The letter war continues: SACS responds, and they’re coming in!

From the AJC Get Schooled blog:

In a letter today, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools informed DeKalb Schools that it intends to pay a site visit Oct. 17 -19 to address its ongoing concerns over governance and leadership and resource and support systems.

Addressed to Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and signed by AdvancED president Mark Elgart, the letter states that while the school chief has outlined reforms under way in DeKalb, SACS remains concerned that the system’s problems “could have a significant, negative impact on the capacity of the system to realize the many improvements that are the focus of these initiatives. Consequently, AdvancED has determined that an on-site investigation is warranted and necessary to evaluate the adherence of the DeKalb County School District to to the Accreditation standards and/or practices.”

[DSW2 has the recent SACS response letter uploaded in our FILES tab on the History of SACS page. Click here to download it.]


Additionally, the AJC is also reporting that the Board quickly scheduled two meetings tomorrow seemingly to discuss a plan of action. (Or perhaps to compose another letter!)

School board schedules meeting
By Ty Tagami

The DeKalb County school board on Tuesday scheduled a meeting for Wednesday afternoon to discuss policies and legal issues and to vote on an education resolution.

The board will meet publicly at 2:30 p.m. followed by a 4 p.m. private session to discuss undisclosed legal matters. Several board policy changes are on the public agenda, plus a vote on a resolution for “quality public education.”

Also on Wednesday, at 1 p.m., a board committee will hear updates on curriculum and school staffing from Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.

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98 Responses to The letter war continues: SACS responds, and they’re coming in!

  1. Teachingmom says:

    This is so hard to take. I feel like teachers are being treated like the lowest of the low and this just proves it. Where are the resources to give TEACHERS free training? We do NOT need any more “doctors.” If these administrators have been with the county “at least 10 years” we are talking already overpaid friends and family. Plus, they have already started the program which means this has been in the works for a while while Rome was burning… TEACHERS are being thrown new stuff left and right, with no planning time, and minimal training on the fly. How about we provide free Masters degree to them???????

    I think they are announcing this because it was hidden before and she doesn’t want it to blow up in her face now that SACs is sniffing around. Otherwise it would have been buried.

    These folks will be holed up in their offices studying. Getting a PHD while being the principal of a school in a failing system just seems like a bad idea. Lets not fund a massive distraction from their CURRENT leadership for which they are being paid nicely.

    Finally here is why Atkinson has driven this system further down the rabbit hole, she has refused to learn from our systems’ past; from the the AJC:

    “Between 1994 and 1998, the school system put some staff through a doctoral program at Clark Atlanta University, though Atkinson acknowledges she has not investigated to see if that proved to be a worthwhile investment of taxpayer money. “To be honest, I have not drilled backwards,” she said. “I have so much in front of me.”

  2. Murphey says:

    So, let’s see. All DCSD teachers have larger classes, fewer days in which to teach content, and next year will most likely have a weekly hour long “professional development” time at the school house plus they’ll have to make up that hour with slightly longer days.

    Eight DCSD administrators will be taking PhD programs, paid for by the taxpayers. I think we need 110% of administrator energy focused on their schools, not on their ticket out of DeKalb (after 3 years) PhD programs at Mercer are likely real programs and the administrators will have extra stress to keep up with their classes and their full-time job..

    Seriously, why not push Race to the Top dollars to the teachers. Preschool teachers I know get one paid professional development day each year–do DCSD teachers get this? What if administrators spent a day in the classroom, to know what it’s really like, and gave teachers one day of true professional development?

    You can’t make this stuff up…….

  3. Twenty plus years @ DCSS says:

    Ms. Atkinson is continuing to lead us into the abyss. All who approved this latest expenditure need be dismissed. No, not reassigned. Let’s find a qualified superintendant with honorable intentions for all. Enough already.

  4. The Deal says:

    It’s a great day in DeKalb!!

  5. Dekalbite2 says:

    @Teaching mom
    “Between 1994 and 1998, the school system put some staff through a doctoral program at Clark Atlanta University, though Atkinson acknowledges she has not investigated to see if that proved to be a worthwhile investment of taxpayer money. ”

    And this group became much of the power group that ran DeKalb in the 2000s. How did that work out for students and parents/taxpayers?

