Druid Hills withdraws charter cluster proposal; and tells it like it is!

Earlier today, the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC) announced the official withdrawal of their cluster proposal from DeKalb County Schools with the scathing notification to the district reprinted below. They didn’t mince words either. Can you say, “City of Atlanta, Here We Come!”?

VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL and U.S. MAIL

October 15, 2014

Re: Withdrawal of Druid Hills Charter Cluster Petition

Dear Members of the DeKalb County Board of Education:

On behalf of the proposed Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC), and with a sense of despair for DeKalb County, we the Board of Directors of DHCC hereby withdraw our petition to become a charter cluster. The DeKalb Board of Education has again failed and refused to put our petition on its agenda for a vote, despite the Georgia Legislature clearly and unambiguously requiring such action in the event of a re-file such as ours.

We believe that the DeKalb County Superintendent and his staff are so invested in the denial of our petition, the maintenance of fiscal and policy control, and preservation of certain central office budget requirements that our efforts are and will continue to be fruitless. As long as the Superintendent and his staff are allowed unfettered access to the Board of Education and permitted to provide inaccurate and misleading information, the Board will continue to vote on topics presented in a misinformed manner such that the employees rather than the duly elected officials control our schools.

Thousands of diverse hands nursed the idea of the charter cluster from a dream to the single best, most well-reasoned, and compelling petition for a charter cluster ever seen in Georgia. Community support was incredible with 92% of those who voted approving of the petition. Nevertheless, when presented with our petition, which the Georgia Department of Education stated “met all” requirements of law, was in the public interest, and should be approved, the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) actively opposed the petition, and the Board of Education voted against it based on the false and misleading information provided by the Superintendent and his staff.

The DCSD, an institution charged with protecting the best interest of the children, instead protected only its own status quo and budget through the basest of gamesmanship and bureaucratic nonsense. The DCSD responded to the petition with obvious disdain evidenced by its written commentary that was internally redundant, inconsistent, and expressly contradicted by the petition and applicable law. DCSD’s alleged “clarification meeting” meeting was a sham given that DCSD refused to answer any of our substantive questions.

Shockingly, the DCSD and the Superintendent actively mischaracterized material facts, the law, and statutorily mandated budget calculations to you, the partially-elected and partially-appointed DeKalb County Board of Education. These misrepresentations should be investigated and, if determined by relevant authorities to be appropriate, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

For example, staff acting as counsel for DCSD sought to conceal documents from the public and DHCC by fraudulently claiming they were protected by the attorney-client privilege. Similarly, staff members provided false documents to the Board indicating DSCD had implemented curriculum that it never has had, specifically Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM); and further falsely implied that the DCSD had other curriculum in place that it does not.

DCSD staff further actively misrepresented budget items to you, the elected and Governor-appointed Board of Education. In particular, advocating that that the Board not approve the petition unless the Board deduct funds from the seven schools in an amount violating state statutes (O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2068.1), representing a withholding significantly higher than the lawful per pupil amounts from the schools, children, and educators, so that DCSD could keep those funds in its control and presumably fund central office activities. Ironically, while some staff criticized the DHCC for requesting too much funding (even though funding is specifically directed and mandated by the Charter Schools Act), other staff criticized DHCC for not having enough funds and positions in administration, comparing DHCC to Decatur City Schools, suggesting that more money should be taken from classroom instruction and directed to administration.

DCSD falsely claimed to the Board that the DHCC petition was not in the public interest and implied that the thousands of volunteers and hours put into the petition fell short of the required effort for granting such a petition. Only when specifically asked by the Board did DCSD’s Charter Schools Director finally admit that the DHCC petition met all legal requirements, despite his office’s recommendation that the petition be denied.

