Atkinson’s New Tricked-out SUV and Associated Costs: Much Ado About Nothing?

“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.”

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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.”

 
“Financial Impact”
“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.

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UPDATE

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.

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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:

Who’s On First?

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About dekalbschoolwatch

Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
This entry was posted in Co-conspirators, DeKalb County [GA] Board of Education, Fraud & Corruption, Friends-and-Family, Open Records Requests, Paul Womack, Superintendent Cheryl Howell Atkinson, Uncategorized, Workplace Abusers, Workplace Bullies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Atkinson’s New Tricked-out SUV and Associated Costs: Much Ado About Nothing?

  1. concernforthekids says:

    Here is where the inequalities in our school system are most evident.
    An SRO “Security Resource Officer” makes the same or more than teacher with a Master’s degree.
    The 2 secretaries for the shcool board make more than teachers and secretaries at the scools.
    Margaret Francois, $65,000 per year, Dee Brown, $64,000 per year. I want to know where is the “Equity” within the school system when we have central office secretaries who have NO contact with parents, teachers or students make 40% – 50% more than secretaries that have 20 years experience working in the schools.
    Transparency and accountability are needed to create public support for our schools, not overpaid central office staff! Newly elected board members have ALL stated that they want to drive all available resources to the schools. This is also Dr. Atkinson’s 2nd year of a 3 year contract. She needs to deliver measurable results as she enters her final year of her contract.
    CFTK

  2. dekalbite2 says:

    If you want to advocate for change in compensation transparency and parity, email Dr. Atkinson and your BOE the links below. These links are to the Salary Schedules other metro area school systems post on their websites. It is unconscionable that DeKalb Schools has NO salary schedules for ANY position or title except Teachers who comprise around 6,400 employees. This oversight keeps the Salary Schedules for the other 8,000+ employees out of the view of taxpayers who pay the salaries of every employee, not just teachers. Posting ALL of the Salary Schedules is a MUST DO item NOW for the taxpayers who pay these salaries. Taxpayers must insist that EVERY position/title and the accompanying Salary Schedule is published on the DCSD website (which taxpayers also pay for):

    Forsyth:
    http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/Page/35819

    Futon:
    http://portal.fultonschools.org/departments/Human_Resources/Pages/Salary_Schedules_12_13.aspx

    Atlanta:
    http://www.atlanta.k12.ga.us/page/1172

    Marietta City:
    https://hr.marietta-city.org/salary_schedule.asp

    Cobb:
    http://www.cobbk12.org/centraloffice/hr/compensation/schedules.aspx

    Rockdale:
    http://portal.rockdale.k12.ga.us/about/fs/hr/employbenefits/Pages/default.aspx

    Now look at the paltry amount of Salary Schedule information DeKalb Schools posts on its website (see link below). Let Dr. Atkinson and the BOE members know this lack of information regarding salaries is unacceptable, and that taxpayers know DeKalb is the LEAST transparent school system in the metro area when it comes to employee salaries even though salaries comprise 90% of the DeKalb Schools budget:
    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/human-resources

  3. @teacher/taxpayer

    Sorry for any confusion. No. We did not think you made an error. We repeated his salary because we wanted to make sure that everyone sees the inequity. We assume he makes overtime, too, but won’t really know until open.georgia.gov is updated for FY 2012. He does not have a masters degree, as far as we know. We are not sure that he has a bachelors degree. Not only do teachers have more education (usually obtained at their own expense), they also have a tougher job than Atkinson’s driver AND even though teaching is a more-than-40-hours-per-week job, teachers are NOT paid overtime. We are sure that Atkinson’s driver is aware of the irony because he makes about $14,000 more than his wife, a special education interrelated teacher.

  4. Bamay says:

    Some employees are wondering why when they apply for a job that they are qualified for, they do not even get an interview. Then later they learnt, it was given to a younger person who came from outside the school system. They are wondering if it is because they are older.

  5. Kenrus says:

    @Another Dekalb Teacher – No, we are not allowed to take the SLO’s home – we had to lock them up at school. In my frustration when writing the post I didn’t make myself clear. I should have said I refuse to be frustrated in worrying about trying to grade it. So far, I’ve graded most of the math, and none of the reading and I understand they’re due this coming Friday. I was just wondering if anyone had found an easier way to grade the reading.

  6. Just another day in Paradise says:

    It was common knowledge around the Palace that Atkinson was allowed to use two district vehicles. That could explain the “white” and “black” SUVs on record, as well as the multiple fuel-ups, day after day.I don’t know who the other driver was. I only know that staff members there told me that two vehicles were under her control and they weren’t allowed to discuss it…for fear of retribution). Didn’t she learn ANYTHING from the Lewis debacle?

  7. Quagmire says:

    Dee Brown, board secretary is the daughter in law of board member Gene Walker!

  8. Yes — and we think that Dee Brown serving as board secretary is a clear conflict of interest. Further we think that two (2) secretaries for the board of education is definitely overkill.

  9. The multiple fuel-ups were for the same “black” SUV. Funny, but both the “white” SUV and the “black” SUV have the same number (75A) and the same VIN (1FMEU64E78UA66614).

  10. Atkinson’s comments in the latest Get Schooled post make me want to vomit. Read them and laugh, weep, puke, whatever. It’s all pure BS!!!

    http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/10/07/dekalb-school-chief-marks-her-first-year-anniversary-still-standing/

    How many of you teachers has she consulted? She’s as much a stranger to teachers as she was when she first flew in from her dinky little school district in Ohio that she left in ruins.

    She has to go! Maybe she’s polishing her image for her rumored job suitor in Texas. With all the salary and fringe benefits, she can certainly improve her standard of living by demanding that her suitor pay her more than Dekalb. Maybe she’s got her own PR person coaching her on all this.