  6. Twenty-five other Georgia school districts also receive Race to the Top grants. But DeKalb is the only only one using some grant money earmarked for teacher and school leader training to add to the 130 Ph.D. holders the system already has in leadership roles.
    It looks like a decent program at a good enough ‘real’ university. However, if we already have 130 Ph.D. holders and we are still in the mess we’re in with the low student achievement that we have, then are more of these Ph.D.’s going to help?

    To put a positive spin on this spending – if Dr. Beasley (now in charge of RTTT) had this money to spend, he would certainly use it to pile more random ‘data reporting’ on teachers – so let them go ahead and spend some of it on a few people who in turn will hopefully help to support teachers in their tasks (and not simply dream up more data for teachers to compile). The RTTT (which is the Obama/Duncan edition of NCLB) will be the method by which teachers will soon be ‘evaluated’ for ‘merit pay’. Things are going to change dramatically in education due to the federal government seeking control.

  7. Northlake Mom says:

    I am incensed at this proposal to spend $345.000 on PhDs for eight administrators. If you are too, please email the State DOE Race to the Top administrators, who have to approve this expenditure before it can go through. This is our only hope of stopping this nonsense. SInce they could approve this as early as tomorrow, I just sent an email to a number of the RTTT administrators I found on the DOE website, hoping one of them will listen to reason before it’s too late. Yes, those funds are earmarked for teacher or leader training, but it would have a much better chance of having a positive impact on the students if it were spent on teachers, not administrators. Please send emails ASAP, so Ithey know ‘m not the only one who opposes this!

  8. concernedmom30329 says:

    I totally agree with Northlake Mom. Also sending an email to the board. Think how many subs could be paid for with this money to do teacher training.

  9. PublicSchoolDad says:

    @ The school district wants to use about $345,00 of its taxpayer-funded federal Race to the Top grant to put eight administrators, including four high school principals and two assistant principals, through a three-year doctorate program at the DeKalb campus of Mercer University.

    I wonder how many of these “administrators” have friends and family ties with board members, politicians, or Dr. A’s executive team? Maybe SACS will put this inquiry on their list…

  10. For those wanting to email the state administrators for Race To The Top, this is the web page:

    On the right side panel of the page is a link to Contact Team Members.

  11. Additionally, there are documents outlining the agreements and tasks for local school districts. Below are some excerpts. But download the docs yourselves and become familiar with the RTTT expectations.

    High quality principal induction can stop the exodus from the principal’s office, maintain continuity in improvement efforts for teachers, thus encouraging teachers to stay and strive to get better, ultimately leading to sustained improvements in instruction and student learning over time and at scale. Additionally, teachers are the most important school-related factor in determining student success. Research shows that intensive, mentor-based induction programs can significantly reduce teacher turnover and help teacher to focus on improving instruction. The key seems to lie in the level of success teachers encounter in raising their student’s academic performances. For this reason, giving teachers the supports necessary to succeed is critical. Teacher Success=Student Success.

    District Level

    Required Components
    1. Ensure the school environment is conducive for the induction phase principal’s professional growth
    and development.
    2. Establish, implement, and support a quality principal induction program.
    3. Communicate clear goals and expectations of a quality principal induction program.
    4. Articulate roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the induction process.
    5. Serve on the Principal Induction Support Team (designated district level administrator).
    6. Design and implement an initial mentor training program to meet the needs of the district.
    7. Outline the components and processes to evaluate the effectiveness of the principal induction
    8. Provide the resources needed to implement and sustain a quality principal induction program.
    9. Coordinate mentor selection.
    10. Identify current and/or retired principals as potential mentors.
    11. Establish a transparent mentor/mentee matching process.
    12. Create opportunities for a supportive relationship between the mentor and the induction phase
    principal (e.g. time, location, etc.).
    13. Provide and support ongoing professional learning aligned to the needs of the induction phase
    principal in order to meet the desired outcomes of the principal induction plan.
    14. Develop and honor a culture of collegiality among new and veteran principals and mentors.
    15. Actively support and communicate with the principal on a regular and consistent basis.
    16. Evaluate the effectiveness of the principal induction program based on data collected.
    17. Create an intervention process when the mentor/mentee relationship is ineffective.

