News from the Crier

Yesterday’s Dunwoody Crier is chock full of reports about our school issues.

In it, we learn that:

Grand jury rips schools, Nancy Jester speaks up on SAC

Long-time board member Paul Womack, who was defeated for re-election, took to WSB-TV to point to an audit by KPMG that found $200 million in spending by the school system before approvals were granted. …

Last week, DeKalb District Attorney Robert James said he would take a few weeks to consider whether to ask judges to allow him to empanel a special purpose grand jury to look at school issues. …

Nancy Jester had been out of the country when SACS took action, but when she returned she wrote blog posts that were almost equal attacks on the board and SACS.

“How ironic that I may be removed from office exactly because I discovered and made public the financial misdeeds of the third largest school district in our state,” she wrote. “What message does this send to board members around the state or to future board members in DeKalb?”

Jester reminds that she was the board member who for almost two years has identified and discussed financial issues discussed in the SACS report. She tells of having the support of only two board members in her analysis and being publicly misled by the administration.

“I have written that it appears to me that our budgets for the past six years were, at best, a weak suggestion of how to spend money and, at worst, a document based on deception.”

In addition, Tom Taylor wrote a column for the Crier outlining exactly what it would take for Dunwoody to create their own school system:

It’s a long, tough road to a separate Dunwoody school system

It looks like he’s going to give it a serious go… backed by a unanimous vote of approval by the Dunwoody City Council.

The first thing that your legislative team needs is a Carl Vinson Institute study showing all of the financials. The state has indicated that they will not fund one, so either the city of Dunwoody or another independent group would have to commission that.

After the study is complete, I would drop a bill and ask for hearings. As with all constitutional issues, we would have hearings on it in year one (2013) of the biennial session and could possibly vote on it in 2014. If it passed everything in the General Assembly, we would need to mobilize a statewide marketing effort, because again, it would be on every ballot in the state and we would need to be convincing someone on the other end of the state why Dunwoody needs our own school system and why they should vote for it.

I was at the “point of the spear” in the legislative efforts that successfully got the incorporation of Dunwoody done and later on the transfer of the parks for $100 per acre. We were fighting just DeKalb County at that time. I expect a lot of other counties to join them in opposing this legislation fiercely. This will be harder than cityhood to accomplish, so I just want to manage the expectations for the community of the amount of time, money and effort this will entail.

And a letter in the Crier from Fran Millar a few weeks ago described why the school board has back away from redistricting right now:

DeKalb system need not redistrict now

It has been stated by DeKalb County Schools that if DeKalb does not redistrict, then the county will lose $40 million.

Here are the facts directly from the State Department of Education:

  • Every school system must submit a five-year facilities plan to the DOE for capital outlay money
  • The plan must include how the district will be organized regarding grades in schools such as 9-12, 6-12, etc.
  • The plan also has a priority lists for projects
  • The plan is then submitted to the DOE for review and a validation team visit the district to review the plan with the superintendent and staff members, usually a one day process.
  • The plan is then approved by the local board and submitted to the state board for approval

This process must now be completed by June 2013. DeKalb has actually been given a one-year extension to complete the plan.

Approval is not contingent on DeKalb redistricting and DeKalb can actually amend an approved plan at a later date.

Many thanks to the Dunwoody Crier for keeping us informed!

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28 Responses to News from the Crier

  1. In addition, the Crier has this to say about the Jan 17 hearing:

    The Georgia State Board of Education has summoned the members of the DeKalb County Board of Education to a hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17. The summons came after the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools placed the school system on probation until Dec. 31 this year for inadequate standards of governance and supervision.

    The summons issued by Barbara Hampton, the state board chair, orders the DeKalb group “to present evidence as to why the State Board should not recommend to the Governor that he suspend, with pay, the Members of the DeKalb County BOE” pursuant to the law.

    The local school board members are ordered to file a witness list and a brief description of anticipated testimony, a document list and any stipulated facts. Critics of the school board will have the same opportunity, though none are named in the scathing SACS report.

    A new state law authorized the state board to conduct the trial-like proceeding and gives the state board the option to make a recommendation to Gov. Nathan Deal. He, in turn, can act on a recommendation to dismiss the board. If they choose, individual board members can re-apply for their jobs.

