Governor’s Leadership Made Difference for DeKalb Schools

By Mike Jacobs (via Mike’s email newsletter)

Mike-Jacobs-DeKalb-State-Rep-dist-80The DeKalb County School District recently announced that it is running a $30.9 million surplus. This represents an impressive improvement of $52.3 million over the $21.4 million deficit that faced the school district in February 2013.

February 2013 was the same month that Governor Nathan Deal removed six members of the DeKalb County Board of Education after the board had brought our school system to the brink of accreditation loss. In replacing these six members, Governor Deal appointed six highly qualified and professional citizens who promptly rolled up their sleeves and righted the ship.

Governor Deal led when DeKalb needed him. He took necessary steps in a moment of real crisis. His swift action vastly improved the trajectory of our school system. Now our schools’ accreditation is heading in the right direction. Accreditation loss no longer is a threat.

The district’s red ink has been reversed and has become a substantial surplus. The school system has eliminated furlough days and implemented teacher and staff pay raises. This is a direct result of the improved governance Governor Deal installed on our school board. It also is a result of the $930 million increase in education funding delivered in Governor Deal’s four state budgets.

The press conference in which Governor Deal announced the removal of the school board is the most vivid memory of my ten years in the State House. I was among a bipartisan group of seven DeKalb legislators who stood with Governor Deal that day as he announced his decision.

This bipartisan group did not include Senator Jason Carter, who attended the press conference, stood far behind the cameras, and did not support the decision that was being announced.

On a related note, Senator Carter voted in favor of three of Governor Deal’s four budgets. The budget he voted against – this year’s budget – contained the largest increase in education funding in seven years: $547 million. DeKalb is benefiting from that funding as part of its surplus.

As the father of two children in DeKalb public schools, I appreciate everything Governor Deal has done to improve the governance and financial condition of our school system. We can trust him to put aside partisan politics and make decisions with the best interests of our kids at heart.


DSW2 Observations:
Keep in mind, at the time the Governor replaced the 6 board members, we were in financial crisis – the Great Recession had decimated property values in DeKalb. The former board raised the millage rate on property taxes in an attempt to compensate. The new board left that millage rate in place after values recovered (especially in north and central DeKalb). This has resulted in a virtual windfall in property tax collection, increasing the school board’s total local property tax collection by over 6%. With an operating budget in the general area of $800 million, 6.5% (the actual projected tax increase) equates to an increase in collection of approximately $52 million – exactly what the current board is being credited for ‘saving’.


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31 Responses to Governor’s Leadership Made Difference for DeKalb Schools

  1. dsw2contributor says:

    SERIOUSLY? Dekalb is NOT fully accredited.

    SACS has DeKalb’s accreditation at the “WARNED” level, several notches below full accreditation.

  2. concerned citizen says:

    I don’t know who you are, but you must be seriously “confused.” I’m really working to use the least offensive adjective I can. And what school is that you send your children to?

  3. DecaturMax says:

    Mike, If we save $30M by raising tax revenue, but lose 20% of the teachers each year(generally the most experienced), has governance improved? Schools are in the business of teaching right?

  4. Frustrated says:

    They didn’t find money! They just aren’t spending it! Busses aren’t being fixed, Custodians aren’t being replaced, two months into school and we don’t have math text books for one grade level. Don’t be fooled with “found money”. It’s money not going to the schools.

  5. This is just pure, unadulterated political BS!!! Jacobs is spewing this propaganda to help Deal get another chance to completely destroy the State of Georgia for profit.

  6. Weary Worker says:

    Less teachers, teacher aids now nearly non existent, crowded classrooms and poor upkeep of buildings and equipment all this indicates that the money that was saved was done so at the expense of education. Nothing has improved in the central office an the same inept people are running things and cashing their paychecks.