    We don’t see anything about paying for the continuing education of principals. In fact, this Ph.D. program will obviously take three years to see to completion, before any benefits could start to be realized.

  12. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Northlake Mom said,

    **Yes, those funds are earmarked for teacher or leader training, but it would have a much better chance of having a positive impact on the students if it were spent on teachers, not administrators.**

    Redirecting the funds for something other than what it was intended for is breaking the law and could subject the school district to penalties. That said, perhaps concerns should be directed to the federal government to allow flexibility for how the funds can be used. I don’t think you’ll get very far complaining to the state about the school district using federal funds for how they were intended to be used. I will guess that they checked with the state to make sure this was proper before moving forward with they plan.

    I am concerned that Dr. Atkinson was not aware this had been done before in DeKalb but can give her a pass since this happened almost 20 years ago. Who can say there is documentation about this? Given she now has this information, perhaps see will research to determine if the school district got a return on that investment. Leadership investments are necessary however we should want to make sure it is the right investment in the right people.

  13. concernedmom30329 says:


    DeKalb has some of the lowest test scores in Metro Atlanta and sometimes the state. Don’t you think this money would be more useful if spent on teacher training for subjects such as math and science? Give me a break. This is a way for Atkinson to grown central office staff that are loyal to here.

    I have been willing to give her a break, but I am now weary of her decision making ability. Very disappointing.

    Also, given our dreadful academic outcomes, we need to bring in people from higher performing systems, not grow our own. UGH>

  14. The Deal says:

    Fred, hasn’t Dr. Atkinson already admitted that she is 1) aware that we’ve tried this before 2) she didn’t bother researching its ROI 3) send these people to school a few weeks ago?

  15. If we had a better reputation as a great place to work, perhaps we could just HIRE some really great principal leaders?!!

    @Fred: The article states, “Between 1994 and 1998, the school system put some staff through a doctoral program at Clark Atlanta University, though Atkinson acknowledges she has not investigated to see if that proved to be a worthwhile investment of taxpayer money. “To be honest, I have not drilled backwards,” she said. “I have so much in front of me.”

    That was not 20 years ago. Technically, it was only 14 years ago when the program finished. We should have been able to track some kind of results since.

  16. Bernard J. Myers says:

    First thought , atleast it is Mercer, not one of those ridiculous diploma mills where most of DeKalb got their doctorates.
    Second, who are the 8 and how were they selected?
    Third, Are these going to be the useless Ed Leadership degrees?

  17. DeKalb School Watch has already submitted an Open Records Request for this information. We will keep you informed via this blog. We also are interested to know, “Why Mercer?” — a much more expensive private institution? Why not Georgia State University?

  18. The article says, “About two dozen aspiring leaders completed applications and interviews for the eight openings, Atkinson said.

    “We certainly wished we could have had more in the program,” she said. “But we have to start small and do it well.”.

    Anyone know who the two dozen were who applied?

  19. tenbroeck says:

    The bit DCSD paying for administrator PhDs is very irresponsible–this could be the thing that makes me sour on Atkinson. I can’t believe that will happen with the current shortage of teachers.

    I wanted to report back on the message I had left with AdvancED last week. I got a call back from their communications officer who was very nice and listened to my concerns about DCSD. She indicated that people wishing to provide comments on DCSD should email:
    This is their general contact email, but she assured me that it would be routed to the appropriate personnel. So, maybe include the CEO’s email and this one in your correspondence.

  20. tenbroeck says:

    The link for ‘Race to the Top’ provided above is not opening for me. If someone could post the email, I will send one. thanks.

  21. Dekalbite2 says:

    @ Fred
    The AJC has a story on paying for these doctorates. None of the other RTT school systems handled it this way so your idea that the Feds mandated this does not ring true. DeKalb did this in the late 90s. Those folk became many of the power brokers. Look where it got us. Why not ask the teachers what they want in the way of staff development. After all teachers are the personnel who teach our children math, science, social studies and language arts. They are always the last group consulted. Yet another instance of students last rather than students first.

