The legislative session is in full gear

Stan Jester has posted a new Fact Checker, ‘DeKalb County School District –
Legislative Priorities’

Hold on to your wallets because the 2014 Georgia Legislative Session started last week. The DeKalb Board of Education discussed the following legislative agenda items at the 01/06/2014 Work Session (Video and Transcript available on FactChecker). The DeKalb Legislative Delegation is requested to actively support each priority along with the Governor and the collective membership of the Georgia General Assembly. The Superintendent recommended focusing on increased state funding. The other items will be discussed further at the board retreat.

Read more here >> ‘DeKalb County School District –
Legislative Priorities’

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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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25 Responses to The legislative session is in full gear

  1. howdy1942 says:

    Stan, I look forward to your becoming a member of the Dekalb County School Board – you have my strong support. I just wish that you lived in my district! You knowledge of our school system will bring a welcome addition to the Board. I also wish Nancy the very best in her quest to become State School Superintendent. I will fully support her not only with my vote but with my encouragement of others to also support and vote for her. Thank you for running!

  2. thedeal2 says:

    Does anyone know how the Flexibility meetings are going? I believe they have already had two this week?

  3. howdy1942 says:

    @thedeal2 – I would also like to know what has gone on in these meetings. I plan to attend the Dunwoody meeting and regret that a meeting was not held in the Tucker area. Maybe I am just to skeptical, but my sense is that these meetings are little more than a check in the column to show what the DCSS is “doing”. Again, perhaps I am not being fair, but that vote on the Druid Hills Charter Cluster had a very significant impact on me. It was not a pleasant sight. The vehement opposition of Mr. Thurmond to this proposal and the reasons he cited (financial impact on the rest of Dekalb and “you “voted” or “appointed” or “hired” me to be the superintendent of 100,000 students, not 95,000″) was very telling to me. I sense very little flexibility on the part of this current administration and seriously doubt that these meetings will result in any flexibility. I hope that I am surprised, but I think that it will take the election of an entirely new school board to create any flexibility or any change. This current school board and administration continue to believe in a very controlling “top-down” approach. The “top-down” approach is one way to attempt to get a job done, but my years of experience has clearly demonstrated to me that it is not the best approach. My counsel would be to truly “listen” to the residents, to the parents, and to the teachers and demonstrate that you have, indeed, “listened”. Deliver on your promises. Complete an audit of the school administration, a financial audit at a minimum and share the results – that would do more to develop community support that one could imagine. Build a budget from the classroom up and not from the top down. Again, these steps are not rocket science but have long been a hallmark of successful companies. Try reading those old, but very good books, such as that of Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence) and Steven Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). They certainly made a difference in my life and my career.

    I look forward to any input that those have attended any of these meetings can provide.

  4. Stan Jester says:

    Howdy, That’s very nice of you to say. Thank you for your kinds words and your support.

    School Flexibility Decision
    According to the DeKalb Schools School Flexibility PowerPoint Presentation, they are only considering IE2 and Charter System. They are not even considering System of Charter Clusters (like the Druid Hills Charter Cluster) or System of Charter Schools (autonomous schools).

    At the MLA Presentation, they made it very clear that the public needs to feel heard whether the board and administration does anything about it or not.

  5. @Howdy: Key points! If you missed the blog post we had a while back called “Trust: The missing link in DeKalb County Schools” you should read it. It was written by Cerebration, the originator of this blog, after seeing Stephen Covey Jr at a business convention.

    Read more here >> https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/trust-the-missing-link-in-dekalb-county-schools/

  6. howdy1942 says:

    @DSW – Thanks for sharing – I remember reading that post and remember the book you mentioned! From the perspective of so many who live in Dekalb County, this matter of trust is an issue that ought to be a very high priority with the DCSS to address and rectify.

    Stan, I’ve seen the PowerPoint presentation and share your thoughts – this whole “flexibility” thing isn’t really flexibility. Before the current board, I attended so many Dekalb School Board meetings where a number of the board members were sleeping (remember Walker at the State Board hearing back in February?) or even talking with one another while a resident was speaking during the “Public Comment” period. With this current board and superintendent, I’ve attending numerous meetings and now have heard the superintendent speak on at least four occasions during the past year. He has made promises and never delivered. That has been the case for so long now. Remember the promise to provide a listing of those 600 administration jobs that supposedly were eliminated? Or remember the financial audit that was promised by Ramona Tyson? I’m sure that others on this blog can remember other examples.