  7. In addition, and in truth, the initiatives mentioned really were not the result of any action by the board. Gov. Deal and the state legislature increased teacher pay by 1%. DeKalb did not increase it any more than the state. DeKalb also has not addressed the fact that they are in a lawsuit with teachers – having taken away their retirement annuity contributions, which were given years ago as a bartering tool to get teachers to agree to end their participation in Social Security. Now they have neither – just the state teachers retirement.

    Any other ‘initiatives’ are due to Michael Thurmond – and he was actually hired by the previous board – the people the Governor fired and the three newly-elected he left (Orson, McMahan and Johnson).

  8. September says:

    With all due respect that one percent raise got eaten up by increased health insurance costs. Don’t give the Governor too much credit here.

  9. As far as I am concerned, the only credit any of these politicians (including Thurman) deserve is credit for making things worse, not better. That one percent raise is an insult added to all the other injuries inflicted on teachers for years.

  10. howdy1942 says:

    I have several questions about Rep. Jacobs assertions:

    First. if things are so much improved and the Dekalb System is headed in the right direction, then why are Dunwoody and Brookhaven still vigorously pursuing their own school systems? By the way, I support those efforts.

    Second, do you have any basis for asserting these “substantial surpluses” other than what Mr. Thurmond has told you?

    Third, what other choice did Governor Deal have than to remove the old school board? What would have happened to the accreditation of the Dekalb County schools had the old board remained in place? I do applaud what Governor Deal did and for his tenacity to pursue this matter through the courts.

    Fourth, what is the basis for your assertion that the new school board “rolled up its sleeves and righted the ship”? What have they done? What has changed? True, they don’t seem to argue as much as the last board, but what leads you to believe that they have made or are making good decisions? My observation of school board meetings is that they ask very few questions, don’t seem to be very knowledgeable of the issues, and simply rubber-stamped each and every proposal put forth by the administration. They have yet to even seriously search for a new superintendent.

    Fifth, how has student performance improved during the past 18 months? How much have legal expenses been reduced? My property taxes just increased this year by 9.33% and, if the State has increased its funding to Dekalb so much and we have all of this new money, why has Dekalb not been able to do more for its teachers and why does Dekalb still not contribute to the teachers’ TSA (nor does it appear to have any plans to do so), and why are test scores lower?

    I don’t take any position with respect to Senator Carter or Governor Deal. Frankly, I’m not very impressed by either candidate. Senator Carter does not appear to have a plan to create new jobs, reduce unemployment, to improve student test scores, or to address the widespread dysfunction that is obvious in State Government. On the other hand, I have serious concerns about Governor Deal’s ethics, about the direction of unemployment in Georgia, about his failure to even propose any health care program alternative to that of the Affordable Care Act, and about his lack of any real concern for the middle class in Georgia. Just how has the middle class benefited from any tax initiatives of the past 4 years? If such a large number of jobs has been created in Georgia, why does Georgia have the highest unemployment rate in the U.S.? It is very difficult to buy that argument about “so many people have come back into the labor force that it has overwhelmed the number of jobs created. And that statement is so inconsistent with the demonstrated performance of neighboring States. And just how is it that we have had such embarrassing failures at the Ethics Commission, at the Paroles Board, and now at the licensing board for physicians (Haven’t these members of these boards have been appointed by the Governor?)

    Mike, I respect your position and generally support you, but I would welcome your responses to the above questions.

  11. concerned citizen says:

    I still want to know where his children go to school. After all that crap he laid out, he needs to be specific. Believe me, his children go to a very special school if they do actually go to a DeKalb school.

  12. Not so casual observer says:


    “The district’s red ink has been reversed and has become a substantial surplus. The school system has eliminated furlough days and implemented teacher and staff pay raises. This is a direct result of the improved governance Governor Deal installed on our school board. It also is a result of the $930 million increase in education funding delivered in Governor Deal’s four state budgets.”

