More mounting legal fees in DeKalb schools

After stating publicly at the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting that she gave Ron Ramsey a promotion and a raise to run an internal legal division in order to save money on outside law firms, we now learn that Dr. Atkinson told the Grand Jury that we are actually on track to spend at least $6 million over budget on outside legal fees for FY2013.

This is from today’s Champion News:

DeKalb Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson told a DeKalb County grand jury that the school district, due to pending litigation, will be spending $6 million more than anticipated this year.

Last year, Atkinson told the grand jury that the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) accrued legal fees in excess of $3 million over its budget. She told jurors that the budget for the 2012-13 school year will need to be adjusted.

Currently, the district employs two legal teams and is involved in a lawsuit with construction firm Heery International, which has cost the district more than $30 million to date. The trial is expected to begin in February.

Click to read more…

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53 Responses to More mounting legal fees in DeKalb schools

  1. Rae says:

    Vote YES on November 6th. We deserve better.

  2. In other DeKalb Schools news….

    DeKalb school district families invited to hear district updates

    Throughout the month of October, DeKalb County School District Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson will host a series of roundtable meetings for parents. At these meetings, parents can learn more about the status of current issues faced by the district, as well as hear about new initiatives launching in the 2012-13 school year. School district families also will have the opportunity to ask questions.

    “During my 90-day listening and learning tour, many families shared their desire for more open dialogue with the district’s administration,” said Atkinson. “As I wrap up my first full year in the district, I look forward to sharing how far we’ve come and hearing from our families their thoughts on how we can continue work together to help our students. In order to achieve ‘Victory in Every Classroom’ our parents must be our partners and we are committed to improving communication and engagement with our families.”

    These are open forums for all DeKalb County parents, and they replace the previous parent advisory committees. Parents are encouraged to submit their questions in advance to

    The meetings will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the following dates:
    Oct. 11 — McNair High
    Oct. 15 — Tucker High
    Oct. 23 — Redan High
    Oct. 25 — Lithonia High
    Oct. 29 — Dunwoody High.

    Read more: – DeKalb school district families invited to hear district updates

  3. Terry says:

    Jeeze… how many bankruptcies will this be for her???… and SACS is JUST NOW getting involved because….???? Where the heck is the state in all of this… anyone??? Is there a WAY to impeach her… is there a way to remove some members of the board? What we have is broken and WE need to fix it!

  4. And for some GOOD DeKalb (charter) Schools press:

    Museum School awarded funds to share teaching model

    The Museum School is taking its show on the road through a Museum in a Box program that will deliver high-quality, hands-on lesson plans to children at neighboring schools.

    The DeKalb County charter school is one of nine winners of federal Innovation Fund grants created through Georgia’s Race to the Top plan. The purpose of the $19.4 million program is to promote innovation in science, technology, engineering and math, applied learning and charter schools.

    Through this grant, Museum School teachers will work with partners such as Zoo Atlanta, Georgia Tech, ArtsNow, the Atlanta History Center, Fernbank Museum of Natural History and the Georgia Aquarium to create traveling learning trunks. The lessons will align with Georgia’s learning standards and expose students to the curriculum in fresh, fun and accessible ways.

    Read more: – Museum School awarded funds to share teaching model

  5. educator90 says:

    Atkinson wasn’t my first choice, because of her lack of personal finance know how. I gave her a chance, but no more chances, we need someone who knows that we need to stop the extra spending. We cannot afford unnecessary employees. We cannot afford extras that are nice to have, when we are in such debt. We cannot spend more than we have.

    We need a leader with integrity, a laser focus on improving education (not worrying about school calendar and an hour early dismissal each week). We need someone who can understand that differences between wants and needs and spend within the budget given. We need someone who doesn’t think that boxed, scripted programs provide our children with a quality education. We need someone who will give teachers true professional development and allow them to chose the development that they want to further their teaching skills. We need a leader who will not pick 8 people to give a doctorate degree, that any person having worked in DCSS knows the work will be completed on DCSS time, not only a degree but a promotion, but use that money to allow every teacher a sub and a small amount of money to get professional development that will make our schools better.