    Yes, I’m very skeptical. I suspect that these meetings are being held for the reason you (Stan) stated – to make the public “feel” that they have had input. I can hear Mr. Thurmond talking now – “we went out and held five, count them, five meetings to listen to the public because their feedback is so important. I want to thank so many of the public who gave us your input. We listened and we’re here to tell you what we want to do because you told us that this is what you want”. Then he will go on to tell us what he really wanted to do in the first place!

    The only way that we are going to get anything done is for people like Stan to be elected to the Board and for Nancy to be elected as State School Superintendent. I’m over 70 years old, but I”m really paying attention to those who will be opposing Jim McMahon in our district and may even think about running. If we can elect a new board with a new majority, then we can initiate a search to find a new, qualified superintendent who will change the financial priorities of the school system and get them focused on the classroom. We will audit the DCSS and see where we really stand and share the results of that audit with the public. We will hold community focus sessions where we will truly listen, not just hear, the public and get the best ideas from the people. We will find the money to settle that lawsuit the teachers have initiated against the DCSS. We will find the money not only to eliminate the furlough days but to begin giving our teachers raises. We will closely review the size of the central office, its size, and the functions currently being performed. We will review the length of the busing routes to see if they are all needed. (I went by Tucker High School today and counted 31 buses and they were only the ones that I could see to count! Think of all the gasoline they use and the maintenance those buses require. Needless to say, we will closely scrutinize legal expenses, to understand how we got to the point of ever getting involved in them, and to take corrective action. We will focus like a laser on improving achievement scores, but we must first seek to improve teacher morale and that, more than anything else, will offer the best prospects for student improvement. We will have measurable objectives and share results. Teachers will teach without interference from outside – no one will tell them how to run their classroom. If social change is needed, then we will look to the appropriate local, State, or Federal agencies to address that, but the classroom will focus on teaching.

    @DSW – we will build trust with the public. I can only imagine the impact of parents, residents, members of the school board, teachers, principals, SACS, and the State all working together to improve the results in the classroom.

  7. midvaledad says:

    A couple things.

    Has anyone seen the Jan. 17, update to the Barnes Law Group web site regarding the TSA lawsuit? http://www.barneslawgroup.com/DeKalbTeacherTSAPlan.aspx

    The flexibility meetings are nearly worthless. The failure to provide any details about the options is either intentional or incompetence. How can you have a meeting about options, but not explain how the options work? Also, SuperThurmond is scheduled to make a recommendation to the board at the March meeting. So the county gets 5 community input meetings, little explanation, and the board votes to change the structure of the entire system.

    Of the 2 options (status quo isn’t really an option) I think it has to be IE2 because not all schools will be able to sustain a governance board. Also, that option keeps the power in the palace.

  8. Dekalbite2 says:

    That’s what I said. A charter school system is something DCSS would like to have to:
    1. Preclude any charter clusters
    2. Be able to have even more latitude to redirect funding from the classroom to the Family and Friend program Nd make no changes to the school systems that will move students forward
    3. Give the highly paid administrators time to accrue high salaries and get closer to a retirement package that will pay them 60% of their salaries for life with a 3% increase every year

  9. howdy1942 says:

    @midvaledate – Thank you for this update on the Dekalb Teachers Retirement suit. Also, thank you for your update on the “flexibility” meetings. I concur in your conclusion – there is simply no way that the input from the public could ever be assimilated, studied, and recommendations prepared by March. The administration would have to move at “supersonic” speeds in order to do so and we all know that is impossible with this administration.

    Your post gets to the root of the problem in Dekalb County – those who have been tuned in to the Dekalb County School System for any period of time, and that seems to be a very large number, do not trust this board, this superintendent, or this administration. I have no doubt that Thurmond will reference these “flexibility” meetings and attempt to show that he “listened”. However, anyone who has heard him speak over the past year knows better.

  10. September says:

    If you haven’t attended one of these flexibility meetings, you should. There was an opportunity for public comment. Now is the time to let school officials know what you think. I was very concerned about how little information was presented. They promised a link with lots of information on the DCSS website, but it wasn’t ready. The big issue appeared to be waivers. If the school system doesn’t have charter status or IE2 status, all waivers go away. There weren’t a lot of people at the meeting I attended.

  11. Mr. Chips says:

    Shame on me again, I actually thought that the judge on the Teachers vs the BOE case would rule independently and not as a member of the DeKalb County power structure, friends and family strike again.

    So now my new question is; why is GAE, and all the other teachers’ associations not involved in this lawsuit? Dave Schutten, why aren’t you looking out for my interests? is being an insider that seductive to you?

  12. DecaturMax says:

    Davis Schutten represents 2 groups with a natural opposition. Yes…at least my understanding is that he represents Dekalb county admin personnel too. All he can do is sit on the sidelines or he will lose money.