    No. Not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Mike, you are a lawyer aren’t you? These teacher furlough reinstatements are NOT something the Gov or his hand-picked Board should get a pat on the back for. DeKalb teachers continue to suffer loss of income. In fact, many teachers are making LESS this year than last year. Do your homework Mike. Don’t just shill for the Gov.

  13. Howdy, we again changed your misuse of “TRA” (which is meaningless, but confusing) to TSA (Tax-Sheltered Annuity). We all need to be careful about that misuse. We request everyone to write out “Tax-Sheltered Annuity.”

    DeKalb County Schools broke its promise to teachers to pay into a Tax-Sheltered Annuity (TSA) if the teachers would vote to leave Social Security. DCS teachers quite mistakenly trusted DCS to keep their promise to fund a Tax-Sheltered Annuity (TSA) — and now any DCS employee who retires from DCS and is part of the Teachers Retirement System is in big trouble financially. Any DCS employee who retires from DCS and is part of the Teachers Retirement System and is eligible (personally or through a spouse) for Social Security will find their Social Security benefits CUR by at least 1/3 because of the Windfall Elimination Provision voted in by a Republican Congress.

    Any DCS employee who retires from DCS and is part of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) but is not yet eligible for a TRS pension (i.e., not enough years served or not old enough) is in double trouble because all they will receive is Social Security (IF they are personally eligible OR eligible through a spouse) but those Social Security benefits will be CUT by at least 1/3.

    Any DCS employee who retires from DCS and is part of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) but is NOT ELIGIBLE for a TRS pension (i.e., not enough years served or not old enough) and is NOT ELIGIBLE for Social Security at all (i.e., have NOT worked anywhere else that contributed to Social Security and/or whose spouse did NOT work anywhere that contributed to Social Security) is not going to enjoy much of a SS benefit. PERIOD. There will be NOTHING for retirement except Medicaid and welfare and dumpster diving.

    Georgia school systems are REQUIRED to pay into Teachers Retirement System (TRS). Georgia businesses and government entities (i.e., school systems) who are part of Social Security are REQUIRED to pay into Social Security.

    Set up an appointment with a Social Security advisor and get the full scoop! We recommend the Norcross office (4365 Shackleford Road, Norcross, GA) for Social Security — call (800-772-1213) and request your appointment to be at the Norcross office.

    We have written about this multiple times. Why does no one get it??? Why do DCS employees say they are a few years from retirement and they want to stay with DCS? Why??? Just recently a widow who works for DCS and is quite close to retirement said she wishes someone had told her about the issues with TSA and WEP. Seriously? We have written about this multiple times over the past several years.

  14. DSW2Contributor says:

    Ralph Simpson has been promoted to Area Superintendent (again).

  15. dsw2contributor says:

    And Towers High School will be getting its 9th Principal in 9 Years:

  16. DavidS says:

    Actually, the WEP doesn’t “reduce,” or “take away,” anyone’s earned benefits. Its purpose is simply to prevent people from drawing SS benefits based on contributions that they didn’t make.
    Further, it was not passed by a “Republican Congress.” While Republicans had a majority in the Senate in 1983, Democrats comfortably controlled the House. The Windfall Elimination Provision was part of a broader amendment package aimed at re-structuring Social Security in an effort to keep it sustainable. It was put together by a truly bi-partisan commission – 5 members appointed by Speaker Tip O’Neil and 5 members appointed by President Reagan.
    Teachers are, indeed, being screwed by DCSS, but to place any blame on the WEP, passed by a non-existent Republican Congress is a bit disingenuous.

  17. Not so casual observer says:

    I disagree David. The Windfall Elimination prevents regular workers from double dipping into two government pension funds (of course, this excludes Congress – they are free to dip and dip and dip…) If you worked for 10 years and qualify for SS and then work for the school system or another government agency (libraries, etc) that offer government pensions, these pensions will reduce your SS benefit. I have personally seen it – my own mother worked in retail for years and qualified for SS, but then she worked for the library system, which offers a state pension. She receives NO SS pmt and in fact has been (what I would call) harassed by SS for years. They will pay her thousands of dollars over the course of a year or two and then demand it all back in one lump sum. Horrible.

