DSW editorial staff met to discuss the concerns of our readers regarding our call for 4th district representation on the State Board of Education before a decision is made about recommending removal of the DeKalb Board of Education. Having listened to and evaluated your comments, pro and con, we now believe that 4th District representation won’t make any difference and, in fact, may create an unacceptable delay. Accordingly, we have taken that out of our Open Letter to the State Board. We have made a few other editorial changes, as well. (In case you are wondering, that Open Letter had not yet been sent to the individual members of the State Board until we could reach a consensus with our editorial staff.) Thanks for your input!
January 21, 2013
DeKalb School Watch Two (DSW) has been monitoring DeKalb County School System (DCSS) for the past 3 years, maintaining and publishing an open-access archive of documentable information. DSW provides a safe platform for critical information dissemination and discussion without the threat of retribution from DCSS. It has taken a while, but teachers and others on the front lines and/or being abused by the DCSS superintendent, senior administrators, school principals and school board finally trust us. We are an all-volunteer staff with extensive experience in DeKalb County Schools (15 years or more per person) who also have full-time jobs, families and community commitments – in addition to our work on DeKalb School Watch blog. A year of publishing as a WordPress blog and DSW has passed the benchmark of 1 million unique views.
After live-blogging during the January 17, 2013 hearing for DeKalb County Schools Board of Education before the Georgia Board of Education, the DSW editorial staff met to compare notes. Quite a lot of misinformation and half-truths were tendered on January 17. Our concern was and is:
- A reluctance on the part of most DeKalb School Board members to speak plainly, bluntly and directly, thereby giving you what we know to be misinformation.
Truthiness vs Truthfulness. Below are some of the more egregious examples of DeKalb School Board members’ displays of truthiness [“the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary] at the January 17, 2013 hearing:
●Disappearance of Textbook Funds
DCSS Board chair Gene Walker defended the apparent disappearance of millions of dollars from a line of credit – and the mis-spending of hundreds of thousands more – intended for textbooks, labeling concerns as “rumors” and saying that there were invoices and receipts for the spent funds. He said “certainly someone” has the job of tracking the books. Who? He did not know. He is just sure that all the books must be “somewhere in the system.”
Walker did not mention what the KPMG audit (NOT a forensic audit as touted by Superintendent Atkinson) of the supposed textbook transactions actually said about them:
“Textbook Line of Credit
“KPMG was asked to gain an understanding of disbursements made from the $23,460,000 Bank of America line of credit. There were six disbursements, totaling $10,567,743.03, from the line of credit between December 28, 2009 and March 7, 2012.
“KPMG requested support for the 6 disbursements. Upon our review we noted that four of the six were for textbooks, and the other two disbursements were related to professional fees. KPMG received and analyzed invoices for only three of the four disbursements for textbook purchases. The District was not able to provide invoices for the remaining disbursement. KPMG obtained the Purchase Order numbers associated with this disbursement and obtained the invoice information from the Purchase Order file we had previously created.”
|Type of Purchase||Vendor||Date||Amount||Support Provided|
|Non-Textbook||King & Spalding||
The line of credit for textbooks went to pay the underwriter (Merchant Capital) $164,220.00 and the law firm (King & Spalding) $71,700. Further, they located only 3 of the 4 supposed textbooks invoices. There was NO documentation for an August 10, 2010 disbursement of $1,276,513.81 (made under Tyson’s watch). And no one has located any of the textbooks.
We were also surprised that Gene Walker did not explain that the DCSS Board changed its policy regarding money the superintendent could spend without prior Board approval to satisfy an earlier request from AdvancED/SACS. Per DCSS Board policy, the change was read, publicly discussed in a DCSS Board work session, and left for 30 days for comments before voting on it. At no time did Atkinson or anyone on staff at DCSS indicate that the reporting requirements of the updated policy were not do-able with present personnel, software and equipment.
However, when Walker requested information, as specified in the policy, from Atkinson, she refused saying that she would need 5 or 6 additional employees and about $500,000 to accommodate his policy-based request. Using human discretion, Walker then asked Atkinson if she could provide the information for all expenditures between $75,000 and $100,000 (a smaller universe of expenditures) as a way to show AdvancED that DCSS was making an attempt to comply. Again Atkinson refused and complained to AdvancED/SACS that Walker was micromanaging and overstepping the bounds of his authority.
