“Much ado about nothing,” said Paul Womack, dismissively. Really, Paul? Really? Much ado about nothing? Several of us drive 2008 or older cars and will continue to do so. Individually, several of us paid property taxes in 2011 and again in 2012 that nearly equal the cash outlay for Atkinson’s new tricked-out SUV. We bet that there are many more DSW readers in the same situation. Yet, Paul Womack claims that concerns about buying a fancy new, gas-guzzling SUV when DCSS is millions of dollars in the hole is “much ado about nothing.”
DSW2 discovered that Dr. Atkinson was recently upgraded from a 2008 Ford Explorer [not 2006 as stated by Womack] to a 2013 Ford Explorer. Atkinson’s original signed contract called for a car allowance which she asked the board to change so that the system provided the car and all related expenses. Jerry Carnes of 11Alive has the story. Click on the tiny television screen above.
Here’s the transcript — thanks to one of our readers:
“DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A school district facing serious financial problems has purchased its superintendent a brand new vehicle, and there’s also the DeKalb school employee who occasionally serves as Cheryl Atkinson’s personal driver.
Dekalb County schools recently laid-off over 100 employees as the district wrestles with a budget shortfall that still stands at $24 million.
Dekalb school board member Paul Womack said buying the superintendent a new car was a good investment.
“While I appreciate people inquiring, it’s much ado about nothing,” said Womack.
11Alive began asking questions after calls from people concerned about the school district’s budget situation.
Documents obtained by the group Dekalb School Watch show the district recently bought Atkinson a 2013 Ford Explorer. A district spokesperson says it’s part of Atkinson’s contract that she receives a carfor business and personal use.
The head of the Georgia Federation of Teachers says a new car and employee to occasionally serve as driver sounds like unnecessary luxuries in serious financial times.
“If we could afford it, wonderful,” said Verdaillia Turner. “We do feel a driver is more than luxurious. It’s going overboard. We don’t see that it’s necessary.
According to Womack, Atkinson was initially given a 2006 Ford that was in need of repairs.
The school system traded that and two other vehicles for the 2013 Explorer. According to documents, the value of the three vehicles was $23,500, so after the trade in taxpayers forked out an additional $8,963 in cash for the Explorer.
The resource officer who occasionally serves as Atkinson’s driver is a fulltime salaried employee who was hired to provide security at the district office. The district’s spokesperson insists it does not cost taxpayers any extra when the officer travels with the superintendent.
“She doesn’t use this guy very often,” said Womack. “She has to go from meeting to meeting to meeting outside and if she doesn’t know where she’s going or how she’s getting there, it’s better to have someone driving her.”
Taxpayers funded both a car and driver when Beverly Hall was superintendent of Atlanta city schools. According to the district, Hall’s successor, Erroll Davis, has neither.
Gwinnett school superintendent Alvin Wilbanks drives his own personal car, but does get a $1,500 a month car allowance.
Efforts to reach Atkinson were unsuccessful.”
As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “Here is the rest of the story.”
As soon as the “Check Engine” light came on in her 2008 Ford Explorer, Atkinson wanted a new car. Apparently a 2008 car did not fit with Atkinson’s image of herself, even though the previously white car was painted black (date unknown) and the windows were tinted.
The contract with DeKalb County Schools that Atkinson signed provided a stipend for a car. After signing the contract in Q3 of 2011, Atkinson reversed field and asked for DCSS to provide a car instead. As far as we can tell no one ran the numbers to see what was best for DeKalb County Schools. The board just caved to Atkinson’s insistence. Atkinson was provided with a 2008 Ford Explorer.
On August 17, 2012, CFO Perrone approved a request from Toney Blackmon and transferred $31, 192.15 from 101-61-92-00-000101-710-1320 to 101-61-92-00-000101-719-1320 to pay for a new car for Atkinson, even though Atkinson’s request for a new car was 14 days away from being presented to and approved by the board.
On August 27, 2012 Atkinson’s Ford Explorer was given a trade-in value by Wade Ford (Fulton County) of $15,000. Atkinson’s request for a new car still had not been publicly presented to the board. Handled behind closed doors? We can only speculate.
