So, what’s the latest?

April, 2012: DeKalb DA calls for investigation of school board, saying he had no choice… Any news? Did the judges ever make a decision to convene a special grand jury? Or are we all waiting for the state board and the Governor now? Are we taking a back seat to CEO Burrell Ellis and Andrea Sneiderman? What’s up? Are we forgotten?

In addition, here is another breaking story with no new information about the now infamous text messages:

State senator aides in DeKalb superintendent investigation

Story posted 2013.01.23 at 04:19 PM EST Mobile News

Channel 2 Action News has learned that a state legislator from Fulton County played a small role in a dispute that has turned into a simmering controversy among DeKalb County school officials.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has learned the question the DeKalb County School Board wants answered is whether Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson authorized her chief legal officer to offer some former employees jobs if they would drop their demand for her texts and emails.

The board had been expected to consider a confidential report on the matter Wednesday.

School board chairman Eugene Walker told Channel 2 Action News the board’s outside legal counsel was ready to deliver a report on the text and email controversy.

The board said they would discuss it behind closed doors Wednesday.

Belcher was asked to leave, but walker told him, “We did not receive the report today. And, we will not receive it today. It will be presented next week, next Wednesday.”

“Is this going to be a public document, once it’s presented,” Belcher asked Walker.

“I do not know. I’m going on the basis of what legal tells me,” Walker told Belcher.

It will be at least a week, maybe longer, before we find out what the text and email investigation turned up.

But Wednesday, Belcher also learned that a state legislator played role in the dispute as an intermediary.

The pivotal figure in this dispute is Ronald Ramsey, the chief staff lawyer for the DeKalb school system, who also happens to be a state senator from DeKalb County.

According to our sources, Ramsey told investigators that Atkinson asked him to make the jobs-for-emails offer.

Belcher confirmed that Ramsey turned to his state senate colleague Vincent Fort of Atlanta and Fort reached out to attorney Julie Oinonen.

She’s the one who filed several open records requests for the disputed texts and emails and who subsequently sued the school system on behalf of one former school system employee.

Fort confirmed his role Wednesday, telling Belcher by phone, “I was asked to reach out to someone to resolve an issue. I did it in good faith to try to help out.”

Soon, the DeKalb school board will learn whether its lawyers believe Atkinson is the one who set all of this in motion in an effort to keep her texts and emails private.


Which brings up the subject, What Ever Became of the Teacher’s Lawsuit?  You know, the group that is suing to reinstate the teacher’s retirement matching contributions? If they win, we will have to cough up over $50 million… cough cough…

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61 Responses to So, what’s the latest?

  1. So, any chance the judges will decide to investigate? What has become of this?
    Any chance Crawford Lewis and Pat Pope will go to trial?
    Any chance we will get out from under the Heery Mitchell lawsuit without going bankrupt?
    Any chance we will have the money to repay the retirement contributions after the teachers win their lawsuit?
    Any chance we’ll ever see what Atkinson’s text messages said?
    Any chance our Board will be removed by the Governor?
    Any chance any of this will ever be resolved?

    Tune in tomorrow for another edition of “As DeKalb Turns”.

  2. no name says:

    April Fool!

  3. John says:

    Public Pressure!!!!!!

  4. H.A. Hurley says:

    Let’s hope this will have some ‘teeth’ to it! Enough is Enough! Before we have to have bake sales to keep the lights on. Our $$ is evaporating as we speak.

  5. Welcome to “AS DEKALB UNRAVELS”….a serious TV drama with ever changing players, and events. The premise of this series includes…..

    Mega MONEY

    In the previous episodes we have gad to wade through lying, nepotism, closed door deals, sexual improprieties-Scandal,and lots of dirty dealing amongst the county itself and yet to be unnamed players. In last weeks episode, y the Feds raid the CEO’s home to confiscate data???? The CEO of course he has no idea why such a thing would happen? There have been no kick backs or dirty deals under his watch….hmmmmmmmmmm

    Meanwhile, In this latest episode we may begin to understand the inter workings of the County itself- and find answers to things like- How does a candidate for School Board run without conflict of interest when they owned an outsourcing company whose main client was DeKalb County? To a main character of this era of injustice (WOMACK) How much responsibility will you actually be held responsible for as it relates to DeKalb’s demise ?