●More on Money Management
To be or not to be aggressive in tracking and managing DCSS funds … that is the question. In their most recent Special Team Report, AdvancED/SACS accuses the DCSS Board of being too aggressive and “interrogating” staff members when asking questions at Board meetings. We observe every Board meeting and we never saw anything that came even close to “interrogation.” In fact, something is going so badly wrong that we wanted Board members to ask even tougher questions. Invariably, staff members would come to the meetings unprepared to answer the most basic questions. They would promise to have the answer(s) by the next Board meeting, but they never did.
Subsequently, we discovered that Susan Hurst, the former Budget Manager for DCSS and now CFO for Decatur City Public Schools was, possibly acting with the knowledge of Larry Kimmel, Director of Finance, independently re-doing DCSS’s cash budget as a modified accrual budget to present for audit by the State. In doing this, Hurst also had to “cross walk” the DCSS chart of accounts to the State chart of accounts because DCSS’s records are not kept congruent with the State’s chart of accounts. (Nancy Jester’s blog and her statement to the State Board on Wednesday, January 17, 2013 noted that AdvancED failed to cite DCSS for non-compliance with financial reporting pursuant to their manual.)
Inexplicably, however, Hurst did NOT inform the DCSS Board about her independently created modified accrual budget. Knowing the DCSS Board was using incorrect information, but that the State auditors would be none the wiser, Hurst allowed the Board to review DCSS financials and make budgeting decisions without providing the more accurate accrual reports, nor did she correct Board members’ public statements suggesting DCSS was flush with cash. We ask that you summon or subpoena Susan Hurst to publicly address this issue before the State Board.
On January 17, 2013, you (as a Board) criticized the DCSS Board for not being aggressive enough in tracking the money, in direct opposition to AdvancED/SACS’ position. So, which is it to be – more aggressive or not so much?
Below is an example of the e-mails from DCSS Board member Sarah Copelin-Wood (Leadership DeKalb drop-out) to a constituent, Faye Andresen (Leadership DeKalb, Class of 2001; SPLOST III Oversight Committee; active and respected community volunteer).
“January 7, 2007
It is evident from your e-mail that you are continuing to weave your web of deceitfulness.
It is also apparent that you are most definitely ‘Confused.’
Therefore, let me help you – The Election Is Over – Get Over It.
HAVE A GREAT ONE!!
This was not an isolated incident.
Read the full e-mail exchange at: http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/08/faye-andresen-writes.html Andresen said nothing at all about an election. She was firmly, but politely, seeking clarity on spending, specifically SPLOST vs. other spending.
For the most part, DCSS Board members, with the exception of Nancy Jester, do not open, read or respond to their e-mails. We send our DSW e-mails via readnotify.com which tells us if, when and where e-mail was opened, how long it was read and if it was forwarded. We have a communications record.
●Superintendent Cheryl Howell Atkinson’s Competence and “Capacity”
We were shocked that DCSS Board member Pam Speaks, after dancing around whether or not Superintendent Atkinson has the “capacity” to work with the DCSS Board, in response to your questions, finally said that, yes, Atkinson does have the capacity.
We do not think Atkinson has the capacity to be a school system superintendent. She has two bankruptcies on her record, about which she “neglected” to inform the DCSS board, for items that a reasonable person would label as frivolous. Atkinson made repeated errors in the application documents she submitted to DCSS. (DSW covered the bankruptcies and sloppy application work on the blog and sent information to DCSS Board members prior to their vote on Atkinson making her the new school system superintendent.)
Atkinson’s staff submits, with her approval, incomplete and poorly done reports. Her staff, with her approval, comes to board meetings unable to answer the most basic questions and regularly misleads board members. Perhaps the most damning issue concerning Atkinson’s character and “capacity” to be a school system superintendent is her cool acceptance of plagiarism by a former consultant, Ralph Taylor, now a highly paid (6 figures) central office employee who blatantly plagiarized work that he submitted to DCSS for payment.
