One of These Things Is Not Like the Other (Part Deux)

by Kim Gokce

N-Dekalb-HS-SPLOST-spendingThose who have followed DeKalb School Watch blog know that I was an early contributor and that my bailiwick has always been my perception that Cross Key attendance area schools get the short end of the stick. I outlined my call for equity in the 2009 piece, “One of These Things Is Not Like The Others …,” … sadly; four years later it is time for “Part Deux.”

A lot has transpired since 2009 in DeKalb Schools as we watched indictments, dismissals, betrayals, suspensions, appointments, interim leaders who became semi-permanent, permanent leaders who vanished along with a kaleidoscope of programs that were sure to turnaround our academic results. Now, a new day dawns as a populist leader tries to rally DeKalb.

Yet through it all some things seem to never have changed. Can you see it in the “exploded donut” herein? Just as Sesame Street-aged children could recognize the gerrymandered attendance area on that map in 2009, so, too, our Elmo-loving scholars of today can divine the inequity represented by this SPLOST spending donut presented here.

Of the approximately $425m in capital invested in our “North DeKalb” school clusters after SPLOST I, about $36m in SPLOST funds, a virtual donut crumb, has been spent on the 6,500 Cross Keys area children and their seven schools.

At times, I know my rants in the comment threads of DSW and DSW2 irritated many of my neighbors. I often sense my railing for equity for the children of the Cross Keys attendance area is off point and diluting to some of more important discussions going on in Dunwoody, Chamblee, Tucker, Lakeside and elsewhere regarding the future of DeKalb governance or independent schools or charters or Common Core or the many valid complaints of parents from these regions about their kids’ schools.

I say, “Too bad!” These capital numbers are devastating and I don’t think I need to make excuses or apologies for insisting that we examine them and ask how they are possible in the year 2013 in the United States of America. So with no further editorializing, here they are for your consumption. I pray that one day soon I’ll not feel the need to pen, “One of These Things is Not Like the Other – The Trilogy.”

Capital spend and planned spending as represented in SPLOST II – IV*

Chamblee $102,807,116
Dunwoody $88,907,705
Lakeside $83,408,931
Tucker $112,905,790
Cross Keys $35,896,936

*Source: DeKalb County School District SPLOST and CIP reports.

ADDENDUM: For an up-close look at the ‘wonderful’ track the Cross Keys students get to run on, watch this Belly Cam video:

About dekalbschoolwatch

Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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106 Responses to One of These Things Is Not Like the Other (Part Deux)

  1. H.A. Hurley says:

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
    All of our children and teachers need to be treated equitably by DCS & DC.
    Which 6 schools are part of the Cross Keys Cluster?

  2. Kim says:

    Hi H.A. – there are technically a total of seven but we quietly support an eighth. Besides the HS, they are Sequoyah MS, Oakcliff ES, Cary Reynolds ES, Dresden ES, Montclair ES, and Woodward ES. I also consider the charter school at the former Jim Cherry ES, Path Academy, as a CK school because some of our families choose it over Sequoyah MS.

  3. Kim says:

    I should be clear, though, that these figures do not include Path. The folks at Path have been pretty much ignored by DCSD, as well, but the Charter Board does a great job of making things go well in very lacking facilities.

  4. To those who have never read it, Kim’s post from the old blog titled, “There’s a hole in my bucket, Dear Liza” is a must-read. He questions (as we all have) why it is that after spending hundreds of millions on SPLOST construction, there still seems to be that nagging “$2 Billion in Needs”… Classic.

  5. It is interesting to note that the areas with historically higher-ranking high school football teams get the most money. Think that is a coincidence?

  6. Yes, in general, Kim’s input about Cross Keys is relevant in that it keenly and openly exemplifies the way that DCSS runs the budget — by giving only the barest minimum to some schools/students while lavishing attention and funds on others… Compare for example, Cross Keys to Arabia. Or Redan to Tucker. Think about what it takes to fund specialty programs like DSA, the Fernbank Science Program (STT) and all of the magnets. Transportation alone sucks millions from the general budget.

