she got there. That is political posturing. It is divisive and disrespectful and is not helping the process. It is that behavior that is only fueling the dysfunctional fire. You know, the one that is going to consume us all.

  11. GTCO,
    I was sitting there at the meeting and after Mr. Perrone hemmed and hawed several times without specifically answering SCW about the current cash reserves and cash balance he was approached by our very high priced outside legal counsel and advised that he could answer the question.
    Our school system is SOOO unknowledgeable about their legal responsibilities that they require $475 an hour legal advise to determine if they are allowed to use the bathroom or not! This litigious environment we have gotten into is sapping the funds from our children’s education and sending it directly to Sutherlin, Asbill and Brennan!
    I also attended the last 10 budget committee meetings and Mr. Perrone knew EXACTLY how much money we have currently and how much we spend monthly and daily and he also knows when we are going to run out of money.
    The board authorized the financing of T.A.N.s (Tax Anticipation Notes) to receive cash for the months of July, August and September until we start to receive the property tax revenues in October from August collections.
    I still think the property tax revenue will be lower than the tax assessor’s office is telling us!
    It is not Mr. Perrone’s fault. He will come to understand the rules and regs associated with our district and he will be more informed going forward. Remember, he came from a “Well oiled”, “Well run” school district and has had very competent people to delegate financial responsibilities to in the past. It will take him some time to get the right people inside the finance department of DCSD.
    Thanks for yor understanding.
    CFTK

  12. Dunwoody Mom says:

    I understand that, and yes, the “bully blogs” were out in force. However, Mr. Perrone did explain the “reserve issue” at a prior board meeting, I believe on 6/11. He stated that there were enough reserves, he felt, to get through this fiscal year, but none for FY 13. Again, does she not pay attention during the board meetings?

    I do believe SCW cares about the children in her district. However, she is not an effective board member and her district could/should do better.

  13. Denise says:

    And yes, I know she is a person with feelings, and I know in my heart that she does care, or why else would she put herself out there like that? But just because she cares does not mean she is the right person for the job. Sadly, the people who really could make a difference probably will never step up to plate for a number of reasons, not last of which would be the paltry salary that the board members make. It is a thankless job.

  14. Dawg93 says:

    No offense, but you must not be familiar with how the financial operations of an entity the size of DCSS operates if you expect the CFO to always know how much cash is in the bank. And did she want to know the actual cash in the bank or the balance per the books, which is certainly much lower due to outstanding (uncashed) checks at any given time? There’s a big difference, especially for an entity of this size.

    Furthermore, the cash in the bank is pretty meaningless w/out knowing what else is on the balance sheet. If you have $100M in the bank but have $100M owed to vendors, guess what, you really don’t have a thing in the bank. Because that $100M has been allocated to pay those vendors. That’s the situation we’re in now and what the CFO was trying to explain to SCW – that yes, we have cash in the bank, but it’s already earmarked for expenses to finish out the current fiscal year and the initial expenses for the beginning of the new fiscal year until tax revenues and other revenues start rolling in.

    And honestly, that’s what bothers me about someone like SCW making these types of budget cuts – she barely understands the financial concepts being presented to her. And she’s been on the board for 14 years!!! Good grief, has she not learned anything in that time? Hey, it’s great that she’s looking out for the kids and asking questions. But she comes off as completely incompetent, IMO. Or at least not competent enough to serve on this board.

  15. Dawg93 says:

    Well said, DM. (from a fellow Dunwoody-ite)

  16. But that’s the point. This is not a Board of Directors of a major corporation (actually, that could be another whole blog post!), but elected officials, sent by the taxpayers of their districts to be good stewards of their money. That is what makes this place called The United States so unique and so raw. Have you ever watched the movie “John Adams” or read about the near riotous uncivilized discussion that occurred before passing the Constitution? You just have to love this country. We are dysfunctional but in our dysfunction, we find common ground and understanding and we move forward into a place a tiny bit more enlightened than the last. She has a right to represent her peers. That is the job she was elected to do. She is doing it to the best of her ability. No one else in her district of any caliber has stepped up to the plate to attempt to take the reins for her and for the people of District 3. This district is a district of great poverty and high needs. This is a district FULL of children who have been “Left Behind” due to the mass exodus of their neighbors to choice, magnet and theme schools all over the county as they were encouraged to do by our school system leaders. This is the district with one of the highest rates of foreclosures in the country. This is a district of shuttered neighborhood schools left for vandals and mischief. SOMEBODY needs to speak up for the people of District 3 and instead of mocking Sarah in her attempts, the rest of the board and the people in the county should be peel their attention away from their own demands and peer for a moment into her district asking, “How can we help?”