    Dr. Atkinson, you’ve lost all respect from this home in DeKalb County, and I want to thank you for time and time again showing me that not putting my child in a DeKalb County School was the wisest choice that I could make as a parent. I hope that school board members begin to ask the difficult questions, hold your feet to the fire, and let your contract run out. We really don’t need anyone who doesn’t have basic math skills and doesn’t understand that teaching to a test does not equal a quality education.

  6. educator90 says:

    The Museum School does something worthy with their Race to the Top money. DeKalb chooses to give 8 people a doctorate degree. That right there shows why DCSS will never improve or offer all kids a quality education.

  7. Yes, and it also reinforces the need to set up an impartial, non-partisan board at the state level to approve charter school petitions. We are prisoners of our local school board and the state superintendent, who is beholden to local superintendents. The Museum School almost was not granted their charter and had to do incredible back flips. We need a way around the bureaucrats and educrats so that communities can take charge of their own tax dollars and set up their own schools for their children if they show a good plan and ability.

    Quit handing all the power to the incompetent leadership in DeKalb.

    Vote YES to the Charter School Amendment in November.

  8. educator90 says:

    Let’s bombard these two individuals at the state level who are associated with Race to the Top with emails of displeasure that DCSS is paying for 8 people to earn a doctorate degree when the money should directly impact the children in the classroom.

    Teresa MacCartney
    Deputy Superintendent
    Race to the Top Implementation

    Jon Rogers
    Race to the Top Communications/Information

  9. Tucker Guy says:

    I am sorry DSW, but according to DCSD’s Facebook page the dates you posted for the parent council meetings have been changed.

  10. The Deal says:

    Fran Millar apparently thinks she’s been doing a good job. Not sure what else to say to that.

  11. howdy1942 says:

    educator90 makes some very good points.

    First, when we are in the budget situation we are in, that $345,000 to be spent on sending those 8 administrators back to school to get their PhD is not very wise. As the AJC pointed out, no other county receiving those Federal funds is choosing to send people to get education. Perhaps we could simply work with Gwinnett to share in its development programs for administrators. Dr. Atkinson’s point about the unique needs of Dekalb County justifies this expenditure makes no sense. Surely, Fulton or Gwinnett or Clayton counties have similar circumstances. Dr. Atkinson seems to be having difficulty making the tough decisions and just telling people “NO”. This convinces me even more that she is in over her head.

    Also, she needs to make some choices about legal expenses. If she is going to promote someone internally to reduce legal expenses, then she needs to be talking about reductions in legal expenses and not increased legal expenses. At a minimum, she needs to present a plan that can be monitored for making those reductions in legal expenses.

    Dr. Atkinson was not my first choice either and I was very disappointed in the selection process. Our School Board simply blew it The vote to hire Dr. Atkinson was not anywhere near unanimous (either 5-4 or 6-3) and dissenting members of the Board expressed their concern about the thoroughness of the selection process. And there was this matter of leaking confidential information which the Board promised to investigate and report their findings, a promise that remains unfulfilled after a year.

    I want to give Dr. Atkinson a change to succeed, but she needs to start asserting herself and make some tough decisions. I commend her for taking the time to meet with the public (I hope those meetings are not limited to parents only but include some of us who have educated our children in Dekalb and have lived here for years. After all, we do pay taxes!). However, she needs to listen, write questions down and provide feedback. She needs to get a true sense of how people feel about how the school system is being run. Maybe this is a great day in Dekalb for her, but not for many of us who can remember a time when our school system was a model for the nation as indicated by it national ranking. I’m disappointed that we have retained members of the “old guard” while allowing Dr. Atkinson to bring in her “new guard”. This would not be allowed in any privately run business. If existing staff could not perform the way she wanted them to perform, then she should have let them go before bringing in new. This is unnecessary redundancy and wasted expense. Good leaders lead and develop their people, measure their performance, reward the performers and either develop or separate those who don’t.