DCSD refused to meet with DHCC during the pendency of the petition, except for the single one-hour ‘clarification’ meeting. In contrast, DHCC offered to meet repeatedly with the Board, of which most offers were denied or went without answer. DHCC was not permitted to respond to DCSD’s recommendation for denial of the Petition, and despite submitting open records requests, face to face requests to the DCSD’s Charter Schools Office, and written requests for information on the recommendation, DHCC was unaware of the DCSD recommendation for denial until it was presented at the November 11 board meeting. DHCC requested opportunity to be present and speak at the November 11 Board meeting, but such request was denied (after being invited, then disinvited, then permitted to attend but not speak until spoken to regarding specific limited questions).

On behalf of DHCC, we request that the DeKalb County Board of Education institute an independent investigation of the allegations raised herein. These misrepresentations should not be tolerated by the Board, but must be investigated and addressed through Board action, including disciplinary action, censure, and report to proper authorities addressing licensing, fraud and misrepresentation of public resources. No representative of DCSD should ever be allowed to misstate law or fact to the Board of Education, a constitutional actor under Georgia law. Absent complete truth from DCSD, the Board will forever be unable to vote on any matter with full knowledge and confidence.

At the same time DCSD actively denies our efforts to create and implement a true, locally controlled charter cluster, it moves for system-wide charter status. Such a system-wide charter status under the control of DCSD is, we fear, a pretense useful only for DCSD to obtain more waivers and divert more funds to the central office. Nothing from our now substantial experience with DCSD evidences a true desire to allow meaningful autonomy or local control at the cluster or school level.

We, the Board of Directors of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, hereby withdraw our petition. DHCC reserves all rights with respect to this withdrawal, including but not limited to the right to re-file and avail the community of the right to a conversion charter, and all claims, demands, and other rights provided by law.

Beyond our conviction that the DeKalb County School District is irreversibly opposed to the DHCC, we step away from our efforts in order to give life to other active processes underway in our communities that affect our constituency, such as annexation and city-hood. Our cluster neighborhoods are involved in many of these alternative efforts to stimulate reform in our county school system, and the DHCC effort has always been about empowering local constituencies to act. We owe our parents the opportunity to get fully involved in those of their choosing that have a far greater likelihood of success than the DHCC has within the DeKalb County School District.

Sincerely,
Matthew S. Lewis /s/
Chair, Board of Directors, Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc

cc: Michael L. Thurmond, Superintendent, DeKalb County School District (via U.S. Mail only)
Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, State of Georgia (via U.S. Mail only)
Robert D. James, Jr., DeKalb County District Attorney (via U.S. Mail only)
Garry McGiboney, Deputy Superintendent, External Affairs & Policy, Georgia Department of Education (via U.S. Mail only)
Louis J. Erste, Associate Superintendent, Charter Schools, Georgia Department of Education (via U.S. Mail only)
Lisa Kinnemore, Georgia Board of Education (4th Congressional District) (via U.S. Mail only)
Kenneth Mason, Georgia Board of Education (5th Congressional District) (via U.S. Mail only)
Barbara Hampton, CPA, Georgia Board of Education (6th Congressional District) (via U.S. Mail only)

+++

DSW Comment:
Well said. Very well said. Sadly, this letter makes us feel vindicated; we no longer feel like a lone voice in the wind. Can you all see now that this board and superintendent are no different that those of the past? They are focused on maintaining their own positions of power and those of their friends and families. We wish Druid Hills the very best in your endeavors to truly provide a quality education to the children in your community. Our loss will certainly be Atlanta’s (very big) gain.

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18 Responses to Druid Hills withdraws charter cluster proposal; and tells it like it is!

  1. Not so casual observer says:

    So, do you still think it’s a good idea to hire a guy with no experience running a school system Marshall? It’s your own constituents that have suffered the wrath of Michael Thurmond’s “leadership” AKA: job protection plan, which should come as no surprise, since he was formerly the GA Commissioner of LABOR.

    He’s a politician.
    And
    He’s all about JOBS.

