TSA: A Story of Betrayal and Greed

BrokeThis is a story of unconscionable greed … and shocking betrayal … that, unless corrected, will result in a retirement in poverty for many DeKalb County [GA] Schools teachers and other employees who have spent their entire careers serving DeKalb County students.  This is one story in an occasional series illustrating how DeKalb County Schools’ superintendents, overpaid but incompetent central office personnel and most Board members enrich themselves and fluff their resumes standing on the backs of children and teachers.

For decades, thousands of DeKalb County public school teachers have educated, guided and enriched the futures of DeKalb County’s children. Since 1979, these dedicated public employees have been promised retirement benefits through a Tax Sheltered Annuity (TSA) established by DeKalb County Schools, as an alternative to Social Security. The Board promised to include TSA contributions in its annual budget as an established percentage of every employee’s compensation. The TSA Plan was generally perceived as – and was intended by the Board to be – a compensation and benefits “perk” to attract and retain superior teachers and staff.

Thirty years later — on July 27, 2009 – the DeKalb County Board of Education, faced with a budget shortfall caused by a bloated central office, decided to balance the budget on the backs of its hard-working teachers and stop contributing to the TSA Plan. This “funding freeze” – with no prior notice – violated a promise enacted in Board policy that had its roots in the original resolution authorizing the TSA Plan: a two-year notice to teachers and others covered by the TSA before reducing or ending TSA funding.

DeKalb County Schools has wrongfully withheld money owed to DeKalb’s teachers – and any interest that might have been earned – by instituting a “freeze” on promised contributions to the TSA Plan without the contractually required, two-year notice. Accordingly, a class action lawsuit seeks redress for this continuing wrong.

TSA History and Hijack Timeline

  • 1977: Reviewed the extent to which DeKalb County Schools’ employee retirement benefits should incorporate, or rely upon, Social Security.
  • 1977 – 1979 : Identified and weighed the pros and cons of Social Security versus an alternative employee retirement benefit administered privately.
  • 1979: [May 14, 1979] Passed the following resolution (emphasis ours):

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That in the event of withdrawal from Social Security, funds currently budgeted for Social Security shall be used for the support of the alternative plan, and the funding of the alternative to Social Security shall be adjusted annually in proportion to the employer’s Social Security amount; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That before the budget is adopted each year, a determination shall be made as to the amount that would have been required for continued participation in Social Security during the current year and the projection shall be made as to the amount that would have been required to continue participation in Social Security during the forthcoming budget year, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the amount required for the forthcoming year to continue funding Social Security shall be the amount budgeted to fund the alternative to Social Security, and that to the Board of Education will give a two-year notice to the employees before reducing or terminating these funding provisions.

  • 1979: [May 21, 1979] More than 70% of DeKalb County Schools’ employees approved the alternative, private plan providing Social Security-type benefits. TSA funds in individual employee accounts would be tax-sheltered until needed, or withdrawn.
  • 1983: [July 11, 1983] Established the TSA Plan (Alternative to Social Security)..
  • 2009: [July 27, 2009] Facing difficulty balancing its budget, the Board suddenly declared an emergency meeting. Though not on the published agenda, CFO Marcus Turk suggested a temporary suspension of funding for the TSA and the Board agreed.
  • 2009: [August 1, 2009] Funding for the TSA Plan was suspended and has not been restored.
  • 2010: [January 25, 2010] Then-Superintendent Crawford Lewis announced DeKalb County Schools’ funding for the TSA Plan would be restored on July 1, 2010. It was not.
  • 2010: [May 10, 2010] The Board realized its error in violating its own policy and suspending TSA contributions. The Board voted to “waive” its TSA policy requiring a two- year notice when contributions were suspended or terminated.
  • 2010: [June 14, 2010] The Board voted to eliminate provisions of the Board’s Bylaws and Policies that were “not part of the TSA Plan itself,” presumably to delete and remove the two-year notice requirement that the Board, by its earlier illegal actions, had violated.

Breaking the Promise

  • The DeKalb County Board of Education breached a clear, legal duty by failing to meet, in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, its clear, unambiguous, contractual duty to fund the TSA Plan.
  • The DeKalb County Board of Education breached a clear, legal duty by failing to give employees a two-year notice before reducing or terminating the TSA Plan funding provisions.
  • The DeKalb County Board of Education made this decision based on a misguided notion that the board’s own written policies could be broken at any time, as stated to the AJC by Tom Bowen, Board Chair at the time of the cut, “A board can waive or go against its own policy because the board is the policy-setting body.” [http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/teachers-file-lawsuit-over-dekalb-retirement-plan/nQr4Q/]

Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)

Social Security Amendments of 1983

Without TSA, the Windfall Elimination Provision compromises DeKalb County Schools’ retiree benefits.  For those eligible to receive Social Security (i.e., worked 40+ quarters for one or more organizations that did pay into Social Security), benefits are reduced by 35% or more if teachers/staff ultimately retire from and receive a pension from an organization that did not pay into Social Security (i.e., DeKalb County Schools). Even Social Security collected by a teacher on a spouse’s work record will be reduced by 35% or more. This is true even though the spouse worked for employer(s) who paid into Social Security and/or if the teacher worked elsewhere (for at least 40 quarters) for employers who were paying in to Social Security, but who retires from DeKalb County Schools. This calculator shows the reduction in the Social Security payout for retirees from DeKalb County Schools.