  22. Disgusted in Dekalb says:

    I agree with DSW. If DCSS has administrative openings that require a doctorate (a REAL doctorate from a REAL school), why don’t they just hire someone who already has such a degree. I can’t imagine in this economy that there aren’t qualified people looking for such positions.

  23. HSTeacher says:

    In the article, Dr. Atkinson is quoted as saying: “We offer our teachers the opportunity to receive gifted certification at the district expense because that’s going to make them better at what they do with children,” she said. “The same goal is to offer something that is going to make these leaders better at what they do and ready to take on a greater challenge when that opportunity presents itself.”

    Two points: 1. When I got my gifted certification, the courses were taught by DeKalb employees. It’s not as if they were paying for us take college courses. 2. Teachers don’t get paid extra for their gifted certification.

  24. Contact Team Members
    If you have a question about a specific initiative within Georgia’s Race to the Top program, then please contact the appropriate individual.

    Teresa MacCartney, Dept. of Education – Deputy Superintendent, Race to the Top
    Clara Keith, Dept. of Education – Associate Superintendent, Race to the Top
    Mark Pevey, Dept. of Education – Implementation Director, Race to the Top
    Jon Rogers, Dept. of Education – Communications Director, Race to the Top
    Wendy Grey, Dept. of Education – Project Manager, Race to the Top
    Theon Washington II, Dept. of Education – Fiscal Analyst/Auditor, Race to the Top
    Roderick Ford, Dept. of Education – Fiscal Analyst/Auditor, Race to the Top
    David Mitchell, Dept. of Education – Fiscal Analyst/Auditor, Race to the Top

    School Improvement
    Avis King, Dept. of Education – Deputy Superintendent, School Improvement
    Martha Ann Todd, Dept. of Education – Director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness

    School Turnaround
    Sylvia Hooker, Dept. of Education – Deputy Superintendent, School Turnaround
    Cayanna Collier-Good, Dept of Education – Associate Superintendent, School Turnaround

    Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
    Martha Reichrath, Dept. of Education – Deputy Superintendent, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
    Melissa Fincher, Dept. of Education – Associate Superintendent, Assessment and Accountability
    Pam Smith, Dept. of Education – Director of Curriculum and Instruction

    K- 12 Data System
    Bob Swiggum, Dept. of Education – Chief Information Officer

    Office of Student Achievement
    Bonnie Holliday, Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, Executive Director
    Lauren Wright, Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, Race to the Top Project Director
    Kriste Elia, Office of Student Achievement, SLDS Director

    Professional Standards Commission
    Kelly Henson, Georgia Professional Standards Commission, Executive Secretary

  25. Teachingmom says:

    Also, doesn’t the article say these administrators have 10 or more years in the count? That is telling, to me. Why offer training to them at this point? The RTT that DSW2 quotes talks about “inducting principals” which to me means investing in future leaders. Why didn’t the county find teacher candidates who aspire to leadership and fund them? Regarding the county training teachers for gifted certification: it is my understanding that the county gets extra (fed?) dollars for the gifted certified which is somehow passed to the schools via points. Of course, the teacher sees no actual money but may be more desirable as an employee.

  26. Mad Dad says:

    Here is the reply I received to my letter:

    Thank you for contacting our office regarding this issue. We have been in discussions with DeKalb regarding this leadership program. The Department of Education is still reviewing the request and has not made a final determination.

    Teresa MacCartney
    Deputy Superintendent
    Race to the Top Implementation
    Georgia Department of Education
    1566 Twin Towers East
    Atlanta, Georgia 30334
    Office: 404.656.7552

  27. September says:

    If DCSD wanted to provide training for building administrators, they could have planned a training program for the entire group. This money could have paid for an expert or two or possibly several experts to work with our principals and assistant principals. It is wasteful to spend this money on 8 individuals. I have an EdS degree. It has helped me to do a better job. I paid for it myself.

  28. Interestingly, I found another name listed under Inductee Task Force Members and she’s from DeKalb:

    Carlene Kirkpatrick
    Dekalb County (INTASC task force)
    Dekalb County Schools

  29. The Deal says:

    I got the (canned) response, too:

    Thank you for contacting our office regarding this issue. We have been in discussions with DeKalb regarding this leadership program. The Department of Education is still reviewing the request and has not made a final determination.


