There is hope that the DeKalb school board may just find that right new leader

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.

Kirk Lunde
Tucker, GA

State of the District Address April 21, 2015
September 9, 2013 BOE Business Meeting
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,
Board of Education Called Meeting November 11, 2013,
FY ’15 Detailed Budget pg. 351
FY ’15 Detailed Budget pg. 581
FY ’15 Detailed Budget all pages
Comments by Dr. Bell Board of Education Retreat March 26, 2015 – video available via open records request

Click to access News-Release.Budget-Surplus-Projected.4.30.pdf

Email response to an open records request April 30, 2015

Click to access human-resources-audit.pdf

August 2014 Vendor Spends Report – search “Global Teacher Research” and “Intalage” and count $11,500 and multiples of $11,500 payments-

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21 Responses to There is hope that the DeKalb school board may just find that right new leader

  1. Another good sign of making the right decision >>
    Interim DeKalb CEO May to resign from commission

  2. Sylvia Richardson says:

    Dekalb should not be an adult employment agency. Go look at Gwinnett.

  3. dsw2contributor says:

    “DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond said Thursday he’ll remain on his job until his replacement is named, should the school board delay in finding a new superintendent.”

  4. former dekalb parent says:

    I think I called that a few months ago that he would remain in place and I think it will be longer than a “transition” period….for the love of God, why are we still paying Ramona Tyson $161,314.86 in any type of salary? That information is straight from it sometime and weep at the gross expense of monies being paid to incompetence.

  5. There is a small, vocal contingency of support for Michael Thurmond, which likely includes Michael Thurmond himself, who we suspect is rallying support for himself behind the scenes. We were able to acquire an email conversation between Thurmond and Allyson Gevertz, after submitting an Open Records Request. Apparently, Thurmond contacted her directly and may have even tried to intimidate her by saying that her support of continuing the search made her a “supporter of a racist child molester.”

    Read on >>

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Allyson Gevertz
    Sent: Wednesday, May 06, 2015 11:38 PM
    To: Michael L. Thurmond
    Cc: Michael Erwin ; Melvin Johnson ; Vickie Turner ; Stan Jester ; Marshall Orson ; James McMahan ; Joyce A. Morley
    Subject: Clarification


    I wanted to follow up regarding our conversation today. I’m copying the board, as discussed, so that they will be aware this issue. I would like to clarify that I am not, as you said, a “supporter of a racist child molester.” When I wrote you the email regarding PROACT on April 24, I had not seen any specifics regarding the Solomon issue. My research only uncovered vague allegations of inappropriate behavior in the 1990’s. I had no idea of the extent of Mr. Solomon’s transgressions. Once I saw the transcripts, I felt disgusted. I notified parent leaders and contacted board members to voice support for their decision to terminate the contract. As we discussed today, I tend to trust people and make positive assumptions about them. In this case, that backfired.

    I do believe that the Board can overcome this setback and continue the search with transparency and integrity. Knowing these concerns about Solomon will motivate the Board to thoroughly vet the candidates and be sure that the finalists are truly the cream of the crop.

    I hope that you will consider letting the public know, as you told me again today, that you do not wish to stay on as superintendent. I also hope that you will help smooth the way for the new superintendent to follow in your footsteps. Please remember that just because people say they are excited about a new leader, it doesn’t mean they are slighting the outgoing leader. It is possible for people to love and appreciate a sitting superintendent but still want to warmly welcome his successor.

    I’m glad we had the chance to talk today,



    —–Original Message—–
    Date: Thu, 7 May 2015 00:37:03 -0400
    Subject: Re: Clarification

    Please attach a copy of your letter to me so that everyone will have
    access to
    the endorsement you referenced.

    Michael L. Thurmond
    DeKalb County School District

    [Readers: Download that doc here: ]


    From: Allyson Gevertz
    Sent: Thursday, May 07, 2015 6:58 AM
    To: Michael L. Thurmond
    Cc: Michael Erwin ; MELVIN JOHNSON ; Vickie Turner ; ; Marshall Orson ; Jim McMahan ; Joyce A. Morley
    Subject: RE: Clarification

    Of course. I have attached the letter. PCU leaders stand by this letter. No one from PCU, nor any of the people I polled after we talked, feel that this is a negative letter about you. On the contrary, it refers to you as “beloved,” says that you have the “best interests of our students in mind,” and asks the new superintendent to “continue the progress made over the last two years.”