    So many questions- yet so little time as it relates to the further detriment of our children and our communities. I continue to stay tuned with bated breath and try to figure out if anything is salvageable in all of this.

    Somewhere in this drama the people and communities in DeKalb must band together in a united front . They will have to wake up and stop the evil powers that be before the end comes for all….When will this all come to a head…..

    Stay tuned for the next episode…

  6. howdy1942 says:

    The School Board is in the sights of SACS, the State Board of Education, a grand jury, a huge portion of the County itself – and they say they will cooperate!!! Are they blind, deaf, and stupid? Why don’t they just resign?

    I wish that I sensed more commitment and resolve in the District Attorney’s response to a grand jury. I’d love to see the GBI step into this and get to the bottom of all this.

  7. More ‘latest’ news… sigh! What kind of place IS this? Our county CEO now has round the clock police protection at his home – in addition to his TWO police officers assigned to protect him during regular working hours [combined cost is about $136,000 annually]. We’re told that our superintendent also has security wherever she goes – and often has her own security sweep buildings [schools!] before she attends meetings in them. Not sure if that’s really true, but if it is, what a sad place DeKalb county has become. Memories of Sheriff Derwin Brown and the way his murder changed us forever…

    DeKalb CEO home has 24-hour police protection

    A DeKalb County police officer has been stationed outside county CEO Burrell Ellis’ home for more than two weeks, ever since agents from the district attorney’s office searched the south DeKalb residence looking for evidence of bribery, bid rigging and other crimes of political corruption.

    Investigators from District Attorney Robert James’ office also searched Ellis’ county office that day, as well as the home and office of his former campaign manager, attorney Kevin Ross. Neither Ellis nor Ross has been charged with a crime. Both deny any wrongdoing.

    Search warrants show agents seized campaign contribution records and county contracts, specifically with firms Ross represented after Ellis was elected.

    Those warrants also sought information about six companies. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation revealed that five of those companies have done more than $4 million worth of business with DeKalb since Ellis became CEO in 2009.

    Ellis has received about $20,000 in campaign contributions, collectively, from the companies named.

    The special grand jury has yet to compile a final report on its findings from a year-long investigation. The DA can use that report to ask regular grand juries to weigh criminal charges.

    So, then, why is it that no one thought it was worth the effort to ‘investigate’ Gene Walker’s $20,000 campaign contribution from the Sembler Company when he first ran for school board? [At the time, Sembler was trying to get school tax credits on projects underway and trying to purchase the Druid Hills property from the school system.] Oh. Forgot. The school board can ‘police themselves’. Apparently, the CEO cannot.

  8. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Why are we investigating the School Board? Can anybody tell me what law the school board reps have broken? The school board makes policy and has one employee, the Superintendent. Seems like we should be investigating the administration.

  9. DIO – the school board’s main job in life is to be good stewards of the taxpayers dollars. They approve all of the expenditures placed before them by the administration. The buck effectively stops with them. Sadly, historically, a majority of the board has rubber-stamped the spending of the superintendents. This unquestioned spending is what has led us to this terrible financial situation we currently enjoy.

  10. DeKalbMama says:

    Okay. Wait. Am I misunderstanding something or did Cheryl Atkinson bribe this teacher/coach/whateversheis by saying “I’ll give her her job back if she deletes any evidence against me and drops her law suit”? Because that’s what this sounds like.