    I have no idea about the politics of it – except to say that literally ALL of Congress exempted themselves.

  18. formerdekalbteacher says:

    As to why an employee nearing retirement will stay with DCS–easy answer. Transferring to a new county means starting over as a new teacher–not having the choice of what to teach, possibly not having one’s own classroom in which to teach, not being known to parents, colleagues, school administrators, students. I made a switch within Dekalb after eight years of teaching, and it was a very difficult adjustment!

    Yes, the insulting treatment of teachers in Dekalb stinks. But being a “newbie” for the final few years would be a horrible way to finish out a career. Also, someone who moves into SS for only a short time will still be hit by the WEP and receive miniscule Social Security benefits.

  19. @ David S

    That’s not true.

    One of the DSW editors — me! — has been affected personally by the disingenuously named Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The Social Security representative at the Norcross, GA office showed how much I would have received from Social Security based on my own earnings and Social Security contributions and my employers’ Social Security contributions up to the time I began working for DCS. At the point I began working for DCS, no more earnings were reported to Social Security and there were no more Social Security contributions from me or from DCS. This is easy to see in the annual report sent out by Social Security to each person with a Social Security number.

    [NOTE: I am no longer working for DCS and have not been working for DCS for 14 years. I moved on to another state agency who told me I could continue as part of the Teachers Retirement System, but did not mention WEP.]

    The Social Security representative showed me the same thing. NONE of my salary from my years as a DCS employee or the other state agency counted toward my Social Security benefits. Then the Social Security representative showed me the approximately 1/3 reduction in the Social Security benefits I had earned through my legally-required contributions and my previous employers’ legally-required contributions because I was retiring with a small pension from the Teachers Retirement System.

    [NOTE: I had worked for more than the 40 quarters — 10 years — which is the minimum required by Social Security to receive any Social Security benefits.]

    I can assure you WEP was NOT an issue with my spouse who retired from a major corporation with full Social Security benefits AND a substantial pension. Still don’t believe me? Read all about WEP on the Social Security website.

    It is also interesting to read that WEP does NOT apply to anyone who earned a “substantial” income while working for an employer who contributed to Social Security. “Substantial” means someone who earned more than $100,000 per year — beyond the income cap for Social Security contributions. Yet, the Social Security benefits for those people are calculated on their earned income NOT on how much they or their employers have contributed — and it has nothing at all to do with whether or not they also receive a pension from their employers. That is a windfall — receiving Social Security benefits on income beyond the annual cap for legally required Social Security contributions.

    By Georgia law, school systems are required to contribute to the Teachers Retirement System. If DCS could find a way around that — as they did find away around the legal requirement for employers to contribute to Social Security — they would have.

  20. Yes, “starting over” in a new school system — as with any change — may be hard. But, if the new school system is part of Social Security, the change will seem like a day in the park compared to living on the meager Social Security benefits that result from retiring from DCS.

    And it takes only a few years of working for a school system or government agency that is part of Social Security to erase the whole nasty Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) penalty and allow you to receive ALL of your earned Social Security benefits.

    The people who are going to be particularly hard hit are those who have worked only for DCS or another government agency who does not participate in Social Security. Even if they are eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on their spouse’s earnings from an employer who participated in Social Security, they will get only 50% of their spouse’s benefits and that will still be reduced by approximately one-third.

  21. formerdekalbteacher says:

    “And it takes only a few years of working for a school system or government agency that is part of Social Security to erase the whole nasty Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) penalty and allow you to receive ALL of your earned Social Security benefits.”

    Not sure where you are getting this info, DSW. In order to wipe out WEP completely, you have to contribute to Social Security for thirty years.

