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

  1. At the recent called board meeting to discuss SPLOST IV Nancy Jester and Don McChesney spoke against financing SPLOST IV through bonded indebtedness. We are unable to determine the reason, if any, for the rush to vote at this point because none was stated. We believe there is no credible reason for this vote at this point. And, we also are opposed to spending $5 million+ to further enrich Gene Walker’s son. If $5 million in SPLOST IV funding won’t be used because schools are closed (also doubtful), then we believe those funds can be better used to benefit students and teachers, NOT the adult leeches, hangers-on and friends-and-family crowd.

  2. You are absolutely correct.

  3. dekalbite2 says:

    Lewis and then Tyson and then Atkinson should NEVER have cut hundreds of teaching positions. In particular, Lewis (cut 275 teaching positions) and Tyson (cut over 300 teaching positions) were very proud that they were able to keep everyone employed by cutting teaching positions and increasing class sizes. It is amazing that Dr. Lewis, Ms. Tyson and the BOE members were/are so concerned about keeping everyone employed but not concerned about increasing class sizes for students. They never understood and continue to not understand that the school system is ONLY about students. If Lewis and Tyson had made the necessary personnel cuts in the non teaching areas and placed most of the certified personnel back into the classrooms, we would have saved tens of millions of dollars, kept class sizes manageable, teacher pay competitive, and prevented such a steep decline in student achievement. Very sad for kids.

  4. Teachingmom says:

    When do we hear back from SACs??? Anyone know? I am completely at a loss as to how one week we hear that the Dekalb has a huge deficit, that they “failed” an audit, that they lied, etc. and the next minute we hear, well, NOTHING. Business as usual.

  5. Kim Gokce says:

    @dekalbschoolwatch “No plans to even fix their ruddy, dangerous track.” … you mean this one, I believe

    … yep, it still looks the same nearly four years later. Meanwhile, “emergency” track replacements happen at schools with political clout. Even the long-neglected Cedar Grove HS receives attention ahead of Cross Keys HS attendance area schools. Sequoyah MS received some love this past year in its fields … because Chamblee CHS teams are using them while the deserving students wait for their new $70m+ school. Couldn’t have them tolerating the conditions at Sequoyah, now could we? No, not bitter here at all … 🙂 … I conclude some time ago that DCSD and our community support of public education is designed as a “Devil take the hindmost” system. That is why the Cross Keys Foundation focuses on what modest things we can do for the children directly. The logo and flag of Cross Keys Foundation is white for a reason … we have left the field of DeKalb education politics and removed ourselves completely into the schoolhouse.

  6. Gardenerontheside says:

    Wow Kim they got to you. Haven’t seen you begrudging things so before. Keep your eye on the prize and doing what you do best.

  7. Kim Gokce says:

    Well I appreciate the encouragement! Don’t worry though – outrage does not equal quitting in my book.

    I think anger is a better word than begrudging. The older I get the less tolerance I have for deceit and injustice. As the CK kids have taught me to say, “If your not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” My experience with DCSD realities has driven me to coin my own motto: “There is no better testimony than personal testimony and no better personal testimony than action.”

    I have seen the “wrap-up” of SPLOST III and the full cycle of planning on SPLOST IV. I was personally engaged in the MGT America process and the “2020 plan” … farces! I have wooed and been snowed by three superintendents and even more board members who politely express their sympathy but only do something when threatened.

    I have seen in my own experience the marginalization of these same schools in SPLOST II, III, and now IV. I have asked leaders directly and frankly about this issue and they blame neighborhood politics. I have asked my neighbors about this and they blame the system leadership. I have seen how some in our community label these children and their schools as untouchable with as much hate as I have ever seen in my life. It’s disgusting.

    Talk ,talk, talk … but actions speak and the speaking has been done. CK got its renovation to bring facilities from 3rd world condition to really quite nice by 1958 standards. No amenities, no instructional benefit or expansion of capacity for the faculty or the students. The move of DeKalb Tech North was a convenience for DCSD and ended up being hamstrung by starving it of resources. The track, oh my heavens, the track. All the TALK ABOUT TRACKS and here is CK’s state ranked track team and PE students navigating the CK track like penguins on an ice flow.

    Yes, we need new BOE leadership! Yes, yes we need a new Super!! Yeah! It doesn’t matter one whit to CK students who occupies these padded chairs as long as the system is constituted as it is and operates with the principles and priorities it does. The students must still wait for capital and they will wait for natural community of support. As far as CCHS goes, I am a stakeholder there, too. And while I’m thrilled there will be a state-of-the-art facilities there soon, I am outraged that it was funded by the bond program rather than a straight-up SPLOST vote. I am outraged that the capacity plan is irresponsibly low and I’m outraged that our students will have to walk onto that sacred ground, that of Tucker, and Lakeside throughout their high school careers and wonder, “Why don’t we deserve this?”