    — Dick Williams

  2. Further, for those interested in the Austin Elementary plans, as well as other SPLOST IV projects in the cluster, Joshua Williams, executive director of facilities management attended a DCPC meeting a few weeks ago that the Crier reported on here:

    New Austin school is in district’s sights

    Basically, Austin sits on a 10 acre site. The state says elementary schools require 14 acres. Therefore either a waiver must be granted (after an environmental study of the land is completed) or we must find a new location. Middle schools will see their new tracks by the beginning of next school year. They are considering demolishing the vacant middle school on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road near the intersection of North Shallowford Road. And –

    The new Chamblee High School building is on track for completion by December 2013. Parents also learned that the new school will be equipped with wifi access. Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson plans to have wifi access for all schools in the district within the next two years, said Williams.

    The CHS gym building and natatorium will also be ready for students by January 2014, but the auditorium will not be open until July 2014. The old high school must be demolished before the auditorium is built.

    The high school will also have baseball and softball fields with new dugouts and a multi-use practice field. Parents asked if the fields will have lights and officials said there were no plans for lights as it is not a district standard.

    When pressed, Williams said that he could make no promises for lighted fields even if the project comes under budget. In the event there are surplus funds, Williams told parents that Atkinson has directed those dollars to be moved to program contingency to support the whole of the district. This is true for all construction projects, not just CHS.

    A foundation could purchase lights for the field, said Williams.

  3. Parents for DeKalb Schools is encouraging everyone to write the state school board and attend the Jan 17 hearing:

    ATTEND the hearing on January 17 at 1:00 p.m. to show your concern about the children of DeKalb County and the repeated lack of responsibility that the DeKalb Board of Education has demonstrated. There will be no opportunity for public comment. However, your presence is important.

    The hearing will be held in the State BOE Boardroom at:
    Georgia Department of Education
    2070 Twin Towers East,
    205 Jesse Hill Jr Drive
    Atlanta GA 30334

    Click for map/directions.

    And email your state board –
    The State Board members’ email addresses are as follows:

    (Simply copy and paste all of these into the “To:” field of your email. It’s OK just to send one email to all of them at .)

    lzechmann@gmail.com
    eragsdale@doe.k12.ga.us
    hrice@doe.k12.ga.us
    disrael@doe.k12.ga.us
    kmason@doe.k12.ga.us
    bahampton@doe.k12.ga.us
    mroyal@doe.k12.ga.us
    wbarrs@doe.k12.ga.us
    lwinter@doe.k12.ga.us
    bburdette@doe.k12.ga.us
    glewis@doe.k12.ga.us
    arice@doe.k12.ga.us
    mmurray@doe.k12.ga.us
    state.superintendent@doe.k12.ga.us

    Complete contact information for the State Board can be found here if you’d prefer to call.

  4. plusone says:

    I wonder exactly how muvh Dekalb would psy for a bit of good press right about now? $99,975.99?

  5. A DCSD Mom says:

    I sense that other counties around the state would be resistent to the creation of a new school system, but I’m not entirely sure why…could anyone explain?

  6. Dunwoody Taxpayer says:

    Watch the movie “The Cartel”. NJ has, per student, approximately 15 times the number of school districts as relatively nearby Maryland and the administrative overhead serves no good purpose.

    One of the “Threads of Complaint” around the DeKalb Schools seems to be that we have a Jobs Program on our hands. Creating five or ten times more positions for superintendents and administrators will not increase the “value proposition” of public schools. Bearing in mind these are taxpayer dollars at work even if these mini-me superintendents start at a lower pay than recent DCSS supers, compensation is guaranteed to increase.

    A significant root cause to all our problems is the “I don’t care about anything else so long as I get what I want for MY kid”. I live in the ‘Woody and would be happy if they started their own schools so long as it were innovative in the way it is funded so revenue aligns with the “It’s MY Kid” thinking. Otherwise it seems to simply make a big problem a bunch of smaller ones that add up to something worse–like trying to pick up spilled mercury with chopsticks.

    Maybe we should just cut to the chase and cut vouchers.

  7. concerned citizen says:

    If I were the Governor, I would feel obligated to provide vouchers to our students that will be Juniors or Seniors next year.

  8. howdy1942 says:

    I hope that the Governor can find some way to spare Nancy Jester in what appears to be a certainty – removing the Dekalb County School Board. Two years ago, Dunwoody removed Redovian when it elected Jester. The 4th District just removed Womack in favor of McMahon. Also, two years ago, Zepora Roberts was thankfully removed and replaced with Donna Elder. These three are not the problem. I think that the Governor should take a very narrow action – removing Walker, Cunningham, Copelin-Wood, and Speaks. These board members have served at least years and it has become very clear that many of today’s problems have their origin in that six years. That would leave five board members who have had little to do with the current situation. I would urge the Governor to appoint only two new members to bring the total to 7 – which is to be the size of the board as of 2014.