    Teresa MacCartney
    Deputy Superintendent
    Race to the Top Implementation
    Georgia Department of Education
    1566 Twin Towers East
    Atlanta, Georgia 30334
    Office: 404.656.7552

  30. dekalbite2 says:

    @Teaching mom
    “Regarding the county training teachers for gifted certification: it is my understanding that the county gets extra (fed?) dollars for the gifted certified which is somehow passed to the schools via points. ”

    You are right. DeKalb did not certify these teachers out of the goodness of their hearts or because they are concerned for the gifted students. This was a business decision. The county can gain more dollars the more hours they serve gifted students – up to the maximum number of hours for gifted services. If a gifted student is in a classroom where the teacher is gifted certified, then gifted funds can be collected from the state for that student. Millions a year for gifted services are accrued by DeKalb by this process. The teacher is supposed to be differentiating instruction for the gifted students. Some do and some don’t – whatever – it’s a moneymaker for DeKalb.

    The amount that DeKalb pays to certify the teachers in gifted is really quite small compared to the extra funding DeKalb collects from the state when students are in classes where the teacher is certified in gifted. Comparing the payment for 8 administrative educational doctorates to certifying teachers in gifted is a very poor analogy since these educational doctorates produce a net debit while the gifted training produces a net credit.

  31. We think Clara Keith is also from DeKalb County Schools — possibly retired from DeKalb County and part of the “in” crowd.

  32. teacher/taxpayer says:

    I just want to scream! We are taking all this abuse as teachers and now as taxpayers in this country, we are paying for 8 useless people to get doctorates??? Meanwhile we are teachingh larger classes, meeting massive administravie requirements, getting no 403(b) money, paying more for insurance, and expecting no raises. Yet my amazing, totally dedicated, fellow teacher and neighbor is spending her OWN hard-earned money to get a specialist degree! What is wrong with this picture?
    I just got back from a training session with Dr. Beasley. If I had read this earlier, I would have asked about this $345K. I am sure he would have put the same positive spin on this as he put on the training subject — SLOs–our opportunity to build our own gallows so Teacher Keys can hang us all!
    Is there anyone out there who has the time and ability to organize a mass protest for the next board meeting?

  33. teacher/taxpayer says:

    Oops. Sorry for the typos, but I am too angry to see or type right!

  34. cigi says:

    Our children see so much violence. It is up to each of us to try and teach all children a better way to handle a conflict. Fights can occur anywhere. People have easy access to guns. It was Stone Mountain, Tucker and Columbia in the news this week. It could be any school next week. Our schools need counselors and social workers, but they also need police. At the last BOE meeting, there was a long that stretched outside of the door. There was a wait so that police officers could search each person attempting to enter the meeting. How can we provide that kind of protection at a BOE meeting? Many people on this blog complained about the cost for police in DeKalb.You will be delighted to know that many of our best police officers have left the county.
    If you work in a school, you may not find this as good news.
    Please request information from people actually working in the schools.
    I feel that most of us will express a need for not just AP’s to handle discipline, but also police, From the information that the media shared there were campus security officers and teachers attempting to break up the fights.
    We are asking a great deal from our school staff. Teach and care for the students. Be responsive to the parents and community. Provide strong and fair discipline. Also., be capable of breaking up large fights,
    Our schools need protection.

  35. We agree with you cigi. The unfortunate thing is that we spend a lot on security that is not in a school – it’s administrative, it’s for public meetings, it’s for ‘protection’, etc. Also, although they are very necessary in our high schools during the school year, the SROs do not need to be 12 month employees. There is no reason for them to work during the summer when school is out. We just think we spend far too much on security – and much of that security is not protecting our children and their teachers.

  36. dekalbite2 says:

    We spend much more on Security than APS and Clayton and every other demographically comparable metro school system:

  37. Northlake Mom says:

    Re: Spending $345,000 in Race to the Top funds for 8 DCSD administrators to get PhDs
    I received the same response from Ms. MacCartney as the one posted already by several others. Today I received another email from her, attaching DCSD’s proposal.