The TSA Plan offset this disparity to a large extent. But, since 2009, teachers in DeKalb no longer build their TSA retirement benefits through Board contributions. In addition, they will not get the full Social Security benefits that they would have received had they never worked for and/or did not retire from DeKalb County Schools. This is true regardless of how many quarters teachers and their previous employer(s) paid into Social Security.

The Windfall Elimination Provision is just one more reason why DeKalb County Schools’ not funding TSA is so damaging to teachers if they hope to have a secure retirement.

A shocking story of betrayal of trust, indeed!  These people, including the current DeKalb County [GA] School Board members, have no shame and they don’t care who knows.

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58 Responses to TSA: A Story of Betrayal and Greed

  1. concerned citizen says:

    The DeKalb School Board MUST be involved with helping our teachers to their rightful retirement; in other words, they must address the misdeeds of the past. My idea is to pay every single one of the teachers whose lives changed due to the misdeeds of the board and the supt. They must. The taxpayers are not to blame; the students are not to blame; the teachers are not to blame; the asinine and criminal supt and the no-conscience board are to blame. The lawsuit is going to eat up a lot in legal fees, so why not do right, supt and board, and pay up your just debts? Or, do you want to do it the hard way? Why has any board not corrected these misdeeds? Now is the time to right the situation. Paying the teachers is the best and only way to start.

  2. concerned citizen says:

    I further believe that Marcus Turk should be prosecuted, along with the whole board who approved this unjust and unwarranted action, and of course, the criminal animal Lewis.

  3. Teachingmom says:

    I love my students. I love my school. I have a great principal. I am a second career teacher so I have paid into many years of Social Security. Please fix this DeKalb. I need money when I retire.

  4. Dr Moore says:

    Again we are taken advantage by those we trusted. They all need to be charged with violation of breaking the oath of office and breaking the public trust, and go to jail. Where is the Federal Govt.?

  5. concerned citizen says:

    Thank you, Dr Moore and bless you, Teachingmom – what can you and I do, given that we don’t see anyone taking charge of these criminals in the school system? We need retroactive response from the supt and board. Have any of you seen any comments or pictures of them in the first week of school? I mean, I saw ole Josh Williams parking in the principal’s parking place, but other than never maintaining the facilities, AC , trailers, etc.,,what is his work? He is a dufus! And he’s dangerous. I surely don’t appreciate seeing his driving one of the glam service vehicles!! This is what DeKalb Schools has produced. Does Stacy Stephney, whose mother is a close friend of Walker’s, have a car, too? Because she’s had a spectacular career since she graduated from SWD in 1989, and then moved on to principal of Dunwoody HS, and then to the Central Office where she’s a key advisor to Thurmond, I believe she’ll help fill in the spiderwork chain of F&F! It does appear that something about Thurmond brings out the BEAST in his lackeys, who are mostly misfits from his own and Lewis’ brilliant superintendency! Wow, wow, yes’m

  6. Dekalbite2 says:

    Ms. Tyson was the superintendent who developed and presented the 2010-11 and 2011-12 budgets to the BOE with TSA contributions stopped. She could have right sized the Central Office, outsourced other areas, etc. but she was determined to keep everyone employed. Outside the classroom became as important as inside the classroom where students spend 95% of thier day. She must bear considerable responsibility for this. She seems to be a very affable person, but her budgetary mechanisms have been ruinous for DeKalb Schools.

  7. I believe Tyson’s excuse for the cut to the retirement contributions was, “We have to go after the big nuts”…

  8. Please … write to your Congressional representatives and Georgia’s two senators. Ask for federal assistance to stop the fraud and corruption in DeKalb County Schools. We are confident that federal funds are involved. DeKalb School Watch will publish any letters or e-mails that we are copied on — without the name(s) of the sender(s), of course, to protect the innocent.

  9. howdy1942 says:

    I am just appalled that this failure of the Dekalb County School Board has not been corrected and these teacher paid what is ethically and morally their money. After this matter surfaced again on a previous blog just last week, I called a neighbor who is a teacher and listened to her as she verified what Dekalb County had done. I am not a lawyer, but I do know that a company cannot refuse to make it required contributions for an employee into Social Security nor can it refuse to pay into Medicare. Some have tried this only to realize that they made a big, big mistake. Unless there is some provision other than those that @DSW cited above, it seems to be that this language is clearly a written contract. As I mentioned above, I have several neighbors and friends who are or were teachers in Dekalb County and it is just unconscionable that our school board would engage in this type of conduct.

    Correcting this breach of contract should have been the very first act of our new school board and the longer it avoids doing what it should do implicates the present board in this reprehensible conduct. Our school board should take immediate action to restore to the teachers what is rightfully theirs and to stop the incredible waste of tax dollars to contest this matter in court. As a resident of Dekalb County, I strongly abhor what the previous school board did and am very alarmed that action has not been taken to do the right thing. My representative is Jim McMahon and I will not vote for him if this issue has not been resolved by next July. From my perspective, there is nothing more serious than a deliberate breach of ethical obligations. A previous commenter stated it very well – the Dekalb County School Board should never have taken this action and have reduced administrative staff, reduced its purchases, and reduced its expenses (certainly to include its grossly legal expenses).