  2. Stole this from Maureen’s blog at the AJC >>

    MaureenDowney moderator2 hours ago

    An active and involved DeKalb parent shared an email exchange he had with another parent about the funding dispute between Druid Hills Charter Cluster proponents and the county.

    In a note to me, the parent writes: “When we are talking about this amount of money, it is important that clarity reigns. There are a LOT of operational costs built into the per pupil revenue that would surprise most citizens. It is simply averaged across all students. DeKalb has lost several teachers to APS, partially due to the higher salaries. I’m sure you have compared the per-pupil revenue figures for both districts and concluded how APS can do that. When you factor in the unhealthy mix of commercial/residential tax revenue in DeKalb versus APS, Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett, some things become clearer. This is also why I am concerned about city school systems in DeKalb. The school infrastructure already exists and “commercial rich” areas would like to redraw lines to keep that revenue to themselves. That would harm ‘residential heavy’ areas such as South DeKalb (where I live). It’s all coming down to money and who controls it.”

    It appears the funding the charter cluster is entitled to under the law is murky.

    Here is an email exchange between two parents, which demonstrates the confusion.

    Parent A:

    My recollection of previous charters approved by the Board is that they got between 70-80%, given they did not have some of the overhead factored into the per pupil revenue number.

    Parent B:

    I have a copy of the Charter Law. It is very confusing to read, but I believe O.C.G.A. 20-2-2068.1 C (4)(c.2) gives the 97% of funding to the charter. This section provides:

    “For newly approved local charter schools, including charter renewals, the local board of education may retain an amount of the charter school’s per pupil share of state and local funding not to exceed 3 percent of the total funds earned by the charter school to reimburse the local school system for administrative services actually provided to the charter school.”

    I am curious about the funding for other charter schools that are not operated by outside companies—schools like Globe, Tapestry, etc. Are they receiving 97% of per pupil funding? I believe that charter schools operated by outside companies are not consider government employers so they are able to avoid the expense of some of the benefits to teachers and staff that DeKalb County School District is obligated to provide. I wonder if this is how they are able to run the school with only 70% of the per-pupil funding.

    Please let me know what you think of all of this. I hate that progress in education for the children of DeKalb County can get hung up on adults not figuring out how to work together and move forward. I know that the Druid Hills Charter Cluster people and DCSD are all trying, but it seems like there ought to be a way that everyone can get together and work out a plan that everyone can live with.

    I do not live in the Druid Hills cluster, so their petition doesn’t affect me directly, but if parents work hard and follow the law to come up with ideas for their cluster, I’d like to see them have the chance to implement them. Then if the plans work, maybe the rest of the district will be able to learn from it or incorporate some of the ideas into plans developed for other regions. I think it’s very hard to innovate with all 100,000 students at once, so it makes sense to try out new things on a smaller population that has asked for the innovations.

    Parent A:

    In my opinion, we are both correct. Below indicates, “…per pupil share of state and local funding not to exceed 3 percent…” The DHCC refiled petition has the following, “DCSD Q55- Enrollment Count Determination — DCSD will calculate DHCC’s allotment based on the district’s per pupil revenue and the DHCC schools’ FTE count (school enrollment).” Note what DHCC published regarding funding is not explicit like the charter law. The district’s per-pupil revenue also includes federal dollars.

    Per the revenue report on the GA DOE site for the 2013 school term, DeKalb County’s allocations were as follows:

    Local – 47.73%

    State – 43.06%

    Federal – 9.21%

    The per pupil revenue was $8,821.32. This can be found at:

    http://app.doe.k12.ga.us/ows-bin/owa/fin_pack_revenue.display_proc

    Per above, the local and state portion is 90.79% thus $8.008.88. 97% of this would be $7,768.61. This is approximately 12% less than the full per pupil revenue.

