The High Cost of Low Teacher Morale


DeKalb County School System is in a lawsuit with their own teachers, having been served a complaint in June, 2011. In 2009, the school board – along with superintendent Crawford Lewis and later held up by Ramona Tyson as well as now, Michael Thurmond – in an effort to cut budget spending, reneged on a 1979 promise to make 6% contributions to a tax sheltered annuity (TSA) [completely separate from the state teachers retirement system (TRS)], which was paid into individual employee accounts, in lieu of participating in Social Security. Board policy at the time stated that the board was required to give teachers a two-year notification of any change to the retirement program. Instead, in 2010, the board, simply changed its own policy!

As a consequence of this, and other actions showing disregard for teachers, literally hundreds of DeKalb teachers have since resigned. Our team painstakingly cobbled together the numbers of teacher resignations as best we could, from Sept, 2012 – Sept, 2013 HR reports. Below are our findings:

Monthly HR Report Teacher/Prof Resignations
Sep-12 328
Oct-12 26
Nov-12 30
Dec-12 22
Jan-13 14
Feb-13 93
Mar-13 17
Apr-13 16
May-13 27
Jun-13 535
Jul-13 141
Aug-13 69
Sep-13 95
TOTAL 1085


And many more have left the system since this report!  Dr. Ward-Smith, head of HR, has stated there are around 6,500 teachers in the school system, which makes the teacher turnover rate around 17% by our calculations. (Ward-Smith has been reporting about 6-7% but she is not assessing turnover over time, she is focusing on individual time frames to generate better looking numbers.)

In defense of the status quo, one blogger recently stated that the solution was to replace them as fast as they are quitting! That’s absurd! And impossible – experienced teachers are not applying here and top college students majoring in education are told to steer clear of DeKalb – because we do not value teachers.

We have to get a handle on the exodus of teachers. That means better, more informed, courageous leadership at the top. Leaders who commit to spending on the classroom first – bottom up budgeting as was promised by Dr. Atkinson but never implemented. Now, Michael Thurmond has no plans or discussions about teacher retention. We need to make teachers and their principals our most important employees, however, the superintendent and the board seem unconcerned about the issue or worse, in denial of the problem. Our attitudes need to shift, or we will simply find ourselves with too few qualified teachers and an inability to get the simple task of educating children done–in spite of collecting and spending $1.25 Billion in tax dollars for the DeKalb schools consolidated budget every year.


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52 Responses to The High Cost of Low Teacher Morale

  1. Fred in DeKalb says:

    Thank you for creating a topic on this issue. To provide greater context of my comment, I will provide it (with minor spelling corrections) below since it is deep within another topic,

    “I’m glad you have an open mind. Wouldn’t you want to know more about the 800 figure being tossed around, like the reasons they left? I referenced the June HR report earlier yet it was not acknowledged. What percentage does the 800 represent of all teachers? How many years of service did those teachers have? How does that compare to other districts? How many positions were filled? What were the years of service of those that filled the positions.

    “By itself, 800 is bad and there is no question about it. What if the collective years of service was replaced by an aggregated higher amount? How many of those teachers thought they had a calling to teach and realized it was not the right profession for them (national statistics indicated most teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years).

    I believe unless you have a deeper understanding of the data, it can be taken out of context.”

    I could bring up national statistics on teacher turnover rates, especially since the recession hit that are inarguable. Most can look them up and see if they are interested for a larger context. I think it is harsh to say that the DeKalb Board, along with other Boards around the state and country, aren’t concerned about teacher retention. Again, national statistics show the the cost to replace an experienced teachers can be overwhelming. That is why it is important to fully understand why teachers are leaving.

    DeKalb, like other school districts around the state and country’ attempt to inquire with teachers as to the reason they are leaving. A reason code is denoted on the HR report. Teachers leave school districts for a variety of reasons as indicated. It is legitimate to ask where possible, if school districts are using the information to make changes that will impact retention. I don’t know how that information is used thus is a good question to ask.

    Over the years, I’ve met some teachers that requested transfers or left because of the constantly changing traffic patterns in the metro area. Many teachers that left in the early 90’s cited that as a reason because they chose to live in an area close to where they work then were asked to move to a school miles away. Without question, pay and professional advancement are major reasons. At one time, DeKalb offered the highest salaries for teachers in the metro area. I remember with Dean Grant was in HR, teachers entering DeKalb had to have a masters degree (or at least were working on one). Experienced teachers were subject to having their years cut in half to join DeKalb Schools. Those were the days when DeKalb could be choicy with respect to the teachers they hired. Without question, that was ultimately reflected in the results in the classrooms.

    Unfortunately those days are behind us. Other school districts offer more competitve compensation packages for teachers that DeKalb currently does. I believe Atlanta and Fulton offer the best compensation packages in the metro area The negative publicity DeKalb has received over the past few years unquestionably has impacted teacher recruitment and retention. Where do we go from here?