    If this matter does go to court and the teachers prevail, I strongly favor seeking criminal charges against former members of the school board, especially those who voted to support this action, There is simply no excuse.

    I fully expect the current school board to immediately address this issue or to at least explain to the public what it is not.

  10. info says:

    I’ve been told by some people that usually know what’s going on at Mountain Industrial Headquarters that some people are still getting such contributions.

    Of course I don’t know how this can be verified, but maybe someone else can figure out how to do an open records request to determine if this is really happening.

    As a teacher who has seen my and my colleagues’ salaries stagnate, I am equally bothered by our pension system. First, I can’t imagine that the market-or better than market salaries-Dekalb provides for its many administrators justify even receiving pensions.

    The state and our pension system don’t seem to care about the inflated salaries of big districts like Dekalb. Friends are promoted to positions for which they have few qualifications, and once they’re found out, moved around, or retire, it doesn’t matter. As long as they work two years with that inflated salary, that’s the money that will determine their pension.

  11. Concernedmom30329 says:

    Howdy

    Are you going to run? I am certainly not a fan of Jim (and frankly shocked that this was the best that district had to offer), but unless someone steps up to run that is qualified and doesn’t have to narrow of an agenda, what will you do? I really think being a school board member is a pretty thankless job, even in healthy systems. With all the top down directives from states and the feds, difficult financial situations, etc, it hasn’t like it is particularly easy to accomplish anything., Just my two cents.

  12. Thank you for this post. Here is some additional info. I know this because I was directly affected by it. The school year I started teaching in DeKalb (2003-2004), a new policy related to TSA went into effect. Techers who began tht year were not provided any TSA funds until their 4th year in the system. I do not know when the Board voted to make this change, but I do know I did not start getting money put into my TSA account until the 2006-2007 school year. It went in for 3 years and then stopped. Sobased on the original policy some of us are due money for 2009-2013 and also for the first 3 years we were employed by the system.
    A class action suit always results in a win-win for the lawyers who receive at least 33% of the judgment. The rest is doled out to the plaintiffs. I have not yet received any notice that a class action suit exists; all stakeholders noramlly get a notice asking if they want to participate.
    Regrettably, the Board does not have the money or integrity to do the right thing and reinstate the TSA along with money owed so I am not holding my breath looking for the approximately $21K I am owed to appear in my account.

  13. Sorry for the typos in my earlier comments. FYI, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) went into effect during the Reagan Administration. (Seems like all good ideas to stick it to the working person come from Republicans.) Clearly no one in Congress consulted a dictionary. Only those who have not taught could consider payment for years of underpaid and underappreciated work by a classroom teacher to be a “windfall.” Our GA Rep. Hank Johnson did file a bill to eliminate the WEP, but it went nowhere due, most likely, to concerns about the viability of Social Security.

    Like Teachingmom, I am a second career teacher. I had 26 years in SS from my previous teaching and my military career (for which I receive a generous and reliable Federal pension) but I will be penalized $115 a month by SS. (WEP does not apply to anyone who has 30 years in SS.) If I subtract that $115 from the $1000 I gross from Teacher Retirement, that means I slaved in this county 10 years to get $885 gross per month. I am grateful that the money was not my first priority; thinking back on the wonderful students I taught gives me a lot of comfort. But thinking about the corruption, graft, and lack of ethics in this school system makes me sick.

    I understand Jim McMahon does read this blog, so I appeal to him to look into this issue for the benefit of teachers who do not have a Federal golden parachute like I do.

  14. hopespringseternal says:

    I’m no lawyer, but just my opinion. Companies can, and do, change their eligibility requirements based on what’s going on at the time. In fact it happened to me some years ago. IMO, there’s precedent for this and, stinky as it was for new teachers, did not violate anything. I personally believe that the bad-faith basis for the lawsuit is the way in which the contributions were summarily stopped. It saddens me that this happened to begin with, but that there was no redress planned for or anything said to the teachers makes it really bad. Even if the school district prevails, it is just not a way to keep good faith or attract and retain good teachers. I’m so sorry this has happened to all of our teachers. Now, it is in the courts and heaven only knows what lawyers and judges will do with this. I’ve been hoping these last couple of years that the school district would try to keep the anvil from falling on our heads by offering up something in the way of a good-faith restoration. If that has happened, I haven’t heard about it. To me, that doesn’t bode well.

  15. Dekalbite2 says:

    @hopespringseternal

    I disagree. I was there and voted to leave Social Security. The BOE was glad to stabilize their payment into the TSA in anticipation that SS contributions would go up (which they did – but DeKalb reaped the benefits of lesser payments into the TSA for 30 years – hundreds of millions of dollars – because they were able to escape the SS increases). The teachers would never have gone along with losing their Social Security benefits without assurances from the BOE and that’s what they violated.