    Above simply reflects math and there may be other factors that I am not aware of. DHCC would want a reciprocal agreement whereas if they could not provide the necessary services for a student, DCSD would accept that student. Regretfully, this would probably impact special needs students more than others. Nonetheless, one could see that providing the full per pupil revenue for all students in the DHCC cluster would leave less money to educate the remaining children in DCSD.

    Perhaps if the DHCC asked for 80% of the full per pupil revenue with the caveat to evaluate the percentage each year based on actual needs, this might be acceptable. I ‘thought’ I heard DHCC say at one time they could pay teachers more. Per the analysis above, they could. That could cause division among the remaining teachers in DSCD. If what I heard is correct, perhaps DHCC would consider keeping the existing pay structure in place so as not to differentiate between the same public school teachers.

    I’ve also said I support the concept of the DHCC. I welcome instructional and management innovations along with chance to use this as a ‘test bed’ for possibly replicating this concept in other high school clusters in DeKalb. I also recognize that how it will be funded will be the key to all agreeing to move forward.

  3. This is just another reason why I have fled from DCSS. I live in the Towers HS area. I WILL NOT subject my children to a school run by Ralph Simpson. I currently spend $300-$400 a month on gas to drive my children to Ivy Prep and Cristo Rey HS. We don’t eat very well anymore, but at least I can sleep at night.

  4. howdy1942 says:

    I am saddened to hear that the Druid Hills Charter Cluster has withdrawn its Petition, but I understand your reasons for doing so. Your Petition was well-written and obviously was the result of some very hard work. It provided a new way forward and should have been given the opportunity to try. Another school board at another place would have welcomed your Petition, worked with you, and studied the results. I think that the DHCC would have been a resounding success and provided a model for the entire County.

    The decision by the school board to deny this Petition was arbitrary. For once, this school board ought to think for itself and not be a rubber-stamp for the superintendent. This board never, ever should have extended Michael Thurmond, but opted to find a new interim with a background in education. At $275,000, I’m sure that there would have been many candidates. Among these would likely have been some that had recently retired, but would have welcomed the challenge of turning things around.

    There is a growing and increasingly bitter divide in Dekalb County. On the previous and existing board, it has been 5-4 and on the new board it will likely be 4-3. The decision to hire Dr. Atkinson was 6-3. That is the definition of division. Thurmond and this board ought to be finding ways to bring the County together.

    I hope that the State Legislature and the Governor will once and for all straighten out the mess that is Dekalb. If we can ever clean out this power structure that is in place, then we can begin to restore Dekalb to its former glory.

    As for the DHCC, I applaud your work and thank you for making the effort. Maybe the treatment you have been accorded will enlighten the State Government to bring about change in Dekalb County.

  5. momfromhe11 says:

    One thing that particularly disappoints me is that the charter cluster included 6 elementary schools, 4 of which are majority minority, free & reduced lunch. The children in these schools would have had access to the International Baccalaureate Primary Years curriculum, Montessori, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) as well as traditional elementary programs.

    While the first two are available at a few schools on DCSS, a family was pretty much at the mercy of a lottery if their local school did not offer one of them; moreover, there are only a few STEM schools in the district and NO STEAM schools. This is a lost opportunity for hundreds and hundreds of students.

  6. Speaking of STEM and STEAM – hopefully you have all heard the good news about Dunwoody Elementary >>

    Dunwoody Elementary gains rare STEM designation

    Dunwoody Elementary became the third elementary school in DeKalb County — and the 10th overall statewide for all school levels — to earn the STEM designation by the Georgia Department of Education. The designation refers to success in integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in all subjects.

    … Already, in the first full year of implementing the program, children in third and fifth grades have increased science accountability testing scores between 5 and 6 percentage points.

    Sanders said, “Education became fun for both teachers and students.”

    Parents in STEM careers have joined the effort, along with a host of businesses and community institutions. Among other things, they helped build organic gardens, a LEGO lab, and a nature trail. A Macintosh computer lab will open soon, which will enhance STEM instruction throughout the school.

