SACS and DCSS’ History of Bloat and Waste

DeKalb School System is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), one of the accrediting divisions of AdvancED, a for-profit company with the stated goal “to provide guiding principles and effective practices for school improvement that help schools advance the level of education they provide.”

To view their website, click this link:

The school system has posted documents concerning SACS on their website. View and download them here:

Recent SACS actions to date include:

SACS put DeKalb schools on alert in August of 2010, identifying the school system’s status as “Accredited on Advisement” and outlining improvements necessary** in order to avoid losing accreditation. Read the original July 28, 2010 warning letter addressed to Ramona Tyson and recommended steps for improvement at this school system link:

Click below for a copy of the response document. (This is an 80 MB file due to the fact that it is over 2,700 pages of sloppily scanned documents produced by the school system. We did our best to reduce the file size, but it was created in a very antiquated, memory-hungry way.)

Later, an update letter was sent to Atkinson in the fall of 2011. letter-from-dr-mark-elgart-(2011-11-28)

SACS filed this report after their visit in October, 2011:

Two years after the first letter, on August 28, 2012, Mark Elgart, President of SACS wrote another warning letter to Dr. Atkinson advising her that several issues were still troubling the system and could effect accreditation.

Click the link below to download and read a pdf copy of that letter.

AdvancED letter of aug 28 2012

Here is a link to Dr. Atkinson’s memo to the board outlining her Action Steps in response to the SACS letter:

And then, on September 18, SACS fired back, announcing that they will be conducting an official ‘visit’ (investigation).


**Of the original eight issues identified by SACS in 2010 as needing improvement in DeKalb, two remain as of today, August 30, 2012. They are [1]establish a clear role and line of authority for its internal auditor and [2]complete a strategic plan to guide the future direction of the school district. As far as we are aware, the auditor is no longer employed by the school system and the strategic plan presented by Ramona Tyson (the 2020 Vision) really only addressed building and equipment needs, not an educational vision. There is clearly still much to be done.

After that visit, the team issued a scathing report.

Then, on Monday, December 17, 2012, SACS placed DeKalb County Schools on probation:
DeKalb school district in “conflict and crisis,” put on probation by accreditation agency

Soon after, GA Governor Nathan Deal suspended 6 of the 9 board members (he left the recently-elected members) and with DeKalb businessman R.L. Brown, assembled a committee who interviewed over 400 applicants for the seats. They selected six people – following the racial make up (but not the gender) of the former board – to replace the suspended board members.




Now, let’s back pedal. 

Below is a bit of history on the “Comprehensive Restructuring Plan” (Dr. Lewis), the “2020 Vision” (Ramona Tyson) and “Victory in Every Classroom” (Dr. Atkinson) as well as other attempts to reduce the budget and system bloat that in hindsight have yet to make much of a dent in our system spending, even though student enrollment has decreased in this time frame.


Under Dr. Lewis’ leadership, the Central Office staff ballooned in size as well as cost.

One of the original DeKalb School Watch blog posts was a detailed look at the outrageous bloated central office and spending on personnel outside the classroom. Read this post to get a baseline for where we started with budget overruns.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
DeKalb County Schools System as Mr. Potato Head?
DCSS Total Salaries 2008: $682,709,025.22
DCSS Admin/”Central Office” Salaries 2008: $170,590,619.93
Ratio 2008: 24.987

In spring 2008, the Board of Education directed the Superintendent to downsize or “right-size” the school district because of the large budgetary outlay allocated to staff salaries and benefits. Currently, 91% of DeKalb County School District’s budget is allotted for benefits and salaries. In order to be more fiscally responsible, it is necessary that the school system reduce this percentage due to $93 million lost in earned state funding cuts since 2003.

To compound matters, an additional 2% state austerity reduction to public education was mandated by the state in September 2008. For DeKalb County Schools, this reduction totals $10.5 million. Because this reduction came after the passage of the fiscal year 2008–2009 budget and mileage rate adoption, it is compulsory that the school system reduce its benefit and salary budget allocation to approximately 87%.

On November 3, 2008, the Board of Education approved the Comprehensive Restructuring Plan (CRP) recommended by the Superintendent. The CRP includes two phases or levels and a total of sixteen elements that yield, at minimum, $25.7 million in savings. In Phase I of the plan (2008–2009 academic year), the elements include a reduction of 217 central office positions through hiring freeze vacancies; elimination of part-time and non-essential positions; staff restructuring; reallocation of positions from general to federal funds, and employees taking advantage of the Early Retirement Incentive Option.

Additionally, DeKalb County Schools will implement a modified Transportation Efficiency Plan: cut central office equipment, travel, and supplies budget; cut by 2% central office employees making $100,000 and above; rescind the $2.00 per student supplement to principals; and eliminate three programs.

In addition to the cost savings generated by the Comprehensive Restructuring Plan (CRP), the Board of Education voted on November 3, 2008 to rescind the step increase, which impacts 65% of the total staff for a cost savings of $7.5 million.