    Note from DSW2 – the file can be downloaded as a Word doc here:

  38. 2centsOnDCSD'sFundingPhDs says:

    I’m not sure whether this post should go here or under the essay on the caste system. Right now, anyone in the workforce under DCSD is shocked and angered when hearing the news that Ms. March/Dr. Atkinson have come up with underwriting the doctorates of 8 administrators. That it is with federal Race to the Top money makes it no better or worse. That it was done once when some were sent to Clark Atlanta makes it no more justified. This is not the economic climate for this sort of perk. Maybe DCSD’s having sent some to Clark Atlanta contributed to the financial mess DCSD is in now. Maybe DCSD shouldn’t even be involved in working this out with corporate sponsors but should concentrate on what it already needs to be doing. That those “at the top” are clueless regarding the problems with this is sad.

    Could we please know who the selected elite are to offer our perspective on their suitability? PALS were not done in the spring. There are many teachers who have paid for their own Ph.D.’s (or Specialists) who have been thwarted in attempting to move into administrative positions. With the new guidelines that one cannot be paid on a Ph.D. (leadership) degree unless one is in an administrative position . . . well this is another example of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

    We have had our colleagues RIFed (whose support we need) and administrators are getting perks like this? Do those “at the top” not realize what a slap in the face this is to the work-force? Scripture says to avoid even the appearance of evil. Do “they” not realize how this looks?

    In addition, what bothers me about this is probably what bothers everyone else: There are other trainings needed where RT3 monies can be spent (it must be spent on trainings); that is, there are other creative ways of using the money (let’s compile a list). Further, administrators already have more money with which to fund an advanced degree, and regardless of what Dr. Atkinson says, they will be eligible for salary increases once they have these degrees.

    The comment that Dr. Atkinson made to justify this–something to the effect that this will help administrators deal more effectively with diversity in a district that has many immigrants (if I remember correctly)–got me to thinking about the administrators I know who would fit this line of thinking. What disturbs me, is that there is no administrator I know of in Dekalb now who would or has come into classrooms and sat down with students to find out first hand how low English proficiency, how low literate students function in an all-immersion, all-inclusion environment. Not even those whose other degrees are in ESOL or in L2 instruction. Nor has there been an interest in entertaining the concerns teachers have expressed about how Dekalb is “doing” all-immersion, all-inclusion. Are these administrators who have spent an inordinate, unnecessary amount of time holed up in their offices? Are these administrators who will use (abuse) the opportunity of a closed door office as a chance to work on their Ph.D.s during school hours? Are these administrators who have already demonstrated a less than understanding, compassionate spirit toward the teachers in these environments?

    So, if the people getting Ph.D.s (which is a research degree) are people who have already demonstrated a lack of interest in informatlly “researching” these issues when the issues were close at hand are the very ones who are being funded for these degrees, what can we hope for once they have the degree?

    Here is a beginning list of ways in which Rt3 money could be spent:

    1. Substitutes be brought in while teachers visit other classes to learn from other teachers.

    2. Establish a lab school in which administrators take turns teaching real students in immersion-inclusion settings co-teaching with other administrators. They would be expected to get a good dose of push-in pull-aside as well as the various models of co-teaching along-side special ed teachers and paras. By pairing them with other administrators, the possibility of intimidating the other co-teacher would be lessened. Administrators would be expected to spend some time each week in such settings trying out the models they are asked to push or which they take the initiative to push.

    3. After-hours workshops on centers, discipline, classroom management.

    4. Additional on-site training support for making this shift to Common Core & the different lesson plans.

    5. Training interpreters & paras to train others how to deal with L2 students. This would create ways of keeping the interpreters & paras on-board. Calls to parents using interpreters could certainly come under “training of parents” if suggestions/options are offered regarding possible solutions. Some parents really don’t know what to do and welcome suggestions (aka “training”).

    6. Training substitutes on paid time.

    Other Suggestions: ???

  39. Ya know, In businesses I have worked at before have paid for the advanced degrees or even under grad degrees for employees. It’s been a long time for me so I don’t know what currently happens, but I would guess this type of program is severely cut back in leaner times. While it seems like a logical thing to do, investing in the education of our teachers and to everyone’s advantage, WE DON’T HAVE THE FREAKIN MONEY!!!!!!!!!

    This is the problem with this and other government administrations. You can’t spend money we don’t have. Our budget has to balance.

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