Something does not compute

Again and again, we are told that things are going so much better with Thurmond and the (mostly) Governor-appointed school board at the helm – and some things are better.  Our credit rating has greatly improved. We have been taken off accreditation probation (but are still at warning status), our budget has been balanced as the new CFO found over $20 million in federal and local revenue that somehow been unaccounted for, and we have received a $3 million grant to hire more principal supervisors (will they get new cars too?). Our expected tax increase for the coming year will serve as a windfall to the schools, as property values increased up to 13% in some areas of the county and the school board decided not to roll back the tax rate, but to leave it at the increased rate set by the former board to compensate for the drop in property values during the Great Recession.

That seems mostly good on the surface and sounds good in a press release, but how have things been going for students and their teachers?  For starters, teachers continue to remain in a lawsuit with the Board over the 2009 decision to cut out contributions to their retirement annuities in lieu of Social Security (matching the former board portion of the SS contribution). This board-promised tax-sheltered annuity was originally implemented in order to convince teachers to forgo Social Security back in the early 80s. The school board reneged suddenly in 2009 in order to balance the budget more easily in big chunks (Ramona Tyson’s exact words were ‘We have to go after the big nuts’). In addition, teachers have not had a raise or step increase in over six years, although their responsibilities have increased exponentially in terms of class size, testing expectations, ‘data’ collection and paperwork. Add to this, the board agreed to pay over $3 million to hire foreign supply teachers through a local company at a cost per teacher totaling $66,500 (including the agency’s $11,500 finders fee per teacher).

In contrast, in spite of the accrediting agency AdvancED (SACS) calling our multi-million dollar contracts with two outside law firms excessive, superintendent Thurmond has secured the services of yet a third law firm, McKenna, Long & Aldridge, to the tune of $50,000 per month (nearly the annual cost of one teacher) to consult on ‘board governance’.  The money is there for teachers–the administration and the board simply so often choose to spend it elsewhereplaces never mentioned when budgets are passed. Happily, after years of cuts, Governor Deal recently announced that the state will be increasing the education budget in order for local systems to afford to decrease class sizes, restore furlough days and grant a raise to teacher salaries. Let’s hope DeKalb uses this increase of state funds as they are intended.

Students and teachers in our traditional schools continue to suffer from over-crowding and violence as the school board once again asked the state for a waiver on class size. ( Click here to review class size limits for students on regular schools.) In addition, many of our school buildings are still in great need of repair and renovations. Now, if you are lucky enough to be in a magnet or specialty school of some kind like the recent schools held up as DeKalb success stories such as DeKalb School of the Arts (average class size is 15-18) or Kittredge or Wadsworth magnet schools (low class sizes due to the numbers of ‘gifted’ students attending – plus a full staff and building of their own.) The same holds true for the DeKalb Early College program, also highlighted for their success. This is a joint venture with Georgia Perimeter College, and many classes are held at the college, as well as in the DeKalb County Schools space at Mountain Industrial, with a full staff allocated to these students.  (There is a duplicate program at GPC called Gateway to College as well.) These are the schools you read about in the news as being some of DeKalb’s finest. Why, yes they are fine schools, however, are they partially successful because they usurp funds, attention and staff? What would happen if you employed the same luxuries to the other 130+ DeKalb schools? Would traditional students fare better if they could have reduced class sizes and much more individualized attention? Would their teachers be more energetic and focused with so few students in total comparatively? We certainly know the answer to that.

Contrast recent news reports about these ‘high performing’ specialty schools against the recent annual test score results of the system overall as FY2014 CRCT district results were released by the Georgia DOE yesterday. When averaging the CRCT scores, DeKalb Schools “anchors” metro Atlanta in every grade.

6th Grade CRCT

Now, take a look at what we pay for these poor outcomes in DeKalb – we are the highest taxed county in the metro area and the second highest in the state.

Millage Rate
DeKalb 23.98
APS 21.640
Decatur City 20.9
Clayton 20
Gwinnett 19.25
Cobb 18.9
Marietta City 18.682
Fulton 18.502
Decatur County 15.99

lemmingsForgive us if we don’t join the lemmings and proclaim DeKalb ‘healed’! We’ll continue to wear the safety parachute. Real Data shows that we still have a very long way to go in DeKalb.