Superintendent Atkinson did not show up to the January 17, 2013 hearing, allegedly due to her father’s illness, nor did she send a representative. However, Atkinson kept Ramona Howell Tyson on the payroll – committing DCSS to pay for 2 superintendents during a time of financial crisis – and Tyson bears significant responsibility for the current financial straits of DCSS. Why did Atkinson not send Tyson? Prior to Tyson becoming the Interim Superintendent, a choice made by the indicted Crawford Lewis and approved by the DCSS Board, Tyson had been the COO – and in that capacity, likely approved payment to Lewis for the very things that figured heavily into his indictment on RICO charges. Tyson was one of 4 direct reports to Lewis.
Legal fees are out of control and this DCSS Board has allowed that to continue, unabated, instead of decisively nipping it in the bud. In fact, this Board has approved spending additional money for legal counsel for former Board members, additional legal representation for Lewis and additional legal representation for Superintendent Atkinson (this is to DEFEND her refusal to release her text messages in yet another DeKalb County School System lawsuit!) This Board also is being sued by the teachers and staff in a class-action suit for the Board’s approval of halting their matching retirement contributions. If the teachers win this lawsuit – and we think they will — it will cost DeKalb over $50 million!
Here’s what we could find regarding spending on lawyers from the 2012 public access documents at the state:
Legal Counsel Firms
|Alexander & Associates [General Counsel]||
|Alston & Bird, LLP [Everson v. DCSS]||
|Drew Eckl & Farnham, LLP [Workers Comp]||
|Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson [Heery case*, former board members]||
|Foltz Martin, LLC [Heery case*, Simone Moon]||
|Goodman McGuffey Lindsey & Johnson, LLP [Heery case*; Lewis]||
|King & Spalding [Heery case*]||
|Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, LLP [General Counsel]||
The fees in the table above are only for 2012 and do not include excessive monies spent in the immediately preceding years, projected legal fees for 2013, nor legal fees owed to the prosecution when DCSS loses case after case after case.
●New DCSS Board Members?
What about the newest members of the DeKalb School Board? Elected in July 2012, but not sworn in until January 2013 – five months! – none of them – not one! – took the initiative to ask about new board member training. Contrast that with Nancy Jester. When elected to the board, Nancy Jester asked about and obtained new member training during the less-than-2-months between her election and when she was sworn in. We don’t need Board members who don’t know enough to ask about training, but apparently are willing to spend their time throwing their weight around.
That said, tossing out the DCSS Board will in no way solve DeKalb School System’s problems. For insight, read part of an article written by former school board member, Jim Redovian, for the Dunwoody Crier: Go here to read more.
“Call me a dreamer, but if we want to move our children to the next level to compete in the future, we must look at ways outside of the box.
“Another area we must look to improve is how the systems are governed. The school board has, by law, only the authority to hire and fire the superintendent, approve and oversee the budget, which, by the way, is developed and proposed by the superintendent and to set policy, which also is written by the superintendent.
“The board has no authority over the day-to-day operation of the system, which includes the hiring and firing of employees. The superintendent is responsible for all administration, curriculum and day-to-day business.”
If you have read this far, we thank you for doing so. Perhaps what we have said here has brought up some other questions. We will be glad to provide you with any information we have. You may contact DeKalb School Watch at email@example.com.
DeKalb County taxpayers and voters have been kicked around enough. Our children are suffering and their prospects for the future are permanently damaged. Our teachers are being treated like 2nd class citizens instead of the educated, caring professionals they are. Our property values — for many of us our major investment — are in a freefall. One of the most diverse — and formerly, fastest growing — counties in the Southeast, an economic engine for Metro Atlanta, DeKalb County’s prospects for prosperity and continuing growth are dimming. That’s bad news — very bad! — for State tax collection.
This quote from above-the-fold on the front page of the January 20, 2013 AJC says it all:
“The Wisconsin man relocating to Georgia hasn’t yet stepped foot in the state, but he already knows one thing: Stay away from DeKalb County.”
DeKalb School Watch Editors