  11. That’s what the investigation is all about – exactly. Not only that, we’ve heard that as many as 11 others were offered their jobs back along with the person in the lawsuit. [Unverified]

  12. DeKalbMama says:

    Sweet baby Jeebus! Seriously, people! Why are we not marching in the streets over this! Our kids are being robbed of an education so we can pay to defend people for stealing from our children, defend against wrongful termination or succumb to blackmail if, indeed they were fired for legitimate reasons, because our superintendent doesn’t know how to get the job done. If they were fired for legitimate reasons, why couldn’t Atkinson keep her mouth shut (and fingers off the keyboard) and just let HR deal with it?

    I’m not an activist or an organizer but we need someone or some people in this community who are. We need an Occupy Wall Street type movement to protest this and get not only the BoE out but Atkinson and everyone else working in the HQ out. We need a completely clean slate.

    Is it possible we could pick a day or a week or a month and refuse to send our children to school and hold them out until something changes? Could we stage a sit-in until the BoE resigns and/or fires Atkinson? If that were to happen, how could we ensure they hire someone suitable?

    I know we’re all up in arms, but it just kind of feels like aside from writing letters and going to meetings where our words and pleas for help and change fall on deaf ears, we’re not actually accomplishing very much. No real change ever seems to happen.

    And it’s damnably depressing.

  13. The GBI can step in only if local law enforcement requests their assistance: “The Investigative Division offices are strategically located throughout the state. Each of these offices has Special Agents providing specialized services to the law enforcement community and responds to requests for assistance to investigate major crimes such as: homicide, rape, child abuse, armed robbery, fraud and other felonies. You must contact your local law enforcement agency or district attorney to request an investigation. Under Georgia law, the GBI, as an assisting agency, can respond to requests for investigations from ONLY: Governing officials of a municipality, District Attorneys, Sheriffs, Superior Court Judges, Chief law enforcement officers of any municipality, Chiefs of county police departments (in counties with population in excess of 100,000), Chiefs of regular or volunteer fire departments (in suspected arson cases), Governor of Georgia (by directive).” Only drug investigations can be initiated by the GBI without request.

    The GBI does have a TIP LINE, but only for UNSOLVED cases: call 1-800-597-TIPS(8477) or click on this link to submit the information online.

  14. What a sad place this has become when we have to consider armed guards at schools to protect the children.

  15. DeKalb Mama, what I understand is that the person (who spoke at a board meeting not too long ago, I believe) was RIFed in the big sweep back when they raised the millege rate and let go para’s, translators, etc. Then, the person, who had good reviews and was in good standing at the time, heard about another person who was hired back for the same job but under a different title and for more money due to F/F connections. That person had been written up for job issues and was on some sort of corrective review status. That violates a law about considering job performance, not just years on the job.

    So, she filed Open Records to see the Super’s text messages and emails on the RIF subject and was repeatedly denied. The new state law on Open Records does not allow officials to delete texts without printing and filing them for this exact purpose. So, the Super. did not want to give up here texts for fear of “something” (not sure what) that was on them. Then, her school system attorney Ron Ramsey was told to make the person an offer for her job back in exchange for dropping the requests to see the text messages. The employee was going to agree but the offer was rescinded. Atkinson now says Ramsey was operating on his own. He took a paycut and a lower job to not have to work directly with her.

    So, the employee had no choice but to sue, which made all this public knowledge. If the text messages cannot be located (she says he phone was broken) that can be used in court to mean that the texts did say the “something’ that the employee thinks it does. Judge will rule whether to give the person her job back and to fine the Super. and/or her attorney.

    If the case is made that the messages were intentionally destroyed – then we have a felony. Either way, it sounds like a great “just cause” for the board to fire the Super. and not have to pay her any contract fees.

  16. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if more people showed up for the hearing so the state board knows that we want our local board turned out and their collective butt (or is that butts?). Maybe that’s the time to stage a nice rally of some sort… it would get some media attention, but the hearing might do that on its own. The state process is a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? I cannot tell if they are actively looking for citizen input on this subject or if they already know what they are going to do.

    I’m also a bit concerned that the MIA state board seat is because the Governor does not expect for us to actually have a school system left when this is all over.