  12. whoshelpingthekids says:

    @ Howdy 1942: agree 100% about legal fees. There are 2 positions posted on PATS for attorneys- doubt they’ll get an attorney with the experience they are wanting for the salary posted…but it also reads:”prefer someone with juris doctorate from an accredited college or university” . Really? Prefer? Maybe we can get one for that salary from an unaccredited university – just what we need! The BOE gave Mr. Ramsey a $50,000 raise while RIFing the internal auditor to “save money” or was there another reason she wanted him gone? If Dr. Atkinson is creating an in-house counsel, there should be some conversation occurring about eliminating or severely reducing our work with Alexander and Sutherland.

  13. educator90 says:

    We need to send emails to the Georgia Department of Education about the Race to the Top Dollars, and DeKalb spending it on giving 8 chosen people a doctorate degree. We need to have our voices heard by the Department of Education and try to have this money, our money, spent on providing the children with a better education, not giving chosen people a free ticket to a larger pay check.

    This is the email I received this morning from Ms. MacCartney:

    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, GA 30334

    Office: 404.656.7552

  14. Thanks Tucker Guy. We got our list from the Reporter, however, we forgot to check the DCSS Facebook page. It has so few updates, that we don’t generally check it for info.

    Anyway, they say the only date that has changed is the McNair meeting, however, we are all aware that the Tucker meeting has changed dates several times.

    Here are the dates listed on the DCSS FB page:

    October 15: McNair HS
    October 16: Tucker HS
    October 23: Redan HS
    October 25: Lithonia HS
    October 29: Dunwoody HS

    All meetings will begin at 7:00 PM.

  15. In our opinion, we have Paul Womack to thank for getting Atkinson. Tom Bowen was never willing to hire anyone with a 5-4 vote. He would reserve his vote until he could make it 6-3. All along, Womack hung with Jester, McChesney and Speaks. So it was 5-4. Womack was with the group that wanted Cox, then Duron. But someone ‘leaked’ negotiations and both deals fell through. Somewhere along the line, Lakeside was granted an additional $20+ million in construction plans as well as a majority of the board endorsed Womack’s cell tower plans. Womack jumped ship at the 11th hour and supported hiring Atkinson, suddenly leaving the block of 3 who were holding out for a better choice. Then Bowen added his vote for the 6-3.

    Quid. Pro. Quo. It’s how it’s done in DeKalb.

  16. educator90 says:

    This is more on the Race to the Top Dollars from a comment on the AJC:

    I emailed Ms. MacCartney yesterday and got the same response, but she also sent along the dekalb proposal… it pays for more then those to get their doctorate it adds another director position, staff and secretary for 266,000 dollars. People are benefitting from this economically while the teaching staff gets shafted. They have to pay for their own advanced degrees. The money should be spent on staff development, pay for teachers to visit schools that work and then come back and report to the school. It is a heck of alot cheaper to do that then create a new administrator. I thought she just cut a whole bunch of administrators because central office was bloated.. why would you add another one for a cost of 266,000 dollars. This is just insane… please please write Ms. MacCartney and voice your opinion on this matter. SACS is reviewing DeKalbs use of money and now beeing good stewards of tax dollars… this is another example of wasteful spending on central office and the good ole boy system.. this needs to stop

  17. Below is a great teacher letter posted at the AJC:

    After learning of Dekalb’s intention to pay for eight employees’ doctorates with RTT funds, money intended to “support new approaches to school improvement,” I emailed the Georgia Department of Education to express my concerns. I felt that this was my ethical duty since I see so many students who would benefit more from smaller classes, intensive reading instruction, and meaningful intervention programs.And unlike the superintendent, I have the data-CRCT scores, IOWA test results, AP scores, and the findings and recommendations of last year’s curriculum and instruction audit-to support my recommendations.

