We will go out on a limb here and say that we are hopeful. We are hearing that the Board really is interviewing what may be several outstanding candidates for superintendent. We are at a watershed moment, in that this school district cannot get this one wrong. Our schools are our future – the futures of so many young people – they are not a money trough from which to pilfer and feed. We cannot afford to continue to under-educate the children of DeKalb. We cannot afford to allow this school district to float aimlessly without a strong rudder in control of our direction. We are a massive entity, not a small-town Johnny-come-lately. Too many children’s lives are at risk and the financial health of our county is at risk as it is the schools that drive new business and property values.
We will give Michael Thurmond credit for a few things: He has been able to hold on to our accreditation by a thread, and in fact, helped us move up a notch with SACS. He has improved morale a bit among some of the teachers and staff as he has eliminated furlough days and promised a small raise to many. He claims to have improved the budget and save some money to our funds, but in fact, our tax collections have increased due to the recovery of property values in DeKalb, and our Board chose not to rollback the millage increase implemented in 2012 to compensate for falling values, therefore creating a tax windfall, much of which has been spent, not saved. But the budget is no longer in crisis nonetheless.
Mostly, Michael Thurmond is not an educator. He really doesn’t know anything about running a public school district and in fact, sent his own child to private school. He is a very wealthy lawyer and politician who, although he has used his skills as such to repair and rebuild some of DeKalb Schools’ relationships with state and business leaders, he has not supported teachers in the classrooms, and in fact despite the promised small raise, Thurmond has continued the cuts to the pensions of our children’s teachers, as well as continued to use waivers to increase the class sizes and workloads of those teachers.
Our teachers are our lifeblood. If they are not treated well, they will not stay and we will not be able to attract new [good] ones. We should be fully and completely supporting and listening to teachers. An experienced leader of teachers who has decades of experience in education and time spent as a successful superintendent knows this – and knows how to fire up the teaching and learning machine that will change the direction of this county. We pray this person is one of the candidates under consideration.
For a pretty darn thorough list of reasons we need to move forward with a very highly qualified educational leader, read these comments to the Board from Kirk Lunde [he was unable to present these in person and therefore provided a text document.] >>
05/04/2015 – Kirk Lunde
Good evening Superintendent Thurmond and board members. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you.
Mr. Thurmond recently said, “You should never move forward prior to full and honest reflection.” (1)
A full and honest reflection on the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) would include not only the achievements of the last two years, of which there are some to be proud, but also the other things. Things Mr. Thurmond doesn’t talk about.
A full and honest reflection would reveal the district, as a whole, has maintained CCRPI scores near what is considered failing for the last three years.
The 2014 CCRPI district average score was 63, up from 62 in 2013, but still only three points above the threshold for the proposed state takeover of schools. (2)
The district’s graduation rate has increased 5% over the last four years, but still lags behind the statewide rate by 11% with only 62.3% of DeKalb students graduating in four years. (3)
The district’s graduation rate for students with disabilities is 23.6%. (4) Less than one out of four. Where is the Bridge Initiative to help students with disabilities?
Speaking of the Bridge Initiative… remember Mr. Thurmond’s promises of a Return On Investment and sharing the results. (5) In a response to an Open Records Request for the ROI, the district stated, “responsive records do not exist.” (6)
The answer was the same for an Open Records Request regarding the Bridge Initiative’s goal to “improve the disciplinary process for students to eliminate the school to prison pipeline.” Another promise unkept. (7)
An “honest reflection” on the district’s budget process would highlight the misleading practices which are, as Dr. Bell said, “the way things have been done.” (8) This includes having meetings to receive public input regarding the budget before showing the budget to the public. (9)
(This was also the method of receiving input on the charter district petition. There have been no public input meetings about the charter district petition since the petition was posted online.)
The budget process is so broken that the administration won’t even allow the BOE to discuss complying with the state law to spend 65% of the budget on direct instruction. (10)
It is a process so broken that when a BOE member asked Dr. Bell if the Druid Hills Charter Cluster’s petition had requested any money to which they were not entitled (it hadn’t), he refused to answer the question. (11)
The budget process is so broken, the current fiscal year $9,500 was budgeted (12) for a department that has no employees (Strategic Management & Accountability) and over $200,000 budgeted (13) for an elementary school principal. (Henderson Mill Elementary)
The way things have been done includes not reporting revenues where they are earned so money can be allotted at the whim of the central office. As I mentioned earlier, those whims do not include classrooms. (14)
The central office needs a new integrated computer system. (15) Using some of the projected $80 million dollar surplus (16) to implement one makes sense and is something I strongly recommend. I do NOT recommend waiting until SPLOST V because it is needed now.
I also recommend rewriting Board policy DC to require the revenues earned by each school be shown along with the expenditures assigned to each school.
A full and honest reflection would acknowledge the fact that more than 31,700 times this school year there was a teacher absence and no substitute. (17)
31,700+ means, on average, more than one teacher is absent from every school, every instructional day, and there is no substitute. Another way of looking at it is 31,700 multiplied by an average of 30 students per class each day is approximately 951,000 days of instruction lost.
31,700+ means the “Fill Rate” according to Subfinder is around 64% which is down from the 87% reported in the January 2012 audit by Jim Huge and Associates. (18) It has been three years since unfilled teacher absences was identified as a problem requiring action and in that time the problem has gotten worse by, nearly, a factor of three.
The lack of substitutes is a symptom of a dysfunctional Human Resources Department.
Another symptom of this dysfunction is that last June the BOE approved “up to 45” international teachers for the current school year. Yet, on August 15, the placement fee for 53 international teachers was paid. This fact has not been brought to the BOE, but has been in the Vendor Spends Report since October. (19)
The DeKalb County School District needs new leadership. No amount of spin can deflect the negative effects the current leadership has on the students of the district, nor the ongoing fiscal irresponsibility.
I can not state strongly enough that any district employee who was here during Ramona Tyson’s tenure as superintendent should not be considered as a legitimate candidate for DeKalb’s next superintendent. The students, teachers, and taxpayers of DeKalb County need a change.
Thank you again.
State of the District Address April 21, 2015
September 9, 2013 BOE Business Meeting http://view.earthchannel.com/PlayerController.aspx?&PGD=dekalbschga&eID=178
Email response April 17, 2015
Email response May 1, 2015
Board of Education Retreat March 26, 2015 – video available via open records request
April 1, 2015 and May 4, 2015
Comments by Allyson Gevertz, Citizen’s Input Meeting April 1, 2015, http://view.earthchannel.com/PlayerController.aspx?&PGD=dekalbschga&eID=236
Board of Education Called Meeting November 11, 2013, http://view.earthchannel.com/PlayerController.aspx?&PGD=dekalbschga&eID=181
FY ’15 Detailed Budget pg. 351 http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/budget/fy-approved-detail-budget-(2015).pdf
FY ’15 Detailed Budget pg. 581 http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/budget/fy-approved-detail-budget-(2015).pdf
FY ’15 Detailed Budget all pages
Comments by Dr. Bell Board of Education Retreat March 26, 2015 – video available via open records request
Email response to an open records request April 30, 2015
August 2014 Vendor Spends Report – search “Global Teacher Research” and “Intalage” and count $11,500 and multiples of $11,500 payments- https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=4054&AID=563122&MID=36256