    What gall!!!

  11. Does anyone know: Is DCSS paying for insurance for their employees? Are they paying 50% of the full premium and employee is paying other 50%? Does the employee have to pay for their dependents?

  12. dekalbteacher says:

    Re: insurance–Our paychecks actually decreased in JULY–I don’t read school email in mid-summer but checked when I saw the change in amount. Below is the email:

    To: All DeKalb Employees
    From: Dr. Tova J. Davis, Director for Employment Services
    Through: Dr. Tekshia Ward-Smith, Chief Human Resources Officer
    Subject: Health & Dental Subsidies
    Date: 12 July 2012

    Health and Dental Insurance Premiums

    In order to decrease expenses and help balance the budget for fiscal year 2013, both health and dental insurance subsidies were eliminated from the District’s budget for a savings of over 6.8 million dollars. The subsidies will end beginning with the July 2012 payroll.

  13. Undercover Reformer says:

    DSW – where are the documents regarding the car (gas, service). I can’t seem to find them. Files? Resources?

  14. DCSS Files > ORR Responses

  15. Dedicated Dekalb Teacher says:

    Is the driver a 12 month employee? It’s a fair question, only because we are 10 month employees. I am trying to take the emotion out of this, because I too am disgusted. I am closing in on 20 years with the county, with a Master’s degree, and not making $60,000.

  16. Yes. Atkinson’s driver is a 12-month employee.

  17. Tony says:

    If it was up to me, her ass would be in a 1992 Ford Escort, or better yet a 1974 Ford Pinto. That’s what she deserves

  18. booksrkool says:

    Perhaps someone has mentioned this but, I’m just now getting to read all of these documents…this new SUV has horrible gas mileage!!! WTH

    Well at least the next superintendent will have a nice ride.

  19. howdy1942 says:

    My engine light came on in my 2002 Chrysler Town and Country. I had it checked out and the problem was the gas cap was losing its seal. Did they actually check to find out what the problem was on Dr. Atkinson’s vehicle?

    Also, if she does not know here way around this county, now would be a good time to learn. Besides, there are navigation instruments to help her.

    Finally, I agree with an earlier comment – we, the voters of the 4th district, have clearly sent a message to Paul Womack that what he says is much ado about nothing. He has not represented the interests of this district for a long time. January cannot come any too soon.

  20. Mom Of Student says:

    As a 16 year employee, I have not received a raise since 2001. No step increases, no cost of living increase…..nothing, notta. But the hogs at the Palace, keep getting raise after raise. I would like to see them for one day do our jobs. Like changing diapers of kids who can’t, wiping noses, getting paint on their brand new clothes, buying clothes at Wal Mart because you can’t afford to go to Macy’s. Oh how about driving a 2000 Chevrolet with over 150,000 miles and the brakes are burning because you can’t afford to replace them. I guess on the way to work if it catches fire, I will walk to the Palace and ask for a ride to work. GIVE ME A BREAK ATKINSON AND WOMACK! You suck.

  21. waitaminit says:

    The North Atlanta firing and upheaval is a carbon copy of what happened with Lakeside High (DeKalb as you know) and principal Wayne Chelf five years ago…even to the tune of being replaced by a Gwinnett principal (who was installed to fail incidentally).

    The only difference is how AJC chose to report it. You didn’t report the specific terms mentioned by now disgraced Superindendant CLEW. LEW used almost identical language and subterfuge–he called for Lakeside as flagship to be “exemplory” (and admitted “excellent” wasn’t good enough–yep!)….but that’s in your report with APS. Other difference is of course–Errol was appointed by the business community (whitey) to be the establishment’s savior (he ain’t going anywhere).
    What wasn’t acknowledged by CLEW was the REVERSE DISCRIMINATION taking place at Lakeside (obviously he wouldn’t–then hired a black pricipal with a lousy Gwinnett record OVER the guy who is now here–finally hired once the Gwinnett failure was removed.)

    CLEW wanted Lakeside shaken–and internal strife with busybody parents who didn’t get a long with Chelf was the ammo that the mofo needed to intervene. Is it possible that internal small group of didgruntled parents have been whistleblowers in this case?

    …bottom line is that the justification for firing at Flagship North Atlanta was word for word same as DeKalb Flagship Lakeside–identical. Who is doing the coaching for these guys and what might the connection be?

  22. aren’t there any classification salary caps?

  23. RB says:

    I have a bigger issue with the paid chauffeur. Paul Womack couldn’t give a Rat’s behind about how DCSD spends money since he’s on his way out. I think its his way of thumbing his nose at voters. I keep seeing my pay go down with increased costs for health care, my increased cost for gas, on and on….Cheryl Atkinson is just a new name on the door-same old stuff at the Palace…..

  24. Concerned says:

    A couple of facts about the driver….The driver twice drove to events without the superintendent last winter. One of these was in Macon. He was to be there and be with her when she arrived. If it didn’t cost any more for him to do so, why did he have to go in the first place? Especially, if she called to say she wasn’t coming?

    from my understanding this happened more than these two times.

    I’m betting he got mileage or a district car to make these trips. Plus some kind of extra pay.

  25. Armon Moore says:

    What about the gentleman Mr. Greene that sits in the front lobby of the main office. Is he special Security or investigator? What is his role because I believe he is security for Dr. Atkinson as well.

  26. disgruntledteacher says:

    Mr. Moore, I realized that not long ago. The guy that sits at the front desk is newly hired and where was his position approved in the budget? It was also never listed on Pats and I know because I check often. Also why is his name not on the reorganization chart? Mr. Greene works with the taller SRO and they both are drivers and security for the superintendant. We need this investigated!

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