  13. howdy1942 says:

    The thing is that right is right! The simple questions to ask are:

    Did the Dekalb County School System promise to pay into this supplemental retirement fund if the teachers opted out of the Social Security System? The answer is either yes or no.
    Were there any exceptions in the agreement that were made upfront? The answer is yes or no.
    Did the board violate its policy in place at the time the agreement was made? The answer is yes or no.
    Were these two teachers that are suing the DCSS the only two whose contributions were withdrawn? The answer is yes or no.
    If the DCSS Board made the agreement with the teachers even though it was years ago, is it legal for the board to just change its policy? The answer is yes or no.

    If Dekalb County did made this commitment, then these teachers are owed this money. If the board can just change its policy and not honor its previous commitments, then all of us are in Dekalb County are in much worse shape than I ever thought.

  14. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Board policy is not legally binding. Board policy states, somewhere, they may change policy at any time without notice. The board committed to and promised funding equivalent to social security and a 2 year notice. Technically, that 2 year notice contradicted board policy.

    Is it legal for the board to change policy at any time for any reason?
    Yes.

    It may be legal, but it just isn’t right.

  15. howdy1942 says:

    @DIO – Yes, the board can change its policy at any time, but whatever commitments it made under that policy prior to that change must, I believe, be honored.

  16. Dekalbite2 says:

    So what is policy for an entity if it changes anytime it is broken? For example, Board Policy said that no Board member could vote on a promotion for their child, yet according to BOE minutes BOE Chair Francis Edwards voted in the affirmative when her daughter was promoted under Dr. Lewis. Did they go back and change the Board policy? Apparently not, and since Board policy is not really policy at all it really didn’t matter.

  17. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    The board may break or change policy at any time for any reason. It may not break any laws or legally binding contracts. Perhaps this is the source of confusion.

    Even though the school district is a government entity, board policy is not law. It is no different than a private company like Microsoft having policies. Microsoft can pass a policy like no chewing gum. If I get caught chewing gum in the hallway, I can get fired. If Bill Gates is caught chewing gum then he’s just a hypocrite.

    The TSA board contribution was not a contractual part of the employee’s compensation. It was a fringe benefit like a fitness center or a baby sitter center at the office. They can promise you’ll get these benefits forever and close them down whenever they feel like it.

  18. Dekalbite2 says:

    @DeKalb Inside Out

    Wouldn’t most companies like to opt out of Social Security by promising their employees an alternative contribution and then take away that alternative contribution?

    This decision means that the administration in DeKalb has choose not to offer teachers competitive marketplace compensation. Where does that leave our children with respect to providing them with highly qualified, effective teachers? We pay the second highest millage rate in Georgia, but we are paying our teachers the lowest compensation. In addition, the lower our teacher compensation, the higher our teacher attrition and the higher our class sizes, the lower our student achievement rate has fallen. What does that say about the Return on Investment Lewis, Tyson, Atkinson and Thurmond has/is providing? This is what we get when we have a superintendent hired in secret by the old BOE the week before they were removed from their jobs by the Governor.

  19. You know, dekalbite2, I think I just had an epiphany thanks to you! We’ve been banging our heads against the wall thinking that obviously, the school district should want to hire and retain the best and brightest teachers for our children. But they do not! They have made a conscious decision to operate our schools using the cheapest teaching staff possible. They have pushed out experienced (expensive) teachers and replaced them with new teachers with little experience who need training. If they stay between 2-5 years, the school system figures that’s good – they’ve saved a bundle! And they’ll go get another new teacher to churn. And what of the savings? Why – nice, cushy, highly paid non-teaching jobs of course — complete with retirement contributions! They know exactly what they are doing — Winning!

  20. Fred in DeKalb says:

    @DeKalb Inside Out, Well said! Employees and citizens don’t like the tough decision that was made by the Board. I still contend the Board owes at least one year given their policy about notification in making the change. They had discretion to eliminate the Board funded TSA and did so with the explanation it was done to save jobs. If the estimate was that their was an annual $20M contribution, those cuts would have been made somewhere else if the Board continued to fund the TSA.

    Using an arbitrary average salary of $85K, they would need to lay off an additional 235 employees. My arbitrary number is probably high as my assumption is that it represents the average employee salary. Feel free to do the math with what you believe is the average employee salary.

  21. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Fred,
    On the contrary, deciding to break their own policy and promises was not the right decision. It was legal but undermines any faith or trust we had with the district and symbolizes everything wrong with the system today.

    Dekalbite2,
    I can’t speak for most companies, but when social security was rolled out, some companies with pensions plans were given the option to opt out. Norfolk Southern is one of them.

