We may not have many librarians left, but the lights remain on with nobody home

CBS Atlanta News has uncovered a major waste that could save the district millions. We are asking the Tough Questions about why lights are being left on at all hours of the day and night at schools that are supposed to be closed for the summer.

“You can count every book in the library because the lights are on so bright,” said parent Cheryl Miller.

CBS Atlanta News found lights left on in hallways, cafeterias and classrooms night after night at schools around the district.

“If they are not being careful and watching how money is being spent on something so obvious, how else are they wasting money?” Miller asked.

Miller and her husband Paul contacted CBS Atlanta when they saw lights left on at Brockett Elementary.

“Seventy percent of our taxes go to the school board and they are squandering it,” Paul Miler said.

“The only thing I can think is maybe someone is in there cleaning. But cleaning up from what? School is out,” board member Paul Womack said.

Chief Investigative Reporter Wendy Saltzman took video of five schools with lights on to district staff and board members for a response.

“Our electricity expenses are terribly over budget, so this is an area where we do need to exert control,” says board member Nancy Jester.

Jester first brought the problem about electricity waste to the school boards attention last year.

“We are $1 million over budget on our electricity,” she said at an October 2011 board meeting.

Now, nine months later the district is $6 million over budget in electricity alone.

“There’s waste, and I know there’s waste,” Jester said.

“It’s all over the place, and it is not acceptable and we are going to make sure it gets fixed,” school spokesperson Jeff Dickerson told Saltzman.

Dickerson said as a result of our investigation, the district is in the process of checking school timers and alerting school staff.

“These are not just security lights, these are people forgetting to turn the lights off,” he said.

Click here to read the full article and view the report:
School lights left on, Tough Questions about waste

Thank you Wendy Saltzman!
ps- Curious – Is Jeff Dickerson our spokesperson again? Did he ever really leave? Where’s Walter?

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91 Responses to We may not have many librarians left, but the lights remain on with nobody home

  1. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Way to go Cheryl! I have seen this myself and wondered why are the lights on and no one is home? But then that is a pretty accurate description of this whole mess. It’s not their money, they don’t think to turn the light off, someone else will do it.

  2. In my household I am constantly reminding my children to turn off lights, and to conserve (i.e, no TV and radio on at the same time, etc.) This is the same mantra that we all were raised with (including don’t leave the faucets running as it is a waste)…With the degree of seriousness we are at in regards to dollars with this school system- there is no room for waste or inefficiencies. Every penny counts- Kudo’s to Cheryl and Paul Miller for bringing this to “light”- Showing waste at this level only solidifies why we SHOULD NOT be acceptant of sacrificing our educators due to the irresponsibility of upper management. Great Article.

  3. Susan Curtis says:

    When I worked for DCSD, I asked about this and was told that it was a security measure. Anyone know if that’s the case?

  4. Goodteacher says:

    They did install security lights last year in our school. It is the first light over our doorway, and it never goes off. I turn my lights out every time I leave my room, I have asked about leaving our computers on, which I am told must be kept on due to updates and such being run through the night. Our sinks run, our water fountains run, toilets…but we let go most of the maintenance dept. so I am not anticipating any repairs. I am pretty sure 40 year old ac units are not exactly Energy Star. We also leave the front door wide open in the winter while kids are arriving (apparently they cannot open a door). We use disposable trays and cutlery daily, have fought this for years! Check out the amt of wasted copy paper in the workroom, it is a shame and a disgrace. Bring on the waste police…it is about time. Tough times call for tough actions.

  5. Jim McMahan says:

    I have heard the same thing. I was told that the security cameras do not have night vision so the lights are left on so the security cameras can accurately capture the perps identity.
    Another solution, like the exterior of my house, is to have motion sensor lights inside and outside of our schools?
    I’m sure we could convince my fellow candidate from District 4 to have Home Depot support our schools and offer us motion sensor lights for our 139 schools?
    Public, private partnerships have to start somewhere, it might as well be with Atlanta based Home Depot!