    Contributors to the Dunwoody Elementary STEM program include the Gwinnett Heritage and Environmental Center, the National Wildlife Federation, Forest Investment Associates, the U.S. Geological Survey, Dunwoody Urgent Care and Georgia Perimeter College.

    “I am overwhelmed by the support and talent of our teachers,” Sanders said. “And I am amazed at the spirit our students have shown in the pursuit of this title. STEM has brought our community together with hard work and determination.”

    Dunwoody Elementary has 930 students from pre-K to fifth grade.

  7. former dekalb parent says:

    I’m not sure the new super would need to come from an education background, but if not, his support staff ( assoc supers) would need to be qualified and have a deep background to assist, not the minions of past corrupt supers. They all need to go!

  8. Druid Hills Charter Cluster group withdraws petition, alleges fraud

    The leaders of a proposal to place a cluster of DeKalb County public schools under independent charter management have withdrawn their petition, accusing the school district of fraud.

    In a letter delivered Wednesday to the DeKalb school board — and copied to high-ranking officials, including state and local prosecutors — the Druid Hills Charter Cluster leadership alleged that county school district administrators misled the school board.

    The letter, provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Matthew Lewis, the chairman of the petitioning group, says district administrators “actively mischaracterized material facts, the law, and statutorily mandated budget calculations.” The group is calling for an independent investigation and, if appropriate, prosecution “to the fullest extent of the law.”

    In a parting shot, the letter says DeKalb’s separate proposal for a petition to the Georgia Department of Education to become a charter district is a “pretense” to obtain waivers from state mandates, such as caps on class sizes, “and divert more funds to the central office.”

    Read the rest here >> http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/druid-hills-charter-cluster-group-withdraws-petiti/nhjrT/

  9. Charter School Letter Burns DeKalb County School District to Ash

    In the last few months, DeKalb County has come across as Georgia’s Spinal Tap County- all the foibles and failures of politics everywhere, turned up to 11. (See this, this, and don’t forget to buy George a beer.) The saga of the Druid Hill Charter Cluster won’t help that notion.

    If you’ll remember, DeKalb’s School Board has repeatedly rejected a motion to create a Druid Hills Charter district out of seven DeKalb County Schools. When faculty and parents were asked to vote on the question last year, the motion ground through with a narrow 92% victory. Yet nearly a year later, DeKalb’s School Board and Superintendent continue to resist the community leaders of the Druid Hill Charter Community.

    Unfortunately for civil politics and DeKalb’s children, the DHCC, “with a sense of despair for DeKalb County,” is withdrawing their petition to create a charter school. Fortunately for you, they wrote of a barn burner of a resignation later sent that will almost certainly keep the issue from going quietly into DeKalb’s good night.

    Read more and click the links referenced here >> http://www.peachpundit.com/2014/10/16/charter-school-letter-burns-dekalb-county-school-district-ash/

  10. Regarding the parent email from Maureen’s blog >>

    DHCC would want a reciprocal agreement whereas if they could not provide the necessary services for a student, DCSD would accept that student. Regretfully, this would probably impact special needs students more than others.

    FWIW: The City of Decatur already does this. The DCSD board recently approved an agreement to take on special cases for Decatur. We also provide transportation, which is billed to the City.

  11. Decatur leads state in SAT, DeKalb sees drop

    For more information, visit http://www.gadoe.org.