  22. formerdekalbteacher says:

    DSW, I usually look to you for accurate information and have never found your posts to be anything but. But as someone who will be affected by WEP, I have looked into this a lot and am surprised at how far off the mark you are here. “Substantial” earnings are not at all what you have described. I can’t reference a govt. site, because it’s a PDF. But the numbers found here are the same as what I found on the Social Security Website:

  23. Let’s state the clear facts of the appointed board members by Governor Deal, the only one who did his research, came prepared to all meetings and asked probing questions was Thad Mayfield. Then what comes at election time, does Mike or any of these other Deal backers do anything to help Ensure That Thad the most productive of the appointees get re-elected, no. Do they help, do they endorse, do they help him fundraise no. They abandon him, so he looses in a run-off and we go back to a same old same old replacement. We still on the other hand have the absolute worse appointee by Deal the Love Dr. Joyce Morely, who loves to hear the sound of her voice, will be in office again. Deal and crew should have realized this was an error and he should have had Brian Robinson offering a position in Human Sexuality Professor off at a part of the Georgia Regents System, instead of hear where she can do so much harm. We had to put up with John Coleman the 31 Year old husband ( Harvard graduate ) of one of Deal’s appointees on another committee, at the time he had no children. He had no idea of how the schools operated, accreditation, came unprepared, then he just stopped showing up after Stan Jester won the primary in May. He showed up this time only because of all the comments.

    Deal has been a joke. If he had not. The Druid hIlls Charter would have passed. Mikey’s faux Charter with his corrupt brother for the technical Charter would have been kicked to the can. Dekalb would have just said we are better to stay the same, and do without waivers. This board would have searched for a new super, cleaned house, with Ramona, Tekeish Ward-Smith, Ron, everyone who has any relative would have had to make a choice of only one remain. The same with friends.

  24. You are right, formerdekalbteacher. I was thinking of the point at which you stop having Social Security deducted from your pay (this year, it’s somewhere just over $100,000) — I found the link below that shows the annual earnings necessary to earn Social Security credits (what SS calls “substantial earnings”) – and the points at which the WEP is reduced >>

    And interestingly, The Wall Street Journal has been posting on the subject as well >>


    All in all, we strongly suggest that you sit down with someone at Social Security in person and find out exactly what you can expect for your own retirement plan. Sadly, worse than the WEP, which is only relevant to those who contributed to SS in another job — the fact that DeKalb coerced teachers decades ago to forgo Social Security in favor of an annuity plan that the school district promised to contribute to – and then the complete elimination of the contributions to that Teachers Annuity in 2010, will have a profoundly terrible impact on DeKalb teachers’ incomes in their golden years.

  25. dsw2contributor says:

    The foundation of your retirement is supposed to be a 3-legged stool: (1) Social security, (2) your employer pension and (3) your contributions to a 401(K) and/or IRA.

    Here are the 3-legs of that stool in DCS:

    (1) Social Security: See the above posts – you won’t be getting it.

    (2) Employer pension: You will get a retirement income from the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia…. but you will not receive as much from retirement income from it as you would have received if you had worked for any other Georgia school district. Dekalb froze your step increases and hit you with furlough days, so the 10.28% of your salary that DCS is paying in is less than it would have been if you taught elsewhere. Less money paid in means less money paid out to you in retirement.

    (3) Voluntary 403(b) [401(k) plan for public sector employees]: DCS screws you on your 403(b) because the four companies on the DCS “403(b) Approved Vendors List” –VALIC, ING, Hartford and Fidelity– all sell really crappy investment products. VALIC, ING, Hartford and Fidelity’s mutual funds are all garbage, charging incredibly high sales loads.

    There are much better 403(b)/mutual fund vendors out there, but DCS does not do business with them. One example of a much better choice is TIAA-CREF, the Teachers Insurance & Annunity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund. TIAA-CREF is a NON-PROFIT that returns its surpluses to participants.