    In addition — I continue to question why we have to pay for SPLOST-related attorney’s fees from the General Operating budget. Can we not use SPLOST money to pay for SPLOST legal issues? Wouldn’t it be prudent to include some money for legal fees in the contingency budgets of each construction project?

  7. Leo says:

    The numbers don’t lie and on their face seem inequitable but are they really? Chamblee and Tucker have received new high schools and a middle school (I’m not sure if this was part of Splost) and Dunwoody got a new elementary school, which would make their numbers seem high, of course. But, by way of example only, the elementary schools in the Chamblee district have received crap despite significant overcrowding and project increased overcrowding (I’m pretty sure Woodward has this problem too). But didn’t Cross Keys get a huge make-over (not to say that they don’t have continuing needs). I’m just really trying to understand what needs are out there that don’t exist in the other clusters that haven’t been addressed. I guess, if you took the new buildings out of the equation and/or looked solely at funding to elementary schools, for example, is the disparity as big.

  8. Kim says:

    I think the SPLOST usage is driven by the State statutes requiring only capital expenses, not operating expenses such as legal fees. I may be mis-informed and each local option sales tax can be setup either way but I would be surprised if operating expenses could be legally funded from SPLOST.

  9. Kim says:

    On football as an predictor of SPLOST fund allocation, I do not think so. SWD has arguably the most winning tradition in football and NFL draftees over the past couple of decades and I don’t think that has translated into $$$ for capital construction. On the other end of things, look at schools like Arabia or McNair that have new buildings and that are not, frankly speaking, competitive in football.

  10. True about regular legal fees — but what about legal fees strictly relating to SPLOST construction projects? This is where all the King & Spalding money would come from – they have nothing to do with anything but construction litigation. Also, why do we have to pay the project managers, etc out of the operating budget? Can’t their salaries be included in the SPLOST project budgets?

  11. @Leo: We have discussed this many times. The Cross Keys construction budget (SPLOST) was mostly spent on moving the High School of Technology North from its location next to GA Perimeter College into Cross Keys, when the property was traded with GPC for a property on which to build Dunwoody Elementary. It turned out very nice, but it was for the HSTN students.

    Yes, money was spent to fluff up the interior of much of the rest of Cross Keys (classrooms, restrooms and the library), but many areas were barely touched or untouched. They never got an auditorium like every other high school. And their outdoor areas are still a mess – the track is unusable and dangerous.

    Maybe it’s time to go over there and take some more pictures. Here is the post showing just how bad it was at Cross Keys before merging the HSTN and renovating much of the interior of CKHS:

    Personally, my theory is that they won’t spend much on Cross Keys for several reasons. First, the population consists of a lot of immigrants, who don’t generally advocate and ‘fight’ for attention. Second, the property is the most valuable owned by DCSS and they may need to sell it when they start losing the lawsuits. And third, if cities are allowed to petition to create their own school districts, then Cross Keys could become part of the city of Brookhaven.

  12. Kim says:

    Leo: Yes, the figures include SPLOST expenditures whether they are new structures or renovated structures or even facilities items like HVAC, security systems, parking lots, or grounds improvements such as tracks, playgrounds, etc. … I would add this for everyone’s consideration: Your response to these outrageous aggregate numbers is tempting us to fall into the us vs. them dialog that DCSS and now DCSD have been driven by in their decision-making.

    I will paraphrase Dr. King to distill my point in sharing this aggregate view of SPLOST II-IV data: Equity denied for one is equity denied for all. Cross Keys students and schools remain the “canary in the mine shaft” for me and DeKalb is toxic still based on these numbers.

  13. Kim says:

    Leo: I should have been more direct to your direct question: “The numbers don’t lie and on their face seem inequitable but are they really? ”


  14. Kim says:

    Following up on football as a possible predictor of SPLOST expenditure, this map seems to correlate more than football prowess in my view:

    Click to access 1PovertyRateandMedianHousing.pdf

    The savvy will note that the high poverty areas of North DeKalb almost fully correlate the the attendance area of Cross Keys HS. You couldn’t find a correlation this close unless you drew it. Then again, I guess we did, didn’t we?

