Recap on the March 20 new board meeting

Last night’s inaugural School Board meeting overall was a pleasant surprise. We are encouraged that a majority of the new Board members are unafraid to dig and ask questions of the staff. We are particularly (and surprisingly) encouraged by Thad Mayfield. He asked a series of pointed questions regarding the request to renew the contract for copiers without putting it out for bid.  He also questioned the request for extending the contract for trailers while asking for additional money to purchase our own trailers. All in all, Board members asked good questions that had a user-centered focus, such as “what is the specific input of those impacted by what you are doing?”

The Board also put the kibosh on their participation in the lawsuit against the Governor. In reality, when you think about it, of course they would – they were appointed by the Governor (the defendant in this case) and his committee! But even so – we as taxpayers are happy to have at least this one legal expense off the table. For now.

We believe that the lawsuit will continue and Gene Walker will win – possibly forcing taxpayers to pay the legal fees in a judgement. Further, both Jim McMahan and Melvin Johnson voted “Yes” originally to enter the lawsuit and Marshall Orson was conveniently absent that day, which counts as a “Yes” as far as we are concerned.  Had those three (Orson, Johnson, McMahan) voted “No” then Pam Speaks probably would have voted “No.”  Nancy Jester already was the lone dissenting vote.  So, with 5 “No” votes we would not have spent more money on legal expenses and we would not be in this as yet unfinished conundrum at all.  Interesting that Orson and sidekick McMahan now think the money could be better spent elsewhere.  What has changed in the past few weeks, except the way the political wind is blowing now?  Too little, too late.

In addition, the Board introduced a new twist on their own meetings. Meetings will now  take place only once a month, on the first Monday of the month.  Instead of the community comments at the microphone, which never receive a response from the Board, they will begin the meeting with more of a Town Hall format, with the Board members down on the floor, interacting with the community and answering questions.

We are trying to determine what makes that approach different?  The Board’s long-standing policy (which we think is an incorrect interpretation of the law) was that they could not respond to community comments because the comment topics were not known in advance and could not be included on the published agenda.  Of course, that never stopped the Board from adding to and otherwise changing the agenda moments before it was officially adopted.  In fact, that happened last night.

Additionally, we don’t feel good about the change in scheduled meetings, introduced by Marshall Orson.  There is no time for Board members to ask questions and do their follow-up due diligence before having to vote.  Last night was a perfect example.  Without pausing to take a breath or ask the right questions — and there is a difference between asking questions and asking the “right” questions — the Board voted, nearly unanimously, to spend, sometimes unnecessarily, millions of dollars we don’t have.

All that said, we are a bit frustrated that many of our questions, published prior to the Board meeting, went unanswered.  Here’s a list of questions we think the Board should have asked of staff:

  • Why hasn’t anyone posted the new Board’s contact info online in order for the public to be able to contact us?  There has been plenty of time to get that taken care of.
  • Why are we providing cars to regional superintendents?  Has this been done before?  How does this benefit students?  There are no cars being traded in and we do not believe cars were provided to regional superintendents previously.  So, if they had cars, where are they?  Sold off the books?  Passed along to lower-level administrators?
  • Why are we buying new school police vehicles?  Do they use those cars for essential or dangerous police work?  What exactly do they do with these vehicles?  Drive them back and forth to work?  Why?  Do DeKalb County Police, who have a much more dangerous and difficult job, use county police vehicles for transportation to and from their jobs?
  • Why are we buying vehicles for SPLOST-funded work?  Where is the list of what is covered by SPLOST IV?  Where are vehicles shown on that voter-approved list? 
  • Document the mileage claimed for these vehicles.  How many of these miles were accumulated on-the-job? 

Many taxpayers drive cars and trucks as old or older than many of those DCSS wants to replace.  They know that being on the verge of bankruptcy is not the appropriate time to buy a new vehicle — or spend elsewhere unnecessarily.  “Belt-tightening” is called for.  SPLOST or General Fund — it is all tax dollars. 

And then there are these questions that should have been asked regarding phasing out twelve instructional facilities:

  • Vote to approve capital improvements for facilities that are scheduled to be torn down? What kind of reasoning is that?
  • No immediate financial impact? Why?  When will there be an impact?
  • An increase in capital entitlement dollars? Is there a history of the Georgia General Assembly increasing funding of any kind for education?
  • Is there a history of DCSS ever reducing administrative operating costs?
  • Show us the calculations and the documentation – not guesswork – on which there is a reasonable expectation of increased legislative funding and reduced administrative operating expenses.

Just like dealing with recalcitrant teenagers, the Board must:  Question everything.  Assume nothing.  Ask the “right” questions.  And, always, the first question must be, “How does this directly benefit students and, especially, improve student achievement?   Money is tight – and what we have must go directly to educating children.

Good luck to the new Board!

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82 Responses to Recap on the March 20 new board meeting

  1. concerned citizen says:

    This is just an excellent recap.  I just felt, though, that the meeing was all very contrived and false.

    Still, someone is clever enough to make the agenda “look” pretty impressive, and the concert was a nice touch.  Underneath, MJ, Thurmond, Orson, and McMahan are a dangerous combination.  I have no doubt that something is brewing.  I have some other things to say, but I am a little uncertain.


  2. Betsy Parks says:

    (We are of the belief that the lawsuit will continue and Gene Walker will win – thus forcing taxpayers to pay the legal fees in a judgement.)

    In the event that Gene Walker does continue his challenge, he wins and the court for some reason determines someone else should pay his legal fees, I would not think DCSS would be the responsible party . We followed the current law, the direction of the Governor and GaBOE and State Department of Education recommendations.

  3. curious says:

    I agree. Generally, Georgia does not have a “loser pays” attorney-fees scheme.

  4. dekalbite2 says:

    The teacher positions have now been changed to $90 a day.
    Look at this job description on PATS for Teacher, Third Grade – 3rd grade being one of the benchmark years for grade level assessment. Does everyone understand that 3rd grade is the year students go to mastery of content reading?

    “WOODWARD ELEMENTARY Comments This position will be a temporary position for the remainder of this school year paid at a flat rate of $90.00 per day…..Woodward Elementary is seeking an enthusiastic, highly energetic Third (3rd) Grade Teacher who will create and teach engaging, student-centered lessons. The ideal candidate should be caring and nurturing. This candidate must be positive and provide excellent customer service to students, staff, parents, and the community.”

    Does the pay of $90 a day or $10 an hour (a good teacher will spend more than the 8 hour day between planning and grading and meeting with parents and other staff) sound attractive to get a teacher who “will create and teach engaging, student-centered lessons”, is “caring and nurturing”, and “must be positive and provide excellent customer service to students, staff, parents, and the community.”

    Do Ms. Ward-Smith and Mr. Thurmond really think that they will find professional, engaging and highly effective personnel to directly instruct students and positively impact their academic achievementfor ALL classes that need to be staffed (and there are many of them since so many teachers retired in January) for $10 an hour?

    How can DeKalb compete with Gwinnett for competent teachers? Look at what Gwinnett is offering?
    This is for a Band Teacher:
    “Minimum Salary: $37,819.00/Annually Maximum Salary: $86,749.00/Annually”

    Look at the Professional Qualifications for these DeKalb personnel who will directly instruct our children and are expected to move them forward academically. The employee instructing those Third graders does not have to be a certified teacher – a fact that shows Mr. Thurmond and Ms Ward-Smith UNDERSTAND they can’t get highly qualified teachers for these students for $10 an hour:
    “Professional Qualifications
    Do you hold a valid Georgia Educator’s Certificate? (Teaching, School Counselor, Media Specialist, Social Worker, Leadership and School Psychology)
    OR Do you possess a professional Out-of-State Educator’s Certificate?
    OR Do you possess an expired Georgia Educator’s Certificate? (Teaching, School Counselor, Media Specialist, Social Worker, Leadership and School Psychology)
    OR Are you currently completing your Student Teaching experience?
    OR Do you hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institution with at least a 2.5 GPA and have passed or exempted the appropriate basic skills and content area assessment(s) for this field?
    OR Do you hold a Georgia Non-Renewable (NT) or Non-Professional Non-Renewable (NNT) Teaching Certificate?”

    There are over 130 non teaching “Coaches” costing taxpayers $10,000,000+ a year in salary and benefits and close to 100 supervisors, directors, coordinators, etc. costing another $10,000,000 a year in salary and benefits. ALL of these personnel are certified to teach children. Ms. Ward-Smith and Mr. Thurmond should place some of these employees in the classroom to instruct these students who have no teacher. He could do this tomorrow.

    Write Mr. Thurmond, Ms. Ward-Smith, Melvin Johnson, Board Chair and the rest of the BOE regarding the placing employees in the classroom to instruct students while paying them $10 an hour. It is not the students’ fault that the past DeKalb administrations have mismanaged the tax dollars meant for students’ instruction.

    From the SACS report – page 6:
    “Numerous interviewees confirmed that the decision made in balancing the budget were reached with little or no consideration of the educational impact of said decisions.”

    SACS needs to know this as well for their return visit in May.

    Are cars for Security and Regional Superintendents more important than qualified, competent, well compensated teachers who will directly instruct students? Do we need to spend $20,000,000 in salary and benefits for highly paid non teaching (but certified to teach) personnel while we seek $10 an hour personnel to bear the responsibility of increasing student achievement? Apparently so in DeKalb.

  5. concernedmom30329 says:

    emails are now posted… it is ludicrous that it took this long.

  6. Chamblee Dad says:

    Figured I’d post on newest thread as well:

    @DSW As promised, the e-mails are finally up for all the board members. So we can start firing away! I didn’t test them all yet, but I’ve used a couple. So perhaps the “send an e-mail to all” link can now be updated. And I’ve got to say, so far, I’ve been pleased with the responses I’ve had. I’m not happy at all about the attempt to move public input as well. But, mock me if you must, I’m going to try to communicate with this new board, each & every member, polite & diplomatic out of the gate & see how it goes.

  7. Very interesting info dekalbite2. Thanks for the research. I think we should replay the meeting tape. I am 99% certain that Tekshia Ward-Smith said that these positions would be filled with certified teachers – as subs – until the principals can hire them full time. However, that doesn’t really correlate with what is posted at PATS. This is what we mean when we say that the Board has to push hard to get at the truth.

  8. Chamblee Dad says:

    @Concerned Obviously it wasn’t their fault, the basic explanation I got was paperwork processing etc. that had to be completed & submitted to HR, who then had to process it. Based on the speed & circumstances of their “hire” – not entirely unreasonable, IF they were regular employees, but they should come to expect jumps in communication leading up to & immediately following meetings.

  9. Thanks Chamblee Dad – We have fixed our link so now you can email the entire Board with one click!

  10. @ curious
    Which is why — thanks to current Board members Melvin Johnson (Chair),Marshall Orson and his sidekick Jim McMahan (Vice-chair) — if Gene Walker wins in the Georgia Supreme Court, we will be obligated to pay his attorney fees and court costs since Walker was on the Board and the de facto chair of the Board when the suit was filed. Every member of the Board at that time voted in favor of the suit, except for Nancy Jester who voted, “No.”

  11. Earl Kuutti (the teacher with the strings players at the Board meeting on Wednesday night) is an amazing musician and a highly qualified, excellent teacher and mentor. He also heads up the DeKalb Youth Symphony Orchestra. If you have a chance to hear them play, by all means do so! They are worth your time and the price of the ticket!

  12. tired says:

    @dekalbite2 – I know that you (and a lot of people) have a problem with all of the money spent on “instructional coaches”

    “There are over 130 non teaching “Coaches” costing taxpayers $10,000,000+ a year in salary and benefits and close to 100 supervisors, directors, coordinators, etc. costing another $10,000,000 a year in salary and benefits. ALL of these personnel are certified to teach children. Ms. Ward-Smith and Mr. Thurmond should place some of these employees in the classroom to instruct these students who have no teacher. He could do this tomorrow.”

    But, aside from the legal issue of changing one’s job position in midstream…I’m not really sure that you would want these people instruction your children. You actually have to know how to teach children in certain subjects and grade levels to make a difference instructionally for these students. We have no idea what areas these people are certified in. It would be nice to know how these people are certified…

    Many of the supervisors, directors, and coordinators have not been in a classroom for a very long time! Some of them for very good reasons. I’m sure you remember the Peter Principle. Just sayin…

  13. A few comments that might help re: the vehicle purchase. If you have not watched the three part video series on YouTube of Thurmond talking to the Dekalb delegation on their lunch break recently, as posted by Hennegen, please do. During his discussion in front of the delegation, Thurmond talks about the need to decentralize the base of power in the system. It makes a lot of sense. When you have every single school being affected by essentially one person, the Superintedent, then your entire system is at the mercy of that person’s view of education and their limitations in terms of having so many bosses as well as limited time to actually visit the schools. The regional superintendents were being used as minions to carry out the orders of the “King” or “Queen.” Thurmond said that we have a diverse county with children who have very different educational needs, yet we are all looking at what the other schools or districts in the county are getting and then demanding the same when that isn’t what the children need. What works in Dunwoody is not the same as what will work in Lithonia. He wants to give more power to the regional superintendents to run their districts and report to the Super. in terms of what they need, what’s working, what’s not. That will involve their getting out of the Palace a lot more often and going around and spending time in all their schools so they can truly understand the needs themselves and carry on conversations with stakeholders. Thus, the vehicles. I think it will be a good thing. Remember, this is government. They are accustomed to buying vehicles for everything they do unlike the private sector and it may be more affordable to handle it that way instead of paying for mileage. And, if you think about it, an untrustworthy person can write down whatever number of miles they want on an expense report in order to get a check. If you are given a vehicle, you track your miles because you have to justify the odometer reading, but you are not going to get a check for it.

    Next, the citizens comments. We are encouraged that there will be a regular method to allow citizen comments (maybe without the time constraints or need to get on a list that gets stacked by the administration in an effort to prevent you from speaking to them) that will give immediate feedback, if that is the case. This idea of a town hall setting with feedback is not something we heard mentioned. so we thought it was still an “at the mike” feedback thing that does not get a response immediately, if ever.

    Also, the policy changes … these are items that would have previously taken place during the Policy Committee meeting but since they did away with that committee, we will now be able to hear these type of discussions at every board meeting. The policies being reviewed right now have to do with nepotism, conflict of interest and the input from school councils / parent councils (issue being debated about the difference and if there is equal access to these groups) on the selection of a principal. We questioned this last item because we know parents who have never heard of any type of council at their school and we don’t want to see this policy misinterpreted as one that gives power without accountability or transparency to these councils so that they can be used by people who want special favors, or used by paranoid staff members who want to control every possible avenue of feedback to always paint the best picture for the higher up’s.

    Yes, there is something else brewing…. a massive exodus of the school system, or are we going to pretend this isn’t happening. Dunwoody is working to pass legislation for its own school system. To gain support, they are working to encourage other cities so that everyone will believe they, too, may be in line to get their own system. The latest and most offensive of these start up cities is called Lakeside. Why is it offensive? Because it is a group with questionable backgrounds, mostly tied to politics, who are attempting to undercut their own school district by claiming land that is already part of Tucker. The Tucker Civic Association has asked that they remove the boundaries of Tucker, which have long been established, from their map but they are just trying to ridicule those against them and influence those who might be willing to trade their loyalty for an opportunity for a better school for their own child. The Lakeside group has “secret partners” (read: H. Paul Womack), so they are trying to get their hands back on the tax payer dollars, harm the school system as a result, control the voting for the next school board election and take us right back down the path we were just a few short years ago when these folks were oblivious to the problems all other schools were having. Now they want “local control” when, in reality, they are mad they lost their control when Womack lost his seat on the board. Please, DSW and others, don’t disparage Jim McMahan too much because remember how much worse Womack was for everyone. McMahan and the others were in a difficult position and may have voted along with the other members of the board because SACS has been watching to see that they can get along. If they already knew their vote would not count, they could have possibly voted yes in hopes that the judge would settle the issue and the Gov. could do his work.

    We don’t like to think that McMahan is a sidekick to Orson, but it is much preferable to Womack and Orson being on the board together. If Orson brought Thurmond and Thurmond can do what needs to be done, then we can even give Orson a little bit of a chance. Even his Dekalb SPLOST buddy was a breath of fresh air compared to where we were before these folks were in office. If Lakeside City goes through, they encourage a larger portion of Tucker to vote thier way and our voices in Tucker will be stifled. There is already a great deal of concern for the schools in our area that appear to be on their way toward certain closure without a clear understanding of how Tucker High is supposed to get its children. It appears that a city of Lakeside would be a disaster for everyone and is a fraud against their own residents because the community believes they made their school great. Reality is that the federal graduation rates show Lakeside far behind other schools in graduation rates. And, we all know there are kids from all over the county being sent to it. We, the taxpayers of DeKalb, paid for Lakeside and these people have no right to use their school in a pitch for cityhood as they are capitalizing on fear of the corruption when it is their own guy who was at the heart of it.

  14. There is a facebook page if you want to keep up on the Lakeside City issue. And, as a taxpayer of ANY part of DeKalb, if you are offended that a handful of wealthy old school politicians and lobbyists are attempting to capitalize on the good name of a school YOU helped pay for … please show up for a meeting on Monday, March 25, at Tucker Middle School at 7 p.m.. The state and the county needs to hear from you as much as they do from the communities affected because if this goes through, YOUR taxes will go up and YOUR school system could be at risk of losing accreditation if the bickering and in-fighting continues. And it is YOUR money that built that school, hired the staff, paid for the books and probably bused the kids to every day for many years. Does a good school give bad people the right to take what does not belong to them? Is a good school still called a good school when they have been fudging their numbers all along?

    Do you want to see the corruption boil right back up and destroy everything we have worked to achieve? Then, please help us stop this movement for a Lakeside City. RIght now the only Senator supporting them is Fran Millar, who just helped put the new board in place. Does he realize he is also supporting putting the bad folks right back into office.

    We need all the help we can get.

  15. teacher says:

    Get the Cell Out,

    What makes these regional supers qualified? Thurmond’s rationale sounds good, but only if we have qualfied people.

    I like the idea of a town hall-style meeting. But I think it’s important that citizens’ comments are on the record, and it wasn’t clear to me whether the agenda would be posted in a timely enough manner for citizens to comment.

    Is anyone else bothered that the head of curriculum and instruction couldn’t provide the data for SFA and the head of technology couldn’t provide the copier data? Dekalb claims to provide data-driven instruction, Dekalb hires heaps of academic data coaches, and Dekalb has spent heaps of money on data collection (IDMS), yet the head of instruction has none to provide for Dekalb’s costliest insructional package.

    And I didn’t like that Thurmond and Howe didn’t tell the board that SFA has two parts/costs: the program and the SFA facilitators. Shouldn’t the board have been told about the numerous SFA facilitators that could be teaching classes instead?

  16. Gethecellout: Your rationalization of the vehicle purchase is disingenuous at best. The decision stinks of all that has been wrong with Dekalb for the last ten years or more. Boneheaded as a PR move. Boneheaded as a financial move given the current sorry state of Dekalb’s finances. Boneheaded as a morale-deadening move for teachers who’d like a few crumbs thrown their way for a change, despite that fact that it was “splosh” money. In other words, the unanimous (puke) vote to authorize these purchases was just plain, damn boneheaded.

    Do you have some agenda in your defense of this vote that is blind to the needs and morale of teachers and students?

    And by the way, why doesn’t Dekalb just concede in the lawsuit brought by teachers to restore the TSA? That should have been on the Board’s first meeting agenda. Let them pay for that judgment on the backs of the academic coaches, directors, deputy directors, directors of directors, assistant superintendents, and the clerical royalty that stoke the egos of these pompous, overpaid incompetents just like they’ve paid for their Heery lawyers on the backs of the teachers.

  17. Jeff Parks says:

    It is great to see the continued interest in the school board and Dekalb’s future: its kids.Now all of you battle tested warriors who participated in the removal of the Dekalb 6 need to consider stepping back and letting this board do WORK. We know this board is made up of quality people who are driven by a need to be successful in fixing DCSS, not in lining their own pockets. Everyone is not going to agree with every decision, and it will take time for the board to develop its own agenda, but that meeting was FUNCTIONAL, they are making the Administration responsive and that will be key to making the administration ACCOUNTABLE! Cell out- Lakeside has a legal right to leave the county, their are repercussions to abuse of power in the US. Theory it will take time for the BOE to develop an agenda and deal with the HUGE number of issues which have to be resolved in order to make the system work for the kids. INMHO too many of you are picking issues which are not key to establishing a functional board because we all lost faith as a result of the corruption and ineptitude of the previous board. Take a deep breath sit back and have some operational patience. Look for results, support where you can and pray for the future, because we now have a chance in Dekalb.

  18. Just another day in Paradise says:

    The problem with pushing the instructional coaches and Success for All coaches into the classrooms to take vacant positions is that they are paid with Federal Funds, which have stipulations.Title I funds cannot take the place of district/local money (the principals hear it all the time “supplement, not supplant”), so the funds that are being spent on these coaches can’t be shifted over to fill a vacant kindergarten teacher or 9th grade English teacher position, as frustrating as it may be. Now, if there are coaches or certified central office employees who are paid out of General Funds (even those in Area Offices or in Human Resources), they can be picked up and put down into a classroom on Monday. That is the Open Records Request that needs to take place. Which CERTIFIED personnel in positions outside of the classroom are non-essential at this point of the year and could be shifted to support the school house? That is what Mr. Thurmond has stated is his pledge. Driving all resources down to the school house.

  19. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Are the academic coaches paid for with local/state dollars or with Title 1 dollars? I think the positions are a joke and not a good use of money but if those are Title 1 dollars, eliminating them won’t help change the overall budget status.

    Using Title 1 funds differently will certainly result in better student achievement if you go back to the days of reading and math specialists, I think.

  20. dekalbite2 says:

    @Just another day in Paradise and Concernedmom30329

    Coaches and coordinators are paid for with both state and local funding as well as federal funding. It depends on which Coach you are – there are Instructional Coaches, Graduation Coaches (absolutely paid for by local – state does not fund anymore), Instructional Change Coaches, ELL Coaches, Academic Data Coaches, Literacy Coaches, just to name some of the Coaches – all highly paid non teaching personnel who are certified to teach. And most of the coordinators, directors and specialists are paid strictly with local/state funds.

    This is one of the primary reason that teachers are only getting the state funded salary (from sales and income tax). In the past, our property tax mainly went to pay a teacher supplement over the state funded salary – Atlanta is after all a much more expensive place to live than say – Sylvania, Georgia and competition for teachers is higher. So property taxes helped to pay teachers in DeKalb more than they would make in the rural areas. Now none of our property taxes go to pay for teacher supplements. So where does it go – for everything else the DCSS administration wants to spend it on. This is a very bad situation for students who need highly qualified teachers.

    The Instructional Coach positions were created to support the America’s Choice program. This program has virtually gone away, but the Instructional Coaches are still there. The Academic Data Coaches were created to support Success for All program. If Success for All goes away, will the Academic Data Coaches still be there? Would that the DCSS administration would cling to and protect teaching positions like they cling to and protect non teaching positions. Once a non teaching position gets established, it’s seems impossible to get rid of it even when there is no money to pay for it or the need for it is gone. The administration just increases class sizes and decreases teacher positions to keep those non teaching positions afloat.

    In addition, if you read the Title 1 federal funding law, only a small percentage of Title 1 dollars must be used for the Coach concept. I guess they count on no one ever reading these federal guidelines.

  21. This is what was proposed during the SPLOST IV vote:

    District-Wide Projects
    Technology Upgrades (Infrastructure Refresh & Technology Equipment)
    Purchase of Vehicles & Support (Buses, Service Vehicles, and Radio/GPS Upgrades)
    Local School Priority Requests (LSPR)
    Safety & Security Upgrades
    Demolition of Vacant Facilities
    Prototype Development and Miscellaneous
    Engineering Studies

    Here is the list of projects in order:

    Click to access splost-iv-sequence-list-in-start-date-chronological-order.pdf

    If you visit the original SPLOST IV list at DCSS’ website, you will see only the following line item regarding vehicles:

    19. Service Vehicles
    Acquisition of support service vehicles. $1.7M

    And you can read the actual, full, legal referendum here: [Wonder if the new board members have read it…]
    which actually says:

    “(19) (17) Acquisition of support service vehicles;

    Below is the actual text from the voters ballot. We have bolded the text about vehicles.

    Click to access SBCountywideSPLOST.pdf

    Shall a special one percent sales and use tax for educational purposes continue to be Imposed in DeKalb County for not longer than 20 quarters, beginning July 1, 2012, to raise not more than $645,000,000 in the aggregate for the purpose of (A) developing sites for constructing and equipping new schools, support facilities and athletic facilities; (8) making additions to, acquiring or renovating and equipping existing schools, support facilities and athletic facilities and greenspace associated with such facilities, and demolishing portions of existing structures In connection therewith; (C) making system-wide renovations, additions and improvements to bus and parent pick-up driveways and facility parking lots and purchasing school buses, school related vehicles and other transportation equipment; (D) making existing lease-purchase payments with respect to the acquisition of new and existing schools and support facilities; and (E) modernizing technology and making system-wide technology improvements, Including the acquisition of computers and similar technology for students and staff; not to exceed $607,384,422 for the DeKalb County School District, $18,115,116 for the City Schools of Decatur and $19,500,462 for the Atlanta Independent School System, all as more fully described in the Notice of Election? If imposition of the tax is approved by a majority of the voters within the DeKalb County School District, such vote shall also constitute approval of the Issuance of general obligation debt of the DeKalb County School District in the principal amount of not to exceed $200,000,000 for the purpose of funding a portion of the above projects of the DeKalb County School District and if the tax is approved by a majority of the voters within the City of Decatur, such vote shall also constitute approval of the issuance of general obligation debt of the City of Decatur In the principal amount of not to exceed $10,000,000 for the purpose of funding a portion of the above projects of the City Schools of Decatur?”


    “Buses, Service Vehicles, and Radio/GPS Upgrades & Acquisition of support service vehicles & school related vehicles .” Pretty vague. But we’re still not sure it can be interpreted as purchasing vehicles for area supers. That’s exactly why we encouraged people to vote NO for SPLOST IV. We felt we needed a much more specific plan – with education-based outcomes. Sigh!
    In fact, Marshall Orson should seriously consider rereading his own quote in “The Champion” when it was determined that SPLOST III was $40 million short.

    “Orson said he thinks the projected shortfall is the result of several factors including the lack of a strong staff to provide accurate information to the board of education for SPLOST II and III projects.

    “There was a lack of basic accounting rules and poor oversight from the board of education,” Orson said. “I know that they’re reliant on the staff for a substantial amount of information but they also have to ask the right questions.”

    Hmmmm. Yes, Marshall, “They” have to ask the right questions. Now, that “they” is you!

  22. @Cell: Well, actions speak louder than words. So far, we’ve heard plenty of words – from Lewis, from Tyson, from Atkinson and now from Thurmond. We will just wait to see if Thurmond is actually capable of action – or if he’s just a lot of blow like the rest.

  23. dekalbite2 says:

    “Is anyone else bothered that the head of curriculum and instruction couldn’t provide the data for SFA and the head of technology couldn’t provide the copier data”

    That’s because the data is not there.

  24. @Just another day in Paradise —
    Thank you for your suggestion of a needed Open Records Request. Would you please handle this Open Records Request and send us the information you receive? We will publish it. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation has complete directions for filing an Open Records Request. Direct the ORR to Superintendent Michael Thurmond. Send us a copy of your Open Records Request and we will put it in the DSW Archives.

  25. Just another day in Paradise says:

    @ Dekalbite2

    “Coaches and coordinators are paid for with both state and local funding as well as federal funding. It depends on which Coach you are – there are Instructional Coaches, Graduation Coaches (absolutely paid for by local – state does not fund anymore), Instructional Change Coaches, ELL Coaches, Academic Data Coaches, Literacy Coaches, just to name some of the Coaches – all highly paid non teaching personnel who are certified to teach. And most of the coordinators, directors and specialists are paid strictly with local/state funds. ”

    You’re right about the Graduation Coaches being funded by Local Funds now. The ELL coaches are funded by Title III-A and can’t be moved over to General Funds. The Instructional Change, Data, and Literacy Coaches are predominantly funded by Title I funds and can’t be used in the classrooms to cover vacancies. They’re all certified to teach, but can’t because of restrictions. Coordinators, Directors, & Specialists? Fair game. I completely agree with you. I just know that because of how the budgets were set up for the year, the school district can’t move personnel around without paying a price. And they can’t afford to pay a price right now. There are other certified personnel (in HR, for example) at the Central Office who could fill vacancies.

  26. Jeff Parks says:

    I am not bothered but encouraged that we finally have competent individuals who through their questions and being prepared for the meeting were able to start the cracking of the armor which surrounds so many incompetent administrators and reveal them for what they are in order to hold them accountable and hopefully move most of them out!
    Tyson is another who needs to be pushed for results and not words and hand waves!