  17. The Deal says:

    I guess my question is how has she been on the board for SO long and yet she does not seem to understand how the budget process works? She SHOULD be a seasoned veteran who is guiding the process along logically and efficiently. Instead she speaks into a microphone that is turned off, comes completely unprepared, seems unable to recall discussions had at previous budget and board meetings, and asks, what, 3 productive questions over the course of 5 years of board meetings I’ve been attending? Yeah, I’m really impressed. This is what DeKalb does to you: it slowly erodes your sense of reality, lowers your expectations, and lowers the bar. I have zero praise. I expect a lot more.

  18. The Deal says:

    On the very low end of the spectrum, I guess I would agree that rambling questions that somehow result in a good answer are better than the grandstanding. Yes, at least Mrs. Wood does not grandstand. I will give you that.

  19. Dawg93 says:

    I understand your point re: her district. If she truly is the best option and the only person willing to take that job, then that’s pretty sad. I guess my biggest point of contention here is that you’ve said a few times she’s “trying” and “doing the best she can do”. I would disagree. I still believe that she’s unprepared relative to the others on the board. If they can seek out information on their own time to prepare for the board meetings, then she can to.

    Look, I’m sympathetic to the difficulty she has in representing her district. Having graduated from a DeKalb HS in the late 80s, I know full-well the changes the county has gone through in certain areas. My mom was the first graduating class at Columbia and my dad went to Towers. Uncle went to SWD. My family has lived in DeKalb for many years and watched the downfall. She has my respect for at least having the job that no one apparently wants. But I guess it’s too much to ask for her to be more prepared.

    And BTW, I’d be curious to know your thoughts on this post from 2 yrs ago:

    http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/04/sarah-copelin-wood-look-at-her-as-why.html

  20. Actually, Dunwoody Mom, NONE of the board members come truly prepared. If they did, they would not tolerate the partial information that is dribbled out by the Superintendent. Informed decisions simply cannot be made by what they are told. Yet, none of the board members seem to understand that the superintendent is THEIR EMPLOYEE. They tiptoe around her, refraining from asking the tough questions, like she is the Queen.

    It is stunning — and scary — that Mark Elgart thinks he can take the board to task for “asking for too much information” simply because the superintendent complained. In fact, the superintendent delays getting information out and, as taxpayers, we don’t think it is appropriate that she be a bottleneck by insisting that all requests for information go through her and all responses come from her. It would be different if she facilitated providing information and if she provided complete and transparent information to begin with. However, Atkinson consistently breaks the 3-day rule for providing information requested under the Open Records Act.

    Quite frankly, it would be in everyone’s best interest if the board scraped together some gumption and dared Elgart to remove DCSS’s SCAS-CASI accreditation. It would clear the way for the governor to take over the school system and would not hurt our students. We still are accredited by the Georgia Accrediting Commission who requirements are more focused on education and the educational environment than SACS’s are.

    Elgart doesn’t have the guts to take DCSS’s accreditation because he would lose a cash cow that is paying twice for accreditation — school-by-school and for the district as a whole. No, even though Elgart is a bully who yanked the accreditation of Warren County because their board wasn’t playing by Roberts Rules of Order, he won’t prescribe the same penalty for DeKalb County School System whose board chair can’t find find his way through Roberts Rules of Order.

  21. Dawg93 says:

    When Nancy, Pam & Don had their recent coffee talk in Dunwoody, they mentioned the issue you brought up re: the board asking for too much info and the fact that SACS won’t let them ask certain questions under the threat of taking away accreditation. My wife and I couldn’t believe what we were hearing. Not that I would think the 3 of them would make something up like that, but it just didn’t make sense – seemed a little too “conspiracy theory” for us. It boggles my mind that the county’s accreditation could be stripped by SACS simply because our board is doing their job.