  17. DeKalbMama says:

    I don’t know either. I just know I’m completely disheartened by the entire thing. I remember when my relatives who live in North Fulton, Forsyth, and other states would comment about my family needing to move out of DeKalb before our kids were in school, I chided them for their racism and cited the wonderful neighborhood schools and high test scores in our cluster. Now, I wish I had listened to them.

    I would really like to see a strong effort, not only to oust the current “leaders” but to come together as a community behind a new model for education, whether it’s Nancy Jester’s proposed portfolio model (strongly supported by both the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which have shown excellent leadership in supporting effective education reform models) or something else entirely new.

    We need a team of lay leaders from within all areas of the community (North, Central, South, parents, student leaders, teachers, business leaders) working together to define acceptable solutions using input received from individual school roundtables/town meetings. We do not need education theorists or textbook authors or anyone who stands to profit from the change involved.

    The challenges include getting people organized, overcoming self-interest by individuals or groups, and the battle over inertia or simply accepting the status quo.

    It seems daunting – and it is – to look at making such sweeping changes all at once, but if not now, when? Why not try to tackle it immediately and do something worthwhile for our children and our entire community?

    I just wish I had a better grasp of who to address, where to start, how to go about making these changes. It seems like the system is designed to keep things as they are considering there is a constitutional amendment in place to prevent new school districts from forming. I can’t even fathom the logic that led to that.

  18. State Board of Education representatives are appointed by Congressional district. DeKalb is in 3 Congressional Districts: GA-4, GA-5 and GA-6. GA-4 and GA-9 do not currently have a representative on the State Board of education. for DeKalb County, GA-4 covers center-to-south DeKalb; GA-5 (Kenneth Mason, covers mostly the Atlanta portion of DeKalb; and GA-6 (Barbara Hampton, GaBOE Chair, covers north DeKalb.

    The State Board of Education provides limited oversight to all public school systems throughout the state. So, it is irrelevant whether or not there continues to be a DeKalb County School System or city-based school systems or a combination of the two with a much smaller DCSS providing education services only to unincorporated DeKalb County (our preference at DSW) — each Congressional district will continue to be represented on the State Board of Education.

    BTW — last Wednesday’s hearing (January 17, 2013) is now located in the SBOE Archives.

  19. John Dewey III says:

    I am afraid these high visibility scandals (… the former Superintendent and COO on trial, the School Board on Probation, the Grand Jury investigating School Board, the New Superintendent is in a major Civil trial, etc., etc., etc.) — all this only distracts from the main, real, core issues…. WHAT ABOUT the DeKalb teachers’ step raises / pension funds / unpaid furlough days…..??????

  20. Tired Mom says:

    @John Dewey III…I would respectfully disagree.

    The main, real, core issue here is the future of the children. The changes that the BOE accepted to the budget to cut paras, cut special education funding, raise class sizes…these all will have LASTING impact on our children and their ability to learn (don’t believe me? try and teach a kindergarten student to read with 23 other students and NO other adult in the room).

    If we put the $$ focus back in the school house…find some representatives who understand that the SCHOOLS are where the LEARNING takes place and therefore must be fully funded FIRST…then budget up from there…then perhaps our children will reap the benefits. Until that focus is implemented, all the rest is noise, IMHO.

  21. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Fire her now. Before she costs us way more money in the long run. Those idiots at the board are definitely not qualified to hire a clean up specialist and that is exactly what we need.

  22. But…. but…..but…… you said DCSD could police themselves! This has to be incredibly embarrassing for him, when is he up for reelection?

  23. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    The Board of Education is the official policy making body for the DeKalb County School District..

    The BOE sets policies and has one employee. They approve the HR and Finance reports but have very little access behind the scenes of HR and Finance.

    Question – What law was potentially broken? (Doing a bad job isn’t against the law.)

  24. murphey says:

    Isn’t there also the matter of DCSD spending $800 million in TItle 1 funds inappropriately? Will we have to pay this money back? This was only for one year and I would imagine that we did similar things in other years. I don’t think anything criminal is alleged here but that the way the funds were spent was not in accordance with Title 1 requirements.