Many thanks to Stan Jester and his “Fact Checker” blog for providing so much data and great charts! Check out Stan’s blog here >> Stan Jester’s Fact Checker

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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50 Responses to Something does not compute

  1. @September – you can certainly try – however, the telling issue is – Congress did not apply this law to themselves. They are exempt. They can collect all kinds of government pensions. They do not feel your pain.

  2. September says:

    @dsw. You are correct. They don’t feel our pain, but they do need our votes. At this point, WEP is not a big issue because we aren’t talking to them about it. I have out-of-state relatives who are teachers and they face the same problem with Social Security that I am facing. My father and brother-in-law, both retired federal employees, were penalized under WEP. WEP is impacting a lot of older workers who paid into Social Security and are eligible to collect a pension. They should be able to collect the full amount.

  3. @September: This would be a very good cause – perhaps you should approach the leader of the ODE – David Schutten. Ask him his opinion on the lawsuit – the teachers pay – morale. That’s who teachers are paying dues to. David Schutten collects a salary — from teachers! Get ODE to do what they are hired to do and advocate! (Good luck – Shutten is very weak yet ODE members continue to vote him in as President, which we cannot figure out whatsoever. Bet bet – find someone who really cares to run against Schutten next term!)

    Check out their website — their most recent post is from March 2014! There is no news on the upcoming school board runoff election. Nothing on the new gun laws regarding schools. Nothing on the Common Core. Nothing on the new state teacher ‘evaluations’, nothing on Duncan and Obama’s “Race To The Top” initiatives… nothing much useful at all. This is an organization with a paid staff — paid for by teachers to look out for your interests! Would you say they are earning their salaries? We at the DSW2 blog are volunteers and have posted almost 600 posts here in about 2 years — in addition to answering questions and responding to comments!

    Email David directly here >>
    Let us know what he has to say! (We won’t be holding our breath.)

  4. A few more comments … not only is the ODE website — that you teachers are paying for — way out of date, ODE’s list of search engines is out of date, as well. There also are no links to DeKalb School Watch, Heneghan’s Dunwoody Blog, or Stan Jester’s Fact Checker. We guess David Schutten is afraid of the truth — that as far as he and ODE are concerned, it will be like pouring cold water on the Wicked Witch in the “Wizard of Oz.”

    BTW — in case you have not noticed, David Schutten and ODE are not at all transparent about the last vote that “re-elected” him. It took days to tally an electronic vote that should have taken only minutes. A cautionary tale if ever there was one about doing business with the company who provided the voting software and hardware to ODE.

  5. September says:

    @dsw. Your website cautions bloggers to be respectful. I’m not seeing it right now. Have you asked PAIGE what they are doing about these issues? Why are you injecting ODE and David Schutten into the WEP issue that is only going to be fixed at the federal level? If you go to the NEA website and click in the Social Security link, you will learn that the WEP affects thousands of teachers in more than a dozen states. They are encouraging members to get involved by writing to their elected representatives. The Board sponsored TSA is in litigation. Do you really believe that the President of ODE could negotiate a settlement when a group of experienced attorneys have been unable to do so?

    ODE is a teacher organization that is organized for and managed by teachers. Most of the elected officers work full-time in schools with your children. When teachers join ODE they are really joining three organizations. ODE that deals with local concerns, the state organization, GAE, that provides access to legal services and advocates for teachers on the state level, and NEA the national organization. Teachers are not required to join, but I know teachers who never want to be without the services provided by ODE.

    While you imply that ODE is not doing a good job of advocating for its members, I see a much different picture. Members can direct a concern to a Building Association Rep., a Uniserv Director, or even directly to David Schutten. This organization does a good job of supporting its members. ODE works directly with teachers and with concerns that affect everyone. Some recent issues include the implementation if TKES, Success for All, and the infamous penalty clause added to teacher contracts. Personally, I am less concerned about the website than I am about what happens when I call the office with an employment concern. No organization has a 100 percent success rate. Why are you so angry?

  6. Not angry. And not really talking exactly about the WEP. Talking about the lawsuit and the SS contributions. Glad you are happy with ODE. WE just aren’t seeing it.

