[DSW Note: Several of our loyal readers sent us some updates and related comments on yesterday’s events in DeKalb County Schools. We are publishing them anonymously, as requested. We are always very grateful for this kind of assistance! Thank you!]
Below is a brief summary of yesterday’s (December 6, 2012) called board meeting regarding the 5-Year Plan and Paying-Interest-on-Bonds vs. the Pay-As-You-Go Plan:
- Atkinson began with a statement that the reason for this plan is that it is tied to state funds that DeKalb has formerly lost out on because we did not present a plan. Our plan was actually due last year, but we were given a one-year extension because of our new leadership. We have now been given an extra month extension because of the recent backlash.
- Monday’s board vote will be to accept the DRAFT so that we can report to the state that we have begun the process. It is not a final vote in any way. It is a vote to begin the whole process.
- January will be filled with the regional public feedback forums at area high schools. There will also be an email address for feedback.
- Final vote for the go-forward plan is Wednesday, January 23, 2013. The plan can still be amended after that if the changes are “minor”, but “major” changes would need to go back through the state, which we do not want to do.
- After the January 23 vote, the state will visit and assess whether the plan makes sense for us to meet an overall approved plan deadline of April. The final procedural finalization is in June, but that is primarily a state thing. It will not mean that county-level public discussions are going on that long.
- Atkinson has already amended the draft plan she released last week. The changes largely only affect those areas where the 6-12 model was proposed. That has been undone and a replacement plan drawn up. No major changes in any other clusters. The newly re-worked plan is posted on the DeKalb County Schools website now under SPLOST IV: http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/splost-iv
- Region 2’s public input meeting will be at TuckerHigh School, January 15, 2013. Speakers can sign up at 5:30 PM on that day. There is a maximum of 30 speakers, 2 minutes each. The meeting will begin at 6:00 PM.
- Region 1’s public input meeting will be at DunwoodyHigh School, January 16, 2012. Same time plan.
- For areas with major changes, it looks like there will be meetings at the specific schools heavily affected. That list was up for only a second, so I didn’t get it.
Sale of Bonds vs. Pay-As-You-Go
- The most contentious topic was the bonds issue. The most expensive bond (super accelerated at $120 million-ish – can’t recall exact) is off the table due to legal constraints. So our choices are pay-as-you-go and the $80 million bond, which carries $6.5 million in interest. They say they can cover the $6.5 million by cancelling other planned SPLOST projects that are no longer necessary because of the 5-year plan (i.e., don’t renovate schools that are being closed).
- Nancy Jester and Don McChesney are strongly opposed to the use of bonds. They say the $6.5 million that we are saving by cancelling other projects should be spent on other small projects so that a wider range of schools benefits and also so that our tax money is going directly to our facilities, not to interest. Walker and Cunningham say that they would be doing the bonds “for the children” and that they are in support of them (big groan from the audience). The “acceleration” is only 6 months, so Nancy didn’t think 6 months was worth $6.5 million. Womack says he’s worried construction costs will increase in the “delayed” plan but hasn’t decided. Don and Nancy both asked Dr. Atkinson directly what she personally preferred, and she avoided an answer. Walker then said it didn’t matter what she personally thought because it was a board vote.
[DSW Note: Walker’s son sells these kind of bonds. Even if he recuses himself from the direct sale of bonds on behalf of DeKalb County Schools, we are confident that he will find a way to profit. We will file an Open Records Request for information on previously sold bonds.]
The meeting began at 3:30 PM and was adjourned at 4:30 PM. Walker attempted to adjourn at 3:50 after Atkinson spoke to say that Monday’s vote was not a final vote. He said they all had “another meeting” to go to and we could either adjourn or they could recess, the audience could wait for 30 minutes while they attended another meeting, and then resume the discussion of the latest changes at 4:30. Protest from the audience led them to continue with the discussion.
Here is a link to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Ty Tagami’s latest article was about DeKalb County Schools. It published last night, Thursday, December 6, 2012 (and buried by ajc.com by first thing this morning).
This is the paragraph in Tagami’s article that I was steamed by:
“Atkinson said the vote must occur by then (Wednesday, January 23, 2012) to secure $40 million in state funding. The transfer was supposed to occur sooner but she negotiated a delay of several weeks with state officials. The plan was due a year ago.”
So, she’s rushing a plan, which may not even be a good one, to get money that may not be needed and likely can’t be used for things we definitely need, like teacher salaries? Making such a drastic financial commitment without proper investigation of the financial implications may look exceptionally negative given the SACS investigation of the board. She’s already demonstrated that part of the plan was poorly conceived (combining middle and high schools), but is not giving time to consider the other ideas. Maybe some of the ideas are good, but we don’t have time to figure it out. We can’t trust anything on short notice, because she had to throw out such an obviously bad idea as the cornerstone of the plan. Why should we trust any of it?
Also in Tagami’s article: “Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson released her proposed charges last week and the school board is scheduled for an initial vote Monday with a final vote on the draft plans Jan. 23. That schedule — less than two months away interrupted by holidays — is longer than what officials were originally talking about: only one vote on Monday.”
Tagami’s article continues: “School board Chairman Eugene Walker acknowledged the public mistrust and frustration expressed in a flood of emails and phone calls and said Monday’s vote will merely initiate a planning process that includes parents. ‘So please don’t bless me out anymore about me betraying you,’ [Walker] told the crowd of about 50 on Thursday. Many of them skipped work to attend the meeting, which was scheduled at 3:30 p.m., also a source of irritation. Those who couldn’t make childcare arrangements brought their toddlers.”
How is any process supposed to include parents if the much of the planning time occurs over the 3 ½ week holiday break?
Over the past year Atkinson prioritized a “Balanced Scorecard” and an “Excellence in Education Plan” (with grammatical and logical errors in it) and changing the school calendar (which few people wanted and for which she provided misinformation), rather than working on this project. Atkinson’s misguided priorities don’t mean she should rush something else. She made her decisions regarding what to prioritize, knowing the 5-Year Plan was due and she should live by them.
I would love it if she would just put the time and energy into integrating all this feedback she gets at meetings and doing one thing at a time, carefully and accurately completed, before rushing off to try another half-done idea.
[DSW Note: We repeatedly warned the board that the careless errors in spelling, grammar and accuracy on Atkinson’s resume and her job application package (for both DeKalb and Atlanta – clearly she had to get out of Ohio one way or another) was a harbinger of her work to come. If a person cannot complete a job application and their own resume perfectly, then they won’t do any better if they actually get the job.]