    Nancy Jester is right – she has merely been a whistleblower. She should not be punished for her actions by removing her. She is simply not in the same boat with Walker, Cunningham, and Copelin-Wood. In order for Dekalb Schools to improve, the facts surrounding all of what has happened needed to be aired and Nancy Jester has done just that. SACS would not have had the basis for doing what it did without the hard work of Jester. I strongly believe that she should remain – she is very, very knowledgeable of the situation and could spare the new board a lot of learning time. In fact, I think that she should be appoint Chairman by the Governor.

    In addition to the four mentioned above, Superintendent Atkinson and former interim-Superintendent Tyson must also go. I also have serious doubts as to whether the Dekalb County Attorney Robert James can be relied upon to pursue any charges which might result. The Governor should appoint an independent attorney to pursue this matter. My very strong suspicion is that there has been criminal wrongdoing and willful violation of school board policy and state law.

    I strongly support Nancy Jester – and I don’t live in Dunwoody!

  9. This is a very interesting news bit from the Google alerts:

    SACS has officially put the DeKalb Schools on a one year probation, mainly for financial mismanagement. Is it any wonder that Narconon slipped in to capitalize on the ruin?

    http://forum.reachingforthetippingpoint.net/index.php/topic,12122.0.html

    PRWeb posted the following article on December 20, 2012 :
    Narconon Georgia Delivers Holiday Drug Education Targeted at Staying Safe During the Season

    In recent weeks, hundreds of children learned about the dangers of drugs through interactive drug education. In one Dekalb County school, Narconon presenters learned from the teachers that the major drug of abuse was marijuana and that some of the families of the children were smoking crack.

    One class of 300 learned about the dangers of both drugs. The children were taught refusal skills through role playing and discovered there were several ways they could be comfortable in telling their friends that they didn’t want to use drugs.

    The Superintendent shall develop and maintain a wellness plan that is in compliance with federal law, including the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kinds Act of 2010. This plan shall address nutrition education, physical activity, use of nutrition guidelines, and other wellness-based activities in the schools and shall include measures for accountability and evaluation.

    Critics of a Narconon antidrug program for schools have charged that concepts at the core of the program are doctrinal beliefs of the Church of Scientology and that the medical theories underlying the program are irresponsible “pseudoscience.”

    +++

    There is a civil case involving the death of a narconon student participant – – in fact there have been at least 7 deaths nationwide just this year under the watch of this program. In the court documents recently unsealed in the case, there is much evidence of a poorly run, almost inept organization. The group is linked to Scientology.
    http://forum.reachingforthetippingpoint.net/index.php/topic,8408.msg26302.html#msg26302

  10. Don McChesney has now posted his own thoughts on the SACS probation:

    SACS – FRIEND OR FOE

    http://blog.donfordekalb.com/2013/01/03/sacs-friend-or-foe/

    He begins,

    Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for. I’m going to tell you the politically incorrect story behind the AdvancED/SACS Special Review Report. Please note that I am going to use the pronoun “I” even though, AdvancED/SACS has some sort of prohibition on its use.

    Today’s post is going to cover two issues raised in the report – (1) The Coralwood Shuttle and (2) the textbook line of credit.

    Click the link above to read the rest. Way to tell it like it is Don!

  11. howdy1942 says:

    If all of this mismanagement reported by McChesney was going on in the administration and the BOE was being blindsided, why didn’t the board call the Superintendent on the carpet? Why wasn’t she told to clean up her act or the board would take action to terminate her for cause? It appears that both Tyson and now Atkinson were out of control and yet the board did nothing. Why? Why wasn’t Atkinson required by the board to list the administrative positions that were eliminated as well as the people who were RIFed? Why are children going to school without textbooks? If that $12 million was spent, where are the purchase orders to show that it was spent for textbooks? And where and when were those textbooks delivered? I have had the same cellphone for years and it has never broken. I’ve driven the same car for 11 years and have incurred only normal repair costs – brakes, a water pump, and an alternator. Why does the Superintendent have so many items that break – and require replacements? A new cell phone, a new car, etc. – why? Confidential information that was supposed available only to school board members was leaked about other candidates for the vacant superintendent position over a year ago. These leaks were very damaging and embarrassing to the other candidates as well as to the Dekalb School System and the board promised to investigate and get to the bottom of these leaks, and report. It hasn’t done so – why?

