Another new plan for redistricting and SPLOST presented by the school system administration

With little fanfare and no warning, the DeKalb School System Administration yesterday (Wednesday, November 28, 2012) at yet another called meeting unveiled a plan that will impact tens of thousands of students. Cleverly disguising this redistricting/school consolidation plan as a discussion of the Proposed 2012-2017 School Organization at a called policy meeting, the Administration assured that no parent would know what was going to be presented. The meeting was held in the afternoon, while taxpaying parents were still at work. And it was untelevised. Meanwhile, Sarah Copelin-Wood, not grasping the meaning and intent of Georgia’s Open Records Law, is on record, herself, as saying she did not want to share any of the plan with the public.

Let’s start with the most concerning issue. After publicly promising the board and the parents that she would not use bond financing for this SPLOST, Dr. Atkinson’s staff had the audacity to present several versions of a plan that included not only normal bond funding, but aggressive bond funding. The normal bond funding will cost 5.5 million dollars in fees and interest, and this money will be recovered (they claim) from not doing SPLOST projects at schools that are now slated to be closed. Though not reflected in the document, the Board of Education was also informed that there would be a need for more Central Office staff to oversee the construction program.

Given the mistakes made in the last SPLOST related to bond funding and the general incompetence shown by DCSS in managing multiple construction projects at once, borrowing money to expedite projects is a bad idea. (FYI—Gene Walker’s son sells bonds, so be on the lookout for that one.)

The specifics revealed in the document show that several schools will become grades 6-12. Apparently this is because we simply don’t have enough middle and high school students to fill all those secondary schools. However, one middle school would become a choice school. It seems to me that this is short-sighted, draining a dwindling pool of students in the neighborhood schools to fill a building we probably don’t need. In addition, what school system has successful 6-12 neighborhood (not choice) schools. Show us some, before asking students to be guinea pigs.

Some very critical specifics were missing — for example, the opportunity costs for combining middle schools and high schools. The most obvious one is the additional state funding made available to middle schools. We have not had a chance to research that, ourselves, but then we don’t have a huge staff sitting around like they do at the Palace.

Also disconcerting is the fact that just 18 months ago this very same board voted to keep Livsey open and Evansdale Elementary at Lakeside. For this superintendent to ask them to reverse their vote seems very strange. Perhaps no one told her about the last round of redistricting?

And then there is this jewel. Fernbank Elementary will open its new school with less than 800 students in a building for 900. To facilitate Fernbank’s enrollment, students from Laurel Ridge and Briar Vista will be redistricted to Fernbank. This year Laurel Ridge has about 450 students. After redistricting, it will have about 350. How is that right and how does that leave a viable school?

In many cases the plan lays out the obvious: schools that will be closed in order to be consolidated into new schools. Other suggestions are the merging of the magnet programs at Wadsworth and Chapel Hill into one facility for grades 4 through 8. The only redistricting scheduled for next year is some at Browns Mill and at Idlewood.

The Board is being asked to vote on this plan on December 10, less than 2 weeks from now. We have many questions about the data and it amazes us that there will not be a public hearing to discuss the plan. We understand that each individual school closing, redistricting, etc must have its own public meetings, but does that mean that the parents/community in an area now identified for changes in 2018 have to wait until that year to have input?

Please share your reactions to this “plan” here. It is a long document (more than 100 pages)and easy to miss the small, but critical details. And as they say, “The Devil is in the details.” Go to Nancy Jester’s website to read the document and download it.

We also encourage you all to share your comments and concerns with the entire board, not just your own board member. When you do, if you will have a new board member in January, please make sure you copy your incoming board member. We do not have an e-mail address for Melvin Johnson (if anyone has it, please send). Jim McMahan’s e-mail address is: For Marshall Orson, we are using the most recent one from his multiple e-mails to Dan Drake:

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This entry was posted in Board of Education Meetings, Budget Cuts, DeKalb County [GA] Board of Education, Nancy Jester, Ramona Howell Tyson, School Closings / Redistricting, School Construction, SPLOST IV, Superintendent Cheryl Howell Atkinson and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

83 Responses to Another new plan for redistricting and SPLOST presented by the school system administration

  1. thedeal2 says:

    There is almost too much to comment on here. It’s like this one event is a smorgasbord of shady and underhanded plans. Thank you for doing the hard work and also lending perspective from some of the other inquiries you have going on.