    While I agree that changes to the compensation package would be a start in the right direction, discussions with teachers should be held regarding how improvements can be made to their work environment. Yes, there are many Educrats that believe putting a pure business model on education is part of the solution. Some on the new evaluation processes will drive some teachers away.

    Children are not widgets, they are living beings. We understand the need to analytics and measures to help with the education process but relying soley on the results of a test without considering student growth is not helpful. I have talked to teachers in several South DeKalb schools that had children entering their schools without what many would consider as basic skills. Teachers were concerned whether the children had nutritious meals, suitable clothing and ultimately positive reinforcement at home in addition to learning their ABC’s, colors and sounds. I know there are some teachers reading this that could tell you about some elementary age children that consistently play violent video games at home then act out in school, compromising the instruction for the other children. This does not occur in every classroom or in every school however it is happening with greater frequency than in years past. I also know some teachers that have been ‘cursed out’ by parents when it is brought to their attention that their child has been acting out. We have MANY great teachers in DeKalb and I appreciate each and every one of them. I understand that everyone also has that point where they say enough is enough.

    Mine is but one perspective and I know there are many more. This can be the start of a civil, respecful and constructive dialogue about what we as citizens can do to support teachers. A subtle reminder about the objective of this site, 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. I hope some teachers will join the conversation. I have been corrected on my misstatements by Jeff Bragg and always appreciate his input. Hopefully retired teachers will join also. I look forward to other comments.

  2. Fred made a good point, “That is why it is important to fully understand why teachers are leaving.”

    So, please, teachers, let us know why you left, or why your colleagues left or what it would take for you to decide to stay.

    We don’t want to guess or assume – regardless of what is going on nationally, things here in DeKalb are quite different.

  3. idabelle25 says:

    Thank you, thank you , thank you for not leaving this issue. I am by nature a very loyal person. I like to be apart of positive change or movement and stay there to foster growth and help others who are new understand the educational environment that I have been apart of building and responsible adults know that strong communities and schools are ones that are stable and are not a revolving door of turnovers. While my school and the surrounding community understands and supports this,my district has failed me miserably. I see no opportunity for growth anywhere in this district (money or promotion) and I don’t know how much longer I can do the illogical. The sad part is that they are not being logical by recognizing this as a crisis. Other growing districts like Gwinnett are heavily recruiting all over the southeast on college campuses and are more than happy to take experience teachers as well and as another post you had mentioned a few months ago, every district especially needs special ed teachers and we are not even in the race. So one can argue that it is being spent elsewhere like needed technology. Technology is good but don’t we need teachers to teach and guide the use of iPads and we were promised interactive boards in every class by January. …….crickets….. I love my parents. I love my kids and while no place is perfect, I love my school but with my marketable credentials I may have to leave so I can take care of my family and avoid homelessness in retirement. I am always respectful but I have little to no respect for a district who does not respect or value us. For those who believe that systems should be run like private business. Isn’t that the secret ingredient to successful businesses …positive morale?

  4. idabelle25 says:

    @fred in dekalb
    With all due respect sir, once again you sound like someone who has never worked in the system or hasn’t for many years and that does not make your opinion less valuable but as someone who is currently working in the system and has worked with a varying group of kids in every way possible and has earned a masters degree plus. I am equipped and am are aware of the social factors that exist in schools and while there will always be an issue of some retention problems for new teachers all over this country due to many of the factors you have mentioned, I cannot and will not let it be swept under the rug as a person in the trenches of dekalb county schools that we have a unique morale issue in our schools amongst teachers specifically due to pay cuts in salary and benefit loss. I hear it every day. I know that I am a good teacher. Don’t ask me. My parents and my kids tell me and I work HARD for that and it’s been 15 years and I LOVE it but despite my long commute the sole reason I may leave dekalb county schools this year is money, cuts, continual salary and benefit cuts with no end in sight and this sentiment is echoed by many others. Those that stay have pros and cons that are unique like they live within walking distance or they are a hop skip and a jump away from retirement and you know what the obvious ignored truth is ….we start our salaries competitively for young grads who have little to no responsibilities yet and after we train them and help them through their wobble years ( on average first three years)they realize they are not making a penny more ( in fact maybe less) and take there now we’ll trained independent experience elsewhere . I forecast we will become the district to get your training wheels because you will be easily hired here ( because nobody cares about pay and benefit issues) and then move on to more pay elsewhere but where does that leave the children of dekalb and your property investments. Yes Fred I ringing the alarm because someone needs to.

  5. teachermom says:

    Thank you for recognizing that this is the end of the line for many teachers in Dekalb county. We are by nature hopeful people. We have hoped that each time a new super or administration or board was brought in that, FINALLY, our situation would be noticed. So many have hung on. In my school not only have teachers salaries been frozen and benefits cut, the administration is clamping down like never before with increased walk throughs on top of the regular teachers keys required ones. Unfortunately, the experienced and competent teachers are targeted as well as the newer teachers. This is on top of everything else, the teachers are at a breaking point. The culture of our county has so devalued us that somehow this is seen as the best way to change the performance of our students.