    Even if it is legal for the BOE to do this, it is most certainly unethical and harms students irreparably in the long run. DeKalb CANNOT attract and retain teachers when they cannot compensate their at marketplace salaries. That’s not speculation or opinion. That’s a fact. We just lost 700 teachers this year and have not been able to replace them yet. That’s an enormous failure on the part of Mr. Thurmond and the BOE members. Taxpayers are tired of paying the highest millage rate and parents are tired of substandard facilities, unmanageable class sizes and worried about teachers in the classroom who are marking time as they look for teaching jobs that will adequately compensate them.

    Mr. Thurmond has been an utter disappointment as he has kept the same administrators that drove our student achievement to the lowest levels in the metro area including demographically comparable schoo systems (that’s also not opinion but a fact). No wonder the Druid Hills Charter Cluster was formed. The thousands of volunteer hours were spent for a reason. Mr. Thurmond and the DCSS administration are continting to fiddle while Rome burns.

  16. concerned citizen says:

    I read from one of the posters that two retired principals just stepped back into principalships for two “retiring” principals. I called TRS to question and was told that effective this school year, retirees may NOT collect a salary and their pension as they have been allowed to do for many years. So the double-dipping these principals and upper mgt is no more allowed. If HR and others know who these replacement retirees of retirees are, please be sure to let them know that we know the TRS has new rules that prohibit their double-dipping.

  17. howdy1942 says:

    Just a thought – had the teachers not voted to leave the Social Security System, they obviously would have continued to be a part of the system and accrue the additional benefits earned. In that case, the Dekalb County School System would have had no choice other than to pay into the Social Security System – that’s the law. As such, the Dekalb County School Board could not have had the option to stop payments and would have had to find savings elsewhere.

    In 1979, there was no way that the School Board at that time could have ever imagined that 30 years later we would have a School Board comprised of a majority of inept, incompetent people. Were that possible, I don’t think the teachers or the School Board at that time would have ever made such an agreement. Regardless of how one may feel about the School Board of 1979, the Dekalb County School System was recognized as being in the top 5% nationally and that School Board at least deserves some of the credit for that accomplishment. Over the last decade, it is readily obvious that the DCSS has declined and, as in 1979, the DCSS Board must share a major responsibility for that decline.

    Regardless of how we may feel about SACS, I think that we all know that the governance provided by the former Board was severely deficient. The current board can correct one deficiency of the former board by rectifying this ethical and moral wrong. There seem to be at least two wrongs committed. First, the School Board was supposed to give a two-year notice to the teachers of any contemplated changes. Did that happen? Second, the School Board formally agreed to make these contributions if they (the teachers) withdrew from the Social Security System? Did the Board do this? The short answer to both questions, I believe, is no. If the DCSS Board had given the two year notice, it should have also given the teachers the option to vote to return to the Social Security System. Private companies did stop making contributions to 401(k) plans during the Great Recession, but I don’t think they made any commitments in writing and they certainly did not make any written agreements to make these contributions if their employees withdrew from Social Security because that was not even an option.

    The current School Board can take steps to rectify this egregious wrong by working with the teachers to reach a mutually beneficial resolution. Think about it a minute – given the conduct by the DCSS Board, why should any other government body ever vote to leave Social Security? I regret that this matter has to even go to court – the school board ought to be above this type of conduct. They’ve made such a big deal of being elected to their office – I believe the people of Dekalb County are better than this conduct by the board. For one, I expect the Dekalb County School Board to keep and honor its commitments.

  18. I am in no way perfectly clear on this, however, I think the portion of contribution that was stopped was the promised part beyond what would have been the matching SS money. In other words, I ‘think’ the 7% employer portion to TSA in lieu of the SS legally required 7% has been paid… it was the additional promised (and for years, paid) ‘bump’ that was dropped. The problem is, the board broke its own policy to do so. Their policy required a 2 year notification. They waived their own policy and cut it on the spot. That’s a breach of a binding contract. Tom Bowen, Chair of the Board at the time (and an attorney!) said this, “A board can waive or go against its own policy because the board is the policy-setting body.” [http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/teachers-file-lawsuit-over-dekalb-retirement-plan/nQr4Q/]

    Am I right or wrong? Anyone know for certain?

  19. Dekalbite2 says:

    @DSW

    No. You are not correct. The BOE paid into the TSA what would have been their contribution to Social Security. It was a good deal for them because they paid into the TSA using the Social Security rates that were in place from years ago (a lesser percent). Some employees are still getting the Board promised TSA but not teachers.

    Teachers have gotten NO contributions from the Board for the TSA (Social Security Alternative) since Lewis and Tyson suspended it (yes without the two year notice that was established in 1979) – NO portion. It goes without saying that the county also pays no Social Security contributions like all of the other counties (except APS which pays their teachers considerably more than DCSS).

    The part in this post about the Windfall Provision penalizing teachers who retire from Dekalb after working for another system is correct.

    There was no “bump” involved. You are confusing that with the change in the state Teachers Retirment System that prompted so many teachers to retire in January.

  20. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Howdy1942,
    You are correct. Just as easily as the board decided to stop paying into TSA, the current board could decide to start paying into it again. That would be a small consolation compared to the money really owed the teachers. Whose side is this board really on?