    As I said in a previous post, even if this plan were chock full of great ideas and perfect data (it isn’t), the method by which they went about trying to get it approved destroys all credibility and support.

    It’s like the episode of Seinfeld where George realizes things go well when he does the opposite of his instincts. Apparently that is what Queen Cheryl and her staff need to do because every instinct they have is wrong.

  2. Perplexed! says:

    Click to access dekalb-county-discusses-2016-2017-proposed-school-organization.pdf

    Last paragraph is most interesting. “Expected revisions will consider K-7 or K-8 programs and
    funding based on a cash-flow model versus a bond-funded model. The Board is expected to
    make its final review and vote at its Monday, Dec. 10 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.”

  3. Perplexed! says:

    K-7, K-8, 6-12th? GIVE ME A BREAK! Saving whose money?

    “Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson presented a draft of her plan to merge some schools and expand others as part of a new five-year school construction program. The proposal affects several thousand students, including some middle school students Atkinson wants to send to high schools in a money-saving merger.”

  4. Concernedmom30329 says:

    The Fernbank thing makes me crazy. How can we open one school at the expense of another. If you read through some of Marshall’s emails, he was busy (and I remember him at ELPC) arguing that the 450 number is meaningless. It isn’t meaningless.

    Perhaps the new Fernbank needs to be built for 1200 students so all of Laurel Ridge could attend.

  5. educator90 says:

    I read as much as I could stand from Nancy’s site last night and can’t believe that Atkinson and our board would consider using bonds to fund any building in our district, after the last fiasco. I can’t help but wonder if this was not brought out to reflect the findings of the audit to make people forget and focus on something else. Any board member voting for this proposal without taking time to listen to the public and doing due diligence to understand what this really means to funding, and the future of our district, needs to be voted out of office.

  6. When Atkinson talks about saving money, you can bet that what she really means is taking more dollars out of the schoolhouse to give undeserved raises to already-overpaid, undertalented friends-and-family.

  7. Yes, they should be voted out of office. But they won’t be. Sarah Copelin-Wood advocated withholding this critical information from the public. But, she will be returned to office again and again. The only thing we can do to improve things is to make much smaller school systems out of DeKalb County. When there is not as much money floating around, the crooks and the corrupt will go elsewhere.

    Here’s an interesting website to spend some time with: Georgia Department of Education’s QBE Reports. Compare what you see here with the DCSS “budget.” Also, be sure to look at the QBE003 Report — especially for Gwinnett County. Atkinson and her buds and Walker continue to raise our millage rate to compensate for their overspending in the CO and the losses we suffer from the state due to austerity cuts as well as equalization grants. We get no equalization grant credit, yet Gwinnett benefits the tune of $43 million in this redistribution scheme by the state.

    To understand this better, go to DCSS Files on the DSW blog. Click on Budgets, Cuts & Audits on the drop-down menu. Then Select Georgia Public School Finances. It will help you understand what you are seeing on the QBE Reports. Enjoy!

  8. midvaledad says:

    At this time the only BOE member who attempts anything close to due diligence is Nancy Jester.
    I suppose that is why the rest of the board visibly dislikes her.

  9. Stacey Helenbrook says:

    I find it negligent, and really downright shady, to call for a vote on such a large variety of changes with 3 lame duck members of the board. I helped to vote my rep out — I want my new rep iinvolved, not the one who will be gone in a week !?!

  10. howdy1942 says:

    Come on SACS – make my day!!

  11. Two amazing things jumped out at me in this report.

    One, it includes yet another Classroom addition (+685 seats) at Lakeside HS in SPLOST V by 2016-17
    (Where on earth will they build this? Lakeside is landlocked and swamplocked and in a very tight, neighborhood space. This will make Lakeside enormous!)