  6. whoshelpingthekids says:

    The new schools also have sinks where you hit the button for the water to come out and it runs much, much longer than any parent, and esp. any student, will be standing there to wash their hands. A definite waste. Our toilets and sinks drip/run all the time but that is an in-house management issue – no one holding the custodians accountable for work orders….which goes back to the problem DCSS has with weak building leadership

  7. dcsdteacher says:

    Great comments! If you work in these schools, you see a lot of ways that money can be saved, but when you follow the chain of command and make suggestions, you usually get the “That’s a good idea”, and hear no more about it. Building administrators tolerate a level of just plain ugliness in schools, that they’d never entertain for a minute in their own homes. Don’t people have a right to a clean restroom, with toilet paper and paper towels (or an air-driven hand dryer) available? Some of the schools have entry areas that are a disgrace, with unraked flower beds, dead plants, and trash in the bushes. Even a principal can grab hold of a rake! Other schools look pristine and most things work–and not just on the North side, either. It’s a function of leadership, from the top down. If a Superintendent (not Dr. A; someone who is interested in the day-to-day of education) said: “Principals!! Clean up your schools, you are responsible for how basic functions work”, you’d see some improvement, and staff would step right up to the plate to help. It’s easy to cut teachers’ paper use for their classrooms–some have to literally hoard paper all year long–while doing nothing to stop the endless flow of surveys, chirpy little reminders, and announcements about afterschool activities, all of which could be delivered paperlessly.
    And speaking of announcements (ranting here)…have you thought about how the school day really ends 15-20 minutes earlier than posted because of the endless unintelligible (and not-listened-to) announcements) that blare out of the overhead loudspeaker, rendering teaching and learning impossible, at the end of the day? Information could be given via First Class instead, to which everyone has access. Most announcements, except for bus schedule changes, aren’t urgent and could be read by students at home or in the school library. Making them paperless would allow important information to be sent directly home to parents’ email. In the elementary schools, no one, including teachers, pays attention to yet another student reading about achievement in a monotone from a prepared script. If you eliminated most announcements, you would add at least 15 minutes of instruction to each day systemwide.

  8. jnj says:

    My principal requested lights to be left on for security reasons. The custodian would actually fuss if we turned them off.

  9. Teacher/Parent says:

    School lights are a major drain on electricity in the school system. The schools I have worked in though always end the day with, “Turn off lights, close blinds and lock your door”. I believe the principal has the authority to keep lights on or off in a building. Water is also a major waste. I am constantly going in restroom to turn off faucets after students. If we would treat our work place/learning place more like our homes they would be more energy efficient and cleaner!

  10. Jim McMahan says:

    Parents, teachers and school advocates,
    These are the reasons why I feel we should create the “Council of School Councils”.
    Each school and their respective council know about these issues and invidually inform the central office. The two school councils that I am on communicate our needs to the CO. We have communicated for YEARS with the CO and “Plant Services” about the faulty HVAC system and leaky roof at Hednerson MS.
    Once Mr. Wilkins arrived this year, we expressed our concerns with him, showed him our years of communication with the CO and he scheduled an appointment with two reps from plant services that week! We addressed every issue within the school and communicated effectively so that accountability was in place. I think we will see Mr. Wilkins be an effective leader and COO. That is my impression so far.
    When we create a cluster of councils for each high school we can effectively communicate with other schools within our feeder pattern to discuss similar issues and collectively voice our concerns.
    Accountability and communication! It’s a start in the right direction.
    If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me on my Facebook page, “Jim McMahan for DeKalb County Schools” or email me at jimmcmahan@bellsouth.net.
    Your candidate for District 4 DeKalb County School Board
    Jim McMahan

  11. Weary worker says:

    The lights are only a part of the problem there are schools where the HVAC has been out of control for years. Freezing in summer and broiling in winter. The calls have been and made techs come out acknowledge the problem then there is no follow up. The solution to having conditions the student can tolerate is to open the windows in an attempt to regulate the climate. Summer clothes in winter and winter clothes in summer is a suggested but demeaning solution. Thermostats don’t work and dampers that are suppose to open and close do not operate. The only way these wasteful problems can be fixed is to hold principals and the service department accountable for the energy costs. this is another reason we do not need ex administrators in the service department we need capable and skilled technicians.

  12. PolitiMom says:

    Though I shouldn’t be, I’m stunned by the statement that we were $1million over budget in electricity and a year later $6 million over???? Who is auditing those bills? What check/balance is there? How is it possible we keep uncovering so much funny (not so funny) math but there is no one being held accountable? No investigations. Why isn’t the entire finance team FIRED!?