  15. Interesting maps Kim. I wonder if Thurmond has looked at any of this data. He seems convinced that all of the poverty (and therefore all of the RTTT focus on parenting and other initiatives) is in Region 5. He, Morcease Beasley and Stacy Stepney proposed to spend RTTT money there heavily.

    Perhaps someone whose emails he responds to might want to send him the above link.

  16. Leo says:

    Thanks Kim. I’m not trying to undervalue the neglect towards the Cross Keys corridor. If you simply look at how that zone is drawn, you can see intentional segregation of the school. I’m not saying either that this community deserves more. What I am saying, though, is that there are a lot of under-served schools in Dekalb. I agree this largely has to do with populations who have the capacity to make a stink about it more than anything. But I also think that it’s somewhat unfair to compare numbers which include wholesale rebuilding of a school to a zone that hasn’t had that happen (again, not saying CK or any of its feeders don’t deserve a new building, I haven’t pulled up those facility surveys again to know if that’s the case) but the costs to build a new school will far outweigh any modifications to an existing structure. I don’t think it’s us vs them. Our district should have enough money to keep all facilities in good, useable condition. The real travesty is that you have to make this comparison at all.

  17. Kim says:

    Leo: You and I both have an interest in and support Ashford Park ES. To your point, it is my opinion that Ashford Park ES is in as bad of shape and, in some ways, worse shape than Woodward ES, for example. But comparing bad conditions to worse conditions misses my point completely and, as I referenced above, it simply puts us all back where DCSD’s pathology rules reign – 1. create a scarcity mentality, 2. divide and conquer, 3. rinse, repeat.

  18. Kim says:

    Leo: I am fascinated by this issue your highlighting. How would you suggest we measure “equity” in SPLOST expenditures if not by cluster over the decades? Or is money not a good metric at all?

  19. Kim says:

    We could look at SPLOST dollars per student by cluster but that would make an even more stark view. What measure, then, would be “fair?”

  20. The old blog did a post on the racial make up of high schools and that correlation to SPLOST spending. Interesting —

  21. acheolus says:

    South West DeKalb is getting their new mega buildings now. Lots of money went there, believe me.

  22. Kim says:

    Well, I’ll take your word in that but the question was whether football success drives SPLOST spending levels and priorities. If this were so, then SWD would have preceded and exceeded spending at Chamblee, no? We are stretching my knowledge of prep football beyond its limits and perhaps off point once again. What justification do we have for spending between two to four times less on Cross Keys kids’ schools? I’m not hearing any rationale that is defensible.

  23. Remember, the Chamblee project was approved using a 0% federal loan (outside of SPLOST). It is being repaid using SPLOST dollars, but if SPLOST hadn’t passed, it would have had to have been repaid from the operating budget and state construction money.

    And SWD has had money allocated to them from SPLOSTS 2, 3 and 4 – totaling far more than even the Chamblee rebuild project. SWD now has two auditoriums. They are one of the main projects that is named in the Heery lawsuit.

  24. Don’t forget basketball when talking DeKalb sports:

    Tucker High Hosting Basketball Media Day

    Fans are invited to attend the 2013 DeKalb County Basketball Media Day at the Tucker High School gymnasium this month.

    The event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24 at the Tucker High School gymnasium.

    Head coaches of both girls’ and boys’ teams and up to five players from each of the 19 high schools in the DeKalb County School District are scheduled to attend. Each coach will present his players and give a preview for the upcoming season.

  25. Kim says:

    So, the grossly diminutive spending at CK is due to the fact that we have had only four winning record sessions in football in 55 years?

  26. Kim says:

    Hey! We were State champions in basketball in 2003! Perhaps that is what lead to the $11m investment… uncle.