    I will continue to suggest that our county offer a warm welcome to our new superintendent. I don’t believe that doing so minimizes, in any way, the work that you have done to steer our system in the right direction during your tenure. Anticipation of our new leader does not negate my appreciation of you.



  6. Again, to read that letter supporting hiring a new superintendent from Parent Councils United, click below >>

    Parent Councils United Open Letter to New Superintendent

  7. Stan Jester has posted an announcement that a new superintendent may be just around the corner!

    New Superintendent In Our Very Near Future
    Posted on May 8, 2015 by Stan Jester

  8. The AJC says that “But under Thurmond’s leadership the district appears to be doing well”. They want to know what the community thinks: “Should the school board take up his offer to stay on and reassess the search process? Go full steam ahead and get someone new by deadline? Or something in between?”

    Email them at

  9. thedeal2 says:

    So Thurmond called Gevertz the “supporter of a racist child molester” because a council she is a part of wrote a welcome letter to our future superintendent? Are you kidding me? He is so childish, insecure, and egotistical that he can’t handle anyone else getting any positive attention? HE needs all the attention for himself? All the praise? He is an idiot, a true politician, and a bad leader for any school system, especially ours.

  10. We are shocked at Michael Thurmond’s behavior behind the scenes. He personally is the force behind putting the search aside. He wants to toss aside the highly qualified candidates offered by the search firm because of the decade-old bad personal antics of the search firm’s leader. He is the one fighting to stop the search. He definitely wants to keep the job. We seriously wonder if he really has a ‘job’ waiting for him at his law firm, even though his online bio states so.

    Michael Thurmond currently is on leave from the law firm of Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak LLP to the DeKalb County School System, the third largest in Georgia, where he serves as Superintendent of the DeKalb School System. Initially, Mike agreed to serve temporarily as DeKalb’s interim superintendent to bring stability and order to the system. Because of the excellent job he was doing and at the special request of the School Board, Mike agreed to continue to serve as superintendent for an additional period of time. The firm graciously allowed him an additional leave of absence so he could fulfill this civic duty. Upon completing his service at the DeKalb County School System, Michael Thurmond will be returning to the practice of law full time at Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak LLP.

  11. brother dekalb says:

    We are already paying for another former interim superintendent—Ramona Tyson.
    Let’s not have TWO former interim’s on the payroll! Please say NO to Michael.
    When his time is up, he should move on and his pay and benefits should stop.

    And, maybe we could go back and retroactively “rif” Ramona, too.

  12. Proof that things need to change for our young people in DeKalb >>

    DeKalb County Hinders Future of Poor Youngsters: Study

    A New York Times study claims that children raised in the county will have made five percent less money than their peers by age 26.

  13. From Nancy Jester >>

    Nancy Jester: I Welcome Lee May Joining Me In Supporting A Free and Fair Election in DeKalb District 5

    From the start, I have called for Lee May to resign his District 5 seat and allow for a free and fair election for the citizens of DeKalb County. I am pleased to see Lee May has agreed and made the decision to resign.

    No one person holds the moral authority to occupy two elected positions simultaneously. Elected positions belong to no one person, rather, they belong to the people. The people of DeKalb County, District 5, have been denied a commissioner for too long. I am proud to have championed their right to a free and fair election and representation.

    It is important for DeKalb County to ensure the coming election will be both free and fair. This election belongs to the people and not the special interests. I will continue to stand for the people to ensure their rights are both respected and guaranteed.

  14. FWIW – the post (and other posts at DSW) mention the lack of spending on substitute teachers. As far as we can tell, NO money was budgeted for subs in the 2015 approved budget.

    Go here >>

    And do a Search on the Term “Substitute” and you will find every school’s line item for subs is Zero Dollars. Except in the Pre-K lottery funded program. There, $27,200 is allocated for subs. And the PRESCHOOL HANDICAPPED STATE GRANT shows $15,000 for subs.