    And Jeff Dickerson again? Are we paying him again? Are his connections why DCSS never seems to get Dale Russell or Randy Travis or any other media I-Team (besides the fine folks at DSW) looking into its books. What is it going to take? We are in such worse shape than Clayton Co and yet here we are. So frustrated.

  13. GTCO-ATL says:

    I have uploaded photos to the Tucker Patch article which should help with the understanding of the waste. http://tucker.patch.com/articles/tucker-schools-in-cbs-investigation-of-electricity-waste

    It is absurd … Please report further waste of electricity at your schools to: Wendy.Saltzman@cbsatlanta.com.

    Wendy and her crew are going to follow up to make sure the board members follow through with what they said they would do. Watch the investigation here: http://www.cbsatlanta.com/story/19045960/school-lights-left-on-tough-questions-about-waste

  14. Mildred says:

    I heard from a Central Office friend that Walter Woods and his entire department had been RIFed. Also, I heard that Walter is/was working on a contingent basis as needed.

  15. GTCO-ATL says:

    jnj, are you referring to outside lights, or inside lights?

  16. John Hope says:

    jnj, I asked a principal and they made the same comment. it seems that was a security recommendation that came from the police. This is similar to what some of us do when we leave our homes for a few days, leave a few lights on to give the appearance that someone is there.

    If this is the reason, it would result in savings if different lights could be put on timers that went on and off during the night. It would be interesting to hear if this has been a deterrent to crime.

  17. jnj says:

    I am referrIng to the classroom lights.

  18. GTCO-ATL says:

    Jim, I was told that not all schools have a council. Do you know if that is true? I agree that there needs to be a way for the school communities to be able to communicate their needs to those who can address them, but isn’t this the job of the principals? Why put so much accountability on the shoulders of the parents and community when we are not inside the builidings anywhere near the amount of time as the teachers and principals? And why does a system with such a large, well-paid administration not have the manpower to respond to requests, like the one you described, with swift action? Why must we protect the jobs of these people who are not adding any value to our schools and merely slowing down the pace by which things should be taken care of? A council of councils sounds like a lot of people talking … our children are failing at nearly a 50% rate. Isn’t it time for some action?

    It would only take one maintenance person to keep a school in good working order. A council or a council of councils doesn’t need to be called to tell me that. We waste so much time and effort discussing the problems when the solutions are so simple. Accountability has to start inside the school house. A CBS Atlanta investigation should not be necessary for our schools to be told to conserve electricity when they are so far over budget already.

  19. GTCO-ATL says:

    You should email Wendy Saltzman with the name of your school and principal, jnj, so she can ask the tough questions about why this is the practice and whether the cost of the electric is an over budget issue at that school in particular.

  20. Jim McMahan says:

    If there are schools that have no school council then DCSD is in violation of State law.
    You can go to the “Policy” page of the school system website, click on “School Board Operations”, then click on “Local School Councils”, policy BBFA for DCSD and there are the state education policies that also mandate school councils. Nicole Knighten, Director of Government Affairs, is in charge of ALL councils. I spoke to her in January at the State Capital and she said it was ok with her if “I” wanted to organize the Council of Councils.
    It was just like Eugene Walker telling the TV reporters, “If you think you can do a better job then run for the school board!”
    I said ok to both of them!
    If a school does not have a school council, please put them in touch with me and I will help them get organized and ready for the school year. Read the policy and you’ll be amazed at the responsibilities that a school council is intended to have. Even selecting a Principal for their school! (In an advisory position only though) It can be expressed in the official minutes for accountability purposes.
    Keep up the good work and let’s make sure ALL schools have a school council!
    Somebody needs to look out for them!

    Jim McMahan

  21. So, have they ever actually caught any of these ‘perps’? When Henderson MS had over 100 laptops stolen, they were not recovered and the system said they didn’t have the funds to replace them. What ever happened with that story? Did the PTA replace the laptops? We never heard…

  22. tired of them all says:

    We put in the work orders. Don’t blame school leadership. Lights are on for security reasons – that is what we have been told as well.

  23. tired of them all says:

    When the heat and air don’t work everyone suffers including the office staff. Do you really think administrators don’t care about the children and staff members. Administrators follow up with their supervisors when service is not provided. As a secretary, I know that my administrators try, but what can you do with antiquated HVAC systems?