  21. Thanks Dekalbite2 – this is terrible – and confusing. Terribly confusing…

  22. hopespringseternal says:

    This is probably worth a re-read — Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 23, 2012

    By Ty Tagami
    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
    The school system in DeKalb County experienced a setback in a lawsuit brought by employees that could someday cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, yet a top official says he’s unaware of plans to set money aside in case the county is forced to pay.
    Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger ruled in October against DeKalb’s claim that it was immune to a lawsuit over suspended payments to a supplemental retirement fund for teachers, bus drivers and other employees.
    The case is on appeal, with hearings scheduled for April. If the school system loses the appeal, the lawsuit will continue in the DeKalb court system. So far, the case involves only two plaintiffs, but they are seeking class action status. If it is granted and if the county loses the case, taxpayers could be compelled to make back payments to the thousands of employees in the retirement plan.
    The school system had been paying into the plan since 1979, but suspended payments in 2009 because of a budget shortfall. A teacher and a school counselor sued last March, charging the suspension was a breach of contract. They are demanding the restoration of all payments for three years and counting. It’s unclear how much the total could be.
    The only calculation available in the court record is for the 2009-10 school year, when DeKalb was scheduled to pay $26.5 million into the tax-sheltered annuity plan.
    Assuming the annual contribution — about 6 percent of each employee’s pay — didn’t change much, the total could exceed $50 million, said John Salter, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs
    Yet school board Chairman Eugene Walker said he knows of no plan to save money for the possibility of a payout.
    “Not to my knowledge,” Walker said, “because we anticipate success in the courts.”
    Walker said the decision to cease payments was necessary to balance the budget.
    The annuity plan, which supplements the state retirement plan, was established as an alternative to Social Security.
    In a 1979 referendum, 70 percent of teachers and other eligible employees voted to substitute a private fund for Social Security. According to court documents, the vote came a week after the school board approved a reassuring resolution. It said that if the private alternative were selected, the payments to it would equal whatever would have been paid to Social Security.
    It also said employees would be warned two years in advance of any reduction or termination of payments.
    Salter, who filed the suit for teacher Elaine Gold and psychologist Amy Shaye, said their claim is simple: “This case is entirely about keeping promises.”
    The school system countered in court that it had authority to cancel the payments at any time, without notice.

  23. howdy1942 says:

    @DIO – Thanks for your support, but I’m not just talking about restoring the payments, but I am talking about retroactively going back and making the teachers whole from the outset of this wrongheaded policy set by the previous board. If this matter goes to court and the teachers are awarded class-action status, my understanding is that the cost to the DCSS would be tripled and damages could be added to that. That is a huge risk to assume and given Dekalb’s track record in the courts and with lawyers I don’t think that would be a wise course to pursue. In my mind, I think the best course right now is for the current board to initiate discussions with the teachers and resolve this matter in a mutually acceptable manner. Frankly, I’m tired of the combative attitude that our board has assumed over the past four years – it simply has not worked. Had it been possible for this matter to be submitted to the voters, I think the overwhelming response of the public would have been to honor commitments made to the teachers. The course chosen by the previous board, though unethical, was the most expedient for them and perhaps the most selfish. They should have chosen to downsize its staff that is twice the size of comparable school systems and slash spending on programs such as those advocated by the previous superintendent and on lawyers. Teachers and students should be our first priority and not administrators. We also should have reduced Dr. Tyson’s salary when she was no longer serving as interim superintendent and not been so generous in severance packages – it sure looked to me like the DCSS Board fired Dr. Atkinson. When you fire someone, it is done for a reason that she did something that she was not supposed to have done. On the other hand, the teachers did nothing wrong and yet they were penalized.

    Finally, I just don’t think the majority of the previous board was competent to address the issues presented by the Great Recession. They simply tried to “bully” their way through the issues and our teachers and our residents are paying a terrible price.

  24. Dekalbite2 says:

    @howdy 1942

    “it sure looked to me like the DCSS Board fired Dr. Atkinson”

    That is not what I thought when I heard Atkinson was leaving. It struck me as an odd time for the BOE to incentivize her to leave. I think she knew she was on the way out and had a very nice job lined up with Success for All after she committed millions of DeKalb tax dollars to that company. The BOE may have encouraged her to leave so they could place someone who had many connections to them in the office of superintendent hoping he would “hold down” the fort and make no changes in case they were removed. If Atkinson had stayed and a new BOE had come in they could and would have replaced her with someone who probably would have made real changes. Does anyone else thnk the resignation of Atkinson and the subsequent replacement with Thurmond was done too quickly and conveniently? The same goes with the election of Johnson as Board Chair. The old BOE was able to install the BOE Chair and the Superintendent just before they were removed. Does this sound like a coincidence?

  25. We strongly suspect that we were operating without a superintendent at all for several weeks. Word around the shop was that Atkinson never actually came back to work once she left due to her father’s ill health (and subsequent death). She eventually sent a lawyer to negotiate an exit package for her. In the meantime, the board was in a panic to fill the superintendent’s seat. Thurmond was not the first person they approached by any means.