  6. Dekalbite2 says:

    “I believe unless you have a deeper understanding of the data, it can be taken out of context.”

    Isn’t that always the excuse for high teacher attrition and low student achievement – that the public just can’t understand the data? Meanwhile, the administration does not want to publicly provide the data or even address the problems.

    Taxpayers/parents know that this is an unacceptable rate of teacher attrition. They are in the schools watching the teachers leave or listening to them say they are biding their time until they can get out. The DeKalb administration always believes they have a PR problem, and this will go away by ignoring it or when push comes to shove “spinning it”. This approach has never worked for students and now the general populace is starting to make the connection between the need to attract and retain highly qualified teachers and student achievement.

  7. idabelle25 says:

    One last comment I promise (I think.) For those who are unfamiliar with the salary crisis and may take a look at the teacher salary schedule and say well that is not so bad, please understand that the school system has us in a 6 year long game of the children’s game of “freeze tag”. Remember that game. If someone tagged you, you had to stop at whatever position and place you were in . So if you were at the max end part of that step, year of experience or whatever they are calling it these days ( I don’t know because so much has been taking out of my check I can’t find my salary these days and when I call payroll they are nice but they are just as confused as I am) you might feel ok about it , but if you were near the beginning or middle and you have been stuck there but made plans in your life around expectations of salary growth u have been in a struggle that u have accepted because during that time most of the country was in it with you but when you see spending going on other things that this blog has been kind enough to share and see other districts start to recover and make there teachers whole again. On top of furloughs added and cuts in benefits please don’t be deceive by whatever they are putting out there as salaries. You could be as one of my colleagues working for dekalb for 6 years and still be around step 2 or year 2 and they no longer pay for specialist and master advancement so I hope they have done the honest thing and noted that, that has stopped or that is deceptive to potential teachers visiting the site.

  8. hopespringseternal says:

    On another post, this is what I was trying to say yesterday. I appreciate cold hard facts, but I also live in reality like our teachers. If you’re a veteran parent in your school who is perceived as being willing to listen, almost like a Teacher Whisperer, you’ll get what they’re saying. I’ve long been aware that the monthly board HR reports don’t tell the story. No teacher in his/her right mind would document that s/he’s leaving because the morale is low and pay opportunities are diminished. But catch them in the hallways. If they trust you, they’ll tell you everything even without prompting or coming right out and saying it. And do you blame them? Even upon departure, they keep The DeKalb Way — the culture of go-along-to-get-along and survival even on their way out the door. As bad as I think my own school is, there are some amazing teachers in that building. Those who haven’t left yet or were forced into retirement or out will let you know that they’re only biding their time. You’ll never see that in a monthly HR report. This is why I can say that the 800lb elephant is very real. And, we should appreciate that (1) it is a culmination of many factors, including those brought by the state as well as those brought by the school district, and (2) just as in any line of work, there are teachers who probably should be doing something else for a living because they’re just not very good at it. But those things shouldn’t detract from the real notion that we should uphold our teachers as a general principle. Because once we do that, we will be better positioned to strive for teacher excellence. To @Fred’s point, high teacher turnover is a function of state actions as well. The difference here is that when the state cut millions from districts there were things, large and small, that those local districts did to still uphold their teacher morale. What have we done? Oh — summarily, and possibly illegally, take away the TSA. Nice.

  9. Concerned for our YOUTH says:

    In a nutshell …
    My father’s job transferred us in 1984 to Georgia. My parents chose DeKalb County due to its highly ranked schools. We moved to Stone Mountain because Redan HS was one of the top in the nation. I came to DeKalb County Schools as an 8th grade student in 1984. I graduated in 1989 (no middle schools for us so we spent 5 years in HS). I went to college as many of my peers in DeKalb who generated millions of dollars in scholarships. I came back to DeKalb and began a career in education on 1994. I gave DeKalb 18 more years of my life until the end of the 2012-2013 school year. I left because of the continued corruption, disrespect, and lack of consistency and professionalism. By January of 2013 I made a decision. My administrators were wonderful and understood. The district sent emails throughout the window of time for contracts letting me know if I didn’t sign, they will assume I resigned and I would not be able to re-apply. Although I know that is policy, there doesn’t seem to be any proactive measures in place to understand why an employee was contemplating, or not signing the contract. No one ever asked me, I did not receive a survey, just a letter, in April, thanking me for my service. I say all of that to say, I came in’94 under Freeman and have gone through Halford, Brown, Lewis, Tyson, Atkinson, and now Thurmond. In all if my 18 years, plus my long ago HS years I have watched this district decline. I have always enjoyed the schools I have worked in both on the south and north and was a very dedicated employee…, but yes, enough was enough. I have lived in Gwinnett for 14 years and made that long distance commute because I was dedicated and believed in the students, staff and families I worked with on a daily basis. However, my child turned four this school year and I had to make a decision, enough is enough! I am now in Gwinnett and at New Teacher Orientation, there were MANY former DeKalb County employees. The business model is used here and has been for years. Back in 2000 through 2002, I was a part of the Teacher Forum in DeKalb and there were many times when the model was brought up and discussed, suggested, and we were constantly told in a somewhat rude way that “DeKalb County does it our way and we have been successful in that for years” (… Not direct quote but something along that line!)… It’s not working for our students or staff… Enough is enough!