    And the Chairman of the Boards says he knows of nothing “egregious” or wrong. What?

  12. momfromhe11 says:

    OK, y’all – now are you seeing why having Don on the Board was a good thing? Did you never notice that he asked questions (so does Pam Speaks), and his questions were as sharp as Nancy’s (thank you Nancy for being a persistent voice for the citizens)?

    I fear District 2 citizens do not have the same sort of representation anymore.

  13. curious says:

    momfromhell, I disagree. Although Don may have asked questions, he did nothing to fix these persistent, entrenched problems. He says he voted to approve the line of credit in 2009 because he hadn’t yet learned of the administration’s dishonesty. Many of us parents knew of these deep, deep problems and dishonesty long before that. I mean, sheesh, when was Crawford Lewis indicted? Early 2010? You fear that District 2 citizens, of which I am one, do not have the same sort of representation — thank goodness!

  14. concernedmom30329 says:

    Curious
    Do you really think Orson will be any different? I don’t. I believe he will trade his vote and his soul to protect the things that are important to him. Only when I see differently, will I believe that he has the best interest of the system in place. I have known him for many years and don’t believe for one minute he is anything but a calculating politician, looking to run for the next office down the road.
    I also think the emails that have been published here, prove that it is all about Fernbank for him. Time will tell and his behavior will tell if he can push his adoration for his home school aside to serve the entire district and school system.
    As to your assertion that Don should have known, I find that strange. All across the country, systems were leasing books. It was a common tool at the time. Lewis didn’t seem like a criminal, he seemed incompetent and over his head, but not a criminal.
    Orson is also not a fan of Jester and whether your like her positions or not, unless more board members ask the hard questions and demand answers, we won’t get any better.
    Finally, I expect Orson to quickly align with Walker and that alone should worry everyone.

  15. DeKalb Observer says:

    So curious, you feel more comfortable with your newly elected rep, who is closely tied to Gene Walker, THE Gene Walker who was called out BY NAME for inappropriate behaviors identified in the SACS report? Wasn’t this new rep already accused of inappropriate contact with building level administrators in the SACS report? Don didn’t represent me, but I appreciated his professional approach and desire to represent his entire district. I think it is a blessing for him that he is now clear of this hot mess.

  16. curious says:

    concernedmom30329 and DeKalb Observer,

    I wasn’t criticizing Don to boost up Marshall Orson. Indeed, I’ve written the governor, the members of the state school board, and Superintendent Barge urging them to remove all the board members — sitting and newly elected — because they have not demonstrated that they are effective as a board and I have no confidence that they will do so in the future, even with the new members. Along that line, I do think we are better off without Don. He’s a nice guy but he was not effective. He should have been more skeptical in 2009. We all were.

  17. curious says:

    concerned mom and DeKalb Observer,

    I wasn’t criticizing Don to praise Marshall Orson. Indeed, I’ve written Governor Deal, the members of the state school board, and Superintendent Barge urging them to remove all board members — old and new — because they have not demonstrated that they are effective as a board and I am not convinced that they will be effective, even with the new members.

    Don was part of this ineffective board. Perhaps he was too trusting. In his recent blog entry, he wrote that he believed the administration in 2009. I think he should have been more skeptical. We were. Cerebration started the original DeKalb School Watch in early 2009, I think. Even then, she and the people posting were very distrustful of the administration, based on their actions. For example, on February 24, 2009, there was a post entitled, “A review of recent data from the DCSS Planning Department’s website tells the story – Arabia has pulled a bait and switch.” On February 21, a post about administrative costs stated, “Maybe we need a school board in DeKalb County who also will investigate the amount of money in personnel, which actually have direct contact with the students daily.” There were posts about the shameful condition of the schools, the Lewis/Pope debacle, the “salaries, bloat, compensation and budget of DeKalb Schools,” and on and on.

    I stand by my original comments. Whether Marshall Orson will be effective — or even have the chance to sit on the board — remains to be seen.

  18. curious says:

    sorry for the double post!

  19. howdy1942 says:

    Just saw in the news that one of the witnesses that was to testify against former superintendent Crawford Lewis has died. Why has it taken over two years to bring this case to trial? Lewis as well as the people of Dekalb County are entitled to a speedy trial – this is not it!! Maybe they are just trying to wait for everyone involved in the case to die and then they can drop the case.