    Two, there is absolutely NO mention of ANY plans for Cross Keys. No plan to expand the vocational offerings and make it a truly respectable technical program. No plans to build an auditorium that was promised for all high schools in SPLOST III but was never built for Cross Keys. No plans to even fix their ruddy, dangerous track. No mention at all except for some plumbing. It’s like they are the forgotten school. Even more shocking is that there is no mention of any kind of redistricting for this very strange, gerrymandered attendance zone. This school sits on a very large tract of land and is easily accessible by MARTA. Plans could be make to make it a great magnet type of school drawing students from all around the county. But it is ignored instead in favor of major additions to Lakeside, Chamblee and Tucker.

  12. Tucker Mom says:

    Among other things, I’d like to know what’s involved in consolidating “DSA at Avondale MS at new K-12 arts school at Avondale MS.” How will attendance be decided? Also, in the post above, does Jim McMahan’s e-mail address need a “J”?

  13. Perplexed! says:

    “K-7, K-8, 6-12th? GIVE ME A BREAK! Saving whose money?”
    After thinking about my own comment – I would like to edit it to say….
    Saving whose children? They are not pawns on a chess board. This is not a game. It is ALL about Teachers educating our children. Period.

  14. Thanks Tucker Mom, we had a little copy & paste issue there with Jim’s email.

  15. HMS Dad says:

    According to their own projections, (“2016‐17 SY Comparison of No Changes to Current School Configuration to Proposed Orgonization” Page 97) Henderson MS will be at 98% capacity in 2016 without making any changes except the proposed renovation adding 138 seats. This is not broken and does not need fixing.
    Wouldn’t a more simple solution be to simply add capacity where it is needed and where things are clearly working, rather than messing with things and destroying a successful model?
    All the proposed shuffling and the end result is still high achieving schools at 100%+ capacity. What is the point?

  16. I think we are missing a big picture. These programs (educational studies, construction studies, plans to reorg, etc) are how alot of the Central Office employess and Sam Moss employees stay in their job. If someone didn’t continue to offer up new and better, there would be no reason for employment. They make themselves relevant to the county by continueing to focus on anything but education. WE as parents, taxpayers, business folks and homeowners have to start banging them on their heads about the EDUCATION part. We must really sound the educational alarms and get the focus off of the building, reorg, rezoning. Everytime they trot out something like this about putting up a building or tearing down a community, we need to scream in every meeting, email and communtiy get together about the issues, EDUCATION. BOOKS, NOT BUILDINGS. Technology that works. STUDENT FOCUSED.

  17. @Betty&Veronica — Amen! Everyone needs to remember this. Don’t be drawn in to this nonsense that only serves to divert your attention from what truly matters: Educating each child in every classroom to the best of their ability. Do any of you truly believe that any of these construction/redistricting issues will do one single thing to improve outcomes for children?!!

    Read the Students Bill of Rights we compiled on the original DSW. It’s very basic. Why can’t we provide it?

    1. Every child HAS THE RIGHT to be in a decent, clean, safe environment.

    2. Every child HAS THE RIGHT to be in a classroom with a reasonable pupil teacher ratio.

    3. Every child HAS THE RIGHT to highly qualified, competent teachers who are paid well and have adequate schoolhouse support staff as well as abundant access to state of the art science and technology equipment.

    It is a simple list that we need to ask for first and foremost in every situation. IGNORE these stupid discussion about buildings and districting and ask the questions, “What are you doing to improve the classroom environment for learning?” “What are you doing to provide the highest quality teachers and the lowest student-teacher ratios in the classroom?” “What are you doing to provide the utmost support and relevant training for our children’s teachers?”

    Before they lay a single brick, the classrooms of DeKalb should be in the best possible shape for learning. This is why we advocated for voting NO to SPLOST IV. They would not be discussing these construction plans if there was not another half-billion dollars on the table for them to salivate over.

  18. From Dr. Atkinson’s “Victory in Every Classroom” Newsletter:

    Superintendent Atkinson to Present State of the System Address

    Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson will present the State of the System address twice on Monday, Dec. 3. In the first, Atkinson will speak to the business community at the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. At 6:30 p.m., the public is invited to the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Administrative and Instructional Complex, 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd., Stone Mountain, to hear updates on the district’s progress toward the goals and initiatives outlined in the five-year strategic plan. During the address, DCSD will also unveil new initiatives planned for 2013.