  27. On the larger topic of the stagnation of social progression – here’s an interesting quote:

    Richard Reeves in the “The Glass-Floor Problem” poses a provocative and necessary admission about the polar ends of class in the U.S.:

    When it comes to the economic malaise facing America, the biggest problem is not the widening gap between rich and poor, but the stagnation of social mobility. When the income gap of one generation becomes an opportunity gap for the next, inequality hardens into social stratification….

    These solutions may sound easy, but they are not. While politicians discuss social mobility as a pain-free goal, the unspoken, uncomfortable truth is that relative mobility is a zero-sum game. Opening more doors to applicants from low-income backgrounds often means closing more doors to affluent applicants.

    This is delicate territory. Nobody wants parents to stop trying hard for their children. But nor do we want a society in which the social market is rigged in favor of those born into affluence. If we want a competitive economy and an open society, we need the best and brightest to succeed. This means some of the children of the affluent must fail.

    Response from P. L. Thomas, Furman University:

    In other words, the declining social mobility in the U.S. includes not only that those at the bottom are victims of poverty being destiny, but also that those at the top are reaping the benefit of privilege being destiny. In both extremes, then, the ideal of a U.S. meritocracy is negated.

    To me, this is DeKalb in a nutshell. There is a benefit to those at the ‘top’ in keeping so many at the ‘bottom’. There is a lot of money generated by Title 1. There is even more generated by SPLOST. The school system has become nothing more than an economic engine from which Educrats and their connections reap large personal gain.

  28. For example, this notion of the Common Core has been more or less revealed to be a boondoggle – another made up exercise with the goal of allowing Educrats to seem busy, informed and ‘leading’. But the truth is – as we all know — learning happens in a classroom with a reasonable number of students, a qualified teacher and the necessary materials. Period.

    Below is a list of qualified evidence showing that the Common Core does not make a difference. High stakes tests don’t make a difference. [Qualified teachers with full community and administrative support make the difference.]

    Hout and Elliott (2011), Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education: Most recent decades of high-stakes accountability reform hasn’t work.

    French, Guisbond, and Jehlen (2013), Twenty Years after Education Reform: High-stakes accountability in Massachusetts has not worked.

    Loveless (2012), How Well Are American Students Learning?: “Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning” (p. 3).

    Mathis (2012): Existence and/or quality of standards not positively correlated with NAEP or international benchmark test data; “Further, the wave of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has resulted in the ‘dumbing down’ and narrowing of the curriculum” (2 of 5).

    Whitehurst (2009), Don’t Forget Curriculum: “The lack of evidence that better content standards enhance student achievement is remarkable given the level of investment in this policy and high hopes attached to it. There is a rational argument to be made for good content standards being a precondition for other desirable reforms, but it is currently just that – an argument.”

    Kohn (2010), Debunking the Case for National Standards: CC nothing new, and has never worked before.

    Victor Bandeira de Mello, Charles Blankenship, Don McLaughlin (2009), Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: 2005-2007: Why does research from the USDOE not show high-quality standards result in higher NAEP scores?

    Horn (2013): “The 2012 NAEP Long-Term Trends are out, and there is a good deal that we may learn from forty years of choking children and teachers with more tests with higher stakes: IT DOESN’T WORK!”

  29. Kim says:

    For a ground-level view of what $11m can do: … discuss.

  30. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Don’t forget Fernbank just received a $10 million renovation which will all be torn down shortly for their rebuild.

  31. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Kim, I’m sure you have heard the old saying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That is how business has been done in DeKalb for years, those with the largest and most vocal advocacy groups getting the most attention. This does not mean that needs did not exist in their communities but one should question how needs are prioritized.

    You are probably the best thing to happen for the Cross Keys cluster in a long time. I can only hope that they school system administration and community continues to listen to you. Cross Keys might not have some of its current challenges had the school leadership in the late eighties and early nineties followed through on the planned closing of Chamblee. That community rallied and saved Chamblee by proposing to house the magnet program for high school students. This gets back to what I said in the first paragraph. I’ve also said many times that DeKalb has too many school buildings and that is the cause of some of the fiscal problems.