Yet another called meeting was held at 10 AM on August 31, 2012. Getting Atkinson a brand new car was on the 3-item agenda — although it was not listed as such. Here’s the very, very vague wording:
“Request for Declaration of Surplus Property”
Policy DO requires that any single item of school property valued in excess of $5,000.00 (five thousand dollars), personal or real, including, but not limited to, land, buildings, equipment or motorized vehicles, shall be declared surplus after approval by the DeKalb County Board of Education. Any single item of school property valued as surplus at less than $5,000 (five thousand dollars) does not require Board approval to be declared surplus. School property shall be submitted to the Board, for its approval as surplus, when it is not needed for school purposes, when it is obsolete, or when the cost of maintenance is excessive.”
“Following this policy requirement, the Division of Operations requests Board approval to declare as surplus property, vehicle #75A (VIN#1FMEU64E78UA66614), which has a trade-in value of $15,000.00.”
“There is no financial impact to the General Fund.”
No financial impact to the “General Fund”? Unless Wade Ford is willing to take boxtops for Atkinson’s 2013 tricked-out Ford Explorer, any money spent from the “General Fund” or any other fund is money that is not being used in the classroom for the benefit of students. Of course there is financial impact, but not the good kind — not the kind that benefits students.
We hardly think a “check engine” light is an urgent reason for a Called Meeting, held at a time (10 AM) when most taxpayers and other stakeholders cannot attend. But, it is clear that the decision to buy a new car for Atkinson was already made and just waiting for any excuse.
Ultimately 3 cars were traded in plus $8,963 cash to buy Atkinson a tricked-out new 2013 Ford Explorer (can you spell “gas hog”?). And now, there is yet another semi-hidden request before the board to buy additional cars. To replace those cars traded-in for Atkinson’s car? And, what happened to the rest of the $31,192 transferred by CFO Perrone to pay for Atkinson’s tricked-out new 2013 Ford Explorer. $22,229 gone. Gone. Disappeared into thin air — like so much of DCSS’s money.
Atkinson’s SUV was NOT purchased from a dealer in DeKalb County. Atkinson’s new SUV did NOT receive a fleet discount. Atkinson’s new SUV has a luxury package including leather seats (plus a powerfold 3rd seat), a power liftgate, a power tilt/tele heated steering wheel and a voice-activated navigation system. The purchase of Atkinson’s new SUV was NOT bid out to ensure getting the best price.
Take a look at the updated (and annotated by DSW) documents provided to DSW with regard to Atkinson’s SUV. Particularly, look at the number of times Atkinson’s SUV was filled up 3, 4, 5 days in succession … look at the times Atkinson’s SUV was in for multi-day service, yet the SUV was still filled up once or twice during that time period … look at the fact that the color of the SUV was referred to as “white” throughout all service records, but was “black” when traded in. And the windshield was recently tinted.
Speaking of vehicles — the General Obligation bonds (which Atkinson had assured us would not be incurred) are also to pay for an undisclosed number of vehicles. Yet, information about the vehicles that DCSS owns and assigns to employees is one of the two items that Atkinson is desperate to keep hidden. DSW asked, via an Open Records Request, for information on the fleet vehicles (not including school buses) that DCSS owns. Essentially, we wanted to see, at a minimum, a print-out for each vehicle like the one provided for the superintendent’s 2008 SUV.
DSW was told “it will take at least Twenty-five business days to produce these records and cost at least $4,500.00 (120 hours x $25 per hour; and 15,000 pages x $0.10 per page) to locate, retrieve, and, if necessary, redact these records before they can be disclosed” “… the School District will defer search and retrieval of the requested records until you agree to pay the estimated cost of $4,500.00.”
Ignoring the fact that DCSS’s math is all wrong — unless, of course, Palace employees work less than 5 hours a day, which we have long suspected — why is it that Atkinson and her minions cannot simply provide a list of vehicles and to whom they are assigned, along with a document for each vehicle similar to the one (clearly computer generated) provided for Atkinson’s 2008 SUV? An operation so loose that there is no record of fleet vehicles owned, no record of who is assigned a fleet vehicle, no record of gas usage for each fleet vehicle MUST be tightened immediately and should NOT be allowed to borrow money to purchase any additional vehicles.
BTW — you won’t be surprised to find that Paul “She-Doesn’t-Use-This-Guy-Very-Often” Womack is wrong. Of the 108 gas fill-ups between 9/14/2011 and 8/29/2012, “This Guy” (Atkinson’s security guard/driver) filled up Atkinson’s SUV 65 times.
Hot under the collar yet at Atkinson living high on your hog? You will definitely want to take a look at annotated (by DSW) response (to an Open Records Request) documents posted recently — also involving Atkinson’s new SUV and her 2008 SUV. It’s a must read: