Pam Speaks — Whipping Post for the State and AdvancED

By Don McChesney

“I attended the state hearing for Dr. Pam Speaks as she asked for reinstatement to the DeKalb County Board of Education. It was a sobering affair. First the Administrative Law Judge did a wonderful job helping Dr. Speaks, who represented herself, navigate the legal process and rules governing the hearing. Judge Wood was professional and worked to make Dr. Speaks feel at ease. It is too bad the state witnesses did not possess the professionalism and integrity of Judge Wood.

“The constitutionality of the state statute allowing removal of the DeKalb Board was recently argued before the Georgia Supreme Court. One of the State’s arguments rests solidly on the statute providing individual due process, albeit after the fact. So the hearing I attended is important if this argument is to be accepted. The hearing would need to be a fair environment, centered on the State having to prove that Dr. Speaks engaged in some personal wrongdoing. The problem is that the statute itself, says that the only standard for reinstatement is whether or not the board member would improve the district’s ability to retain or re-attain accreditation. To suggest that a hearing on that standard can constitute ‘due process’ for any individual is preposterous. Many people are unaware that even if Judge Wood finds in favor of Dr. Speaks that the Governor can choose to ignore the judge’s ruling.

“At her hearing, Dr. Speaks asked the State and SACS several times to tell her what specifically she had done wrong as an individual board member. During the entire hearing (10am-2pm) no one would answer her question. Once again, nothing specific was brought to the floor that even alluded to, let alone proved, that Dr. Speaks had engaged in any misconduct. The state’s case, with support from SACS, simply stressed that Dr. Speaks was a member of a bad board so she must be guilty by association. I worked with Dr. Speaks for four years. I can unequivocally say that if the DeKalb Board of Education had an exemplary member it was Dr. Speaks.

“The state blamed her for bad budgets, questionable administrative actions, etc. It’s absurd to attach board and administrative failures to Dr. Speaks, who often voted against the actions, budgets and expenditures (including the hiring of our last Superintendent) that were unwise. We are living in strange times when honest, hard-working people are punished for the sins of others.

“I have read the SACS report. It contains not one reference to anything specific that Dr. Speaks did wrong. The report is full of allegations without documentation and no sources are identified. How is it possible to remove someone from office without a shred of confirmable proof? How do you defend yourself when you do not know what you have been charged with?

“I am extremely disappointed in SACS. Today I heard Dr. Elgart deny he had ever told some other board members that Dr. Speaks should have been elected to the chairmanship of the BOE. I was one of the ones he said that to.

“I started out my service having a healthy respect for SACS and its director. Today I have the exact opposite opinion. Cobb’s board is starting to ask questions of their administration and vote in ways similar to DeKalb. SACS is keen on defending ALL superintendents and staff, whether right or wrong, against the questions and resistance of Boards. The media has done a good job making school boards look insane.

“I won’t defend all boards or even this one, but the story you get is one that is crafted to make you think that boards are the problem. Review the interventions SACS has made in districts and colleges throughout the country. I cannot find an example of where they did not intervene for the benefit of an administrator while punishing boards.

“SACS was a major defender of Beverly Hall. I witnessed Dr. Elgart praise Beverly Hall for her leadership. How does that look today?

“SACS wants boards of education to vanish. They protect the interests and jobs of administrators and superintendents at every turn. If SACS is successful at vilifying boards, they can install more bureaucrats and exercise unchecked control of the educational establishment for which you and I pay.

“SACS continues to state they have ample information regarding the DeKalb Board. Dr. Speaks asked to see what information they have that would show some wrongdoing on her part. SACS then says that they keep no business records of any kind so the ample information is not available. I wish the media would cover this.

“Dr. Speaks, I say, ‘Well done.’ You were professional and knowledgeable in the way you went about your duties. You were an asset to the students and taxpayers of DeKalb County. You asked questions that needed to be asked and endured ‘non-responsive’ answers from a witness (according to Judge Wood) as well as the complete fabrications that I heard. You have served the county well. No one can take away what I know and observed. You are a true professional.”

Browse here for the complete post and let Don McChesney and/or DeKalb School Watch know your thoughts or questions.

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38 Responses to Pam Speaks — Whipping Post for the State and AdvancED

  1. Stan Jester says:

    It is not Dr. Elgart’s place to tell a group of board members that Pam Speaks should be chair. I’m further disturbed that he would subsequently lie about it under oath. Multiple board members have corroborated Don’s facts regarding this meeting.

  2. Let me remind our collective revisionist history of some of the reported facts from the time DCSS was placed on probation:
    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/school-board-chairman-says-district-can-recover-fr/nTYRF/

    The problems stem from a decade of “poor, ineffective governance” that has caused a decline in academic performance and pushed the nearly 100,000-student system to the financial brink, said Elgart. The district could finish the school year in a deficit should any unforeseen expense arise, he said during his morning announcement. . . .

    The report also questioned budgets that failed to predict recurring costs for utilities and legal work, and it raised concerns about $12 million in debt for new textbooks that no one interviewed by SACS had seen. “Numerous interviews revealed that no one could identify any school that had received new textbooks and it was reported that nearly all schools were struggling with ways to repair old textbooks,” the report said.

    (Remember, it was Nancy who consistently pointed out the lack of budgeting for utilities and legal fees.)

    Further —

    A team that visited for three days of interviews noted that “it was widely reported” that board members-elect, who take office Jan. 1, were already visiting “their” schools, “thereby perpetuating the culture of interference and ignoring the autonomy of the staff.”

    Yes! Unlike Nancy and Pam, the recently-elected board members were actually cited in the SACS report as being part of the problem! Yet they somehow escaped the blanket ‘firing’.

    Ultimately, McClarty added, its incumbent on voters to educate themselves to pick good school board candidates rather than names on the ballot that they happen to recognize.

    True. And even Thurmond has said the same thing. However, the most important task the current board (mostly unelected) has to do is to conduct a search and find the very best permanent superintendent they can find. Thurmond promised this would be Job 1 when he was hired. No action has been taken toward this goal whatsoever.

    Further, the board could not possibly make sound fiscal decisions without a full forensic audit. DeKalb has only had one done, back in 2004 by Johnny Brown who was promptly fired (with a $450,000 exit package), and replaced with Dr Lewis, who promptly buried the audit. After his resignation following his indictments on racketeering, Lewis’ hand-picked replacement, Ramona Tyson made a very detailed public promise to conduct a new forensic audit – which also was never done. As far as we’re concerned, the current board is operating in a fiscal darkness, led by someone with little experience in education or historical knowledge of DeKalb county schools. We think we will find on down the road that the fiscal smoke and mirrors decisions being made right now are going to make our situation worse in every way going forward.

    But this board isn’t all that different from past boards, as the members don’t really care about the future as much as their current ability to be ‘in charge’. All can say that they were ‘hand-chosen’ by the Governor – which is such a nice perk for the resume. They will all move on and we will be left holding the still empty bag.

  3. Stan Jester says:

    DSW, very nice! Allow me to take us to the present and full circle.

    Burrell Ellis, DeKalb CEO, was indicted yesterday (as we all know). The indictment claims that all the dirty work was done “at the offices of R.L. Brown”.

    R.L. Brown and Associates is an architectural firm that contracts to school districts. Robert L. Brown and Brad Bryant were appointed liaisons to the Governor for the appointment of new board members. Effectively, Robert Brown picked our new board members.

    Why was a vendor of DeKalb Schools selecting its board members? With the indictment of Burrell Ellis and attachment to R.L. Brown, everything just became a little more clear.

  4. concerned citizen says:

    Lying under oath is a big no-no in any situation, but in DeKalb County as each day goes by, we the taxpayers see more and more corruption. Things that seem one way suddenly turn on a dime and kick us in the pants. So much terrible behavior from “professionals” boggles the mind.
    Elgart and Thurmond in fact may be kissing cousins. They both need to go, now. Take Walker, Ramona, Ramsey, Smith, Beasley, Melvin, Lewis, and all the rest of the motley crew, too. They’re probably all related, essentially. Enough from you clowns!

  5. concerned citizen says:

    Thank you, DSW for the great work – an eye opener, I’m sad to say. Thank you, Stan, for the link which has been there but was obscured by all the lurid details of daily operation of the infamous DeKalb County School System. OK, Robert Brown and Bryant – busted!!!! The whole selection of board members puzzled me at the time and made me anxious. Something is rotten and can’t be buried in a landfill. So, step up and be a man or woman of honor and reveal your wrongdoing or take the consequences of your lying and conniving. Disgraceful!

  6. A LOT more clear Stan. Follow the money… it’s all about the contracts. And who is in control of the jobs. After all, we’re talking about $1.2 Billion tax dollars!

  7. Kiko Jewel says:

    …and why was Brad Bryant helping to choose new board members. When he was a DCS board member, he was selling houses to everyone in the county office, including Melvin Johnson. Clearly a conflict of interest, but DSW wasn’t around then. I’m sure he also sold houses to some who were just appointed by him. Follow the money.

  8. Another comment says:

    This is a prime example of why school districts should all be the size of one high school and their feeder schools. Small Districts eliminate the huge contracts that come with huge districts. It is that simple. Take away the incentive for the crooks.

    Where is Lianne Levitane., DeKalb needs her back. She went to every groundbreaking in the county, with her Sunday hats on.

  9. your are superman says:

    “But this board isn’t all that different from past boards, as the members don’t really care about the future as much as their current ability to be ‘in charge’. All can say that they were ‘hand-chosen’ by the Governor – which is such a nice perk for the resume. They will all move on and we will be left holding the still empty bag”(DSW,2013).
    This paragraph sums it all up with DCSS. Pam Speaks does not deserve her job back. Just because she voted for eliminating resources in South DeKalb does not make her everyone’s Hero. She sat on that board for years and rarely said anything at all. However, she never failed to vote with Tom Bowen, Womack, Chesney and Walker against the central and south corridors. There is so much more to say but these days, why bother?

  10. @superman: What kind of votes do you think were “against the central and south corridors”? What is it exactly that Bowen, Womack, McChesney, Walker and Speaks did to central and south DeKalb from your perspective?

    Way back when Ramona Tyson shuttered schools, we did a blog post about the blight that the boarded up DCSS properties were causing around south DeKalb. While we understood that declining enrollments required consolidation, we were very upset at what closed up buildings would do to property values and neighborhoods. (It was our first post on DSW2 – read it here: https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/dcss-vacant-properties-2/ Oddly, we did not get much input or support from south DeKalb in our outcry. We also got little support in our criticisms of Ramona Tyson’s budget busting cuts. Sadly, really, much of the reason so many schools have been closed recently in central and south DeKalb is because people who live there are fleeing their home schools and sending their children to charters, themes and other specialty schools. (Read a post on this subject at the original blog here: http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/05/north-vs-central-vs-south-whats-deal.html

    IMO, Ramona Tyson made most of the decisions that harmed central and south DeKalb. She made deep, horrible budget cuts – followed by similar cuts by Atkinson (which also came from her assistant, Tyson https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/notice-of-the-continuation-of-budget/ ). The Board does not have access to the details of the budget. They can’t pull it out and start rearranging. All they can do is vote yes or no to what the superintendent presents. Tyson only presented cuts. She didn’t present a full budget for approval. Some board members rearranged some of the cuts but most of Tyson’s deep cuts were approved eventually. I don’t remember how the votes went exactly, but certainly Nancy voted down all of Tyson’s budget cut plans – not sure about Pam – but the rest of the board went along. That includes Walker, Woods, Edler, Cunningham and Tom Bowen.

    See why I keep saying that the most important thing a board can do is hire a highly competent superintendent? And – contract a full forensic audit. (One was promised by Tyson, but she never actually made a move toward securing a firm to conduct one: http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2011/05/ramona-tysons-report-on-2004-ernst_13.html )

  11. You forgot Womack in your statement above. Did he vote with Walker or Jester on the cuts?

  12. Interesting connection Brad Bryant also has to the Lakeside City Alliance, isn’t it?

    Please join
    Mary Kay Woodworth, Kevin Levitas, Susan Meyers, Steve Schultz,
    Kelley Eveland McManaman, and Bernard “Bernie” Knight

    Co-hosted by
    Kay and Brad Bryant, Tim McGaughey and Terry Morris

    for a reception to support

    The Lakeside City Alliance (LCA)

    Thursday, May 2, 2013
    7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

    This is a fundraising event and not a community meeting.

    Host Levels:
    Platinum ★ $1,000
    Gold ★ $500
    Silver ★ $250
    Bronze ★ $100

  13. Bye bye says:

    Superman,

    Please list the cuts that you were talking about. The last five years the impact of the economic slowdown on schools has been terrible. But the impact has been most harshly felt at schools that are not particularly large, and that are not title I. Virtually none of these schools are found in S DeKalb.

    My frustration with Dr. Speaks has to do with the fact that she had a tremendous amount of knowledge about the operations of the school system, but really did very little to hold anyone accountable. She supported Louis, and most people who work for him, in large part because she had relationships with them. Once Jester was elected, she found a bit more of a voice.

    And as to Don, what his intentions may be good, he needs to stop. His district sent a message when he was not elected and his bitterness about the entire thing shine through with each post. He, even more than Dr. Speaks, was a vocal supporter of Lewis.

  14. Stan Jester says:

    Nobody can be as vocal and navigate the dangers as well as Nancy. I don’t expect anybody to live up to those standards. In The Myth of Local Control, Nancy touches on these issues. SACS and “the legal framework in our state reinforces the supremacy of the superintendent’s position relative to a board.”

    Voting against the administration or asking too many questions can get a board member into a lot of hot water. Take Khaatim El, ex chair of the APS board, for example. Upon a request for an investigation into cheating and other various accusations, the APS administration “investigated” and responded assuring the board nothing nefarious was a foot. Despite threats from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Dr. Elgart, Khaatim El pressed on with his personal investigation. SACS subsequently lowered APS’ accreditation and forced him out of leadership.

    The scandal had already built up too much public momentum and the rest is history. We need good people of strong character to represent us, but there’s only one Nancy. I’ll leave you with Khaatim El’s last words on the board,

    “It remains to be seen, no matter how deep this thing goes, whether the soul of Atlanta has really been stirred, whether or not Atlanta will recognize that it is facing a genuine crisis of character, character that is decaying because of fear, intimidation and retaliation.”

  15. I for one fully support Dr. Speaks in her quest for reinstatement. She has done no wrong, and was elected to perform a job. No entity has the right to take that away with out due process and proof without a doubt that there was wrongdoing.

    Dr. Speaks in my opinion was and is one of the good guys. It is her constitutional right to face her accusers, as is her right to be proven guilty- The State took action, and the state must provide the burden of proof. The State needs to provide Dr. Speaks with the evidence that shows that she was personally negligent and or incompetent. It’s only logical…

    In my opinion- we can look at every single board member and find fault- It amazes me how we fail to look at the full scope and dynamics of this situation. It equally frustrates me when you all know how politics works- I have sat in board meetings and watch Dr. Speaks be shut down and ignored, and or disrespected by former chair Walker. Did we forget that on major player in the game who (Paul Womack) in conjunction with Dr. Walker helped to perpetuate the climate that DeKalb County Schools is in???

    Did we all just suddenly have amnesia? Dr. Speaks may not have done or said what you thought she should have when you thought it appropriate- but then none of us had to work with the dynamics and climate that was present. and although I am an admirer of Nancy Jester,lest not fool ourselves as Ms. Jester did not walk on water.

  16. Good point Cell. Also note that Terry Morris, another co-host, was a former DeKalb school board member from that district. And Kevin Levitas was a former state rep. Some heavy hitters are on board for this Lakeside City Alliance. They have already raised the $30,000 needed for a study. They will succeed IMO.

  17. They have to get their bill out of the DeKalb delegation, first. I don’t think they will have enough votes in favor there to make it on to the floor.

    Does it bother anyone else that the SACS report is full of references to how the divisions in the county have been a big part of the problem, yet the city movement continues in ways that will clearly cause more animosity and division in the school system if they succeed?

    Are you hoping to bring down the school system in favor of city schools? Then, what becomes of the children who are not fortunate enough to live in the boundaries of these cities? Isn’t public education about all the children? Or do we no longer believe in that concept? The fight to save the schools is becoming a bit of a blur lately as it appears to be about forcing a split when we should be working together (imo).

  18. We used to think the same way, Cell. However, the problem is that with such an enormous budget – over $1.2 billion – the cracks for corruption are huge. And that’s what we have experienced for a decade – full out corruption of the system – for monetary gain – without regard for student performance. Busting up the system into smaller systems, with more manageable and trackable budgets will improve the use of the tax dollars exponentially. We’re not saying the corruption will disappear completely, but with smaller pots of money, the temptation and ability will be far less. Therefore, people with the skills, talent and knowledge of how to lead and run a school system (with volunteer school boards!) will be attracted to the jobs and these smaller systems will get better results.

  19. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    GetTheCellOut,
    South DeKalb is a majority in DeKalb and they are electing officials that are leaving the rest of DeKalb no choice. For instance, according to Ms Jester’s estimated enrollment, in 2016 these will be the capacity numbers
    Tucker HS – 111% capacity
    Lakeside HS – 119% capacity
    Dunwoody HS – 143% capacity
    Arabia Mtn – 60% capacity
    DECA – 81%
    … etc …

    Yet, SPLOST IV is decommissioning and building new schools for 3 schools in South DeKalb with less than 50% capacity. We have nowhere else to turn, but to try and get out from this craziness.

  20. Hopespringseternal says:

    Cell, Cell, Cell. Don’t you know?? The answer to your question is YES. Unapologetic. Unequivocal. Oh — about those children not fortunate enough to live in incorporated boundaries? That answer is obvious — what ABOUT them?? Contrary to this notion of “for the last decade” (code for when the demographics of the board changed), the potential for corruption (and actual corruption) existed long before then. So good for anybody who doesn’t buy the conventional “last decade” merchandise. Example: educated people read this blog. If the recent KPMG financial audit is close to accurate, what kind of computer system existed for the payment to vendors on closed accounts? It wasn’t like there WAS such a system and then it was taken away, it never existed. Even in the days before Marcus Turk. When everyone else had such a system. SOX, after all, is not new. Example: in the last week, right up to yesterday, there’s been significant news about the construction civil case, and how the other side offered to settle. No one is talking about that, because it doesn’t fit the narrative that DeKalb is corrupt and its leaders are incompetent. Example: Pam Speaks is portrayed as a whipping post, but no one said a mumbling word about Copelin-Wood, who was told by Elgart in her hearing that she’s not there to represent her constituents. May be halfway accurate (halfway since those voters have children, but who cares about them), but did anybody tell the voters that their elected representative is not there to represent them? This didn’t get any coverage because it doesn’t fit the narrative.

    Then again, @DIO has a valid point sadly. Our election habits are coming home to roost. As for me, I see all of this as an opportunity. I don’t go where I’m not wanted. I see this the same way I saw the creation of Dunwoody. You want a divorce, no problem. My only trek to the mall was several weeks ago when my sons got a gift for me and I had to pick it up at the Apple store. Hell, we in our own community are willing to cycle through generations of young people before we get it right. So why should I rely on somebody else to want to get it right? And as much as the stats show that its cheaper to educate kids than incarcerate them, the message seems to be that we’re willing to pay the higher price. So OK, incorporate away, complete w separate school systems eventually. It’ll cost us another couple of generations but what the heck.

    I once watched a wizened old black man, in a PBS documentary, opine on the ills of integration. His words were most compelling as he made his case against integration, because we’re now confusing that with assimilation. He said that before integration, we knew that all we had to rely on was ourselves. This stuff going on right now — cityhood of 5 square miles or whatever, taking the tax base with you, choking off the unincorporated areas, Stonecrest trying to hang right there with you, it is all the things that old wizened black man saw in that film. We will have many more murders, juvenile delinquencies, robberies, kids failing out of school, and parents who can’t read the damn sign to come to a PTA meeting but who knew enough to withdraw their kids from school over rumors of a gang “turn-up” that wasn’t posted on the marquee. We will have more stores cropping up in our neighborhoods with EBT signs plastered all over the place but who sell us rotten meat. We will have more babies, more who show up for my church’s GED program, and more who are ripe for military recruitment in the schools because the kid may be right on the edge of qualifying for college but Sergeant Somebody got to them first. I could go on. I don’t go where I’m not wanted. But keep on, and we will be right back to Brown v Board when separate is deemed unequal after about 30 seconds of all this separateness. And for anybody who doesn’t get the thrust of this post, sarcasm and snark are present and accounted for, and a little bit of hope still springs eternal.

  21. @Hope: The biggest part of the corruption began with SPLOST and the associated construction contracts/lawyers/staffing, etc. That began about a decade ago. There has always been an issue with Friends & Family, but Dr. Lewis took that to a new level – even going so far as to squander all of the Title 1 funds meant for direct instruction for children and use it to build an empire for his lover. Do not read anything into this about race. It is what it is – the control and pilfering of a billion dollar+ budget. Smaller budgets do not allow for such out of control corruption. It’s harder to hide in a smaller budget.

    There is no one leaving anyone behind here. I would venture a guess that all of these incorporated systems would willingly put all tax dollars in a countywide pot, then divvy it up based on per student funding – along with the state’s funding. In fact, many southside schools would get more – as many of them also receive Title 1 funding. It’s about control over how those dollars are spent — most of us countywide prefer smaller class sizes, happy teachers and good classroom discipline and instruction. Period. There is plenty of money to do it right – we just aren’t allowed access in our current top-down delivery system. Do you disagree?

    You are wrong when you claim this is racial. Flat out wrong. Come to the north end of the county and see how truly diverse the schools are. It’s the southside that is not diverse. Almost all south DeKalb schools are majority black – by choice. So what? What makes you think that if they ended up with a smaller system with its own board and control over their own schools and purse strings that that would be a bad thing? Do you not think they too could be successful with a little more community control? Many in south DeKalb would like that control too. In fact, citihood issues are cropping up all over DeKalb – read more about it here: A Snapshot Of The DeKalb Cityhood Debate I think they would flourish!

    As far as this comment goes, “We will have many more murders, juvenile delinquencies, robberies, kids failing out of school, and parents who can’t read the damn sign to come to a PTA meeting but who knew enough to withdraw their kids from school over rumors of a gang “turn-up” that wasn’t posted on the marquee.” That is not a problem that can be solved by simply sticking together as a whole county. That kind of problem runs deep in our American culture – and in my opinion has far more to do with low education (which can be addressed with smaller schools and systems and better leaders), challenging home lives (harder to address socially) and our ‘judicial’ system, which is highly punitive to minorities and an out of control, useless ‘war on drugs’ that is destroying the black family culture (nearly impossible to address – but watch for a new movie on the subject, “How to Make Money Selling Drugs” that will hopefully change mindsets).

    BTW, we did take issue with the comments to Sarah. We have tried to point out the times she is right. She just is the worst rep you could possibly send to a school board – she’s incoherent most of the time. Admit it. Additionally, please forward ANY news on the Heery case or the criminal case of Dr Lewis that we have not shared and discussed here. Further, we consistently point out the frightening powers of Mark Elgart and SACS we are now seeing in hindsight. We can’t believe that he was never forced to present his ‘evidence’ – which has made us wonder if he really has any. Voters really wanted to see his evidence and we were shut out. The governor took strong actions based on the word and testimony of one man – one man who isn’t even beholden to the taxpayers!

    There is no ‘narrative’ here of the kind you speak. You are wrong.

  22. Here Here Hope! Bravo Bravo. It is amazing to me that folks scope can be so narrow- especially those who will never understand what it is you just said. I applaud you for speaking what many want to say, fear to say, or don’t give a damn to say. I have become very disillusioned with what I thought was a forum that wanted equality for all of DeKalb- It has become apparent that this has become a secession forum where only the haves will benefit. In the end, as you state, you are looking at generational genocide. And like the old “Shake and Bake” commercials moniker everyone can raise their hand and proudly say…”AND WE HELPED”!

  23. Another comment says:

    Sarah seemed like she was over high during her testimony. She clearly needs to retire. She is incoherent, and incapable of being on a School Board.

    Smaller School Districts are the way to go.

  24. @Denise. Yes, I have to admit, I will probably never understand what Hope said. And Hope won’t ever understand that the people advocating for citihood just want to have decent schools without all the drama. This works all over the northern states in the U.S. We are a laughing stock in DeKalb. We fought long and hard for ‘equality’ yet have concluded that the system itself is too large. It’s a set up for fraud and corruption. The only way to improve schools is to push the funding directly to the schools – and that is easier to do in small systems. Dr Atkinson’s very first promise was bottom-up budgeting. We all now know that was a big lie.

    Question, if you had won the election, what exactly would you (could you) have done to make the change you seek?

  25. Regarding the Heery case: We have this quote from Thurmond at a meeting in May:

    Thurmond offers up school specifics
    “The Heery Mitchell case, the one you’ve all heard about, is the albatross around our neck,” said Thurmond. “We had spent $6 million in legal fees on that case, and then went to a contingency agreement. Since then, we’ve spent $13 million in case costs. All that money over a dispute over less than $500,000.”

    There is also a new article at the AJC on talks of a settlement, but of course, it is posted under their new ‘premium’ content, so again, most people won’t be able to read it:

    Logjam breaks in long-running DeKalb lawsuit against Heery

    Resident complaints that the state’s third largest-county has been limping along for years aren’t likely to calm despite a growing sense that indicted DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is on his way out.

    If anyone has any other links to news of the Heery case (or any other DeKalb news links) please share them. We are an all-volunteer blog – we are not a paid news gathering source. We count on our readers to share the information they find.

    Heery themselves are saavy enough to have posted their own website on the subject. Below is a link to their fact page:
    Heery-Mitchell / DeKalb County School District Litigation

  26. Another comment says:

    Heery Sums it all up nicely. Those of us in the business, knew from the start that the whole firing of Heery was fishy. Their reputation was beyond reproach.

    Now on the other hand Turner Construction has a problem with being low down. They got caught on both the Tallahassee Court house and the Cobb County Courthouse using illegal labor. They then blame their subcontractors, which is BS.

  27. Ella says:

    I strongly support Dr. Speaks. She has done nothing wrong individually and should be re-instated. Dr. Speaks was not the problem.

  28. DSW you just asked me a hypothetical nonsensical question that is not even relative. There is not “Functioning BOE that have been elected by the people. The original players in this game do not exist and the challenges/dynamics that existed during our election process are non existent. There is nothing on this current platform that even remotely addresses what we were running for or supporting during that election process.

    DeKalb County is currently playing in the Governor Nathan Deal show with all new players and a State run agenda. It appears to me that there is equally if not more confusion on where we are, where we are heading, and what our next steps are.

    I have seen you DSW question Interim Super Thurman’s abilities and guidance. I have seen you ask for resolve, clarification, etc….

    So let me ask you, with an ever changing agenda- and no clear direction- Just how much effectiveness and impact have Jim McMahan, Marshall Orson, or Dr. Johnson had during their 7 month tenor? How much will they have before the next election.

    Under the current regime, how effective would you have been/be- and how would you have proposed to change it when the three true officials are just puppets in a Governors game?
    I have basically been reading much ado about succession and very little in regards to solution.
    So throwing it back at you….under the reality of what exists today- what would you do if elected?
    It is clear, that if I had been, the opportunities would have been extremely limited – not by choice but by the master of the game. State of GA vs. DeKalb County citizens first amendment and fifteenth amendment choices…

  29. School Watch, you are mistaken … the people advocating for citihood are saying that there reasons have nothing to do with the schools. The people in Dunwoody were advocating for city school systems, but that appears to be a much more difficult battle that would need to happen on a statewide level and will not likely make it to a ballot any time soon. Instead, many areas are moving ahead with charter clusters which will essentially work like separate school systems, but the city designation is not necessary to form them. While you say you support citithood, you are likely meaning that you support city advocates who want something similar to what Dunwoody has and for similar reasons. As an educated person who would have her family left on the outside of the Lakeside City, I can tell you that they are not planning to be helpful to those they are picking and choosing to leave out. In fact, everyone in DeKalb will likely see their county taxes go up with every new city that is formed. For some, that could make the difference between being able to pay or not being able to pay their mortgages. So, we might also see another round of foreclosures to follow any more incorporation. Brookhaven residents are currently complaining at the huge increases in their property taxes on some properties. Lakeside City would take the majority of the money out of Tucker and leave the rest of its residents, the minorities, the non-English speaking, the poor having to carry the financial burden of paying the education portion of the sales taxes for everyone else. As someone who has done nothing wrong, I find this movement offensive. I bought my home in a good neighborhood, near a good school. But, because it is an established area with a lot of retired citizens, I am forced to either accept a Title I education, an expensive private school education or try my luck at winning a lottery to get my child into a school that would require extensive time in the car or on a bus every day. So, just as I am about to turn that corner where I have more invested in my home than what I owe, I will be forced to move, probably sell for less and watch my retired neighbors lose their life’s investment which should be available to them to help them pay for a quality nursing home or assisted living when the time comes. I support cities that start the right way, include everyone in an area that “lives, works and plays” in an area, but Lakeside is not that area. And, they can hardly claim to be under-represented. They have more politicians per square foot than any other part of the county I know of.

  30. LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD – JUNE 24, 2013
    This Monday night from 7:00 – 8:30 there is a critical meeting regarding the future of Tucker. The meeting will be held at the First Christian Church of Atlanta and will be pivotal.
    In the last weeks, the Tucker community has been taking a look at city hood processes in order to inform ourselves about the possibilities of keeping our community from being dissected by neighboring city hood efforts. Currently, the Lakeside City Alliance (LCA) has a portion of Tucker in their proposed city map, including Henderson Park. They have already commissioned their required study and hope to put their efforts to a vote in 2014. Only those that live inside their proposed boundaries will have a vote.

    Now, LCA is holding organized meetings in neighborhoods on the other side of Chamblee Tucker Road to discuss 2015 annexation into their “yet to be formed” city. This includes neighborhoods extending all the way to Old Norcross Road.

    Please, whatever your views on city hood, attend the Tucker Together meeting on Monday night so that your opinion may be heard. The format will be open and everyone is encouraged to share their thoughts on our future. It is time to make choices about Tucker seeking city hood, about Tucker trying to preserve our boundaries and about a long term vision for our community.

    Please join us Monday, June 24th from 7:00-8:30 PM at First Christian Church of Atlanta, to continue our exploration of the processes and possibilities of Tucker becoming a city. First Christian Church of Atlanta is located at 4532 Lavista Road, Tucker GA 30084.

  31. @Denise: My point exactly. What could one do? What could you do? What could I do? What could Pam do? Not much. The power ball was rolling. Gene Walker and crew blew it – and took out some decent people along the way. If I were Pam or Nancy, I would simply feel ill. What a huge waste of their time and effort. What a waste of their supporters’ efforts. What a helpless situation to try to make a difference in. It all seems so un-American. Certainly, voters in Gene’s district are savvy enough to organize a recall. No one had the time or put forth the effort. However, when the jobs opened up for simple applications rather than the hard work of a campaign or a recall according to the written politics of our state and country, over 400 people jumped into the fray! And the governor’s panel proudly boasted of choosing a group of ‘unknowns’ with no experience with or connection to the schools. And, while they stuck one to one with the same racial balance, they cared not one iota about gender. Most of us are having a very hard time seeing much change. Most disappointing is the fact that this new board has not made one single move toward finding a highly qualified permanent superintendent and ordering a full forensic audit for that new super to use to make sound fiscal decisions.

  32. ShooShee says:

    Just want to doubly point out Don’s comment in the post:

    “I am extremely disappointed in SACS. Today I heard Dr. Elgart deny he had ever told some other board members that Dr. Speaks should have been elected to the chairmanship of the BOE. I was one of the ones he said that to.

    So, he’s saying Elgart is lying. That’s kind of big, people.

  33. howdy1942 says:

    I’ve been away for some time but have been following the discussion on this blog. I have the greatest respect for Nancy Jester, for Dr. Pam Speaks, and for Don McChesney. Individually, they appear to be good people. I’ve long expressed my admiration and respect for Nancy’s intelligence and courage to to bring the shortcomings of the DCSS to the surface. I also admire Dr. Speaks for her intelligence and support. Left to me, I would have kept both of them and removed the others! For all I know, others may also be worthy also – individually! That is not an issue in the action taken to remove remove the school board. It was the collective failure of nine people to provide leadership for and to effectively govern the Dekalb County School System. A football team can have a few outstanding players but the team can still lose by a wide margin on the field. An entire team can consist of outstanding individuals yet fail miserably as a team. It was this collective failure that so threatened our students and brought so much anguish to our community. And it was this collective failure on the part of this board over a number of years that resulted in our school system being placed on probation. Moreover, there was little hope that this group of nine people could change its ways – they had numerous opportunities to do so.

    I don’t know Dr. Elgart nor do I know how he became the leader of SACS. However, he was apparently appointed to that position using a legitimate process and with little opposition by anyone. For whatever reason, Dekalb County chose SACS to accredit its school system. In doing so, Dekalb County accepted its standards, its priorities, and its authority. To my knowledge, it was only after it placed Dekalb on probation on December 18, 2012, and after the hearings in January and February, and after Governor Deal removed the school board that SACS ever became an issue. Were that the case and had Dekalb had concerns regarding the standards used by SACS in accrediting schools, then Dekalb could have and should have taken action. at that time That did not occur. The standards used by SACS are apparently acceptable to the thousands of institutions that it accredits and I don’t know of any who have sought alternative accrediting agencies even after the events in Dekalb occurred. SACS set the standards. Dekalb agreed to be governed by those standards. Dekalb was warned repeatedly that it did not meet those standards and was given every opportunity to respond and fix the situation. SACS acted and placed Dekalb on probation. As far as I know, SACS did not violate any law in doing so. The DCSS could have asked for clarification, it could have challenged the findings of SACS directly or through the courts, and it could have worked with SACS to fix the situation. This board did not do so.

    My concern is for the children who attend our public schools in Dekalb County. At this point, I’m not concerned about whether there was any alleged violation of any elected member’s due process because he/she was elected nor am I worried about the extent of any individual’s failure. One thing is painfully very, very clear – this board collectively failed our children and our people. Let’s focus on restoring our County and our school system. Seeing our school system on probation is painful enough. Let’s not compound that pain by tearing our community apart.

  34. While we agree with you on your premise, Howdy, we have strong reservations about giving total control to virtually one person. No one sounded the alarms about our school board’s and administration’s dysfunction louder than we. However, we were under the impression that Elgart had looked at the books, researched student achievement and interviewed staff and was ready to release a detailed report (again). If you recall, this is at least the third time Elgart has slapped the hands of the DeKalb board. (Read here, here and here for examples.) Every time there was a ‘to do’ list generated, and reports presented (mostly by Ramona Tyson) as to the progress of the school system. At one point, Elgart even led us all to believe that accreditation was not in jeopardy anymore. (Read Sarah’s letter to the public in July, 2010 regarding a SACS meeting and Ramona Tyson’s proclamation to the public that all is well with SACS: DeKalb Schools prepared to pass accreditation.)

    But the latest ‘investigation’ that resulted in probation has never been released and the dismissed board members are not allowed to confront any kind of accuser. This is Pam’s point: Please tell me what I did. She never got an answer.

    This is the United States. We are an elected Republic. We elect people to public offices of all kinds, hoping that they represent the needs and wishes of our communities. If they don’t, there are processes for recalls – and of course, they can lose their seat to an opponent in the next election. (BTW, SACS has experienced backlash in recent years and many colleges are not all that impressed with accreditation, they are looking at many other items for admittance.)