  10. Concerned for our YOUTH says:

    Correction to….” if I didn’t sign, they will assume I resigned and I would not be able to re-apply. “. It should say “…able to re-apply in July.” My apologies …

  11. Marsha says:

    Has the TSA lawsuit’s class-action status been decided? If the lawsuit is given such status, it may motivate the board and administration to come to the negotiating table.

  12. @Marsha — nope, not yet. The judicial clock runs excruciatingly slower than the real world clock.

  13. September says:

    It is really sad to see what the DeKalb school system has become. Good teachers are leaving and nobody in their right mind is going to give an honest answer to personnel about why they are leaving. It is safer to say you need a closer commute or more time with your family than to tell the truth. In Georgia you must have a good recommendation to get your next interview. You won’t get it by saying bad things about your last employer.

    DeKalb needs to act quickly to stop the loss of veteran teachers. I think that means doing several things. First, they need to start paying a competitive salary and end furlough days. They need to start paying into the board sponsored TSA or start paying Social Security taxes. They also need to be fixing working conditions. Rehire paraprofessional staff and library clerks. The work these people did has not gone away, it was added to the teacher workload. Return the CTSS staff to elementary schools. That work didn’t go away either. I think the school system should be paying teachers when they are required to stay after hours for a meeting or attend a staff development class. Make sure that teacher actually get to use their planning time to plan for their students.

  14. DisenchantedinDK says:

    I was thrilled to see this conversation here, I was surfing on CNN and there is a commentary titled, My Income Makes Me Feel…
    I was going to suggest this here for DeKalb Employees, I am well aware how you all love to focus on teachers, but it would be nice to hear from all employees.
    @Fred, your commentary does seem to be outdated, and lately, it seems as if you are writing a documentary. I am an employee with 14 years of service. DeKalb has broken me. I no longer believe in any of the fairy tales I was told when I was hired. Our healthcare is expensive, and quite frankly, the coverage is a bare minimal. Blue Cross has better plans. There is no support, no one answers emails.
    The sad thing is, that a Dekalb actually believes, it has the power to DEMAND the best from us, the employees. Nope, it’s not happening, everyone I know is doing enough just to get by. Check out your local schools parking lots, long gone are the days of employees staying to 5 o’clock. DeKalb continues to threaten and intimidate employees for using sick days or FMLA.
    Back to my original point,
    My Income Makes Me Feel Stupid. Stupid for staying, stupid for believing each new change in administration would equal change for us and a restoration of our pay. Stupid for not seeing the writing on the wall. Stupid for not making a change and putting my needs first. Brown, Lewis, Tyson, Atkinson,nor Thurmond have probably never had an evening where they had to contemplate buying gas for the week or buying groceries.

  15. teachermom says:

    @disenchanted and @September
    Well put! I question myself as well. I am looking at the door now.

    Another problem that I’ve mentioned before is the lack of a curriculum. We have to make our own using the common core standards, Pinterest, and whatever we can find in the county produced Units. We are burning up the copy machines. The lessons are out of order because the county gives us pieced together units that don’t make any sense. We are told that we have to change the very core of how we teach because of common core but given NO CURRICULUM to use. It is hard to explain to non-teaching readers but it is a planning nightmare and I think many teachers are just sort of going through the motions at this point. It is hard to plan those enriched lessons when it takes you all weekend just to figure out what it is you are supposed to be teaching and what materials you will need to teach it. All of this while under the watchful eye of administrators and coaches, who are truly looking for problems when they come into the room…

  16. Dekalbite2 says:

    “All of this while under the watchful eye of administrators and coaches, who are truly looking for problems when they come”

    Do these administrators or coaches even know what you are supposed to be teaching? If so, why aren’t they sharing the curriculum with you?

    Are these Coaches modeling lessons in your classroom or taking small groups of struggling learner a aside or pitching in when you need them to? Just wondering why we are paying way in excess of $10,000,000 for these Coaches. How useful are they to the teacher and his/her students in your school?

  17. @teachermom: I asked Gloria Talley about the lack of curriculum years ago and was stiffly told that DeKalb uses the state curriculum. I said, those are standards, not curricula. Where is the outline of what students will be learning exactly, specifically, from year to year and how does it build? She never responded.

  18. I did notice on the link Fred provided that the TSA board sponsored annuity still exists with an optional TSA that individuals can contribute to. If the board-sponsored was cut – why post about it? Could it be that it was only cut for teachers/certified staff in the schoolhouses? — are they making contributions for administrators still? We have heard rumblings … Anyone know for certain? We hope not – please prove this rumor false!