  7. idabelle25 says:

    I completely agree with you that ODE sounds like they could be doing more to mobilize against injustice but the fact is also we(personnel that seem to be victims in this never ending nightmare) have no seat at the table and no one at say this can and will not happen to them. It’s called collective bargaining rights. The pawn that has been used politically when referring to unions. I decided to join the other cheaper union because frankly I know that all I am joining it for is legal representation if God forbid the need ever arises but that’s it. A union without collective rights has no teeth. So why so we even have a president, or governing bodies for these things. All we need is a legal office for personal cases. If we had a fired up leader of one of these organizations who believed in grassroot organizing and calling the media when these horrible injustices occurred like the APS unions did as soon as problems started with bus drivers not being paid and other recent issues then we would at least have a union worth the dues. But as a matter of fact, even the legal representation of these unions are lackluster. I called my union rep. Lawyer about the legalities of signing an employee contract that held me liable for so much and Dekalb County for so little and their best legal advice was that Gwinnett was hiring. Wow!

  8. idabelle25 says:

    Excuse the typos . I was passionate about sharing:)

  9. Wondering says:

    It is amazing to me that our school system will not even discuss the issue of the TSA with the staff. It is never mentioned. Someone sat down and devised a plan to collect $ 750 from teachers needing or wanting to be released from their contract after May 5th. What a cruel thing to do to teachers that have not that have not had a raise in 6 years. DeKalb can break its word to us concerning the TSA, but teachers are expected to remain in the school system. Under a former superintendent, his hand picked senior cabinet members were making about 160,000 dollars a year. Even though these people have taken a hit in their salary, it is not the same as some of our teachers, custodians, para educators and bus drivers.
    Some group sat down and decided that more Region Superintendents were needed. Why can’t some effort be put into trying to find a solution for DeKalb employees regarding their TSA accounts.?
    People working at AIC can leave without a moment’s notice without any penalty. This happens all of the time. A teacher who may be offered a job in another county is penalized. If DeKalb does the right thing for its school-based educators, we would be more successful in keeping them. I love my job. As I approach retirement in about five years, I am concerned about how my income has dropped over the last several years.
    Younger educators must think about their futures. The four very strong core area teachers that left my school all went to systems that pay them more money. One of them is a single mother. She had to make the decision that was best for her child. One of our elective area teachers left and took a job in business. He was an excellent teacher. DeKalb waited so long to offer the plan to restore 4 days and provide a one percent raise that people could not wait, After so many years of our pay being cut, that is all that could be proposed.
    I love education. I have devoted my life to it. I still live in the real world. I love both my students and my family, I want to provide for both of them. It seems like the people who have the direct contact with the students have no voice.
    The school system needs to allow us to do an evaluation on HR, District Administration, Staff Services and departments outside of the school that impact our lives.

  10. concerned citizen says:

    Wondering, I like so much what you have to say. The problem I have with your excellent remarks is that they have been said over-and-over by so many of us. Yet, here we are with another year about to begin, and we have made no progress in dislodging the Palace crew, just no progress at all. The teachers, the students, all people who keep the schools going, are trash to the Palace and the current but not only rotten- to- the- core supt. we have endured. We are many years now past a solution for the conspiracy and treachery of the PALACE, both past and present, and frankly, talk is cheap. All parts of the county goverenment are corrupt and ineffective. Nothing works correctly or effectively. Let’s stop the talk and kick all of them in the school system anyway out. I can list them again and will if asked to do so.

    I am offering a $2,500 REWARD IN COLD CASH to anyone who can provide us with a pay stub showing participation by the exclusive members of the PALACE GUARD. That’s the extent of what I am personally able to offer, and I’m happy to pay for the bringing down of all these years of foolishness that have killed our teachers and students. I would appreciate anyone who has this evidence forwarding it to the DSW2. After enduring many agonizing years of torture by the various PALACE members, I have determinded that money is the only way to get the information that is oh so carefully concealed. I believe we need a strong issue to overturn their corrupt dominance, and I believe this issue is core to the citizens of DeKalb, if it can be exposed and brought to everyone’s attention in irrefutable evidence. Someone will come forward, and that’s great; I understand the extreme pressure on those of you like me who “know” what the PALACE is doing. Yes, $2.500 if not enough for the risk you are taking. But, think of what we could do for teachers, students, our employees and our reputation and dignity.

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