    I agree with Dekalbite2’s comments about the millage rate, competitive compensation and the district’s lack of ROI.

  22. We emailed Nancy and received the following responses:

    Was a legal opinion provided before making decisions regarding personnel reductions?

    I voted against the reduction of teaching staff. Legal counsel is present at every board meeting, including executive session. They generally provided guidance and advice regarding legal and compliance concerns for board actions. I recall attorneys being questioned in the open meeting where the board voted for a reduction. I was concerned about determining compliance with legal requirements and board policy.

    Was there a process to making personnel reductions such as ranking mission-critical jobs?

    DeKalb has a policy (GBKA) that governs how any reductions in force are to be made. As with all action items of the board, the Superintendent and staff develop the item and bring it to the board for a vote. I voted against the reduction, in part, because I was not presented data that demonstrated compliance with this policy. Policy GBKA states:

    “Factors to be considered by the Superintendent in devising a reduction-in-force plan shall include, first and foremost, the (1) professional expertise, (2) effectiveness, and (3) overall job performance, including, but not limited to written annual evaluations, absenteeism (not covered by FMLA or Workers’ Compensation), and tardiness. The Superintendent, at his or her discretion, may also consider other employee documents concerning performance, including, but not limited to, the employee’s personnel file and disciplinary records. Only where demonstrated job performance is equal among employees, shall other factors such as length of continuous service with the District be considered in order to make recommendations for the termination of an employee’s position. In all cases, the process shall be based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory criteria.”

    Did the Board want to lay off employees? Were there viable alternatives to layoffs given the revenue shortfalls?

    I did not want to see a reduction in teaching staff. I did want to see a reduction in central office employees and expenditures that I considered wasteful. As one member of a board, I can’t speak for that board as a whole or speculate what other people wanted to do. I believed there were various areas that should have been cut to mitigate reductions in teaching staff. I made this clear and voted against these reductions.

    Was the Board unanimous in their decision to pursue the Heery case? Paul Womack publicly indicated this was the case.

    I was not on the board when the Heery case was initiated. My general thought about the case was and remained: Even if I agreed with the position that DeKalb was harmed financially by Heery, I remind myself that the “good guys don’t always win”. Chasing the recovery of sunk costs when the probability of recovering these costs has not been estimated is not a wise business decision. Many variables must be considered in a matter of this magnitude beyond the validity of a claim.

    Was the Board legally obligated for Dr. Lewis?

    My election to the board and my service came after Dr. Lewis’ tenure with the district. The previous board voted on a termination package for him. I believe that package contained a one-time payment for legal fees. Again, I was not on the board at that time. Are you are asking about legal representation for Dr. Lewis in the matter of Heery? Please note that I voted no to the approval of legal counsel for him in the Heery case.

    Did the Board provide legal representation for Dr. Walker that was unauthorized?

    The Board can only approve (authorize) or decline an action. I’m not sure how the board could provide anything to anyone that was “unauthorized”. I voted against pursuing legal action regarding the removal of the board and I voted against hiring attorneys to do so.

    Was the Board contractually obligated to negotiate a settlement with Dr. Atkinson?

    I can’t comment on personnel matters. Please note that I voted no on the termination agreement with Dr. Atkinson.

    Did the legal staff provide an opinion regarding the Board TSA cuts?

    If the decision was made to continue funding the Board TSA, would this have resulted in additional furlough days and/or personnel cuts?

    Did eliminating the Board TSA result in pay cuts, i.e. did employees receive less in their paychecks because of this reduction?

    I was not on the Board when the TSA cuts were made. This happened prior to my election and service.

  23. Stan Jester says:

    The change in spending in DeKalb over the last 18 years says it all. Immediately following the hit of the recession, the feds pumped in a bunch of money. When the federal money slowed, we started eating our reserves. When we got to the bottom of our reserves we balanced the budget on the backs of our teachers … again.

    I’m disappointed the board was satisfied by giving the teachers a crumb by returning one furlough day. The Bridge Initiative pulls $76 million out of the school house. The general operating budget increased by $27 million this year. That’s $100 million that should be going to the class rooms right now. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  24. Great article in “Politico” about snowpocalypse…

    The Day We Lost Atlanta

    How 2 lousy inches of snow paralyzed a metro area of 6 million.

    By REBECCA BURNS
    January 29, 2014

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/atlanta-snow-storm-102839.html#ixzz2rtuN0hhN

  25. howdy1942 says:

    @Stan – I look forward to the day when you take your place on the school board along with the other 6 new members. Maybe, just maybe, we can begin to get our priorities right and put our teachers and their classrooms first.

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