  22. Former Dekalb Teacher says:

    If I am not mistaken, there weren’t 817 people let go. There are 817 people who left the county, the majority of them being retirees. Others were non-renewed due to performance. Many of the layoffs seem to have been from non-teaching personnel.

    However, it was good to hear the numbers explicitly stated after SCW asked 3 times. As one of the 56 laid off music, P.E., and other teachers, I was glad to hear that news shared publicly.

  23. We disagree, Denise. Sara Copelin-Wood was absolutely right to ask her questions in an open board meeting. The Queen works for the board, not the other way around. Sara’s questions were not political posturing, were not divisive and certainly were not disrespectful.

    Have you noticed that when someone like Perrone is asked a direct question, he first tries to avoid it and then tries to answer using financial lingo and all the time is looking at Atkinson for direction. We have noticed that with Howe and others, as well.

  24. Kid_Should_Be_Considered says:

    Can someone enlighten me on what the plan is when they chop out the media specialists. I believe they run the library correct? Are they moving to half time librarians? Have they made an announcement about this? I think this might be a good question for a parent in Sarah Copelin Woods district to ask her about. If you are a parent in SCW’s district, can you please ask her to ask about this at the next board meeting. Somehow I do not think she will be pleased if her students who already scoring low do not even have a school librarian. All of us should write to the board and advocate for our kids to have a media center staffed by a media specialist! What an outrage!

  25. Board members for Decatur City Schools make NO money for their service. Frankly, it is probably the better way to go. People who aren’t being paid to go to meetings make sure that every meeting counts instead of having called meetings every whipstitch. People who are not being paid to go to meetings tell bullies like Mark Elgart to stop by DCSS and get on the agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting if he has something to say to them.

  26. Well, put, Dawg 93. Maybe Perrone could have just said what you said, in the plain language you used, instead of hemming and hawing and beating around the bush.

  27. It’s true. It’s no conspiracy theory, either. We at DSW get information from other sources and we try not to publish anything unless it has been separately confirmed.

  28. Mom of 3 says:

    I think she means well. But seriously the question about the cash in the bank spoke volumes to me. I compare it to someone going to the atm machine to see how much money they have. The actual balance means nothing. This is why Mr. Perrone did not know it. It doesn’t matter. He tried explaining to her several times that all the money was spoken for. So in essence the reserve was $0. What this says to me is that people like Mrs. Wood don’t understand what a budget is. They are only interested in how much money is in the bank on a given day. She seems like a very nice person with good intentions. But she does not appear very educated in finances. And that it terrifying. Several other board members made other comments that led me to believe the same about them. Perhaps a requirement of being on the board should be proof of basic financial education or offering a class so that they understand how budgets work.

  29. Actually, every single month that Marcus Turk made a presentation to the board, he told them exactly what the fund balances were to the penny (well as much as his funny accounting would allow we now know). Anyway, that is what she’s used to so she may be wondering why Perrone can’t do the same. FWIW, apparently the board does not have full access to the budgets, they can only use the documents given to them by staff or knowledge told to them by staff. This is why even Nancy and Donna can be uninformed as to budget details, regardless of their backgrounds in finance and accounting respectfully.

  30. tired of them all says:

    What is going to happen when all the Title I equipment and materials that are inventoried through the media centers start to disappear? if no one is minding the store the materials are going to take a walk.

  31. Mom of 3 says:

    Your explanation goes to exactly the problem that I am concerned about. The blind leading the blind. But still not accountability. Still no excuse for not understanding! This is like listening to a bunch of kids in the sand box. Thank god for private schools!

  32. bettyandveronica1 says:

    anyone find the final cuts online yet????

  33. Dr. DeKalb says:

    Again, as DSWB mentioned, this is an elected official, not someone who is hired based on qualifications. You live in America. We don’t put limitations on who can run for office. If her district thought they could do better, they would vote for someone else. If they are satisfied with how they are being represented then who are any of you to mock her? If you don’t think her educational background or her college achievements are acceptable, think about the children this county is supposed to be educating. If you are a Fernbank supporter, think very hard. If you don’t want to see more people struggling to understand a budget on a board controlling millions and millions of your tax dollars, then you need to step up and commit to doing what it takes to educate the next generation. And, we’re allowing nearly half of the kids who come out of DeKalb to grow up without a high school diploma. All those folks in the central office, all those folks at the attorney’s offices, all those overpaid principals and every other person who isn’t doing the job they are being paid to do should be ashamed of themselves. They are stealing more than money from the children… they are stealing hopes, dreams, endeavours, achievements, pride and so much more from an entire generation and now they are going to do it to the next one, too, if we don’t find a way to accept the diverse nature of this county and work together to make things right.