  20. Yes, apparently, Cointa Moody, who was originally charged with crimes, along with Dr. Lewis and Pat Pope, had died of natural causes. Not too long ago, the DA dropped the charges against Moody and she was scheduled to testify for the prosecution.

    Witness in DeKalb schools conspiracy case dies

  21. From the AJC:

    DeKalb County school board member Donna Edler will hold a town hall meeting from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to discuss the effect of the school district’s recent drop in accreditation.

    The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools lowered DeKalb’s accreditation to “probation” last month, saying it had documented evidence of financial mismanagement, school board meddling in hiring and other problems.

    The action could lead to removal of the school board. The meeting is at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, 5140 Memorial Dr., Stone Mountain.

  22. John says:

    Edler hosting one-hour meeting to address problem. Yeah, one hour is just enough time. … NOT!

  23. DeKalb Observer says:

    With Cointa’s Moody death, i suspect the case against Lewis and Pope/Reid will not move forward. The prosecution has dragged its feet because there is intense pressure NOT to expose the widespread corruption in the school system. With the death of the chief witness, whom it took two years to turn, they have a plausible excuse not to proceed. Just watch.

    And as for curious’ odd rabbit trail that Don McChesney “should” have known X and Y – why do you suppose he was the board member who most often voted with Nancy Jester? For the past ten years, so many of us – Cerebration especially – was aware of rampant incompetence, but there was the belief – reinforced when the indictment was handed down – that much of the corruption was confined to Lewis and his immediate reports. Under Atkinson, and with the ascendance of Gene Walker to board chair, it’s become clear that there is no expectation of integrity at any level of the school system – even the lower-level paper-pushing staffers.

  24. Our thoughts, exactly! For critical thinkers, the message is that Edler does not have a very deep grasp of the issues. She is simply grandstanding in an attempt to go after the publicity because she desperately wants to chair the school board. You can bet that Nancy Jester has spent hours and hours double-checking her facts, followed by more hours writing the articles she created for her blog.

  25. howdy1942 says:

    With Cointa Moody’s death, I am virtually certain that the Lewis/Pope case will not proceed. I don’t know what there is with District Attorney Robert James, but he just doesn’t seem to have much motivation on anything! The allegations against Lewis/Pope show contempt for every citizen of Dekalb County and it needs to be tried. My suspicion is that this case will be delayed once again as we move closer to April. I believe that justice should be served – that the Prosecution and the Defense needs to have adequate time to prepare their respective cases, but two years is utterly ridiculous!

  26. Embarrassed Employee says:

    A few thoughts…..there is an underlying political reason Lewis has not been tried yet. Let me say this, from everything I have read, all LEWIS really received was a side relationship with perks, and some sports tickets. Yes, he was negligent in his duties as Super, but Pope and her hubbie are the ones who stiffed tax payers with sub par constructed schools and milked out some cash too.

    Elder…she is not going to push and dig for the real answers from the staff. We need someone to hold the Super and her staff accountable for the information they provide. On her meeting…at least she is willing to address the issue. I admire her for that. Atkinson, Walker, and the rest are parading around like all is well and that they don’t owe us a explanation, when they do.

    I am beyond outraged at this entire bad reality show. The Real Corrupt School Systems Of Atlanta starring THE DeKalb School District…. As an employee I am embarrassed that if I take on one more furlough day I may indeed qualify for a food subsidy….I can no longer afford health insurance, and I have to sit by and watch this system not only screw me but screw my children out of their education. Dare I say anything to advocate for my own babies unless I want to feel the wrath of the Admin.

    People we have to got to pull together and get the word out to anyone that will listen. We should be passing out business cards with this website on it to further round up the troops. Atkinson and her peeps can not right this ship. She wasn’t anywhere near qualified for this job as many in the palace aren’t qualified for theirs either. Lets all work together to save this school system.

  27. Weary worker says:

    A billboard across from Admin center warning potential employees why NOT to work for the system would be a good start.

  28. tb4lyf says:

    My gosh, all this corruption..geez is there another way to educate our kids?.. because yall seem to have things to deal with, other than educating our children, so we’ll let yall continue at each others throats and educated our children, ourselves, seems yall dont have the time or the focus. As I read on, I promise I thought I was reading about some kinda “financial institution”..not a place for education, a place for our kids..

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