    I had my fill of blaming and talk so went to work. My obsession with action has been like a disease that I can’t shake. Once I understood the dynamics that are arrayed against these children I became unbalanced and remain so. I have been an underdog sympathizer my entire life and I love to knock the high and mighty off their perch.

    Perhaps it is my own working class up-bringing. Perhaps it is the multi-generations of teachers on both my father’s and mother’s side and I’ve tired of hearing the same excuses by all parties as we watch the crisis in public education management go from absurdity to absurdity. Perhaps I’m just an ass … Merry Christmas! 🙂

  8. no name says:

    The morning news on Channel 2 just broadcast a report on DCS; I’m looking for their story on, but it does not seem to be posted yet.

    Tune in – I presume they will rebroadcast the story again later this morning.

  9. News from places where they spend their time focusing on education – and improvement in student learning.

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Open your notebooks and sharpen your pencils. School for thousands of public school students is about to get quite a bit longer.
    Five states were to announce Monday that they will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will take part in the initiative, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.

    Notice how they focus on selected schools – not entire systems. And the goal is to be globally competitive, not competing against each other locally.

    The report from the center, which advocates for extending instruction time, cites research suggesting students who spend more hours learning perform better. One such study, from Harvard economist Roland Fryer, argues that of all the factors affecting educational outcomes, two are the best predictors of success: intensive tutoring and adding at least 300 hours to the standard school calendar.

    Read more…

  10. concernedmom30329 says:

    Have you all seen this new program from Gwinnett? it sounds great. Wonder if DCSS is doing anything like this?

  11. dsw2contributor says:

    I found the WSB-TV, Channel 2 Report: DeKalb parents want to slow school closure plan (Posted: 6:28 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, 2012)

  12. What???

    The DeKalb County School System has released a sweeping 105-page document that outlines its proposed plans for the next five years, including closing and rebuilding existing schools.

    Tucker Middle School is one of the schools included in the plans. It could be torn down, along with seven other schools, and rebuilt to accommodate more students. Twelve other schools would be closed entirely, including Livsey Elementary School in Tucker.

    Tear down Tucker Middle? Really? Didn’t we just build Tucker Middle not all that long ago?! Is this 105 page doc different from the doc we already have? I didn’t see a plan to tear down Tucker MS.

    Other details of the 5-year plan include rebuilding eight schools and merging two middle schools with their high schools. The district would take on millions in new debt in order to speed up construction.

    Many parents said they’re irked by the administrators’ push to adopt the plan Dec. 10, before newly elected school board members take office.

    In a release, the district said, “The goal (of the plan) is to support teacher and student success by easing overcrowding at some schools, while building student-capacity in areas of the district.”

    What in the hell ever became of the $$$$ MGT America study and recommendations the board already approved under Tyson? Was this just an exercise in wasting time?!!

    FWIW, I distinctly remember the presenter from MGT stating emphatically at the final presentation that DCSS had to spend time first and foremost visualizing what kind of school system we want to be – what kind of programs and school choices do we want to offer? Paint a clear picture and then build that system. This is once again a blow torch approach with seemingly little vision.

    This is all I can find in the doc referring to a ‘vision’:

    Five Year Vision of Specialized Programs
    • Comprehensive Arts School to include mass media production
    • Mechatronics, aerospace, and biomechanics, and other STEM careers of the 21st Century
    • Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

  13. Insider says:

    If you check with the Georgia Dept of Education (GaDOE,) DCSD is working on a one-year extension granted by the Ga DOE for their five year plan. They’ve known this has been coming for more than a year – closer to two – yet they’ve waited until late in the game and are scrambling to come up with a plan now. Who dragged their feet? Why wait till now? Why hurry up and come up with poorly thought-out plans that are riddled with errors? Why wasn’t this done as part of the “Vision 2020” process two years ago?

  14. Concernedmom30329 says:

    I don’t think the state requires that the plan be anywhere as comprehensive as what was presented last week. This begs the question, why does DCSS need to announce redistricting that is 6 years away?

  15. September says:

    It seems wasteful to tear down Tucker Middle when it is less than 10 years old. Instead of rushing into another haphazard plan to update schools and redistrict, our school board needs to take some time to carefully review that 100 page document. Citizens living in this school district need to be able to comment on this plan. We deserve to have our questions answered and our concerns addressed.

  16. Tit For Tat says:

    I had to read the line about tearing down Tucker Middle School a few times…because I just couldn’t believe what i was reading. Are they kidding me…this is practically a NEW school… absolutely an outrage and just indicative of the rudderless direction of this system. We need a taxpayer revolt!