    The evening event will be shown live on the district’s television station, channel 24, which also streams live on the district’s website at

    AND —

    DeKalb County Discusses 2016-2017 Proposed School Organization

    In the 2012-13 school year, DCSD enrollment grew by more than 800 students, bringing the total enrollment to more than 99,000 students. On Tuesday, Nov. 27, the DeKalb County Board of Education received a briefing on a draft of a 2016-17 proposed school organization, the foundation for the five-year local facilities plan. The proposed local facility plan is a state report that outlines the schools and attendance line adjustments beginning in the 2013-14 school year with the completed school organization occurring in the 2016-17 school year. The plan is required so that the district qualifies for funding under the state capital outlay program.

    The goal of the five-year, local facility plan is to support teacher and student success by easing overcrowding at some schools while building student capacity in areas of the district. In this way, the school facility plan helps support classroom instruction, especially in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, which are the focus for DCSD. It also incorporates requirements for new specialized programs, including a comprehensive arts school, to offer students well-rounded educational experiences. To view the proposed plan, click here.

  19. Time to Unite says:

    Friends, maybe it is time for an actual protest — a visual reminder to both the system and the media that Dekalb parents are concerned and paying attention. @bettyandveronica has already written the signs! (Books Not Buildings, Focus on Education, Students First). DSW’s bill of rights is the perfect platform. The key is to keep the message very simple and to not let ourselves be divided (by region, race, whether we support charters, etc) and to NOT get drawn into debating the specifics of their plan (what schools to close, redistrict, etc). As other posters have pointed out, all that does is allow them to divide/distract. Instead, a simple call to delay the vote on this plan until: 1. The SACS report, which could require the system’s sole focus; 2. New board members are seated; lame duck members should not decide policy for the system years into the future; 3. There is time (i.e. not holidays looming, etc.) for both the board and the public to fully examine and understand the implications of what is proposed.

  20. EDaleMom says:

    Dr. Atkinson is speaking to the business community at the Dekalb Chamber of Commerce Monday. Please tell me some of you can be there to grill her with questions. We need media there as well. this is unacceptable. Our kids should not have to suffer any further for the inadequacies of the DCSB, Atkinson, and their ongoing mismanagement of financials. Nothing should be rushed to a vote, especially not with the newly elected officials in place.

  21. cgregister says:

    Several years ago when they did some major school closings, they did not think it through very well. They closed Avondale Middle which was only ten years old. If they had really put on their thinking cap and planned things out, half of the McNair Middle students could have gone to Cedar Grove Middle and the other half to Avondale Middle. When it comes to high school time, they could then go to Cedar Grove High, McNair High and Druid Hills High. Most of Dekalbs problems are they never think things through, they react adversely, they only listen to the parents who yell the loudest and longest and then there is Sarah Copelin-Woods. Why that area keeps electing her, I don’t know. They believe that she is doing right by them, but she isn’t. She is bringing them down, along ith the whole county. Would someone with some good, common sense please run against her and win. The county as a whole would greatly appreciate it.

  22. Concernedmom30329 says:

    I attend chamber events. Usually no questions and answers. ;(

  23. dekalbite2 says:


    I agree. Not one dollar should go to any educational program or Central Office position or Coordinator or Instructional Specialist or Director or position until this DSW Student Bill of Rights is met:

    1. Every child HAS THE RIGHT to be in a decent, clean, safe environment.

    2. Every child HAS THE RIGHT to be in a classroom with a reasonable pupil teacher ratio.

    3. Every child HAS THE RIGHT to highly qualified, competent teachers who are paid well and have adequate schoolhouse support staff as well as abundant access to state of the art science and technology equipment.

