Is DeKalb Following Georgia Law Regarding RIFs?

What is happening with the DeKalb County School System reductions in force (RIFs)? More to the point, why is DeKalb County School System blatantly breaking the law?

Maybe school system leaders are acting too quickly due to incredible pressure to make serious budget cuts coupled with their equally incredible refusal to make the cuts in the bloated Palace staff instead of in the classroom. The Palace is where most of the friends-and-family employees are clustered — and that is protected territory.

Or maybe school system leaders are not getting proper legal advice. Or maybe our human resources department is in such disarray that they have become completely incompetent.

Whatever the reason, Atkinson and her minions need to take a breath, step back and assess their actions. Children’s futures, as well as people’s jobs and lives are at stake. Extreme caution should be heeded when making reductions in force.

At the August 2012 meeting, when the board refused to approve Dr. Atkinson’s request to further reduce teachers and staff due to fewer retirees than predicted, Nancy Jester made the point — again! — that she did not think staff was following the law[1] when compiling the list of personnel to be laid off. Georgia law says personnel cannot be laid off based on seniority alone. Georgia law says performance must be a factor in an evaluation process determining who goes and who stays.

DCSS does not have a decent evaluation system in place. In fact, pretty much everyone gets the same evaluation: “satisfactory,” resulting in reliance on the “second factor”: seniority.  In DCSS, a list of teachers and staff based on seniority would be essentially identical to a list based on performance and seniority. This is not legal.  DCSS’s highly paid attorney, Josie Alexander, should have insisted long ago that HR develop a detailed system of performance evaluation to be used not only for layoffs, but for promotions as well.

Enter the library media specialists.  The latest round of budget cuts approved by the Gang of Five on the board (5-4) included reducing library media specialists by 25 and eliminating all library media clerks.  In order to reduce media specialists (who are teachers) and who are vitally important to students, DCSS needed a waiver from the state (just like they needed a waiver to increase class size).  DCSS did not secure this waiver before they RIF’d the media specialists, so they applied for the waiver after the fact. This request was on the agenda for last week’s State of Georgia Board of Education meeting and the Georgia Board staff was recommending a denial.  Before the meeting took place, the item was dropped from the agenda per a request from DCSS.  Assuming that the dismissal of the library media specialists and the library media clerks was illegal, DSW went looking for information to confirm.

That’s when we found this blogpost (below).  The post we found has excerpts from Tekshia Ward-Smith’s testimony, under oath.  Ward-Smith was recently named head of HR since the so-called family leave invoked by Jamie Wilson.  More recently, we’re told Ward-Smith has also taken so-called family leave.

August 19, 2012
Good Georgia Lawyer Wins Reduction In Force Hearing, Successfully Argues DeKalb County School District Illegally Implementing RIF Plan and Violating Georgia Law (Part One):

The following are two brief excerpts of the cross examination of TekshiaWard-Smith, Chief Human Resources Officer during the tribunal hearing and Ms. Oinonen’s closing argument.  Read the excerpts to understand how very little thought and effort went into the decision as to who to dismiss.

Excerpt of the Cross Examination of TekshiaWard-Smith:

Q. Okay. Now, reminding you that you’re under oath, Dr. Ward-Smith, I’d like to ask you would you admit to me that there are some media specialists currently still employed with DeKalb County that have actually been on a PDP at one point in their career?

A. Yes, one point in their career. That is the key phrase. 

Q. And would you agree with me that there are some media specialists currently employed with DeKalb County School District that have been on a PDP while as employees of the School District, DeKalb County?

A. I just answered it. Yes.

Q. Well, let me clarify just for the point of the record. I earlier asked would you agree with me that there are currently some media specialists that are still employed with your School District who have been over the course of their entire career in the United States of America have been on a PDP. And I believe you answered yes, correct?

A. Yes. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Q. And now, my second question, just to clarify: Would you also agree with me that there are still media specialists that are going to go back to work this fall who have also been on a PDP while under the auspices of employment within the DeKalb County School District?