  27. dekalbite2 says:

    “Coordinators, Directors, & Specialists? Fair game. I completely agree with you. ….. There are other certified personnel (in HR, for example) at the Central Office who could fill vacancies.”

    Then Thrumond should be using those personnel should be filling the classrooms with them – there are so many of them, most would not be missed..

  28. info says:

    Just another day…,

    Even if Title 1 or Title III money can’t be used to pay teachers, Dekalb could apply the “coach” concept more effectively so that these certified educators earning more than teachers (but with less work if they don’t have to grade assignments for as many as 180+ students, record grades, contact parents, arrange conferences, and tutor students) aid teachers and benefit students.

    Does the federal government actually stipulate that such funds can’t be used to instruct students?

    At the next board meeting Thurmond and the Board need to be asked how Dekalb has measured the effectiveness of these positions: academic data coaches, instructional coaches, SFA facilitators, instructional directors, and instructional coordinators. Either Coleman or Mayfield asked for a cost-benefit analysis with agenda items, and Morley wanted information from the staff.

  29. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Title 1 dollars can be used to pay teachers, just not “regular” teachers. For decades, since the inception of the program, schools around the country have use said funds to hire Title 1 reading and math teachers, individuals who generally work with struggling students throughout the day. DeKalb use to do this.
    I believe this changed with Lewis, perhaps it was because of America’s choice or perhaps it was for other reasons, but what had been a very effective use of funds suddenly changed.

  30. Gardenerontheside says:

    At several schools the SFA Data Facilitator and Coach were taken from their teacher pool and earn teacher salaries. Right now they do not have positions for next year. If they sign a teacher contract next week, they will be placed into the general pool and placed anywhere in the district. This is dependent on Thurmond’s decisions about what to do with SFA. If SFA is trashed, a SFA facilitator who has been at a school for years will be assigned as a classroom teacher anyplace in the district and will not know until July where they will work or what they will teach. Is this what you all mean by get them back into the classroom? Its not as simple as “get them back into the classroom”. The disruption and uncertainty from HR is crazy.

    Also, as a teacher, I think that the car purchase for the regional superintendents is an ok move. If the super’s have to drive around to their schools (which they do a lot) we could reimburse them mileage. Unfortunately that mileage is paid from the General Fund, which has no money. If we give them cars, the majority of the cost comes from SPLOST. I think this is appropriate cost shifting, freeing up General Fund monies for the classroom (hypothetically).

  31. Concerned Citizen says:

    Dr. Thurmond needs to identify these central office people and hr people who are certified and send them out to these schools Monday.This give him today and Sunday to gather up about twenty or so certified teachers. Of course, they’re not going to be very happy, but too bad! I intend to contact him myself within a few minutes to demand that he take this action.

  32. Dr Lewis implemented the coaching concept because he had no faith or regard for our teachers. He thought they needed monitoring at all times. And he also wanted a venue with which to reward friends and insiders and surround himself with a loyal staff beholden to him for their jobs – as they knew full well they could never get a job that paid as much or was as easy as the one given them by Lewis. [Our opinion.] And then, there’s Audria Berry – his head of Title 1 – who took complete, full advantage of the situation in every way. Lewis was compromised in his personal relationship with Berry, which allowed Pat Pope to blackmail him (his own words to the DA investigator) so that she could manipulate millions in SPLOST dollars. See how bending the rules even a little can result in a big twist that nearly takes out an entire system and harms tens of thousands of children’s futures?

    We are in a big mess due to the greed and manipulation of Title 1 and SPLOST funds. We have always advocated hiring a third party accounting firm to handle SPLOST dollars (they will ensure spending is on the up and up, take a lot of burden off the staff so that staff can focus solely on general operations and then when SPLOST ends, we end our contract with the third party and are not left with more bloated staff in in-house accounting.) Obviously, managing the $1.1 Billion is plenty of work for the in-house staff. The additional $250 million collected each year with SPLOST is the straw breaking the camel’s back and things are falling through some very big accounting cracks as a result.

    For example, one thing we wonder, but cannot get an answer to, is why do we have to pay King & Spalding and other attorneys involved in the Heery Mitchell and other SPLOST-related lawsuits out of the general fund? Why can’t they be paid from the SPLOST funds? According to this website (from Heery Mitchell), at one point, King & Spalding billed DeKalb schools an average of over $500,000 per month over six years! These lawyer fees for SPLOST-related lawsuits are digging into the general budget and causing us to increase class size and rif or furlough teaching and support staff from the classroom – harming children – in order to continue with this enormous building project that has little educational direction and no end in sight even after spending nearly $2 billion over 4 SPLOSTS.