  26. Dekalbite2 says:

    @ DSW
    Well it was very convenient for the old Board to be able to install the Superintendent and the Board Chair both of who were very connected and would support the status quo only weeks before they were ousted. That has always seemed just a little too coincidental. When Brown was let go and received a hefty payout, the two factions of the BOE (those who supported Brown and those who did not) made some deals as well and one faction came out on top as they finessed the other faction. The Board is always about politics and never about students. It has to been about students in a very long time.

  27. mike p says:

    Not funding the TSA is simply wrong. I do appreciate the fact that the DCSS was in financial dire straits. However, the removal of the TSA, not funding step increases, furlough days, the dramatic increase in the number of students per class, and the seeming ever diminishing funding of teacher’s classroom budgets are affecting teachers badly. Often teacher talk focuses on these issues. We read that the county now has a surplus (we don’t want the county to be in debt), but it has a surplus because of the choices made that affect teachers’ short and long term financial livelihoods. I have heard it argued that without the aforementioned financial actions that many of us would be unemployed. Perhaps, but I don’t know. However, I think it best that the board and all citizens of DeKalb County question what these decisions have had on the teacher corps, and how these decisions ultimately affect students. I hope that the board re-evaluates decisions that have been made. I believe that through just actions trust can be reestablished, and a strong teaching corps can be rebuilt. Teachers, adequately supported and compensated will help students increase their achievement levels making DeKalb once again a place to raise a family and establish businesses.

  28. Agree with you completely Dekalbite2.

  29. ZBS says:

    Friendly reminder: There is an important hearing on the lawsuit this coming Wednesday, August 21, starting at 9 AM in the DeKalb County Courthouse, Superior Court Judge Anthony Scott’s courtroom on the 6th Floor. Judge Scott will be hearing evidence and arguments from both sides on the crucial issue of whether to grant class certification. The hearing is open to the public. Come see the team of hired guns from Sutherland Asbill that our tax dollars are paying for to fight the teachers with every bit of resourcefulness they can muster (including the lead attorney who our tax dollars pay to fly in from Washington, DC – as if there is no attorney in the entire Atlanta area capable of doing what he is doing). Come show your support for the teachers and their lawyers, former Governor Roy Barnes and John Salter. As one comment above pointed out in a previous article by Ty Tagami, the school system lost rulings by Judge Seeliger. The school system then appealed those rulings, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a key ruling against the Board. The school system appealed that ruling against them to the Georgia Supreme Court, which denied cert, meaning, it let the Court of Appeals ruling stand because they didn’t see any close issues for them to look at and consider more carefully. Concerning the question raised above by a teacher as to why they haven’t received any notice, it is because the class has not yet been certified. Generally such notices don’t go out until after class certification and after there has been a proposed resolution, providing each class member with the opportunity to remain in the class and accept the proposed resolution, or opt out of the class and reserve their rights to pursue their own lawsuits separate from the class. If the school system decides to keep using our tax money to pay their team of lawyers to fight and delay, it will still be a long way off before there will be any possible resolution. And in the meantime, all the issues of low teacher morale and low retention rate will continue.

  30. Dekalbite2 says:

    What a poor decision on the part of Ms. Tyson and the BOE who are the people named in this lawsuit. At Ms. Tyson’s and the BOE members direction taxpayers are now spending all this money to fight against the very individuals we entrust to instruct our children and ensure they master the content that will allow them to live healthy and productive lives. Now Mr. Thurmond and this current BOE are also using taxpayers’ money to fund lawyers to fight against the most important adults in our children’s lives outside their homes.

    Please write Mr. Thurmond and the BOE members to let them know your feelings on this matter of taking the teachers’ TSA (Social Security Alternative) and then using tax dollars to fight the teachers who instruct our children.

  31. ZBS says:

    Concerning the comment somewhere above about the Plaintiffs’ lawyers earning a 1/3 contingency of whatever is awarded, that is not the case in class action lawsuits. Plaintiffs’ lawyers will be awarded attorneys fees separate from the award to the class. What this means is, if the Plaintiffs prevail, which they likely will eventually, the school system will not only have already paid for all of their lawyers fighting the Plaintiffs, but they will also end up paying for the Plaintiffs’ attorneys. The longer this goes on, the higher the fees go up on both sides. The new Board has an opportunity now to exhibit new leadership and a commitment to genuinely turn things around by doing the right thing concerning this lawsuit. It is an excellent opportunity to express real, meaningful support for the teachers, not just empty rhetoric. So far, all they have done is sit on their hands and let this proceed. Does anyone know of any Board member who has raised this issue or expressed an opinion? I am not aware of any.

  32. hopespringseternal says:

    I’m sure I’m simplifying this too much, but we have to start somewhere. We are the BOE. We go into executive session and listen to reports from lawyers. Let’s even imagine that a majority of us want to do the right thing with the hand we’ve been dealt. And let’s assume that a full restoration baseline of the TSA is the $26M for each year that the AJC referred to.