    Here’s a couple of random examples of the percentages spent on salary/benefits according to the FY2014 budget:

    Click to access budget-detail-%282014%29.pdf

    Example: Henderson Middle School

    Teachers: $4,020,070 salaries + $1,050,280 (State Health — 26% of salaries) + $672,683 (Teachers Retirement — 16.7% of salaries) + $155,421 (Other Benefits — 4% of salaries) [Total BENEFITS: $1,878,384 or 46.7% of salaries)

    Director, Communications $97,576 salary + $21,722 benefits (22% of salary)
    Specialist, Communications $61,598 salary + $16,350 benefits (26% of salary)
    Manager III, Digital Program $89,450 salary + $20,508 benefits (23% of salary)

    What is missing here? I’m not a CPA… Does anyone know what kind of benefits the admin personnel receive that is so different from teachers? Are there additional benefits for these admin not listed? Do they participate in TSA or something else? Where is that cost shown in the budget?

  19. teachermom says:

    They are usually looking at teaching style (for lack of a better word) and not content. It is difficult for me to get too specific but Common Core has a focus on instructional delivery (which I figured out myself because we had very little training on common core). This creates a micromanagement atmosphere. Teachers are not allowed to teach in a creative and personal way and leverage their own style. Coaches can model but rarely do, they are too busy walking around and reporting back.

    I have never seen them pull students for extra help, ever. It is not their job to be student facing, rather, they are supposed to be coaching teachers. What I have seen and heard of in other schools amounts to them just going into classrooms and reporting on whether the teacher was teaching according to who ever decides what they are supposed to be doing. I’m not talking about teachers talking on cell phones or surfing the internet. I’m talking about experienced, well respected, hard working teachers being reported because of how they delivered instruction, even when teaching to the standards. Plus they come in the middle of a lesson and don’t even know what they are seeing, for example, a teacher may have just dealt with a behavior issue or is transitioning from one activity to the next.

    So no, they do not help with curriculum issues, but will give you lists of standards, or other perfunctory resources when asked for them, specifically. They do not help as they are taking a stance that there exists a problem, and the teacher is that problem, and it must be this way because, hey, it’s their j-o-b. Not enough teacher problems=no jobs for coaches.

    My opinion is that they are not useful to the teachers and that the money would be better spent in student facing teachers for tutoring, small groups, or other resources that directly impact struggling learners.

  20. Teachers matter says:

    I am so excited to see this topic. I’m a twenty plus years veteran and hear every day that another of my colleagues has had enough and is leaving. I have been disillusioned by “management” for a long time now and feel demoralized on a daily basis because of all the busy work I’m required to spend my time working on. I love my kids! They are the only reason I haven’t packed it in. The powers that be don’t understand that-the kids come first for me but never for them. I’m lucky, I have an awesome principal. Those with principals who tow the party line are miserable! You show an employee you value him through his salary. Teachers in Dekalb have not been valued in a very long time.

  21. Word Wall says:

    Since there has been no effort to reinstate the TSA – which l call Social Security equity or equivalence – teachers have been left without basic normal SSI. In fact, DeKalb teachers will face a double whammy when they retire, since the remaining Georgia state retirement TRA (about 30% of salary after 15 years if you’re over 60)– this TRA income will be declared a “Windfall” by Social Security — and any S.S. money a teacher might have expected from previous employment elsewhere will be slashed. Despite the legal fine print the Palace is hiding behind, most Federal judges would probably find this policy to be illegal. More litigation, on behalf of teachers, seems a logical and fruitful path…in FEDERAL court.

  22. anothercomment says:

    @ dekalb watch, I prepared the office or division budget it changed with administration for between 50-210 employees made up of Blue collar and Professional Employees of a Federal Government Agency located in DeKalb County for FY90-FY2002. I was always given a 24% factor to add on to salary’s of all Staff to cover health insurance, Retirement ( we had employees in 3 different plans The old CRS Civil Service Plan, 2% a year no SS, an interim plan best of both world, then FERS, Federal Employees Plan, 1% per year, includes SS, with a up to 5% dollar to dollar thrift savings plan., vacation, sick leave, LTD, up to a 2% bonus ). The 24% never changed year to year, because more people went to FERS, and the employer /employee split for insurance was 72% employer and 28% employee. The insurance is an exchange and each area has 10-20 plans employees can pick from. So rates stay low and don’t go up much each year. Their is lots of competition.

    The teacher costs seem outrageous. The other ones in the high 20% are about normal for public employees with benefits and pensions.

  23. DisenchantedinDK says:

    @another comment
    I am a bit confused, are you saying the costs for teachers are out of line and the other admin personnel are more realistic? I FEEL like I pay for 90%of my healthcare. No factual info, like I said, I FEEL like this. Please allow me to clear up my previous statement, DEKALB expects us to give our all. teachers and schoolhouse employees, love the kids, many times, that’s the only reason we come. But gone are the days when people are not feeling well, and yet they come in, rather than calling a sub, subs are in high demand in DEKALB.
    I wish there was more of a visible outrage amongst employees.