  17. Concernedmom30329 says:

    i have read and now reread the proposal and see nothing about tearing Tucker Middle down. Wonder where that came from?

  18. what a sham says:

    I have read the proposal a couple of times and see nothing about tearing down Tucker Middle. It discusses moving a few kids out of the Tucker cluster and in an alternative to changing the attendance area it says the school will need a classroom addition for 103 seats. The school currently is at 103% capacity

  19. Fed up teacher says:

    I teach at Cary Reynolds and we are over capacity now 1000 students! Why do always by pass us for new construction?? Our building is 51 years old. I’m guessing the same reason Cross Keys gets passed over! When will the community get behind the Buford Highway schools?!?! Our students deserve the same as the other students in DeKalb!!

  20. no name says:

    I’m shaking my head at tonight’s Superintendent speech. Even though she kept saying “The fact is, the fact is, the fact is”, there was absolutely nothing of substance in her speech.

    I will give her credit for having the cojones to use her line that went something like “The fact is DCS is accredited.” FOR HOW LONG?

    To demonstrate accomplishment, she turned to student musical performances. While the children were wonderful, I presume they learned to sing at their churches…. not in the DCS music classes that have been held for what, four months now?

    Next time, have a cash bar in the lobby – there would be no need for a SPLOST!

  21. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Actually i think the Dunaire thing is an afternschool program sponsored by the music teacher. I saw them in person this morning and they were great! The high school chorus has probably been singing together for years.

    Finally, just remember it will all be ok “because it is a brighter day in DeKalb.”

  22. crazymad says:

    This foolery is making my head swine. I can’t make heads or tails of this stupidity. When is SACS going to put it’s foot down? They seemed to be more focused on Clayton whose issues I haven’t heard reported nearly as much or as desperate as ours. There is not enough media coverage about what is happening in DCSS. Many educators are seeking other employment and may not return next year. Taking our kids out too. It has me considering moving out of the county. This board does whatever and cares less what taxpayers think.

  23. dsw2contributor says:

    magadams @ December 3, 2012 at 6:50 PM – Atkinson’s “State of the System” address itself did not begin until about 7:45.

    At the advertised start time of 6:30, they had a reception (with free food and drink) in the lobby outside of the auditorium. That 6:30 reception was announced internally, but not mentioned in the press release sent to the public. The free food and drink was not allowed inside the auditorium –where the cameras might see have seen it! –so everyone had to first chow down before the main event could begin.

    Atkinson’s production itself began at 7 with an honor guard presenting the colors, then there was the singing of the national anthem, then there were the board introductions, which were followed by Gene Walker redoing the board introductions — seriously! Gene Walker also insulted Atkinson’s sister by first introducing her as Atkinson’s *mother* – I hope that part was caught on tape!

    There were four television cameras in the room, so it should have been broadcast. I watched the feed in the lobby – they kept cutting to different views of the audience, apparently trying to show that it was a well attended event. What they did *not* show was the free food and drink (in the lobby) that was provided to attendees, nor did they mention that all of of DCS’s Principals and Assistant Principals were required to attend.

    They say a picture is worth a 1000 words; I wish I had taken pictures of the DCS Principals being sent thru the metal detector!

  24. dsw2contributor says:

    Reporter Newspapers: DeKalb superintendent urges focus on facts (Posted by Dan Whisenhunt on December 3, 2012. )

  25. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    In the spirit of figuring out who needs what, I thought these resources would be helpful:
    Facility Condition Assessment Reports and Data
    Summary of Facility Condition Assessments

  26. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Counties reason for the report, meeting and vote as per above “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.”
    Included in the documents on the counties website is the master plan for 2020. Presentation, tab, dated 21-Oct 2010. Check out page 32 of “Budget, Facilities and Finance committee meeting , it states the under the title of “Common Timeline…” Counties send their funding applications in July/August Is this relevant to the conversation? Are we moving this fast because it will take us 7 months to get the application/ball rolling?

    Can’t this wait until the new members are seated? There is absolutely no public comment desired in any of these changes. The way this reads, the county won’t get state approval until April 2014 after the GA Legislature approves funding for capital outlay. What the rush?

  27. plusone says:

    New lawsuit reported against county just reported on wsbtv……so sad


    The plaintiff is one of the good folks screwed by Atkinson and the District during their ruthless purge last spring and summer.

    Finally, Dekalb is getting called on its callous disregard of the Open Records Act. Ramsey claims ignorance…hah, Dickerson has stuck a sock in it.

    This could help blow the lid.

  29. From the article above:

    “The court fight comes after a county school board vote last month authorizing Atkinson to hire independent, outside counsel to represent her.” WTH?!?!?