    If someone else would like to check, let us know if you find this info to be correct. As far as we can tell, essentially, there is Zero budget for subs for over 6,000 teachers for FY 2015. There’s a real budget saver right there!

  15. We also need a superintendent who can work to bring understanding among people of different races, ethnicity and religious beliefs. We have an extremely diverse county – and we could very well serve to bring Atlanta and DeKalb to the forefront of peace and unity – with top tier educations for ALL. We are NOT East St. Louis and we are NOT Baltimore, nor do we ever want to go in that direction. We have the ability to be a shining example, with the right leadership and equity around the system.

    On that note: Listen to Prince’s New Protest Song ‘Baltimore’ >>

  16. realityscout says:

    Budget for subs is located on page 202 of your linked pdf under the Division of Human Resources/Personnel-Sick Leave.

  17. The schools need to take into account he diversity of the county, not what the current diversity of the school system is. The past few boards and superintendents have made the schools unwelcoming and unsafe for a large population segment of Dekalb County. For all areas of Metro Atlanta to survive, thrive and grow, schools must not just be aimed at underprivileged minority populations. In most parts of this country 95 % of America sends their children to the local neighborhood Public schools. People of all income strata’ s send their children to a functional school system. Dekalb county as a whole is 44-46% white still which is slightly larger than the black population. Then you add the Hispanic population and the Asian Population which have no representation on the current board. The county will not attract or maintain business without an Education system that provides for all Residents every color of the rainbow and all economic strata. This means teaching to the top, not teaching to the bottom.

  18. One Lakeside student is leading the way in ‘bridging’ social connections between students of all backgrounds. What a wonderful example >>

    Student Spotlight: Lydia Podowitz’ Friendship Circuit

    Lakeside High School senior Lydia Podowitz knew her school was diverse. Still, she noticed that the school’s English as a Second Language (ESOL) students needed an opportunity to connect with their classmates.​

    So Lydia, 18, did something about it. She founded Friendship Circuit, a club that brings ESOL students together with the rest of the student body for conversation and casual bonding.

    “It occurred to me that as a student body, we tend to ignore diversity most of the time,” Lydia said. “There seemed to be a real gap in the ESOL and mainstream populations.”

    Now, students are working together to bridge that gap. The club, Lydia says, gives all students a chance to embrace global citizenship. ESOL students know they’re valued by their peers, and all students, in Lydia’s words, “are recognizing that the people they thought were too different to relate to are actually just like them.”

    As time goes on, students are opening up and having conversations that wouldn’t have been possible before. “One girl really opened up about her reasons for coming to the United States,” Lydia says. “I am so proud that my peer group could create an environment in which everyone felt safe and eager to share.”

    For other students who want to make a difference in their school, Lydia offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid to try something out! Even if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, it will probably make at least a small difference. It’s a trial and error process. You’ll learn as you go.”

    Read the rest here >> Student Spotlight: Lydia Podowitz’ Friendship Circuit

  19. Thank you for finding that entry, scout. So there is a budget for subs in the total operating budget- not school by school anymore.

    As you can see, there was an enormous dip in spending on subs for FY2013 (2012-13 school year; Thurmond took the reins in January, 2013) (A second number includes benefits – do subs get benefits?)

    2012 actual: $597,090 ($710,085 total with benefits)
    2013 actual: $255,188 ($308,904 total with benefits)
    2014 budget: $651,033 ($668,285 total with benefits)
    2015 proposed: $618,481 ($634,871 total with benefits)

  20. bettyandveronica1 says:

    How about Principals? Chamblee Middle has had an interim since end of October. The AP’s are all pretty good and very devoted to students and the school but the school needs a leader. Where is the Principal? We’ve had an interim who just stopped using the word interim on her limited communications. What’s with that? If I was moving into the county and looking at that area it might come up in conversation that the school system isn’t, hasn’t or won’t hire a Principal.Get with it Ms. Tekisha Ward-Smith!

  21. kirklunde says:


    That can’t be the substitute teacher budget for schools. There are over 45,000 substitute days. If that is the total budget, substitute teachers are making less than $14 a day.

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