    But there are too many of us teachers who feel as if no one is genuinely interested in improving this school district so that students are granted the educational opportunities they deserve. How long has it taken SACS to finally recognize the district’s problems with governance and finance? How did the state’s decision to reduce budgets and increase class sizes force districts like Dekalb to focus first on the classroom? And how has the state ensured that Race to the Top Funds would be used responsibly?

    There is also the valid concern for one’s job that may prevent some teachers from speaking out. Districts like Dekalb have been cutting educators,and the new Teacher Keys and Reduction in Force policies could make a teacher feel vulnerable. At times it even appears that any questions a teacher may ask about the feasibility of new initiatives or the meaningfulness of mandated policies are viewed only as attacks on the leaders.

    It seems to me that until enough teachers are involved in the discussions and decision-making little will change.


  18. @educator90 Would you share with us the DeKalb proposal sent to you by Ms. MacCartney, please? We would like to make sure it is in our files. Please send it to

    Thank you for letting us know that what we are really talking about is more than half a million dollars. Is the $266,000 for the director, staff and secretary an annual figure? If so, then multiply that by at least 3. $798,000 just for office staff. We say “at least” because the way this school system is being looted, the superintendent and her minions will find a way to keep those positions in place. Probably the same old shell game that’s been played all along with the bloated central office — now you see ’em, now you don’t!

  19. And one from Marney at the AJC:

    Actually the part that most floors me is: “to add to the 130 Ph.D. holders that the system already has in leadership roles.” Right there it tells me that a Ph.D. in educational leadership is an oxymoron. If 130 of them can’t supply it, what makes them think 138 will change anything.

    Perfectly said, Marney.

  20. If anyone would like to read the proposal for leadership development and the plan to spend RTTT funds that was submitted to the state by DeKalb, it is available to download at this link:

  21. Tit For Tat says:

    The proposal to send 8 “in training” leaders to Mercer to earn a PhD is outrageous! This federal money which is earmarked for staff training needs to be directed to the hard-working teachers who have face-to-face interaction with our students everyday. Being able to write PhD after your name does not guarantee you are an effective educator.Staff development in areas of classroom management, small group instruction, and technology would be hands down more effective than 8 new “Drs.” strutting around Dekalb campuses.
    As I understand the program, these 8 “selected individuals” would only have to commit to remain in the county for 2-3 years after receiving their degrees on the taxpayers back. Another crazy idea from our leaders. It is very probable that alot of the coursework for these degrees will be done behind closed doors on schooltime. Outrageous!!
    Give me 130 of our hard-working dedicated teaching staff anyday over all the PhD’s in the county.

  22. tenbroeck says:

    I’m ready to write an email to the state, but I’d like to hear some alternate things the money could be spent on that qualify for RTTT.

    Regarding Atkinson, clearly the legal expenses and the under budgeting for these expenses pre-dated Atkinson. Her bringing plan to match the budget to match past legal expenses is to her credit. I have issues with Atkinson, but this is not one of them.

  23. whoshelpingthekids says:

    @tenbroeck, she’s been here a year. She does have reponsibility for some of this current budget’s legal fees.

  24. tenbroeck says:

    @whoshelping, I guess any school system the size of DCSD is going to require a substantial amount of legal support, but I’m guessing the majority of the fees, or at least of the 3 million extra that she is adding to the budget, are associated with the Lewis & Reid RICO suit and the Heery SPLOST civil suit. She did inherit a big fiscal mess.