A. Yes.

Q. Would you agree with me that Mr. Lynch has never been on a PDP at DeKalb County School District?

A. I cannot confirm, but I would say I don’t have information in front of me.

Q. Okay. You don’t have the information — you’re saying today under oath that you have no idea whether Mr. Lynch has ever been on a PDP?

A. I’m saying I did not have a PDP for Mr. Lynch. 

Q. Okay. And you are also saying, and, again, I’m not trying to be difficult, I just want to understand for the purpose of advocating for my client that you are stating under oath today that you have no knowledge whether he’s ever been on a PDP before in his life?

A. I am saying I did not have a PDP for Mr. Lynch.

Q. You don’t have one today or you don’t —

A. I do not have one —

Q. — have knowledge?

A. I don’t have knowledge of a PDP for Mr. Lynch.

Q. Okay. Thank you. Would you admit, Dr. Ward-Smith, that there are some media specialists that are currently still employed with your School District who have received an NI, needs improvement, on their annual performance evaluations at one point during their career over the past year at DeKalb County School District?

A. Yes, ma’am.

Q. Okay. So there are actually media specialists going back to work this fall who have an NI on their annual performance evaluations?

A. I would say yes, there are.

Q. Okay. And you know that Mr. Lynch has never gotten an NI at DeKalb County School District? 

A. Over the last three years, the annual evaluation overall ratings that we reviewed — and like I say, I can’t answer that. But at that particular point, I have no knowledge of Mr. Lynch having an NI.

Q. Okay.

A. Over the last three years.

Q. Do you have any knowledge of Mr. Lynch’s annual performance evaluation, period?

A. Yes, ma’am. I have knowledge that it was overall satisfactory.

Q. Okay. Now, let’s go back to this RIF evaluation that’s now required by Georgia law since May of 2012, regarding considering the primary factor the performance of the educator. So I’d like to talk about this. Now, I think you’ve already admitted that media specialists — there’s media specialists that are still employed at DeKalb who don’t have dual certifications like Mr. Lynch and who have been on Needs Improvement, unlike Mr. Lynch, and who have been on PDPs, unlike Mr. Lynch. So I want to ask you how many media specialists, to your know- — media specialists, it’s like a librarian, right?

A. Library media specialist. Yes, ma’am.

Q. Okay. Okay. So how many library media specialists, to your knowledge, have a 4.0 masters degree in Library Information Sciences?

A. I’m not aware.

Q. Okay. Would you agree that certainly there’s probably just a small percentage of them out of the whole 130 folks that you evaluated?

A. I’m not aware of an exact number.

Q. So you don’t have that data today that you can show us whether —

A. I do not.

Short Excerpt of Ms. Oinonen’s Closing Argument:

Then read the attorney’s closing statement (below), which, in part, says:

This stinks to high Heaven. Something is going on. And it’s up to you all to address this issue and to let them know that we understand we’re in deficit. We understand we have to RIF people, and it’s difficult and it’s hard decisions. But when we’re going to make these hard decisions, my God, at least let’s make them right so they don’t end up getting reversed and we end up being in a deeper hole. Let’s at least follow our own policy, and let’s do it as educators.

We’re educators. My God. We’ve trained on how to do these things. I mean, isn’t that what we taught constantly as educators, about learning assessments and evaluations, and we can’t even evaluate our own properly? There’s something that’s going on here. And I’m asking you today to address it and nip this in the bud, because if they’re doing this to media specialists, then what are they going to do with the teachers?

Think about that when that comes down the pipe, when 250 teachers get passed, and the Board recommends that they’re laid off. Is this how they’re going to evaluate? If you don’t say something now, they’re going to do it to all the teachers in the DeKalb County School District. They’re going to RIF the people with satisfactory evaluations, and they’re going to keep the people on PDP and with NI’s in their record. And what outcome for results is that going to be to the children of DeKalb County? Think about that.

It’s worth your time to go to the blog and read all of Ms. Oinonen’s closing statement.  The burden of proof was on DCSS to show that they were following a legal RIF policy and they did not even do that.  Did they show a database?  No.  Did they bring even one personnel file to show for the people who were RIF’d?  No.  Did they present any kind of statistical analysis?  Did they show percentages or any type of formula based on the number of “satisfactory” evaluations compared to “unsatisfactory”?  No and No.