    Another example of a better choice is the Vanguard company, which was founded by John Bogle, the guy who invented low-cost Index funds. While Vanguard is a for-profit company, Vanguard is owned by its mutual funds, so the investors in the funds actually own the company selling the funds.

    Basically, the DCS Retirement “3-legged stool” does not actually have three legs and is the type of stool that comes out of an anus.

  26. We have long wondered – and hope someone can provide an answer along with some kind of proof – but when these annuity contributions were cut, was it just for teachers and staff? Contracted employees? In other words, do Ramona Tyson and all upper level administrators continue to get DCSS contributions made into their annuities? We are curious.

  27. dsw2contributor says:

    DSW, we need to stop using the terms “Annuity” and “Tax-Sheltered Annunity” when referring to the 403(b) accounts.

    Second, check out “IRS Publication 571, Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plans (403(b) Plans)”

    On page 2, under the “What is a 403(b) Plan?”, the publication explains that there are three options for a 403(b):

    (i) an annuity contract,
    (ii) a custodial account, invested in mutual funds, and
    (iii) a income account setup for church employees.

    What DCS seems to be doing is requiring employees to invest in an annuity contract (option i), under which the employees may decide to invest in mutual funds. That arrangement generates great commissions for the vendors [ALIC, ING, Hartford and Fidelity], but it is a really raw deal for the DCS teachers participating in the plan.

    If DCS went with option (ii), the custodial accounts, they could use a low-cost provider (e.g. TIAA/CREF, Vanguard, etc.) and the invested money would grow faster because less of it would be lost to commissions.

    The other part of the IRS publication of interest is Page 8, the “15 Year Rule” section. That part explains that employees who have worked more than 15 years for the same organization are allowed to increase their elective deferrals — they may be able to put $20,500 into the plan instead of the usual $17,500 maximum.

    My GUESS is that Ramona and the upper level administrators are voluntarily putting in more because they have more than 15+ years of time in DCS…. doing that would lower the amount of taxes they have to pay each year.

  28. @DSW Contributor: It actually is a Tax Sheltered Annuity plan – it is not some kind of lingo we have made up in our little heads – it is formally referred to a such in the lawsuit filed by the Barnes Law firm for Elaine Gold and Amy Shaye who are seeking class action for breach of contract when the school district stopped making their promised 6.5% matching contribution – in lieu of Social Security – breaking their own policy to give a two year notice of such intention.

    Read the memo here >>

    Click to access DeKalb.mpsj.memo.pdf

    In July of 2009, the Defendants broke a long-standing promise to their employees, the teachers of the DeKalb County School District. Defendants suddenly stopped funding contributions to a Tax Sheltered Annuity Plan, (hereinafter, “the TSA Plan”), part of the School District’s Alternative Plan to Social Security. This suspension, or “Freeze,” applied across-the-board to all teachers in the School District. By suddenly freezing the funding for these retirement benefits, Defendants breached contractual duties and violated the constitutional rights of teachers like Elaine Ann Gold and Amy Jacobson Shaye. See Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. I, Para. X (constitutional right against impairment of contract”). This is a class action on behalf of recipients of the TSA Plan retirement benefit, the full-time school-teachers of the DeKalb County School District.

  29. We suspect the school district knows they will lose this lawsuit and that is why they are beefing up the bank account. This is why they did not roll back your property taxes when your property values increased. They NEED this windfall to pay this debt when it comes due. It’s not only the lack of actual contributions (for at least the two years they were supposed to have given notice), it is the lost earnings on that money — and we all know that the 2013 stock market was a wild ride – everyone made a bundle – except teachers.

  30. dsw2contributor says:

    New Boss is the Same as the Old Boss: Ty has written an article about Ralph Simpson’s latest promotion, titled “Promotion leads to shuffle of regional superintendents”:

  31. Pingback: Giving Deal credit for improvements in DeKalb Schools: Smart political strategy or dumb move? | Get Schooled

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