  24. Prisscei says:

    I just have to ask. First it was Lewis and everyone who was hired during his reign was “friends and family”. Then Tyson stepped in but because she had associations with Lewis everyone hired under her was ” friends and
    Family”. Now this completely outside person (Atkinson) is in place and y’all scream for everyone’s head on a platter. But is the blood splatter on the floor enough.. Nope. Now everyone she is associated with is the new ” friends and family”. Where does the witch hunt end? What will make this board community happy. We are not in a better position with this superintendent that we were with the last two. As a matter of fact if she has her way she will flush it straight down the potty. Because she doesn’t have a vested interest. Crawford, Tyson, an a large majority of the “friends and family” were vested and had worked there for decades. The success of the district actually mattered because it was their careers, it was where there children went to school. U asked for a stranger and u got one. She doesn’t care a rats tail if this district succeeds or not. Why should she?

  25. The Deal says:

    DSW, I do have to tease you a little for your defense of Cross Keys in which you state it should be a magnet. You have been one of the most outspoken opponents of magnets, and here you are asking for one for CKHS. Funny – just teasing you.

  26. True Deal. It is ironic. I guess the magnet for Cross Keys we have in mind is more of a really strong, nationally recognized vocational/technical school. The magnet part would be in the fact that it could easily draw from around the county because it’s so accessible to the Marta station in Brookhaven. There would be no ‘entrance’ requirement, other than a student’s desire to attend and keep up with the work. We could prepare so many young people for the real world of work in a school like this. But Cross Keys (and it’s gerrymandered attendance zone) is never the topic of any admin or board discussion.

  27. DeKalb School Watch will be happy when the day arrives that we have a strong leader in our superintendent who doesn’t just pay lip service to focusing on the classroom – someone who really does it! Someone who has a command of finances, can shake up and streamline the administration and who does everything in his or her power to focus on teachers, small classrooms, a variety of pathways to graduation and general integrity in every avenue of leadership. And yes, we will keep harping the issue until we get a leader like this, which requires a board that can identify and agree to hire such a person.

    It’s no secret that Atkinson was not our first choice. It’s no secret that the board manipulated the process by leaking information and sabotaging other candidates (with no repercussions or disciplinary action). With her severe limitations (multiple personal bankruptcies, lack of integrity, lack of significant experience with a large school system, inability to produce quality work, inability to hire quality staff, dislike of parents, lack of respect for teachers and allergy to transparency) Atkinson is doing as decent a job as she can. But we never thought of her as the leader we had in mind.

    All in all, the problem goes back to a dysfunctional board, since the board does the hiring. And because the board members will never stand for reelection all at the same time, which would enable cleaning house, we believe the only resolution to the corruption, overpaid educrats and stunning lack of student achievement in DeKalb County Schools is to create smaller, city-based school systems of one, two, or three high schools and their feeders with equal funding allocated per student, countywide. Unincorporated DeKalb will then become a much smaller, more manageable school system, much like the city-based school systems within DeKalb County.

  28. DeKalb Observer says:

    Even with an outstanding leader, an organization that operates with this kind of unethical culture will never accomplish its mission. We know this. The BOA asked for positions to be eliminated at the Central Office. Administrators charged with that work shifted people into new jobs and helped create a devastating budget deficit. There do not appear to be consequences for this, only this brilliant new Five Year Building Plan that will ensure more jobs for adults. I guess what I’ve concluded is that there are not enough people with integrity dispersed throughout the school system to help create a new, positive, student-centered culture. Maybe your particular school is okay: well, thanks to this new building plan, that may now be jeopardized. Let’s turn out in crazy-big numbers to protest this December 10th. And let’s make sure Richard Belcher is aware they are trying to ram this thru with a lame duck board.

  29. You need to understand this: Richard Belcher doesn’t care. Based on our observation, he is in the pocket of DeKalb County Schools — “reporting” what they tell him to report. Richard Belcher is old and shopworn with no desire to do investigative reporting. Find another reporter who is not in the pocket of DeKalb Schools and who is hungry to make a name for herself (or himself) by breaking wide open the corruption that defines DeKalb County Schools and most of its board.

  30. educator90 says:

    The more I think about this and the change in attendance, I see the calculation more and more. The “new” 900 seat Fernbank will include the attendance area that is being courted by the City of Decatur for annexation. These parents could easily put pressure on Marshall to vote for this if the vote takes place once he is in office.