  24. I know Disenchanted — that’s why I posted the info from the budget. Something is ‘funny’… Maybe I have it wrong? I can’t figure it out but it’s not right. I would really like someone to dig into this. The teachers benefits seem grossly over-budgeted (especially in light of the fact that we know teachers pay a large portion of their own healthcare – which is not added back in to this budget as a credit) and other folks seem to be quite low. Something is amiss in this budget… they don’t even include line items for retirement or healthcare for administrators — why for teachers? Not getting it… the reporting should be categorized the same way for every employee if you want to be able to compare apples to apples.

  25. dekalbite2 says:

    “I did notice on the link Fred provided that the TSA board sponsored annuity still exists with an optional TSA that individuals can contribute to.”

    A little explanation….

    The 403B (TSA) has been around for a long time. I started contributing to my personal 403B back in the mid 70s. This was in addition to Social Security which DeKalb Schools and I both contributed to (employee and employer contribution) and TRS which DeKalb Schools and I both contributed to (Georgia Teacher Retirement System which both employee and employer contribute to).

    The 403B was established in 1953 for teachers, school administrators, school personnel, nurses, doctors, professors, researchers, librarians, and ministers – i.e. employees of 501C(3) organizations. It was/is similar to a 401K which primarily serviced/services employees in the private sector and to an IRA which anyone private or public could establish. IRAs have changed since then and employees are eligible to contribute to tax deferred IRAs based on income. When IRAs were first established, it didn’t matter what your income level was. You could make a very high income and still invest in an IRA and the money was tax deferred. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 phased out the deduction for IRA contributions among higher-earning workers who are covered by an employment-based retirement plan.

    The 403B tax deduction is not based on your income like an IRA. You can be an upper level administrator and still put a portion of your income in your own personal 403B, and that money is tax deferred whether you make $100,000 or in the case of a superintendent $300,000+. This is similar to how IRAs originally were designed.

    Another difference in an IRA and a 403B is that you can invest up to $17,500 (as of 2013) in a 403B every year and all of that money is tax deferred (i.e. comes straight off the top of your taxable income – even if you don’t itemize). You can also “catch-up” if you have not invested the maximum limit and if you are over 50 this can be as much as $25,000 in tax deductible contributions every year. The caveat is that most teachers and other employees of tax exempt organizations do not have that kind of money to defer – they need it to live on. Administrators are highly paid, so this generally does not hamper their investments.

    Also, you can withdraw from a 403B at age 55 if you are separated from your employer (retired – quit or collecting retirement). An IRA and a 401K requires you to be 59 1/2 before you can take distributions without a penalty.

    Like 401Ks, employers can also contribute to 403Bs (with or without employee contributions). Employer contributions to 403Bs are managed by the entity (school, medical facility, religious group, scientific institute, etc.) that is making the contribution. In some instances, the entity that contributes to your 403B makes all of the investment decisions. In other instances, they give limited decision making to the employee in whose name they are investing the money. For example, DeKalb used to invest every dollar in the 403B (also known as the Board contribution TSA) in VALIC (Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company). Every year VALIC gave them a definite percentage of return that was the result of negotiations between VALIC and the DCSS BOE. When an entity invests in a 403B for you, it calls all of the shots. When you invest in a 403B for yourself (your personal 403B), the choices are numerous, and you make the investment choices. The good thing about an entity like DCSS (Board contribution TSA) making the decisions is they can drive very good interest rates because they have a lot of pooled assets and like a pension fund they command premium rates. The good thing about your personal TSA is that you can make more money if you are a savvy (or lucky) investor because you have more choices and can invest in riskier vehicles (higher risk can yield higher reward).

    So there are two sides to a 403B.
    1. One side is that you can (if you work for an eligible entity) invest in a 403B all by yourself. This is called your Personal 403B. It is not dependent on the entity you work for, you can invest (take off the top of your income) $16,500 a year out of your active income and make your own investment decisions.
    2. The other side is that the entity your work for can invest in a 403B for you. They can invest how much? Well – it’s considerable. Here are the rules:,-Employee/Retirement-Topics—403(b)-Contribution-Limits

    So you can invest in a 403B, your employer can invest in a 403B for you or you both can invest in a 403B (the CREFT accounts – they are really 403Bs just called another name – like Woodward Academy and other private schools usually call for employees to invest a small amount and the employer will invest a larger amount per year).

    George Bush got the idea for Social Security to be invested in the marketplace from the personal 403Bs returns that some savvy (or lucky) workers in the school systems saw as their investment picks turned a tidy profit for them combined with the Board contributions to TSAs that their school boards used in lieu of Social Security (also called the Alternate Plan in Texas). In Texas in the 70s, several school systems withdrew from Social Security and established Alternate Plans of Board contributions to 403Bs (TSAs) – like DeKalb did in 1978. They still have these Alternate Plans in lieu of Social Security unlike DeKalb who suspended theirs under Lewis in 2009 and eliminated it under Tyson the next year.