  25. educator90 says:

    @ Tenbroeck

    This money could be used to provide principals or better yet, teachers REAL professional development. This money could be used to send teachers to a conference in Atlanta and help them improve their teaching skills. It could be used to pay for subs and have a group of teachers come to the Palace to get professional development from a Nationally known and respected person in a certain field. I keep thinking science or math, but I am sure any area of teaching could use help. It could be used to help principals get discipline in their school. Why not hire the Love and Logic guys to come here from Colorado and mentor our principals and teachers to give students control over their learning and stop allowing them to run the school. This money could be used to help new teachers with things that most new teachers need help with. This money could be used to mentor teachers to stop teaching to a test and provide children with a higher quality of instruction. It could be used to bring in an expert to teach principals that raising our standards and holding students accountable for their learning will raise our scores and make the schools a better place to attend and work. There are so many places where this money could be used.

    Giving 8 individuals a handout to a larger salary is not what Race to the Top was about.

  26. Perplexed says:

    Posted on PATS
    Executive Specialist to the Superintendent
    Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, English or related area with at least three years of executive secretary experience or executive experience in office management to an executive level position.

  27. Dekalbite2 says:

    The Executive Secretary title was changed to Executive Specialist for the higher level managers so they can pay them at higher salaries. This seems to go against the idea of standardizing titles and job functions – one of the main reasons for the MAG audit. When so many taxpayers complained about the advertised salaries for Executive Secretaries, they backed off the positions for a while. When they figured the coast was clear, they slipped the same job function in as Executive Specialist with the same high pay. I guess they think no one pays attention.

  28. educator90 says:

    @ Perplexed

    This is why Atkinson needs to be stopped!!!

  29. howdy1942 says:

    Dekalbite2 – I hope that what you are saying is not true. A job description is a job description and should be evaluated for compensation levels in a population of like job descriptions in our area. If what you say is true, then we have serious ethical and integrity issues in the school system far beyond what I imagined that we have.

    dekalbschoolwatch – We took care of the Paul Womack issues. After January, he won’t have the opportunity to reverse course on key decisions such as hiring a school superintendent. I can only hope that the same fate awaits Walker, Copelin-Wood, and Cunningham. Also, Bowen is gone and that is a positive.

    I am hoping that Nancy Jester will be given an opportunity to lead the School Board. In the meetings that I have attended, she seems to be well prepared to address important issues and also seems to have the intellect to steer our school system in the direction it should be headed.

    I also think that it would be a positive if Dr. Atkinson would begin to shop her resume. However, she is very unlikely to find another position paying her anywhere close to $275,000 per year. I haven’t seen much courage on her part to tackle the “bloat” at headquarters and eliminate redundancies there. Rather, she has added duplication by bringing in “her” team while keeping the “old” team. And she wants to send administrators to get graduate degrees at taxpayer expense! In the financial straits we find ourselves in Dekalb County, I find this to be a poor decision. Would she make the same decisions if she were spending her personal money?

    I welcome SACS and I hope that they can bring some kind of finality to the situation in Dekalb. This mess has gone on for years and it’s time to stop it once and for all. SACS has been involved in this Dekalb mess for well over two years and it needs to show that it does more than write letters and have meetings. At a minimum, it needs to very concisely state the deficiencies in Dekalb County and propose solutions that are measurable. I was not impressed when it allowed Ramona Tyson and company to send in thousands of pages to SACS last request. Nobody can review that much material and come to any conclusions. The county’s responses should be succinct, to the point, and measurable. This “stuff” that “doctors in education administration” produces needs to be boiled down to facts. Otherwise, SACS should simply reject the County’s response. If it cannot bring resolution, then SACS should save itself the time and expense of coming.

  30. concernedmom30329 says:


    There is some thought that there is a circuit for people who are superintendents. The Clayton Co one was headed for Berkeley, had gotten the job and now the board there is having second thoughts. In places where being a superintendent is easy, small systems with some level of financial resources, large homogeneous systems, etc, the superintendent may stay for decades. In more challenging districts, of all sizes, they rarely last three years. And then they are off to the next one, often getting a pay raise along the way.