What, exactly, does Josie Alexander do for the big bucks she gets paid?

BTW — we have said this before, but it bears repeating:  if you conspire to break the law on behalf of DeKalb County Schools, you are most likely on your own — even if you did it at the direction of your boss or the board or Atkinson.  They are experts at covering their tracks.  You probably will be thrown under the bus so fast, you won’t even see the tires that leave their tracks down your back.

Williams Oinonen, the law firm who won this case[2] and is positioned to win others, is an example of the top drawer representation you will receive if you are a member of GAE.  Think about it.  And take a look at the Williams Oinonen website.

+++

[1] OCGA 20-2-948 PART 7. TERMINATION, SUSPENSION, NONRENEWAL, DEMOTION, OR REPRIMAND says:

(a) A local board of education shall not adopt or implement a policy that allows length of service to be the primary or sole determining factor when implementing a reduction in force. The local board shall consider as the primary factor the performance of the educator, one measure of which may be student academic performance.

(b) Any policy that does not comply with subsection (a) of this Code section shall be considered invalid and the State Board of Education shall be authorized to take action to withhold all or any portion of state funds in accordance with Code Section 20-2-243.

(c) This Code section shall not apply if a local board of education eliminates an entire program.

[2] “Williams Oinonen LLC was very gratified with the courage the Tribunal showed in making the right decision to reject Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson’s recommendation to terminate the contract of an educator in DeKalb County School District through a reduction in force.”

“While the educator ended up accepting a very attractive offer at a nearby school district so the Tribunal’s decision did not end up having to be ruled on by the Board, Ms. Oinonen hopes that the DeKalb County Board of Education will take note as to how the Reduction in Force is being applied, ask the right questions and demand accountability from the Superintendent in the future.”

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89 Responses to Is DeKalb Following Georgia Law Regarding RIFs?

  1. SRO says:

    Is anyone surprised a lawyer decided to jerk Dekalb’s chain over the way they RIFF’s people? It was a very unfair process. We have been saying this on the blog for a while now and it’s not the end of it either.

  2. Dairy Queen says:

    @ Riff winner
    Only one of the riff’d media specialists has been re-employed. Two other positions are being filled with people new to the system. I think there’s a class action suit here.
    And I also congratulate you on landing on your feet – I’m sure you’re better off where you are. I hope you will be treated more fairly and with some respect.

  3. justwatch says:

    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/dekalb-school-board-draws-scrutiny/nRPy8/

    “I don’t see where we violated any policy,” school board chairman Eugene Walker said. He said he wants to consult the 9-member school board before issuing any detailed response. He also said he needed more details than provided in the 3-page letter.

    “They need to show some evidence of these things,” Walker said.

    Is it time to recall Eugene Walker? I wonder if there are people in his district willing to lead the effort? Two more years is a long time for him to do a lot of damage.

  4. teacher/taxpayer says:

    Regarding evaluations: God forbid anything in this county should be sensible. We are going from one extreme to the other. Teacher Keys requires numerous observations and judges teachers based on 10 standards using a 4 grade rubric ranging from Exemplary to Not Effective. Performance of standards not directly observed must be supported by evidence. (More paperwork and data to cover our butts.) Teachers must also work within yet another special website to complete various requirements; the uses for that data are yet to be determined. Last year many participants said Keys was a nightmare. This intense evaluation process iis starting while teachers in the county are trying to adjust to numerous other changes including the new and more rigorous common core curriculum. No one at the top seems to care that the camel’s back is about to break.