    In the mid 70s during the “you can leave Social Security” window, DeKalb allowed their employees to vote on leaving Social Security. The 403B vehicle was seen as a good way to take the investment the employer (DCSS BOE) put into Social Security and the investment the employee put into Social Security and get a greater, safer and more lasting return. Social Security was seen as soon becoming insolvent (a whole other issue which inquiring minds can read about) so many school systems opted out of Social Security. BTW – the law was changed in 1983 so that the “opt out” of Social Security option was taken off the table. In addition, the WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision) was also enacted under Reagan to “encourage” systems to rejoin Social Security – that’s the penalty you keep hearing about. This penalty is terrible for people who come to DeKalb with quite a few years of paying into Social Security.

    In 1978 (isn’t that the year – it’s hard to remember the exact date we voted) the BOE convinced teachers to leave Social Security and instituted a plan for the school system to pay into an employer sponsored 403B (TSA) at the rate that Social Security was at that time. Many teachers already had a personal 403B (TSA) – I did since 1974 and it was a good investment – so they (I) voted yes. It was a great deal for DeKalb County Schools because they locked in their contributions at 6% (what they had been contributing to Social Security at that time). Even if Social Security contributions rose (which they did in 1984 to 7%), the school system was locked in at 6% ad infinitum.

    The BOE established a policy when the employees opted out of Social Security and the Social Security employer contributions flowed into the Board TSA that if they changed the BOE contributions for the Board 403B (TSA), they would give two years notice. They changed it in 2003 under Johnny Brown so new teachers would have to wait for 3 years before they could get Board TSA (403B) contributions (another huge savings for the school system – and probably what gave Lewis and Tyson the idea of easy money to cut). The BOE discussed the two year provision and Lewis knew this as well (read the BOE meeting notes).

    Lewis and the BOE broke their own Board policy when they did not give 2 years notice before he/they suspended the Board TSA (403B contribution) although to be fair to Lewis, he did promise to pay it back. By the time Tyson used the Board TSA to balance the budget, I don’t believe she even promised to pay it back (Does anyone remember?). She just eliminated it. After the BOE broke their own policy of two years notice before they change the Board TSA contributions, they said since they make Board policy they didn’t have to abide by it because they could unmake it by changing it retroactively. In other words the Board was not really subject to Board policy. This is the crux of the matter for the lawsuit.

    Does this straighten out some of the confusion between Personal TSAs (403Bs) and Board TSAs (403Bs)?

  26. Excellent – thank you dekalbite.

  27. howdy1942 says:

    @dekalbite2 is correct – few who resign from any position ever state their real
    Reason for doing so for fear of retribution – they will likely need a reference for any future job.

    I am writing this from North Carolina where I am visiting friends one of whom is a school teacher. At the State level, there are some issues, but at the local level there aren’t too many. In fact, one issue that the superintendent is discussing is why the turnover rate is 10%! Interesting!

    One reason why I increasingly support cityhood is the promise it offers to move beyond basic discussions of compensation, teacher morale, fair treatment – those ought to have been addressed long ago. These don’t seem to be issues in Gwinnett or Fulton or Forsyth or now, even Clayton. The APS seems to be addressing its issues. But Dekalb just won’t. It fights teachers in court, which the folks here find unbelievable. The DCSS just needs to grow up, face reality, and do the right thing. For one, I’d be willing to vote to pay increase my taxes if we could get a school board, superintendent, and administration who would make changes and try another approach rather than just the same old same old.

  28. Here’s a quote from an interesting blog post from the Patch:

    Teachers and School Administrators have their hands tied when it comes to the CRCT. They are doing everything humanly possible for student learning. Teachers need more protected planning time, but they are overwhelmed with meetings, documentation, paperwork, etc. They have very little time available to focus on actual lesson planning.

    The CRCT: In the Reality of Life 48% is NOT Passing!

  29. firstgradeteacher says:

    I can’t believe I am so late commenting on this post. Well, you all I just don’t know… The entire situation has me speechless. I met up with another teacher/friend from another DeKalb county school and she resigned in November. My response, “Good for you.” I know that sounds awful, but my response was twofold.. First, kids deserve having a happy teacher. Secondly, I applaud her for being so bold to step out on faith. I think in some instances the county’s focus is off. It seems to me, if you had that many teachers resign, teacher retention would be the first priority. Well, I am sorry to say, that I think the numbers will look the same next summer. I don’t plan on signing a contract and I feel soooo bad because I love my students. But, at some point like someone stated… you have to make logical decisions. I plan on applying in the district in which I reside.

  30. DisenchantedinDK says:

    Can someone clear something up for me, are salaries listed on the state website, actual or do they include benefits, too?

  31. Weary worker says:

    I’m confused regarding benefit cost. First TRS is paid in part by the employee and in part by the employer much like social security. It’s much more like a tax that in turn gives teachers an entitlement later in life if they vest in the program. Saying TRS is a benefit is akin to saying social security is a benefit. As for SHBP I was told this year that DCSD pays nothing towards the plan and that the employees pay the full cost. The only ‘benefit’ is that the employee gets a group rate. The only benefit paid for by the employers from what I was told was the long term disability. We do get free parking so I suppose this is a benefit as well.