    SAT Scores
    2013
    U.S. 1498
    Georgia 1452
    Decatur 1528
    DeKalb 1341

    2014
    U.S. 1497
    Georgia 1445
    Decatur 1583
    DeKalb 1228

  12. In good news for the weekend >> Dunwoody High School students made this very enlightened decision last week. We can all be proud of this entire student body >>

    Congratulations to Dunwoody High School Homecoming Queen & King Hannah Keen and Gus Ashbury

  13. Ned says:

    Before we decide the secession of Druid Hills is a done deal, it might be worth thinking about it a little bit.
    First, is this really a good deal for DH? The desire to escape DCSS is more than understandable, but is joining APS—and the City of Atlanta—truly the land of milk and honey? Will Marshall Orson and friends have the sort of influence they have exercised, for example for the Fernbank community, within the APS structure in the same manner and to the same extent they have in DCSS? Remember too that seceding from DeKalb and joining Atlanta means being a part of Atlanta for everything, all government, not just the schools. Would the DH community of predominantly white families have the pull in Atlanta it does in DeKalb? Would the Atlanta City Council and government necessarily want a new neighborhood of affluent and vocal white voters added to city rolls? Mary Norwood didn’t lose by much.
    Second, who gets hurt? Does that matter? Where would the boundaries of secession be drawn? Would some kids now in DH schools be ‘re-districted’ out? What of AYP kids, kids whose parents are surely no less dedicated to their children than DH parents, even if they lack the income to buy into DH? Too bad so sad? It’s not inconceivable that one or both of these groups could sue, at minimum delaying any secession. Finally, what of the International Community School, housed these past two plus years in the old Medlock Elementary School? Very, very few ICS students—refugees, poor immigrants, and U.S. born—live within the DH residential boundaries. Not too long ago one particularly boorish and ignorant commenter on Decaturish displayed the sort of “I’ve got mine” attitude this blog has rightly criticized in Valerie Wilson, blithely opining that it would be a simple thing for ICS to find a new home. In fact ICS searched for more than half a decade, nearly going bankrupt, before finding Medlock. ICS, a true success story in DeKalb, would very possibly shut its doors to 12+ years of service and a most deserving community were secession of the type contemplated to go ahead. Were I a DH resident of course I’d be ready to throw in the towel on DCSS. But I hope I’d at least give some thought to the many children I’d throw under the bus if I chose to secede.
    Secession, we should all remember, looked like a great thing around here once before, but didn’t work out all that well.

  14. Not so casual observer says:

    @Ned: “Would the Atlanta City Council and government necessarily want a new neighborhood of affluent and vocal white voters added to city rolls? Mary Norwood didn’t lose by much.”

    There’s your key right there. The current City of Atlanta leadership in all likelihood, has no interest in the white affluence of Druid Hills. Turf protection at all costs.

  15. Tim McGaughey says:

    It is too bad that the DeKalb County School System did not approve the Druid Hills Charter Cluster application. The application met all legal requirements and all stated goals for the System. The proposed Charter Cluster was broadly inclusive of all students, well-thought, and quite feasible. It’s only failure was that it did not meet the unadmitted but ever-present goal of keeping as much money as possible under the direct control of those in charge of the System.

  16. teacher reader says:

    Hope that ALL citizens of DeKalb realize that the Annexation of Fernbank and Briarvista mean the loss of Fernbank Science Center, Fernbank Elementary, Briarvista Elementary, Druid Hills High School, Briarcliff High School, the stadium next to Briarcliff High School and the school next to the stadium (all along North Druid Hills Road across from Target). This annexation will affect the entire school system and will have negative affects for education across the county. Wake up DeKalb!

  17. @ Tim McGaughey To your point, “The [Druid Hills Charter Cluster] application met all legal requirements and all stated goals for the System.” we (DSW) went through each item in the Druid Hill Charter Cluster Letter of Withdrawal and determined which state laws it appeared that DCS had ignored, broken or trampled.

    Here’s the most critical state law that DCS seems to have broken:
    O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2064
    (2)(d)
    A local board shall approve a petition that complies with the rules, regulations, policies, and procedures promulgated in accordance with Code Section 20-2-2063 and the provisions of this title and is in the public interest. If a local board denies a petition, it must within 60 days specifically state the reasons for the denial, list all deficiencies with respect to Code Section 20-2-2063, and provide a written statement of the denial to the charter petitioner and the state board.

Comments are closed.