    In this situation, Mark Elgart wrote up a report. The public is not allowed to see it in detail. The accused are not allowed to see it in detail. In fact, the synopsis of the report called out the recently elected board members in particular yet they were not dismissed. It makes little sense. But Elgart’s word is the only thing the Gov used to trigger the law allowing him to replace (6 of 9) board members. These dismissed members are by law, allowed a hearing, however, they are not allowed to see evidence against them or plead their case. The only question becomes, “Can you work to improve things in DeKalb schools?” That’s subjective. Depends on who you serve with and whether or not you get shot down. Depends on if you get hushed and admonished by Elgart himself for bringing the lack of budget details and budget trickery by staff to light or if Elgart supports you – which he only apparently does if you vote with a majority of the board.

    Elgart never cared about student achievement – never mentioned it in his reports dating back to 201. His recent presentation at a board meeting eluded to the erosion of achievement, but Elgart simply promotes and evaluates ‘process’.

    The state does not require accreditation, yet they fired board members for putting accreditation at risk. What’s to say the board couldn’t decide not to have accreditation at all? It would be legal. Would that nullify our position of being on probation? Could we solve our problem that easily?

  35. momfromhe11 says:

    To me, the case was seriously undermined by the decision to suspend BOE members who took office prior to Jan, 2013, but not suspend those who took office on that date. The statute clearly said that the BOE should be suspended in its entirety, if it is suspended. Not to have done so strengthens the disenfranchisement argument.

    I have no written or video proof, but I do believe the observation in the report that newly-elected BOE members were in schools before they took office.

    If I could have chosen to keep three members on the Board, it would not have been those three – I wonder if Dr. Walker would have been elected by much of a majority if he had not had Marshall Orson campaigning for him in the Druid Hills voting district.

  36. howdy1942 says:

    DSW, I appreciate your points and respect your thoughts as I always do. I also agree with you on Pam Speaks. I don’t think that SACS had any specific problems with individual members of the Dekalb Board, except its Chairman Eugene Walker. I also agree with @momfromhe11 that the entire board should have been removed since SACS also found that newly elected members had engaged in practices not permitted by SACS. They should have known better and not have had to be told that what they were doing was not permitted. They have no excuse – none! As I pointed out in my earlier post, SACS found the collective policies and actions of the school board to be deficient, as you pointed out, on at least three occasions. Given the failures of this board as a whole, not individually, I think that we all agree that this board needed to be removed. The issue appears to be with the process used to remove the board.

    What would you have liked for Governor Deal to do? Would you have preferred to see the residents of the County opt for a recall? Given the high bar for a recall election in Georgia to even be held, do you think that members of the former board would not have interfered or fought to delay that process? Even had they not interfered, do you think that a recall election could have been held and a new board seated and sufficient time exist for that new board to take sufficient action to prevent our loss of accreditation? Should the Governor have demanded that SACS make its report public or even have gone to court to make that happen? Like Dr. Elgart or not, like SACS or not, do you think that Dekalb could have retained its accreditation under any alternative other than what the Governor chose to do? The Governor could have simply chosen not to get involved, to ignore the results of the 14-hour marathon hearing and leave the matter to Dekalb. Do you think that the former Board could have retained Dekalb’s accreditation? Should Dekalb simply have ignored SACS and sought other accreditation? How would that have reverberated with many colleges and universities? What would happen to the Class of 2014, Class of 2015, etc. if such efforts were not successful? Frankly, I want our high school graduates to have every opportunity in the world to attend any college or university they might choose and for them to have equal access to those institutions on the same basis as students from other states and to have an opportunity to have their credentials accepted without question. That happened for our two daughters and I will be eternally grateful to the Dekalb County School System of that day. They had the benefit of outstanding teachers and were free of the outside events that engulf the current school system.

    No, I don’t like what the Governor had to do. I don’t think that he did either. I don’t think Judge Story or even the Georgia Supreme Court likes what has happened. SACS is a far greater institution than just Dr. Elgart just as Dekalb County is a far greater institution than CEO Burrell Ellis. I’m familiar with three colleges/universities that were reviewed by SACS and not once did any of them meet with Dr. Elgart. He did sign off on the cover letter but even that was prepared by his subordinates. Regarding Dekalb County, I am not optimistic that a school board will be elected in July 2015 that can lead us out of this mess – I’ll just have to wait. In the interim, I am now in favor of pursuing cityhood in Tucker because I am optimistic that the Legislature will vote to change the Georgia Constitution and the people of Georgia will vote for that change so that we can control our own school system. And I’m willing to pay higher taxes to support our own local school system but not one more penny for Dekalb. I’m not sure what the Georgia Supreme Court will do, but if it rules for Walker, look out below because here comes Dekalb County.

  37. concernedmom30329 says:

    The rumor is that Deal would have let the entire board stay is Copelin-Woods and Walker would have resigned. The reality is that Walker should have. He ran because Paul Womack ran as he had (justifiable) concerns about Womack’s belief system and his behavior during the desegregation law suit. Womack lost, Walker’s mission should have been over.

  38. howdy1942 says:

    Whoops! The election for school board members will be held in July 2014 and not 2015. That way, the People can vote in 2014 for cityhood knowing the results of the school board election.

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