  32. Word Wall says:

    After receiving over Three Hundred pages of Dekalb & DOE directives, powerpoints, conflicting commands, reversals and deadlines concerning SLO tests, the testing began today. The teacher l heard this from teaches 1st period, 8:10 am. After scheduling the test, posting it in the lesson plan, securing the computers, tracking down the access codes and distributing the laptops to the students… guess what? The Official testing window is 9 am to 5 pm! The corporate contractor and main office schedule trumps the actual School schedule — that all teachers and students follow. And of course the questions themselves are totally screwed up and the teachers are finding all kinds of formatting, font, content and other problems on the poorly written and basically invalid tests — and this is the test system that is intended to rate and rank the teachers based on the students’ performance. So how’s that for Morale and retention?

  33. Dekalbite2 says:


    Actual. Benefits not included.

  34. teachermom says:

    The SLO tests are terrible. I worry how to explain bad scores to other districts after they are recorded on our Teacher Keys record. It’s a no-no to bash your former employer…Morale killer and it makes me feel like leaving sooner rather than later.

  35. howdy1942 says:

    One more thing – while working in industry, I supervised just under 300 employees, mostly college educated. I’ll assure you that if I had a 17% turnover rate and had asked the company to hire, orientate, and train almost 50 workers, I would have had some serious explaining to do!

  36. I retired last May after 10 years in DeKalb. I have to say what I read here, written by other teachers, does reflect reality. I now do volunteer work and sometimes sub at my former school, a place I still love and where in the past, people have been happy to work. Now whenever I am in the building I am told by others how lucky I am to be retired. I see and hear lots of frustration and exhaustion and defeat. No matter what teachers in DeKalb do, it is never enough; the top dogs have no shame about giving teachers and administrators less and demanding more.
    Last year I and about 11 other teachers were part of one of several focus groups on how to improve education here in DeKalb. We made loads of comments, all of which were unanimous. Notes were taken by a young woman while a man in charge of the study led the discussion. All of it was supposed to go into a report. I am sure the report was expensive, and I am equally sure it has either not been finished or has been ignored.
    The simple truth is that the problems here in DeKalb are massive. Unless they are blind and deaf, Thurman and the others all know about all the problems. They either do not care or are unable to come up with a plan for actually solving the problems. This disfunction has been going on so long now that those of us who are living it are too exhausted to even think about it anymore. This is an elephant that cannot be eaten, even one bite at a time. I am sorry to say I believe this situation is hopeless. I weep for my former colleagues and for their students.
    We can write on this blog forever, but until our School Committee hires a brilliant, qualified superintendent who is a leader and whose goal is to put schools and their inhabitants first, we will continue to see only smoke and mirrors from Thurman and hope dying in our schools.

  37. concerned citizen says:

    Dear teachermom – don’t worry – no school system would hold DeKalb County against you. Everybody knows DeKalb is a corrupt, stinking mess of dim-witted F&F. I am not surprised that DeKalb used this hideous SLO test. When asked, if asked, which I think is unlikely, about your former employer, just say, “Please read dekalbschoolwatch”blog and newspapers around the country which have all had a good, hearty laugh at DeKalb. Did anyone else see the infamous board meeting tonight which Stan kindly(?) provided for us. Embarrassing and a hot mess. Stan, thank you, but these people just keep on messing around with common sense, even though they know you are filming them. No shame at all! Oh, the agony of watching them perform. Isn’t it horrible to behold? These are the leaders of DeKalb????????? I don’t know who was the biggest fool, but I’m leaning to MJ and Dr.(er, unm, er, hum,) Smith. We could start with some basic weight loss and grooming and wardrobe consultations. I’m surprised they don’t have wardrobe consultants since they pay everyone else.

  38. Dekalbite2 says:

    Has anyone emailed the BOE and/or Mr. Thurmond regarding the very high teacher attrition rate asking what the plan is to reduce it. Here is a link to the webpage with the BOE members’ email addresses:

    Here is Michael Thurmond’s email address and phone number:

  39. howdy1942 says:

    This specific blog really brings to a point about the governance and administration that troubles me most – it’s utter failure to honor its commitment to our teachers. They have placed buying cars for administrators, hiring a PR guy, paying lawyers to fight our own teachers in court, paying at least $100,000 to defend an indicted superintendent – all above its commitment that the board freely and openly made . Since they have done nothing to correct that egregious wrong, then that is nothing short of a rampant breach of ethical and moral behavior. What a terrible example for our students and for those who teach them in the classroom. No member of the board or the superintendent would want to be treated in the manner it has treated our teachers.

    The stock market is at record highs, unemployment is down to 6.7%, housing have recovered for most parts of the metro Atlanta area, the State now has accumulated over $600 million in reserves, yet our school board can do nothing, nothing for our teachers! Can any member of the board provide any explanation?

  40. DisenchantedinDK says:

    @howdy Is that you or did someone hack your account?
    Well said, Howdy, well said, that’s it in a nut shell!

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