    Mr. Ed Humble, Consultant, MGT Consultants of America cautioned the Board when he presented the final report that they needed to step back and really define the kind of school system they envision for DeKalb and the kinds of programs they want to offer students. Then, a clear vision should be what drives the construction decisions. We have never seen a clear vision. In fact, Ramona Tyson’s “20/20 Vision” is nothing but a list of construction projects. Her pitiful vision inspired our bloggers to write one of our own. Read it here:

    Below are a few other old blog posts you may find interesting on the subject:

  33. Concerned Citizen says:

    Where is Audria Berry now? The reason I ask is that Title I is in total disarray, this year with no one to oversee its lack of functioning. The teachers get paid ____.! You should hear the reasons HR gives after advertising the position for two months at PT Retiree pay, suddenly at contract signing time a tidy sum of $

  34. This is from the 2012 salary report. (She still functioned as a CO employee part of the year.)

    BERRY,AUDRIA M GRADE 2 TEACHER $114,138.00 [salary] $1,415.40 [travel]

  35. I found a very interesting statement in Dr. Walkers essay at the Patch. I had no idea SACS was charging DeKalb so much money for monitoring. It does give one pause:

    The SACS report stated that “the current status of the school system is the result of at least a decade of decline.” If this is true, one must ask what was the level of responsibility and accountability of SACS during this decade of decline, especially since SACS was collecting over $200,000 annually for monitoring? Why now, when all indications show that the quality of education is on the upswing?

  36. Chamblee Dad says:

    No new thread yet, so I’ll cross-post from AJC (correcting my typos):

    “Walker said he’s “not eager” to serve on the school board again either and might retire if he wins. “I’m not fighting to keep a position on the board,” he said. “My fight is to eliminate what I see as an unconstitutional law.”

    Walker = Patriot, a defender of the Constitution & civil rights . . . or . . . seflish jerk who has 1 – already taken (along with the other 6 who voted with him) $164K from a cash-strapped system (a problem he contributed to) thus essentially stealing education from the classrooms of DeKalb County; and 2 – prolonging a distraction while the system tries to get back on course.

    I know my answer. If he won’t resign & drop the suit, along with the remaining 4, he will reveal what he really thinks of education, and confirming what people have said for years. He should be forced to drive from school to school, visit each classroom & load up something everywhere until it totals $164K. The others should join him – load up a van of shame.

    “Sorry little Mary (stunned Title 1 school 1st grader) I need that book more than you do, so hand it over.” Followed by “Ok, you 4, round up all the pencils while we’re at it, we’ve got to get heading to Redan, I’ve got a couple of computers to load up, I think we’re going to need a bigger truck.” Then, “let’s get up north, I can’t wait to clean them out.”

  37. curious says:

    Have you all seen the sweet, sweet article on the front page of the AJC online?

    “A suspended member of the DeKalb County school board plans to keep fighting his ouster and is asking for donations to pay his legal fees. . . . ‘I can’t afford to do this out of my own pocket,’ said Walker, who was suspended Feb. 25. ‘I’m going to ask people who believe as I do — one person, one vote — to give whatever financial support they can.'”

    He goes on to say that he’s looking for a new lawyer because Bob Wilson has a conflict of interest, having represented the school system. He concludes that he’s not sure he even wants to be on the board anymore, and if he wins the lawsuit, may retire.

    This is so satisfying because it seems as if Dr. Walker is FINALLY having to face the consequences of his actions; if he wants to sue, then he pays.

  38. Interesting part to that article:

    Wilson’s bill for the lawsuit and other services over seven weeks through March 1 came to more than $164,000 Wilson, a former DeKalb district attorney who helped lead a governor’s investigation into test cheating in Atlanta and Dougherty County, said he could not comment about his future role in the DeKalb case “because of ethical considerations.” But Walker said Wilson could not continue representing him because he’s “the school system’s lawyer.” Walker said he is seeking new counsel.

    Thank you, Melvin Johnson, Marshall Orson and sidekick Jim McMahan for the critical role you played in incurring this debt — and possibly more — to be re-paid with monies that rightfully belong in the classroom.

  39. The others who voted with Walker include current Board chair Melvin Johnson and current Board vice chair Jim McMahan (Marshall Orson’s sidekick) and Marshall Orson, who owes a huge debt to Gene Walker. Orson, in his weasel-y* way, decided to hide out (claiming, ala Sarah Copelin-Wood, that he was “sick”) during the vote, but that counts as a “Yes” with us. *The BBC describes weasels as, “Weasels are adaptable little mammals that live almost anywhere they can find cover and prey.”

    Those three are still on the Board, illegally in our opinion, where they can spend even more money, diverting it from the classroom, as they did in the most recent Board meeting.

  40. Thank you to anyone who may have helped us get through to Fran Millar!!

    Lakeside City’s Bill was Delayed. Not stopped, but delayed.

    Here is a look at their map:

    This movement is being called a “land grab.” Everyone here knows who is capable of this type of attack. Thank you if you read our plea for your help and stepped up to email or call your representatives and senators with your concerns.

    Lakeside is a school that our money, collectively, built. It should not be a city controlling its residents the way the former board member they placed in office was able to ruin our schools.

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