    Having taught in 1000+ elementary schools, they are a nightmare for parents who are used to the neighborhood schools. Take the problems that you have in your schools now and multiply them by at least 5. They may save money, but I’d prefer spending money on a small schools that offer a quality education than school factories that are large and more than often unruly.

  31. Concernedmom30329 says:

    I am confused by your comments educator 90. Do you believe that the parents in the Medlock area, given a choice, would rather be in DCSS schools than City of Decatur? If an annexation vote happens, DeKalb County can do nothing to stop it. (And that includes the school system.) The Medlock area already goes to Druid Hills Middle and High. If they are inclined to support annexation, I don’t think they would be swayed to vote differently by Fernbank elementary. Remember Fernbank will still be a DCSS school, just a much larger one.

    It begs the question though, how in the world will DCSS ever fill a bigger Fernbank?

  32. Dekalb School Board for Dummies says:

    I just read this misleading information under Human Resources:
    DeKalb County Schools offers competitive salaries [ ]—one of the top five highest starting teacher salary in the metro Atlanta area……


  33. Teacher/Parent says:

    Unfortunately, I think that small, neighborhood elementary schools will soon be a thing of the past. Just like Mom & Pop stores, medical practices with one doctor, etc. Economics just don’t make it feasible. Right now, the price we pay for our small schools is huge, unmanageable class sizes. I speak as someone who teaches in these larger classes. I would choose to have small class sizes within a larger school. It is not the optimal solution, but one that we should be able to sustain in the long run and that should allow for students to learn and teachers to teach in a better environment.

  34. Anne Shirley says:

    @time to unite….you are so right….all of us venting here in Cyberland is NOT bothering Atkinson, K.March, Tyson, or the board…we must be present Dec. 10th….I am going to be there… I don’t think we can bring signs…,,but lets commit to filling this meeting up with REAL stakeholders….lets show them that they will not continue to make random decisions that have lifetime impacts, long after their magic show is over, on our kids, and our investment of our homes. Enough is enough….is ENOUGH…bring a neighbor, bring your spouses, invite your kids grandparents….enough is enough….think of our future because it will be in these students’ hands….

  35. Anne Shirley says:

    @teacherparent…small schools can be economically feasible, just not coupled with the central office bloat…..students thrive so much more…key word thrive, not academically, but smaller schools are able to focus on helping students to be more well rounded….

  36. Anne Shirley says:


  37. Does anyone know if there is a real reason why this HAS to be voted on NOW? What is the rush for? Did someone not do their job again and whoops, were gonna miss out on millions because if we don’t get this approved now the state won’t pay?
    I really would like to know the answer to this? What’s the rush to over-extend our credit again with bonds that will take Millions in interest payments out of the education coffers in the future. I am sick of pervasive attitude in our culture now that we can do anything as long as no one get’s hurt. No matter if it is right, good or in the best interest of our community, just do what feels good to me.

  38. May we suggest wearing T-shirts? There is time to get some printed with large letters (front and back) that will show up on television and will be readable by the board members on the dais before, during and after the meeting. At the very least, everyone who is going to the board meeting and wants to make a statement — verbal or silent — should wear the same color T-shirt. Maybe red.

    Also, if possible, sign up by Monday, December 3 for a community speaker slot. Fill up the slots with representatives who want to say “We are mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore.”

  39. educator90 says:

    Teacher/parent, class sizes are so large, because so much is spent on salaries in central office, and no other reason!!!!! The audit shows that the cuts that were supposed to be made to salaries in central office were not made, and caused a deficit, as does poor spending on things that we really don’t need and can’t afford. If you think larger schools are going to give you as a teacher smaller classes, you need an education in Economics as that is not going to happen. Our schools don’t have to have the large class sizes that they do, but education hasn’t been the priority of those running the district, protecting the jobs of friends and family have been. Until educating the children is the districts top priority, large class sizes and unruly amounts of work for teachers will be the norm.

  40. But, someone does get hurt — always — the students and their teachers. That makes no difference to the educrats running DeKalb County School system: Walker and the Gang of Five, Atkinson, Dilligard, March, Howe, Drake, Ramsey, Brantley, Perrone, Ward-Smith, Tyson and Wilkins — as long as they get theirs.

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