In planning for the 2009–2010 fiscal year, phase two of the Comprehensive Restructuring Plan (CRP) includes a one-day furlough on May 25, 2010 (during post planning) for all employees. This one-day furlough accounts for 0.5% of each employee’s salary. Also included in the plan is outsourcing grounds keeping staff and a reduction in professional travel by 25%.

Though not listed as a cost savings, effective fiscal year 2009 and moving forward, employee attrition will be closely monitored and analyzed as a cost savings measure. Only those positions that are considered as an essential function for the effective operation of the school system will be replaced. Cost savings from attrition will be calculated on a quarterly basis.

Dr. Lewis promoted Dr. Audria Berry [later determined to have been having an affair with Lewis] to head of the “Office of School Improvement”. Berry hired a virtual army of “Instructional Coaches” and “Instructional Coordinators”, “Instructional Supervisors” and “Instructional Specialists” at hefty salaries who were charged with monitoring and coaching teachers in the classrooms.

Read the DSW report that tried to sort out these confusing job titles:

Saturday, February 20, 2010
Clarity on the “Instructional Specialists” vs “Instructional Supervisors”

Even after spending literally tens of millions on this outrageously bloated staff, Berry was never able to make any improvement in student achievement.

Monday, June 20, 2011
A Tale of Two School Systems – Part III
“This is an EQUALITY Issue”


The DeKalb School Watch blog offered the following report on the status of the bloat after the above supposed “cuts” were implemented – and now under Tyson’s leadership:

Friday, February 25, 2011
“Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Indians”

DeKalb Schools:
A. Enrollment: 96,678
B. Fulltime administrators: 518
C. Fulltime Support Personnel: 911
D. Fulltime Teachers: 6,374
E. Staff to Teacher Ratio: 4:1


Ramona Tyson then took over the reins in the longest interim service ever served as DeKalb schools superintendent. Tyson, along with Parsons, our construction manager at the time, hired a company called MGT America to do a complete facilities assessment and make recommendations for consolidations and plans for new structures. This was supposed to have been driven by educational goals, but none are addressed in their presentations or reports although they did produce a “Strategic Plan”.

Click the link below to read the overview for the ten year master plan developed by this group and groups of public citizens that came together in several meetings that were called ‘charrettes’.

An overview from the report states,

DeKalb County School System (DCSS) is the third largest school district in the State of Georgia and serves over 98,000 students. While it is the third largest, it has the largest number of facilities of all school districts in the state. As such, it is important for the DeKalb County Board of Education (the Board) to develop a strategic plan for its facilities into the future decade. This document provides DCSS with a ten-year strategic plan on the use of its facilities. The overarching principle used in the development of this plan is to ensure quality educational facilities into the future while maintaining cost efficiency to the highest degree.

This ten-year facility plan document has been prepared in collaboration and in support of three important strategic planning efforts. The district is currently preparing for the voters to decide on th fourth installment of the educational special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST IV) in Fall 2011.

SPLOST IV would provide funding from July 2012 through June 2017. The school district participates in the Georgia Department of Education’s (DOE) capital outlay program and is therefore mandated to develop a five-year local facility plan (LFP); the District is working on the next plan with anticipated adoption by the Board in May 2012. Finally, the Board recently consolidated schools throughout the district, effective the Fall 2011.

To develop the recommendations for the ten-year facilities master plan, Parsons, MGT of America (MGT), and DCSS defined a set of cut points to prioritize facility renovation and replacement projects.

The cut points were then applied to the combined score for each school. Facilities with combined scores that fell within or below a certain cut point threshold were slated for renovation or replacement and the phase of when the improvement would occur was determined by the combined score.


We recently paintakingly cobbled together the budgets over the last several years in order to see if cuts were made and if taxpayers saw any savings. It still appears that we were robbing Peter to pay Paul. School leaders moved money from fund to fund to cover costs, or flat out never recorded costs as they were paid. We never really had enough money to pay our actual bills and the bills were never actually reduced as voted on by the board year after year. In fact, we have seen very little savings and most likely are still about $20-30 million in the hole.

The HR & Budget Reports: 2008-2011
Posted on July 16, 2012


16,547 employees (17,885 total, minus 1,338 substitutes)
proposed operating budget:
actual operating budget:
total budget for salaries: $682,700,557.50
October FTE count: 98,815

15,751 employees (17,376 total, minus 1,625 substitutes)
proposed operating budget:
actual operating budget:
total budget for salaries: $685,513,110.53
October FTE count: 99,406

15,615 employees (16,668 total, minus 1053 substitutes)
proposed operating budget:
actual operating budget: $836,598,734,201
total budget for salaries: $672,341,959.87
October FTE count: 98,115


14,962 employees (16,207 total, minus 1245 substitutes)
proposed operating budget: $746.64 million
actual operating budget: $807,823,774
total budget for salaries: $645,373,862.33
October FTE count: 98,088
March, 2012 FTE count: 97,602