  25. DIO,

    Just have to jump in here and say you really need to start from the beginning and read from beginning to end to understand what the Board has failed to do. It would take a six week crash class to bring you up to speed.

    Even then I am sure that you can’t absorb it all. The dynamics are such that some of this translation needs translation. The moderators of this board are awesome- they list fact, and do not put anything but fact up here- All you have to do is read the previous posts, etc and it should give you a very good FACT FILLED reason as to why we are where we are and why the focus is as it is.

  26. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Ms McGill
    Yes, yes, yes … DSW ROCKS and the DCSD Board sucks.

    DeKalb DA calls for investigation of school board. – Why are they investigating the school board? I’m not aware of any laws they broke. The board might suck, but that’s not against the law.

  27. @murphey: Yes, some Title 1 money was mis used – I believe that is why Ms Berry was fired. But it’s not anywhere near $800 million. The total annual budget – operating and otherwise is about $1.1 – $1.2 billion. The Title 1 funds amount to (going from memory only here) $50 or so million… And we would like to see that money better spent – on direct tutoring and other student and teacher support in the classroom – not for extra administrators who hover around checking teacher’s bulletin boards and word walls.

  28. curious says:

    In May of 2012, a DeKalb County grand jury “strenously urged” the District Attorney Robert James to convene a special grand jury to investigate the school board. (James said he would ask the superior court judges to do so, “but the 10 judges will have to vote and make the final decision.”) This is from the article cited in the blog post.

    OCGA Sections 15-12-71 (b) (2) and 15-12-100 (a) give grand juries and special purpose grand juries the authority “to inspect or investigate any county office or county public building or any public authority of the county or the office of any county officer, any court or court official of the county, the county board of education, or the county school superintendent or any of the records, accounts, property, or operations of any of the foregoing.”

    That’s why they’re investigating the school board.

  29. thedeal2 says:

    DIO is a BOE apologist because he fears his friend and the person he campaigned for, Marshall Orson, will lose his power, job, and ability to get whatever he wants for Fernbank in this whole process. He and Orson are an example of another thing that has made our system sink in quality, the perpetuation of favoritism and inequality based on noise, money, and influence. Their purpose in campaigning so hard for local control is so that they can run their school like a public private school (like they do now, except made offcial with policy).

    Why would anyone be opposed to a grand jury or DA looking into possible corruption or illegal activities?

  30. dekalbite2 says:

    @DeKalb Mama
    “It seems like the system is designed to keep things as they are considering there is a constitutional amendment in place to prevent new school districts from forming. I can’t even fathom the logic that led to that.

    The Georgia Constitutional Amendment that forbids establishing any more school systems was passed in the mid 1940s. The logic was that school systems that are larger can operate more efficiently in terms of tax dollars spent.
    “Economies of scale is an economics term that means large entities, whether businesses, non-profits or governments, can reduce costs simply because of their size. This gives them a competitive advantage over smaller companies. For example, they can produce things more cheaply per unit because they make so many.”

    In fact this same amendment specifically states that i does not forbid school systems to combine or consolidate with another school system.

    This amendment was passed with the idea that small school systems could not be as financially efficient as larger school systems, and the more independent school systems there were, the less the efficiency. This probably proved true in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and even 70s. Looking at the historical trends, the passage of QBE in Georgia in the 1980s created many new ancillary positions that were not in the core content areas. The passage of NCLB during the Bush term created even more opportunity to “grow” the non teaching areas. Other legislation and court cases have competed with funding the teaching of math, science, social studies and language arts.

  31. Moreover, dekalbite – the amendment was aimed at the many tiny, rural systems in Georgia. We have rural systems with fewer than 1,000 in a district. All they have to do is create a minimum number of students for a school system… forcing us to maintain a 100,000 student system because they want to consolidate 1,000 student systems is the law of unintended consequences on steroids!