  34. worried_about_the_numbers says:

    Can you imagine how much more American Sarah Copelin-Wood could be if she actually prepared herself? If she showed up all the time and paid attention? If she did more than just ask questions? If she actually proposed realistic solutions? Instead she says things like ‘those preK children can find spots in private child care’ which is patently false for this year. I seriously doubt she was expressing the voice of ‘her people’ when she proposed that the PreK program shouldn’t just be cut back but eliminated for the upcoming year.

    If she knows on a visceral level that ‘something isn’t right’ with the budget then I know on a visceral level that ‘something isn’t right’ with her and that ‘her people’ deserve better. Glad she asked those questions. But asking a few questions is not good enough. Not now, not in this crisis. The children and parents deserve someone who cares enough to be prepared.
    Nobody should be mocked, but she along with several of the other board member certainly should be exposed to the sharpest of all criticisms given what they have shown us lately.

    BTW, with your line of argument you are insinuating that true Americans are those who act bravely ignorant and ask banal questions. That’s quite the insult, methinks.

  35. The Deal says:

    Are you sure we have secondary accreditation? Nancy Jester did not speak like we do.

  36. The Deal says:

    If there were any way I could get people like Wood, Cunningham, Bowen, and Walker out of office, I would. We are divided into districts, in case you didn’t know. My vote has absolutely no bearing on 7 of the 9 board members. Other districts don’t really like it when voters from other districts come into their district and try to tell them how to vote. It sort of sounds like you’re calling them stupid, which doesn’t work very well. That is the biggest problem with DeKalb schools. If we have 7 districts and 2 super districts, that is a sign that we are too big. Split this system up into at least 2, if not 3 parts and let each area elect leaders who will have total say over how their smaller area is run. I don’t feel sorry at all for the low-income areas represented by these morons because THEY are the ones who keep electing the same people over and over. If they have such faith in them, let their esteemed elected leaders be the only decision-makers and see what kind of results they get.

  37. Teacher K says:

    I am probably the last person to defend SCW, but the answer to your question is quite simple. For the entire time she has been on the board, the CFO has been giving the board information about the reserve WITHOUT deducting those amounts that are designated for expenses already accrued. I sit on a board of a private organization and receive a monthly balance sheet or Statement of Financial Position for that organization. In the 9 years I have been attending DCBOE meetings, I have never seen one of those items in the Finance Report.

  38. I just took a look at the Georgia Accrediting Commission and you are correct — DeKalb County Schools is no longer accredited by the Georgia Accrediting Commission. Thank you, DCSS Board of Education. That certainly explains why Nancy Jester said she would ask to have the SACS-CASI Annual Dues item moved from the consent agenda so it could be discussed — and then, without explanation, she did not do it.

  39. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Sounds like you should run for office — how about a school board seat!

    See, that’s the problem. Everybody’s a critic. But nobody will do the job themselves. Everybody wants great representation. But nobody wants to be the representative. Is there anyone willing to run against Sarah in her district next go round? She won her district handily the last several times. In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a LOT of DeKalb residents who support and love Sarah. They go to the meetings and applaud her. In fact, they do this in spite of the insults and opinions about her publicly stated by people in other districts. They are not impressed by you either.

  40. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    In case you hadn’t noticed, Sarah’s constituents not only support her, they go to the meetings and applaud her! The board is split – the votes pretty consistently go 5-4 with Bowen, Walker, Edler, Cunningham and Copelin-Wood the ruling majority. Speaks, McChesney, Jester and Womack usually vote the opposite but rarely get a swing vote to go their way. Their votes are useless. They are powerless. The Walker crowd (including Sarah) is in charge. Therefore, virtually nearly half this county is not getting officially represented – they are represented only as a formality. Their reps are wasting their time, IMO.

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