One of our regular blog participants who goes by the moniker, Howdy, created a list of questions for candidates to answer. These questions were sent via email to each of the candidates for DeKalb school board. So far, we have shared Don McChesney’s answers, which he posted on his own blog and can be reviewed in the comments of the post titled, ‘4/2 Meet the Candidates’ here >> Don For DeKalb
Candidate John Oselette (District 4) also spent some time responding to Howdy’s comments. His answers, along with Howdy’s questions are below. Find out more about John Oselette at his FaceBook page >> John Oselette for District 4 DeKalb School Board.
First, what would you propose to do about the court case involving the teachers seeking the restoration of their TRA contributions that the Dekalb School Board voted to terminate?
First, I would like to clarify the retirement programs for teachers. The “TRS” is a required retirement program for all school districts. The TRS sets the contributions that must be made into the system by employers (school districts) and employees (teachers, etc.). This retirement program is administered by The Teachers Retirement System of Georgia and you can learn more about this program at this website: http://www.trsga.com/Index.aspx
In 1978, DeKalb withdrew from Social Security and established an alternative plan known as the TSA. Employees can contribute to the TSA and the Board contributed to the TSA until 2009. The “TSA lawsuit” was a response to the board waiving the policy requiring a certain amount of notice be given to employees before they stop contributions.
The potential liability to DCSD is large. If I had been on the Board for this vote, I would not have voted to suspend these contributions. The district needed to eliminate bloat and waste before it touched a benefit for teachers in the classroom. The Board should plan now for restoring the TSA employer contributions. This benefit is important in recruiting and retaining teachers in DeKalb. I believe the money is there, the priorities are wrong.
Second, what specifically would you do to address the bloat in the DCSS administration that has been documented by the AJC and others as far exceeding the administration/teacher ratio of neighboring counties?
1) Conduct a forensic audit of all finances.
2) Request an independent audit of Human Resources and require the Superintendent to fully implement recommended actions.
3) Advocate for an online check register.
3) Advocate for an interactive organizational chart. It should have every employee by division in an easily searchable and understandable graphic.
Third, what specifically would you propose to rein in the expenses involved with the so-called “parent centers” that seem to be concentrated in specific areas of Dekalb County and not others?
I would propose that Parent Centers be eliminated completely. The funds currently used for parent centers should be directed to add teachers in the classroom and lower class sizes.
Fourth, what specifically would you propose to rein in legal expenses? What would you do to insure we ended the practice of duplicating employment of both “white” and “black” law firms when only one is needed?
Of the 3 law firms currently employed, one law firm can handle the day-to-day legal needs of the District. I would vote to eliminate the others.
Fifth, what specifically would you do to reach out to communities that feel that they have been ignored for too long, such as Dunwoody, Brookhaven, and Lakeside?
I would suggest Board “Town Hall” Meetings in communities throughout DeKalb attended by Board members from different Districts and the Superintendent. I would also suggest each Board Member maintain a website with updated information on the issues, what their positions are and what votes they have cast and why.
I would also suggest the Superintendent prepare quarterly reports to stakeholders.
Sixth, what would you do to restore the trust of the people of Dekalb County in the DCSS?
1) I would work with my colleagues on the Board to immediately begin the formal search process for a professional, experienced and highly successful Superintendent.
2) I would work with my colleagues on the Board to institute financial reforms, beginning with switching to an Accrual Accounting Method.
3) I would work with my colleagues on the Board to institute an on-line check register so every expense is accounted for, viewable to and searchable by the public.
4) I would ask for an independent audit of HR and require the Superintendent to implement all recommended changes.
Seventh, what specifically would you do to get the priority on the classroom and not on administration?
The board should not approve a budget that doesn’t dramatically shrink central office staff and eliminate wasteful spending. The budget should be drafted from the classroom up. The administration should have to justify every dollar not spent on direct instructional expenses.
Eighth, what would you propose to do about initiating a search for a new, permanent superintendent?
That should be one of the first items on the agenda for the new Board. The number one quality that the board must identify as a search parameter is for all superintendent candidates to have a record of improving achievement in school districts similar to DeKalb.
Ninth, would you undertake to initiate a full independent forensic audit of the Dekalb County School System? If so, would you insist that the results be made public without any modification by anyone?
Tenth, what would you propose to insure that the school board and administration listen to and truly consider what the public has to say?
Use your vote and hold elected officials accountable. The public should be relentless in their demands for transparency and accountability on the part of the district. Help your board hold the administration accountable by showing up, speaking out and supporting those board members who actively pursue reforms.
Eleventh, what is your position on new ideas such as that presented by the Druid Hills Charter Petition? What new directions would you propose to change the status quo at the DCSS and give all of us a new comfort that such charter schools, new independent schools, or other such programs are not needed and that the DCSS will take a new course of improvement that is measurable to convince us that it is serious and can be trusted?
I support Charter Clusters and Charter Schools in general. I would have voted for the cluster. Parents and communities need more choices and more autonomy.
Twelfth, what specifically would you propose to get administrators out of the way of teachers and to get teachers into a fully accountable position?
Each school needs to have control over its budget and HR decisions. The central office should plan an extremely limited role in the functioning of each school. It is impossible to hold schools, principals and their teachers accountable for their results if they are being micromanaged and burdened by a central office bureaucracy. Only when we have true decentralization, can we get a clear picture on how schools and teachers are performing.
Thirteenth, are you comfortable with the current budget preparation, presentation, and approval process? If not, what specifically would you change?
No, I am not. The budget is not developed in a transparent process with a “classroom first” strategy. As a board member I will advocate for adopting policies that force these improvements. The ongoing financial reporting to the board and public is also not acceptable. We need better and timelier financial reporting. We need monthly reporting done on an accrual basis and an online check register.
Finally, what specifically would you propose to end teacher furlough days and to begin to restore their full compensation with some allowance for annual raises?
The financial controls I have advocated for will drive money to be spent in the classroom. The results will be to eliminate furlough days, lower class size and provide more money for teachers’ salaries.