  32. howdy1942 says:

    Can anybody on this blog tell how much we are suing Heery for and how much we have spent to do so? Thanks.

  33. Click over to the old DSW blog to read the petition we created asking the school system to please settle the Heery Mitchell lawsuit.

    Basically, Heery was fired by Pat Pope and Dr Lewis. After that, they sued for about a half million in unpaid bills and another million for being illegally fired (or maybe vice-versa). The school system (Dr Lewis) then paid $3.6 million for a ‘study’ to determine how much to counter sue for. They settled on $120 million in counterclaims. Now, after spending at least $30 million in legal fees, the case is supposedly going to go to trial in February. However, it is tangled up with the criminal racketeering trials of Dr. Lewis and Pat Pope. Heery, naturally, wants the criminal trials to go forward first.

    Download an article from the Daily Report on the case —

    Click to access daily-report-article-dekalb-school-bd-budget.pdf

  34. H.A. Hurley says:

    It makes me physically sick to see those $ amounts wasted on such unethical employees. That is hard-earned $ for our kids and their teachers. How did we get to this point? Who hires such crooks who bleed our system blind? It appears, that many urban school systems end up spending zill $$ to handle criminals and not educating our kids. The teachers have not gotten raises, umpteen unpaid days, no supplies, overcrowded classes, doing without translators and parapros, no books, no technology, old tattered schools, potholes filled parking lots, layers and layers of expensive administrators, inbred nepotism by superintendents and BoE members. Feels like a foreign 3rd world country, but it is our county, Dekalb County Schools. Get the bast**ds!

  35. John says:


    I must respectfully disagree with your comments about DIO. I am certainly no fan of Marshall Orson or the Fernbank power base. You are correct in your assessment of their influence and the corrosive effects on the Dekalb School District as a whole. My school community has been adversely affected by this. The only way around that IS local control. I am a Hawthorne parent and very involved in the parent leadership of our school. Our community, very mixed and inclusive, has done wonderful things for our community and our children. What we lack is a leader in the schoolhouse that is not beholden to an administration that only looks out for them (the adults), and not the children. We have seen this first hand. What we have been missing is quality leadership that is responsive to local concerns. There is a total disregard of community input that exists from our Administration. We need the portfolio model.

  36. thedeal2 says:

    John, we are actually in agreement. I, too, am in strong favor of local control. I don’t know if the portfolio model is the answer (it’s relatively new to me and haven’t had time to research), but I am in favor of something that cuts the need for heavy central administration, eliminates the one-size-fits-all approach to programs and curriculum, and gives more control to the communities, especially in a system as large as ours.

    With respect to DIO, I question his/her motives on this blog. He/she does not speak like someone who is truly concerned about the school system but is just looking out for something that will benefit them specifically. I also question DIO’s reasoning for wanting local control. I guess it shouldn’t matter because if Fernbank, Orson, Power, et al fight for local control as hard as they fought for SPLOST IV, we will all benefit. I don’t understand how DIO thinks that keeping the board will result in a shift to local control. The majority of the board is in this for the power. They are not about to cede that to the schools.

  37. Embarrassed Employee says:

    Ms. Berry was not fired, she was maybe demoted. She is happily teaching at Flat Rock elementary. She finished 2012 out earning over $100k.

  38. John says:

    thedeal2, I think what DIO is saying is that if something like the portfolio model is written into the consent decree, it won’t matter if the current board of ed is tossed or remains. They become irrelevant, more or less.

  39. teachermom says:

    @embarrassed employee- I am furious that a teacher is making this much when we are all suffering under this austerity. I knew some administrators were moved in to AP or Principal or Coach positions and keeping their CO salaries.

    Hiding out as a teacher while drawing a big salary, did you really think no one would notice??? Doesn’t this violate the law somehow? I mean surely there is no way she could earn this on the published teacher pay scale? Is she being called a coach or is she a classroom teacher?

  40. teachermom says:

    Another typo…Should have read “Did SHE think no one would notice”; obviously, YOU did.

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