    Now we head back to the boardroom and get a budget update. The fund balance (reserves) is still paltry, the furlough days aren’t going anywhere, and all the central office slashing in the world isn’t going to put us in compliance with our reserves, restoring those days and restoring the full TSA. Even if the economic picture gets brighter and revenues from property taxation rise sharply there will still be dire budget challenges for the next few years. On top of that, there may be the Breakaway School System miracle many people hope for, which will take a chunk of tax base with it. Even if that is a couple of years down the road, you don’t know what to plan for in the way of making promises. Further, we don’t even know right now if this board will even exist in a few months. Everything is hanging in a state of suspension until a court ruling is delivered concerning the Walker board, not to mention the election horizon next year. So how much decision-making authority should this BOE undertake?

    What we also know, however, is that we’re still financially and emotionally scarred from paying lawyers for dumb stuff, and we can’t keep doing this. So given this picture, what is a reasonable way to get us out of this? Where should this BOE start?

  33. info says:

    With regard to hiring and retaining teachers, please consider the following:

    1. Dekalbs’ teachers salaries have not increased in at least six years despite the state’s giving the district step increase funds and despite the school systems effectively giving more work (increased class sizes=more stuff to grade; more grades to input; more plans to differentiate; more people to contact or tutor, etc..).
    2. Dekalb did away with the meager health insurance subsidy last year, so I believe that the insurance to which we have access is entirely through the state. And some teachers are finding that seeking their own insurance through providers like Kaiser is either no different in cost or actually somewhat cheaper.
    3. Dekalb doesn’t pay into social security, so a Dekalb teacher who has worked only or primarily in Dekalb will not be eligible for any social security funds unless he or she works another job (and the pension-social security amount would be altered).
    4. A Dekalb teacher, or any teacher in the state of Georgia, must work ten full years before being eligible for any pension funds. So teachers who work fewer than ten years only in Dekalb get no social security, no retirement funds, and no pension funds-nothing.

    If, however, someone wants to work in any of Dekalb’s administrative/coaching positions, things look much better.
    1. You might get a free phd (anyone know what’s happening to March’s RTT-funded studies or how a regional superintendent new to the position managed more responsbilities and phd studies at the same time?).
    2. You might have access to a company car.
    3. You have access to leadership initiatives (I believe there’s been another blast of emails announcing the aspiring principals/leaders programs) that translate to significantly higher salaries than those earned by teachers.
    4. You might earn raises, more money (open records would confirm that some employees-not teaching in a classroom-have seen salary increases like the ones Atkinson and the previous board approved).

  34. True points Hope. We have some suggestions – since this board and superintendent are all essentially new to DeKalb County Schools (except McMahan and Orson, both highly involved parents and Johnson, who was a former highly paid DCSS administrator) – they could benefit from outsiders (ie: parents) suggestions as to what to do and where to cut. They are currently only listening to insiders — people whose only true goal is to protect their own job and nice salary, knowing they could not acquire the same thing anywhere else (ie: Ramona, Beasley, etc.) — Please add your own ideas to this list:

    — Break up the system into the 5 or 6 regions as was outlined in the much-researched Blue Ribbon Task Force report. Give each of those regions complete autonomy to make decisions for their regions within their own budgets. Make each of the area superintendents that regions ‘go-to’ person for daily operations.

    — Give principals autonomy within their school and control of their total budgets. This includes their Title 1 funds!! There should only be 2 or 3 Title 1 administrators/secretaries in the Central Office. Allow principals to hire (and fire) the teachers and staff they choose, with HR simply functioning as a paperwork clearinghouse of support to principals. To apply for a job at a school, you must interview with that school’s principal. If a school fails, the principal is the quarterback who will take the heat. But you must not tie his or her hands in the process.

    — Eliminate ALL extra transportation for magnet, theme and other ’boutique’ and ‘specialty’ programs. In fact, eliminate those programs or merge them in with traditional schools if possible. (This has been shown to save millions, yet it is never fully done… )

    — Eliminate the Fernbank Science Center as a function of DeKalb county schools. Offer it as a private, non-profit organization to the highest, most qualified bidder. Place those science teachers left at the science centers in a school classroom if they are willing. Otherwise, cut them loose or allow them to be a part of the new non-profit.

    — Close and sell under-utilized school buildings – the Druid Hills property may have to be sold to pay for the judgement that is certain to come for back-pay into retirement contributions for teachers. All other surplus should be sold. The real estate market is recovering – and the prices will be good.

    — Use SPLOST construction to simply ensure that there is a safe, clean learning environment for each and every student and their teacher in DeKalb. That includes the necessary technology and safe, clean buses and drivers to get them there. And a highly responsive maintenance staff to keep things in good repair. No more cars for administrators or glitzy buildings for administrators.

    — Focus on alternative, accessible ways to increase graduation rates for high school students. Use highly accessible (via MARTA) school buildings (or other buildings/churches?) after hours to offer a pathway to a GED or a diploma for small groups of young people. Move current alternative programs to buildings that are much more easily accessed by MARTA.

    — Make teachers the center of decision-making. Set up a teacher task force to consult on all decisions by administration. Set up teachers in learning environments that are safe, clean, technologically-ready and fully supported for learning. That includes a clear disciplinary set of actions that allow teachers to remove disruptive students who interfere with learning.