  24. Fedup says:

    Someone is home at the Palace. What is up with the Executive Pay Increase, I mean Executive Leader Academy from the 3 news flash emails today and the new job postings as of YESTERDAY? Someone is home but they aren’t answering and telling us where our CONTRACTS are!

  25. dekalbite2 says:

    LOL – Jeff Dickerson, former New Birth public relations person and former APS spokesperson when Beverly Hall was in charge.

    Look at his tweet praising Beverly Hall:
    ‘ATL Supt. Beverly Hall leaves this week. When she arrived, APS grads earned $9 million in scholarships. Last year, $129 million.”

  26. dekalbite2 says:

    Here’s a video of Jeff Dickerson making a pitch on the Georgia Gang that Ms. Tyson needs to get a $73,000 raise:

  27. Retired and working part-time says:

    Having dealt with budgets for many years, I am somewhat familiar with the process. Has anybody looked to see whether or not the budget was a realistic number. Many times, when times are tight, certain areas in the budget are deliberately under-budgeted, just to get the budget passed. When the reporting period ends, and the numbers come in over budget, “Well, we did not have direct conrol over that particular area, so there was nothing we could do”. In the case of the schools, particularly the newer buildings, there are many lights in the building that cannot be turned off with the flick of a switch inside the building. I know. I worked many nights in one of these buildings. Are the people in the buildings doing all they can. Of course not, but it really does disturb me to see a person with the county saying that it is a result of people forgetting to turn off the lights. Absolute B.S.. A bald faced lie!!!!!

  28. howitworks says:

    Replacing the HVAC systems and installing energy efficient controls for them along with replacing the lights and ballasts and installing them on energy effiecient timers, should be SPLOSTs Projects that are given priority. They would give the school immediate payback and lower the amount that is paid out of the general fund for utilities and maintence costs.

    I believe that Georgia Power will do the calculations for the lighting systems to go on controls so they automatically shut off after hours. I also believe that Ga power will also give some rebates. Some of the work they may even pay for by the use of your utilies bill. They recapture the cost of the improvements out of the lowered utilities cost. A Public Entitie can get around the public Bidding on items like this by using a JOFOC.

    ATLANTA GAS LIGHT also has programs like this as well.

    But then the biggest problem, is DCSD not having qualified professionals in their Facilities department. But being a jobs program. Having a “Fake” Engineer like Pat Pope, who is willing to get down on her knees with Supt. Just like A.B. did. If they would have real engineers with real facilities management staff, they would know how to take advantage of these program.

    Water and Sewer Bills is another area that a competant Facilities Dept, would proactively audit to determine problems with ussage. The Dekalb County Water Dept., it’s self is well stocked and will come out and even lend it’s big customers large pipes and valves in a crunch ( I know I have had to do that).

  29. sick of dekalb says:

    Please keep digging Wendy…you are scratching the surface when it comes to uncovering waste, fraud and abuse in this school district…

  30. GTCO-ATL says:

    Teacher/Parent – thank you for the efforts you are making to look after the little things (like turning off the running faucets) … it may seem small, but those things can really add up. Just like we teach our kids at home, we need the same conservation rules to be reinforced in the schools. It’s all about respect for one another, respect for pubic property, respect for our teachers and respect for the natural resources of our Earth.

  31. Dr. DeKalb says:

    Jim, if you are on the board when they start spending all that SPLOST IV money, will you please remember these comments when you are asked to approve the purchase of new school security equipment? A camera system for security that does not have night vision is very antiquated and should not win a bid because it isn’t truly the lowest price when you factor in the extreme costs that people appear to be associating with the lighting necessary to operate them at night (which would be one of the main reasons you would have them anyway, right?). Also, wouldn’t an alarm system make a better security option? With all of our schools being reportedly run down and falling apart, what is so valuable that we need to go $6 million over budget in 9 months to protect. Something is not adding up. Is it possible to get a rundown by school in one’s district of how much electric is budgeted for them specifically and how much they are over or under budget? Maybe there are just a few abusers that are making everyone look bad?