  5. We tried to cobble together a bit of history on the subject of budget cuts, RIFs and the inability to reduce the bloat in the school system —

    Read it here:

    https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/dcss-files/sacs/

  6. Enough already! says:

    Someone PLEASE stop the mistreatment of the staff at Rock Chapel School. I have almost 30 years of history with that school, and it sickens me to know that they have gone through 3 principals in the past 7 years. The DCSD continues to recycle principals to this school that should have been “FIRED” years ago. Remember the one fired for cheating. Well, the principal now is said to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor. Falsifying records to save the jobs of his friends (brought with him from his former school). My friend told me her son was on three different class roles…that seems to be a trick to boost enrollment. Heard he added a 3rd EIP class that includes Kindergarten students to save a 3rd grade teacher. Who is checking up on these Principals to see if they aren’t falsifying records? This Principal also falsified records for his daughter to attend Pre-kindergarten at the school. He does not live in the county and instead of following the rules for contacting the family of the student next on the pre-K lottery list, he forged paperwork to admit his child. Sure there was someone on that list that could have used the free Pre-k Program. Now that’s low. This isn’t an educator that cares about his school ‘s community. This isn’t just a DCSD issue, he has violated state Pre-K lottery rules and should pay to the fullest extent of the law. I will be a voice for you who are left at Rock Chapel. You deserve much better.

  7. mlwprima2 says:

    I need help then because this is exactly what happened to me. I was an assistant principal and was told that though I have nine years of great evaluations (8 years in Dekalb), that I was being ley go because others have worked there longer than me. I was told this by Dr. Ward Smith and was given a RIF letter. What can I do?

  8. mlwprima2 says:

    Oops. Sorry for the typos! It is after midnight! Thanks for reading!

  9. Terry says:

    FINANCES??? How legal is it to withhold payment for services rendered over the summer? How many of the pre-k teachers have been paid for summer camp? It’s Aug. 31 for crying out loud!!

  10. @mlwprima2, if you are a member of GAE, contact them. The attorneys in this post are hired by GAE. If you are a member of ODE, contact them as well – and let us know if they ever really help you.

  11. tired of them all says:

    The method to the madness of the current superintendent is to keep everything in a state of chaos and fear. No one knows who to ask questions of and are afraid to ask because we don’t want March on our case. It’s a scary place to work.

  12. Enough already! says:

    @enough already I worked with Williamson years ago. I’ve never seen anyone as hateful as him. He is inept and hates anyone with intelligence…he gets satisfaction by putting others down. Watch the ones he will attack… strong women, but weak men. He doesn’t like children. He doesn’t like people. Not surprised he’s been to 8 schools in Dekalb in __years. It’s about time DCSD kick him to the curve. Is RC a Title I School? Is so, the families in that community obviously need Pre-K services…but he’s making a decent salary and “stealing” from the poor. I agree with you ENOUGH ALREADY!

  13. LisaK says:

    Eugene Walker actually said, “I don’t see where we violated any policy,”??????? His grandson has a job working in the palace.

  14. Just saying says:

    The Org Chart does not include actual names. In the past there were names. The Family and Friends Program is still alive and well. I attended a required training with one of these FF Members conducting the training. She was “Dr ____ ______.” She had awful grammar, She used a great deal of slang and just hurried through a very important training. The difference in the “FF” Program is now the people are from North Carolina, Ohio or Florida.
    You are not allowed a platform to give honest feed back.
    There are still many people that have not been trained on the new evaluation system. A training session for many people was not held, due to the “expert speaker” in the district the week of August 20, 2012. Training was not held on the TKES so that staff could hear the speaker.
    People working in the district are still not provided a list of individuals and the jobs that they hold. If you need to reach someone, you do not know the correct person to contact. Look on PATS. More district level jobs are posted than school level jobs. I think to make the county office numbers look smaller people are being coded to the schools. For example Social Workers, Instructional Coaches, Lead Teachers are now listed as being at individual schools.
    People were eliminated. The names of the jobs were changed and then other people were hired. For example, we had 5 Area Superintendents last year. They were eliminated. We now have 5 Region Superintendents. What is the cost saving in this?
    We still have a large Professional Learning Department. Most of the training now is done in the schools or on line. How did we cut cost in this area?
    I do feel that some of this chaos is on purpose. Requiring every elementary school to offer music to the 4th and 5th graders regardless of schools not having materials for the students, is another example of the chaos.
    Para educators that have no training in working in special ed are being moved to that area. The paras that did have the experience have been eliminated.
    If you are at a school without a CTSS, good luck on getting help quickly.
    It is going to be virtually impossible to send disruptive students to the Alternative School. There are only two hearing officers for the entire district, They will be going to the schools for the actual hearing.
    There is no support for the schools. The bus monitors have been eliminated. This requires more work out of the bus drivers and the school staff.
    More and more is being put on the schools without the support.