    For many years, DeKalb’s board had a chair and vice-chair that were from different parts of the county, north and south. It was an unspoken rule. I think you are naive to believe that Walker won’t be chair again if he wants it. Though I am hearing Cunningham is frustrated with Walker, I find it difficult to believe that he would support any of the more conservative board members. The only question is who will be vice-chair?

  31. dekalbite2 says:

    “I was not impressed when it allowed Ramona Tyson and company to send in thousands of pages to SACS last request. ”

    Here is a link to the SACS request you refer to. As you can see, it was a bunch of scanned pages, very little having to do with the SACS information request.
    Click on AdvancED’s Special Review Team Report
    then click on any of the links under AdvancED’s Eight Required Actions Institution Progress Report (e.g. Action One, Action Two, etc.)

    This was a thousand page scanned document so you could not search it. It was farmed out to various Central office departments who then found documents and scanned them in.

  32. dekalbite2 says:

    After Get Schooled blog published the PATS posting of an executive secretary position, there was a huge outcry. The position was pulled from PATS. Then it came back as an Office Specialist and now it is an Executive Specialist. It was changed to a different title so they could say it wasn’t a secretarial position but look at what it requires – executive secretarial experience. That’s the way they could get their highly paid executive secretaries.

  33. We also have the scanned response document submitted by Tyson uploaded in our SACS files page under the DCSS FILES tab. It is over 80 MB so make sure that you have sufficient connection speed to upload it. In our opinion, it is pitiful. Why SACS ever accepted this response is puzzling and absurd.

  34. fedupindcss says:

    The preference for an attorney from an “accredited” university references the fact that in the past a lot of lawyers with real degrees would get jobs that paid a lot more; it also probably means that the F&F who normally have been hired by DCSS who might be lawyers have degrees from the Atlanta School of Law and Bartending. Luckily for DCSS, the legal market is really bad right now, and they can pick up some quality hires at their prices, if they want to. As I said, if they want to. Based on their existing in house legal operations, that might be a stretch.

  35. concernedmom30329 says:

    So, so sick of the sneakyness. On Friday, an agenda was emailed for a called meeting today. It was for the purpose of adjourning to executive situation. Fine.
    Just now, an email came through with an updated agenda. Now. there will be a called meeting before executive session to approve personnel recommendation — related to the positions that were approved on July 3oth. (Dan Drake, Joshua Williams, etc promotions) I suspect she will be asking for the raises that the board denied at the time.
    Are you kidding me?

  36. Murphey says:

    concernedmom30329 – I agree. The meeting notice came to my e-mail account this morning at 9:26, announcing a meeting at 2:00. The sole item on the agenda is a personnel recommendation. This probably means spending $$. Giving less than 5 hours notice is not professional, and does make one wonder.

  37. educator90 says:

    Raises were asked for and received. Not all board members were present at this meeting. I am disgusted and want to know what Atkinson doesn’t understand about having a budget!!! Can you run your home this way? I know that I can’t. No wonder the woman had several personal bankruptcies and she is now bankrupting our school system.

    The ajc article is here:

  38. That is beyond disappointing.

  39. This is just getting to be a daily dose of bad news.

    Four of the nine school board members failed to make the meeting. The five who did voted 3-2 to give four administrators pay commensurate with jobs they were moved into during the summer. The administrators’ raises ranged from $3,422 to $4,087, and the highest salary of the four is now $105,852. At the time of the promotions on July 30, the school board voted against pay raises pending stabilization of the budget.

    “As far as I know, it’s balanced,” said Paul Womack, who voted for the raises Monday along with Jay Cunningham and Donna Edler.

    What is Womack talking about? What happened to being over $20 million in the hole and having to be supervised by a state agency? How can any of these people think it’s a good idea to take away from teachers, yet give more raises out to administrators – along with free PhDs for others? And a new car for the super herself? Why – it’s Christmas in the Central Office!

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