  32. Dr. DeKalb says:

    That is not a logical explanation for this abuse of our tax dollars. Lights on outside a building in the middle of the day? Television sets left on inside a building with no one around to watch them? Does anyone here light up the inside of their homes all night long as a way to stop crime? Do we have a big problem with criminals breaking into our schools and stealing… what? Oh that’s right, the real criminals already wiped us out financially a long time ago when they paid all that money to their buddies and left us with buildings that leak water and bleed forged CRCT scores. Give me a break!

  33. Don’t blame school leadership? Well, someone must be accountable, whom do you suggest?

  34. Weary worker says:

    It’s it not working it needs to be repaired. The cost of running a system that wastes money every day for years is more expensive than a new system. The bottom line is that someone does not care. They do not care about the conditions staff and student have to endure and they do not care about the waste of taxpayer funds. Plus in one case the system is less than 12 years old. That is not antiquated.

  35. justwatch says:

    The state has weakened the school council law almost to the point of it being meaningless — for example, only 4 meetings a year are required, and they removed the provision requiring school councils to have a seat at the table for school leadership decisions. With the exception of a survey given to school council members with the criteria they want to see in the principal, there is no real input given.
    O.C.G.A. § 20-2-85 – 86

  36. Whoshelpingthekids says:

    At our school the plant engineer is responsible for putting in work orders. If that person doesn’t really care about the building, for whatever reason (lazy, retiring soon, no pride in school, power, being recalcitrant, etc), orders aren’t turned in. In our building, the principal doesn’t hold them accountable.

    @tired of them all- I’m not sure who “we” is in your comment. I’m sure different schools have different policies about work orders and who can do them and know that plant engineers have different degrees of pride. Others I have met are proud of their schools and if the custodians under the plant engineer don’t keep the building in tip top shape, they fire them because it is a negative reflection on them if the building looks bad.

  37. Are they installinig lights for security cameras approved in SPLOST IV before the taxpayers even approved the funding? Where are they getting the money for these items? Why would they spend money on lights when they knew that new lighting was a part of the SPLOST vote for approval? Sounds like the money would have been better directed at replacing the AC units or, gee, I don’t know, keeping our teachers employed!

  38. Last night at the Candidate Forum, Tom Gilbert said, “even if you win this lawsuit, do you really think Heery is going to pay? He’s broke. He doesn’t have that kind of money. I know him and I know he won’t pay.” (something of that nature)

    Also, the current board members are VERY defensive these days… at various times in their speeches for re-election, Womack, McChestney AND even Dr. Speaks actually lashed out verbally at the audience. McChestney defended the decision to remain in the lawsuit by saying, “if you get your news from sources like the AJC then you don’t know anything. If you could see the EVIDENCE that we have seen, then you would really know what is going on.”

    Gilbert said, “Well, the other side of courtroom has seen the evidence and they aren’t backing down either. And it doesn’t help when two of your star witnesses are under indictment.”

    McChestney got angry and said, “those people you are referring to are NOT our star witnesses. We have lots of star witnesses. We don’t need them. Why do you think Mr. Mitchell has joined forces with DeKalb County Schools in this thing?”

    The crowd was not amused. Orson said something about being a lawyer and that he knows that the attorneys fees are part of the budget that the board controls, so the $30 million or more than have been spent on attorneys can be directly associated with their decisions.

    Womack blamed the former Finance department for the mess with the budget. We were wondering if Tyson turned in a faulty budget that had gaping holes in fixed expenses, why hasn’t she been fired? If it is negligence or sabotage, why is she still working for us? And why is Turk still employed. Why do we seem to have duplication of so many jobs (as pointed out in the salary audit). It is like they have a “real” staff and a “scapegoat” staff in place and all the other positions are just shuffled around in a shell game. And, now the “scapegoat” Superintendent Atkinson is hiring her own “scapegoat’s alliance” staff. So, we actually have triplicate of duties.

  39. justwatch says:

    Marcus Turk is no longer on First Class, I am guessing he is gone.

    The lawsuit, which has already incurred 17 million dollars that is now gone, won’t cost us anything else unless we win, as I understand the agreement with K and S. While I am skeptical that Heery will ever pay (and Gilbert knows Heery, a multi-national construction firm, that is baloney), most likely Heery had a seperate company set up for this deal and that company is broke. Not sure about claw back process in terms of parent company. But you know Heery will appeal. It is telling that Mitchell has switched sides as it means they are unlikely to land anymore projects with Heery, so they must think we have a case.

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