  30. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Actually, the WSB story was far more disturbing than what was reported in AJC. I guess the attorney filed the paperwork today for the lawsuit. Apparently, someone (Ron Ramsey or someone in his office) offered the attorney a deal, drop the request for the text messages and the system will give her client and 11 others their jobs back. The attorney accepted the offer (of course, she did. Her job was to get them their jobs back.) The system then reneged on the offer and she filed the suit for the text messages.
    For the record, this is an issue of Atkinson not complying — not the system. She has private representation, at the system’s expense, and she is not cooperating.
    WSB said the court papers would be on their website, but they are not up yet.

  31. “Jeff Dickerson, a spokesman for the district, had no comment Monday, saying neither he, Atkinson nor the system’s chief legal officer, Ron Ramsey, had seen the lawsuit.”

    lol – that’s due to the fact that they put their hands in front of their faces and state, “I didn’t see that!”

    “Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers was one of the attorneys Atkinson hired.”

    Wow. Really? The former GA ATTY GENERAL? To cull emails?!!

    “The employee lawsuit also contends that Ramsey, the school system’s chief legal officer, made a deal with Oinonen: drop the open records request, and the district will reinstate your client and 11 other laid-off employees. Oinonen wrote that she accepted the deal but that DeKalb then reneged. (She also noted she had only four laid-off clients.)”

    Now, there you go. Ramsey is offering an olive branch – – how nice!

    “The law requires officials to take job performance into consideration when targeting employees for termination. Gipson contends in her lawsuit that DeKalb sidestepped this requirement by eliminating groups of employees then hiring back some regardless of prior performance. The school system has 30 days to respond.”

    Yep. Isn’t that what we’ve been asking for quite a while? But who would know? HR doesn’t keep decent enough records to figure it out!!

  32. plusone says:

    Who is paying for her representation?
    I really think this is the nail on the coffin….sacs can not ignore this mess any longer… .i predict a resignation coming soon

  33. I am definitely not holding my breath. SACS will not do a thing. Other than write a ‘letter’…

  34. concernedmom30329 says:

    We are paying for her representation. The taxpayers of DeKalb. She refused to use Sutherlin or any of our other attorneys.

  35. educator90 says:

    I agree DSW. The tax payers and children of DeKalb are the ones screwed. Tax payers keep paying their taxes expecting children to be the focus of what the district does, and the district keeps spending gobs of money on lawyers that frankly we don’t have, and shouldn’t be necessary if the focus of education was prominent in everything the district did.

    Large schools that cowtail to certain groups of parents and do little to improve the quality of education that our children receive. Newer schools or schools with new additions are being talked of being torn down to be rebuilt. This is wasteful spending.

    SACHS is a waste of tax payer dollars and does little for educating our children, or ensuring that our children are receiving an education.

    I don’t see change in the future for our children, and they will be the ones ultimately screwed by all of this. Atkinson needs to go, but does the entire staff at the palace, school board, and anyone else making spending decisions.

  36. DeKalb Mom says:

    I continue to be appalled by these moves. Our local elementary is about to be moved from top 50 district to a school ranked 228in the state. We have a strong community, strong magnet program, strong foundation, and some of the highest scoring students in our district. This hasty move (after resolving to leave us in tact in our district after the last redistricting 2 yrs ago) infuriates me. New schools? More bonds? More debt? Irresponsible. Enough is enough. Leave our kids alone and focus on resources and teachers to help them all thrive in the classroom instead.

  37. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Atkinson has lost her credibility and used up the good will with those of us who opposed her but chose to support her. People are just weary of the board, the central office employees and her cabinet. It was a calculated move to conduct all this business right before a major holiday. Everyone is focused elsewhere and most people are apathetic simply out of self preservation at this point.
    The fact is…Atkinson has officially arrived. Anyone else notice she seems quite pleased with herself?

  38. Teachingmom says:

    Please show up for this if you can!!!! It is during the day but I hope those who can come, will. Wear red and sit together….maybe the press will notice you.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    The DeKalb County school board will meet Thursday at 2 p.m., first to go behind closed doors for a personnel and legal matter, then at 3:30 p.m. for a public discussion on proposed school closures and attendance line changes.

    Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson recently recommended the closure of a dozen schools that were slated for renovations while using the savings to accelerate work on other projects. She also recommended issuing $80 million in bonds against future sales tax revenue to fund work earlier.

    The board is scheduled for a final vote at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10. Both meetings are at 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd., Stone Mountain.

  39. dekalbite2 says:

    Why don’t they just place these non teaching Instructional Coaches back in the classroom? There are plenty of vacancies now that so many teachers are retiring. Rehiring 11 highly paid non teaching personnel costing $80,000 to $100,000 each (close to a million dollars) while students sit 35+ to a classroom is ridiculous.

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