    Mark Elgart spoke about the culture in DeKalb being part of the reason for why we are where we are. For some reason, many can’t seem to acknowledge that. The community elevated Board members to positions where some believed they were responsible for running and managing the school district. Their responsibilities include hiring the superintendent, setting policy, approving personnel recommendations and the budget while working in unison with the superintendent and staff. Sometimes when they are faced with making tough decisions, public pressure should be ignored, especially if the decision is in the best interest of the school district. The culture created in DeKalb makes it difficult for some Board members to be successful. Some problems won’t be solved until they are acknowledged.

  32. Pitiful track Kim. Pitiful. It’s ASTOUNDING that NO ONE on the board or in the Central Office cares to address this track at Cross Keys as well as the many other unfinished items.

  33. Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

    – The Dalai Lama

  34. Marney Mayo says:

    @Fred. you say ” I can only hope that they school system administration and community continues to listen to you.”

    Have they ever listened to Kim? The ability to distinguish between the validity of advocates like Kim from groups that show up en mass with a printed t-shirt until their often ugly demands are met IS the culture change that we need.

  35. Kim says:

    Marney: Almost everyone, including DCSD leaders, have been sympathetic. But you are right – sympathy does not equal action and I am not asking for charity. I have been demanding equity. Mr. Thurmond has said repeatedly “don’t listen to what we say, follow the money.” I am following Kimosabe …

  36. Kim says:

    Fred in DeKalb: Your narrative about CCHS vs CKHS is the type of scarcity thinking I believe DCSD cultivates. I’m not saying you have it here I’m saying you’re describing it. I don’t see CCHS and CKHS in a game of survivor. We have 2,400 or so attendance area kids between us and another 400 or so out of cluster “magnet” students. The services and programs at the two schools are both invaluable to the DeKalb community at large and Region 1, in particular. The question to me isn’t whether one or the other “get theirs.” Rather, it is how we work together to maximize opportunity for all the kids. Crazy, I know, but that is the Wonderland I live in …

  37. Kim says:

    DSW: “It’s ASTOUNDING that NO ONE on the board or in the Central Office cares to address this track at Cross Keys as well as the many other unfinished items.”

    Actually, I think they are being consistent. We have many highly engaged and educated community members such as Leo who do not want to see the truth in these SPLOST figures. So, why should our leadership?

  38. Kim says:

    Oh damn. These CK kids keep me grounded. They are so good. Very sad news today that our ’09 Valedictorian has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s. She just finished her early childhood education degree at GSU last year. She’s been our cheerful and bright bank teller at Bank of America for the Foundation. So much potential!

    Her friends are rallying around her via crowd-funding for medical expenses and one donor posted this to the fundraising site today:

    “Hello Girl , I just donated what was left over my Quince ‘s gift card . hope those 7.00 makes a difference . Well im here for you ! Get better soon. i love you boo bear ❤ & keep that smile of yours in your face 🙂 youre beautiful ^.^”

    Broke my heart.

    For those that do not know "Quince" traditions, it is more or less a rite of passage birthday celebration for 15 year old girls and quite a big deal. This young lady exhibited sacrificial giving by letting go of her most personal gift.

    While I bicker here and often loose faith in humanity, these young people keep renewing my faith. God bless Romilia Human and all our children. If you want to help her, please see:

    I'm going to bed after a quick prayer for forgiveness for fighting and anger and for a miracle for Romie.

  39. Pingback: Cross Keys High gets crumbs of SPLOST pie. “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other (Part Deux).” | The Brookhaven Post

  40. Leo says:

    Ahh, Kim, I love how you get in your little jabs. I’m just not doing a good job of explaining myself. I think building a new school skews the numbers is all. I suspect that if you took out the new school building funds and then compared how the reset of the SPLOST funds were spent, you might still see a discrepancy in how SPLOST $$S have been spent. My opinion is that those numbers would be more meaningful and do a better job of supporting your argument. Would love to see them too because they’d be comparing apples to apples.

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