    — Increase teacher pay to compete with metro systems. Return to the Social Security retirement program because now that trust has been ruined, we can never attract new teachers with our pension system as it is. No one will ever believe the board again. Social Security is at least regulated by the federal government. Make contributions to the Teacher’s Retirement going forward, as required or desired beyond Social Security.

    +++

    The BIGGEST problem here is – the Board of Education cannot initiate these things – the superintendent must. And our superintendent is not an educator and in fact, did not even send his own child to their local DeKalb county school – they used private schools because obviously, they could afford it. Our current interim superintendent is a politician – he says so himself often. That kind of networking and glad-handing works to a certain degree to get in the good graces of the governor and others, but it does absolutely nothing for setting up a highly functioning educational system. We would go so far as to say that currently, we have absolutely NO ONE on staff with the knowledge and the management skills to do this. Unless and until our current board does the ONE THING that could truly right this ship — hire a highly qualified, experienced, knowledgeable superintendent with corporate-style leadership skills — we will never, ever, ever, move this system forward.

    We were promised by Thurmond that finding his replacement would be the first order of business — now, it appears that he and his board are doing anything but.

  35. Dekalbite2 says:

    @hopespringseternal
    “The fund balance (reserves) is still paltry, the furlough days aren’t going anywhere, and all the central office slashing in the world isn’t going to put us in compliance with our reserves, restoring those days and restoring the full TSA”

    If slashing the Central Office side can produce a fraction of savings that will go to teachers that will be appreciated by taxpayers/parents.

    In addition we pay:
    $12,000,000 for non teaching Coaches (now classified as schoolhouse members even though they never teach a child)
    $8,000,000 for Coordinators who never teach a child (how many have been reclassified as schoolhouse?)
    $10,000,000 for 12 month security personnel (a figure no other metro system approaches and begs the question as to why they are all year round when the schools have no students in the summer months).
    Now Mr. Thurmnond wants to resurrect the Parent Centers (formerly we spent $4,500,000 a year for 70 employees) – the Parent Centers have absolutely NO data showing a positive impact on student achievement and in fact most of the schools where they resided showed a decrease in achievement rates.

    Mr. Thurmond INCREASED the funding for Fernbank Science Center which has as many non teaching support staff as they have teachers. Our science achievement rates have steadily fallen as scarce science education dollars have been used to prop up this aging facility and ineffective delivery of science education yet we spend over $4,000,000 a year to support 40+ employees at Fernbank Science Center.

    Data needs to drive Mr. Thurmond’s decisions, but this is not the case. He has demonstrated NO interest in establishing quantifiably measurable objectives so we can judge his ability to move students forward academically. Perhaps if he was responsible for student achievement (which in reality is his MAIN job), he would then see how important teachers are as they are the sole deliverers of content students must master in order to succeed in life. That is the ONLY thing the school system MUST get right.

    There is plenty of room to cut in areas that will not impact students. Cutting teacher compensation is not one of them. Lewis, Tyson and Atkinson cut and cut until we cannot staff our classrooms with the most highly qualified teachers, a prerequisite for moving low income students forward academically. Restoring the TSA should not be a consideration. It should be a given.

  36. They had no problem displacing 16 classrooms at Vanderlyn and replacing them (sometime soon hopefully) with only 8 classrooms of trailers that are smaller in size in order to save a portion of a system-wide $400,000 a year. That’s only equivalent to cutting about 3 six-figure administrators in the CO.

  37. Dekalbite2 says:

    @DSW

    So true. The income we will receive for all those cellphone towers over 30 years amounts to around $100,000 a year – the cost of one lower level Central Office employee.

  38. info says:

    dsw,

    I’m not sure I agree that all the principals currently running schools should have full autonomy. In fact, I’d like to know how Thurmond evaluated principals before assigning new and current principals to schools. I’ve learned of some pretty scary principals or assistant principals who appear more interested in looking like something is being done than actually doing anything that results in improved education for students.

    And in some cases, it appears that some teachers and students do well despite the school’s or system’s administration, but it is the administration that takes credit for the accomplishments.

  39. True, info. However, the caveat is — if principals are given autonomy (and their hands are not tied in any way), and the school is not performing well or things at the school are just not going well, then it is the principal who takes the blame. They should all be able to handle this level of responsibility. It may take a while to filter out the ‘scary’ ones, but they will definitely be spat out the funnel if held accountable.

  40. dekalbmom says:

    The TSA mess is unfortunate and complex, but it seems that the best solution, especially for young teachers, is to ask the Board to reinstate Social Security. Yes, you will have to pay into the system (like most American workers) but that is the reality if you want a reliable supplement to your state teacher retirement. My mother was a teacher in another state for a county that also decided to drop Social Security. Teachers were told that the supplemental funds would be invested and the return would be greater than SS. This did not happen. When she retired at age 66, she received a small SS check due to the Windfall Elimination rules and a small state pension. The “supplemental” portion is almost non-existent due to the vagaries of the stock and bond markets and horrible investment decisions and high investment fees by some very connected folks who made millions off the investment contracts. She would have been better off by far to have paid into SS.

    If the system lost the TSA lawsuit, I wonder if there is any way the system could repay the back amounts. Perhaps DCS would take the path of Detroit and declare bankruptcy as a way to re-structure or avoid pension payments.

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