  15. Please send the name of the person you reference who was conducting the training; send to dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com. With a name (and any other information you provide about this person) we can — and will — do more specific research. Please know that we will keep your identity confidential. When conducting research, we never reveal why we are researching or where we may have gotten information on specific people or actions to research.

  16. Under Georgia’s Open Records Act, DeKalb School Watch has requested the names missing from the very belated organization chart.

  17. @TeachingMom says:

    Teaching Mom, I also heard Jamie Wilson is a substitute principal and still making his 6 figure salary but our teachers are making peanuts, with continued decreased pay. Sickening!!!

  18. Stop the Madness says:

    I thought Jamie Wilson was let go? Now he’s back and making his same pay and doing less work? What is going on here?

  19. @Stop the Madness
    Please follow the blog rules and do NOT post as “Anonymous.” If multiple people post as “Anonymous”, it makes it very difficult to follow a conversation. Please at least choose some kind of moniker and stick with it. Also, do NOT post under multiple names.

  20. Quagmire says:

    Another round of training on TKES ended Friday with DCSS Administrators. It is a 3 day training. At the conclusion of the training, everyone must take a test on what they learned to be “certified” TKES evaluators. Their tests are scored at the state level and pass/fail notifications are received about 2 weeks later. I heard administrators were sweating bullets while waiting for results. Lo and behold, some of them couldn’t pass and they were announcing names. Teachers, ask your administrators if they “received” their certificate. These are people who are evaluating you on a day to day basis and now those who couldn’t pass are now have to be retrained on TKES and be out of the building more days. It would be interesting to know how many administrators have had training thus far and how many of those couldn’t pass the test.

  21. Lindy Hop says:

    HR just hired two media specialists, neither of whom was a RIFd DCSD media specialist.

    Question 1: WHY were these two media specialist positions open?

    Question 2: Did DCSD have a legal obligation to offer these two positions to a RIFed media specialist prior to filling it from the outside? Did all the RIFd media specialists either 1) find employment elsewhere or 2) decline an offer to return to DeKalb?

    Can anyone shed any light on what’s going on? Does this mean there is hope for para and interpreter hires as well?

  22. no name says:

    Lindy Hop @2:43 PM – I don’t know anything about those hires. Perhaps somebody that knows more could explain if these new hires relocated from Ohio and/or if have sorority connections?

    I heard a new (to me) rumor this week — allegedly, Atkinson & March hired a Principal that had been forced out of their last job because they had been caught harassing three different teachers. Anyone know more about that allegation?

  23. Whoshelpingthekids says:

    We lost a fabulous media specialist to RIF’ing. No bad reviews. Other media specialists remain in system who don’t do their job, students lose out. Discouraging to hear outsiders were hired, good ones were lost and bad ones still in system.

  24. We don’t have any information to confirm these hiring rumors, but we do know that the school system is getting very few applicants for jobs posted. Even in this bad economy, DeKalb is unable to attract good candidates for the jobs posted – if any candidates at all. We surmise that this could be due to the very bad press of years past, and the fact that few non African-Americans bother to apply, knowing that their chances of even being called for an interview are slim to none. We have had many people post in the past that they applied, and were well-qualified, but never called for an interview. When you have a reputation for unfair hiring, promotion or placement practices along with well-known financial woes, very few quality people will willingly jump aboard your [obviously] sinking ship. Who wants to get a job that you may very well lose in the near future? Job 1 for HR is to create stability and trust. We are far from that point, with two HR directors leaving the system in the last year and a computer system that apparently cannot generate HR reports.

  25. Lindy Hop says:

    @ no name 3:18.
    No, the two recently hired media specialists have neither sorority nor friends and family connections. My understanding is that their qualifications were legitimate. Just wondering 1)why these positions were open and 2)if a RIFd media specialist should have had priority. My hope is that all the RIFd media specialists found employment elsewhere and none were still in need of a job.

  26. Kenrus says:

    Is it just me, or is anyone else fed up with all the nonsensical paperwork and requirements from the county? … not to mention SFA for those schools who have to deal with that???

  27. concernforthekids says:

    Federal funds are $10 while demanding $25 worth compliance regulations.
    Let’s say no to the money and find funds that don’t have strings attached!
    Public, Private Partnerships?
    CFTK

  28. Sir Quagmire says:

    So Jamie Wilson is interim principal at Livsey Elementary? Is he still making the same salary as he did when he was Director of HR?

  29. Stop the Madness says:

    A source at CO says Jaime Wilson is still making his same salary. $165,000 expensive interim principal not to mention DCSS is about to cut more teachers within the next couple of months.

  30. no name says:

    I do not know anything about Mr. Wilson’s salary nor why he was moved, but Pleasantdale (where he had been) is without a Principal right now. Pleasantdale is also down to a single Assistant Principal; it had two Assistant Principals last school year.

    I’m told that Pleasantdale is one of the “Success for All” schools – DCSS is funneling all sorts of money to that program, but they can’t properly staff the schools.

  31. Concernedmom30329 says:

    CFTK
    You are talking millions upon millions of dollars. Turning those down isn’t an option for a school system that is serving so many poor children.
    I think that DeKalb doesn’t manage its personnel for federal money very well and therefore, over spends on the compliance side.
    Note that Gwinnett and Fulton do much better than DeKalb.

    This school system is beyond broken.

  32. whoshelpingthekids says:

    @ concerned: The problem with the funds is that Race to the Top funds come with so many strings attached. That is why other states didn’t apply for the funds – they didn’t want to have their hands tied. Sometimes, the rewards are not worth the hassles that come with it. Wish DCSS would give the money back – sure would take some of the hassles off us teachers and Beasley would be without a job.

  33. Concernedmom30329 says:

    I agree with you about RTTT. I was speaking specifically of Title I funds.

    Not every system in GA elected to participate in RTTT. I suspect, though, that low performing systems like DeKalb weren’t really given a choice. Under NCLB,. the state can take over schools and though GA doesn’t seem to want to, I wonder if that was the stick used to lure systems in.

  34. teachermom says:

    I have heard that there is now another interim principal at Pleasantdale pending the November return of the regular one who is out on maternity leave. If he is just going to another interim position why did they move Wilson ? It causes lack of continuity at Pleasantdale. They now have a Mr. Patrick, don’t know his first name. I wonder if he is another 150k plus CO fake RIF… Seems like some folks are floating around theses interim jobs so nobody notices they are still drawing huge salaries. I don’t wish anyone out of a job but lets adjust these salaries, folks. “Subs” don’t need to be making that kind of money; real principals shouldn’t be either for that matter.

  35. concernedmom30329 says:

    Why do you think Wilson is interim? My understanding is this was a permanent assignment for him.

  36. Stop the Madness says:

    What is going on here? The same source in CO also informed me that Dekalb had to borrow money from Gwinnett Schools just to pay teachers this summer. Now Dekalb owes Gwinnett. They really need to readjust their budget and make some cuts, but not starting with the teachers.

  37. no name says:

    Teachermom, I have heard that MLK High now has an interim principal as well — its principal was replaced after the rape that occurred at the school (http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/rape-reported-dekalb-high-school/nSL23/).

    I think MLK’s former principal is now the second interim principal at Pleasantdale Elementary.

  38. @StopTheMadness: That is definitely a wild rumor. As far as we can tell, we have never borrowed money from Gwinnett!! And, if we needed money, we’re pretty certain that Gwinnett would not be in a position to ‘lend’ us any. That said, we have floated a couple of loans against future tax collections and we DO need to get our financial house in order. Our financial situation is not good. We have little to no buffer.

  39. Quagmire says:

    Yes, Mr Everett Patrick is Interim Principal at Pleasantdale. He was moved from MLK High. He got the 10,000 bonus to go to MLK High. And he is also one of the 8 administrators having his doctorate paid for. He also married Principal Cunningham from Sequoyah Middle. I wonder if her doctorate is also being paid for as one of the 8 which includes Kendra March and Rachel Zeigler.

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