(for enrollment information provided by the state DOE, click here)

When you compare the budgets, in the document labeled “Budget Detail” found in the Audits & Budgets” tab at the top of the blog, the total budgets ring up as below:

2010 – $836,598,734,201 (actual)
2011 – $807,823,774 (actual)*
2012 – $774,598,089 (budget)
2012 – $799,259,065 (projected)
2013 – $801,402,815 (budget)

Where are all of the supposed “cuts” that were made? In total, we are not that far from our 2010 budget, but that budget included a one-time $42,460,080 ARRA federal grant. So it’s basically the same. We’ve stayed the same!! Not only that, enrollment has DECREASED during this time and at least eight buildings have closed and consolidated! Where are the savings?


Now we are trying to learn the ways of Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, who claims to have made big cuts to the Central Office, however has not been able to produce an HR report to date confirming the staff RIFs (Reduction In Force). But then, she did fire the HR Director, as well as the Finance Director and the head of PDS 24. She demoted the head of Transportation and brought in her own choices for key jobs as well as promoted a few from within the system as slightly lower salaries than their predecessors.

She produced a letter stating that her salary restructuring will save the system $2 million, but has not provided documentation. She did recently upload a new organizational chart, which the board and public had been requesting for months, however, it included few names, so salaries cannot be checked and costs totaled. (Download these docs at the DCSS Superintendent’s website: Pull down “Leadership”.) This new CO org chart still shows a total of 764 full time employees. The staff that has been dismissed by Atkinson, has also mostly been replaced, albeit with slightly different job titles, and in the case of Ron Ramsey, a ‘promotion’ that includes a $50,000 raise. The communications department has been dismissed, however, we know that several of the public relations personnel are still working for the system on contracts (The super can hire contracted labor up to $99,000 without needing board approval according to a newly approved board policy.)

However, we are keenly aware that as a result of Dr. Atkinson’s proposed budget cuts that were approved in a 5-4 vote by the board, many teachers lost through attrition have not been replaced, many media specialists and all media clerks have been dismissed, along with many other schoolhouse-based employees as well as the Special Olympics. Additionally, after choosing to not replace an admitted 600 more teachers (in addition to the hundreds already cut by Tyson), Atkinson asked the board for permission to RIF more, as not as many left through attrition as they had expected. The board denied her request and we have heard nothing further about how to close the over $20 million budget gap.


As you can see, the pretend budget cuts have been an issue for many years.  We have been playing a budgetary shell game for at least 5 or 6 years and it’s time to pay the piper.  The cuts to central office and extra staff need to happen now.  The tiny boutique schools with full staffs need to consolidate now.  The transportation needs to be reeled in to a reasonable cost and entitlements to cross-county door to door rides to school must end now. The legal fees must be held out in the light and the wasted energy and resources going to lawyers must end now. We can’t continue to pretend that we have the money to fund our bloat, our waste and our corruption.  We must get lean and mean and get back to the business of teaching children. Now.


Click the links below for information regarding accreditation:

Dekalb County Estimated Costs for GAC 7-16-12 (1)

Georgia Accrediting Commission.Standards for ALL Schools

Georgia Accrediting Commission.Standards for High Schools

Georgia Accrediting Commission.Standards for Middle Schools

Schools Accredited by GAC 2012

The newest SACS review of DeKalb County Schools can be downloaded HERE>>
This is the December, 2013 report that takes DCSS off probation and places it back on warning.

2 Responses to SACS and DCSS’ History of Bloat and Waste

  1. Pingback: Elgart of SACS responds to letter from three members of DeKalb School Board | dekalb school watch two

  2. SACS has put DeKalb schools on probation and the State Board of Education has summoned them to a hearing —


    The Georgia State Board of Education (“State Board”) hereby gives notice to the Members of DeKalb County Board of Education (“DeKalb County BOE”), that the State Board will conduct a hearing pursuant to O,C.G.A. § 20-2-73(a)(1) regarding whether the State Board should recommend to the Governor that he suspend the Members of the DeKalb County BOE. This notice is based upon DeKalb County being placed on the level of accreditation of “Probation”.

    Therefore, it is hereby ORDERED that the Members of the DeKalb County BOE should appear on Thursday, January 17, 2013, at 1:00 p,m. before the State Board for a hearing and to present evidence as to why the State Board should not recommend to the Governor that he suspend, with pay, the Members of the DeKalb County BOE pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73,

    It is further ORDERED that the parties confer in good faith and stipulate to as many possible facts before the hearing. Should either party desire to have a telephonic pre-hearing conference, the party shall make a request identifying the specific issues by Friday, January 4, 2013. The parties may submit this request by emailing the Hearing Officer at

    It is further hereby ORDERED that the parties shall file a witness list, which includes the telephone number of the witness and a brief description of the anticipated testimony of each witness; a document list; and any stipulated facts with the State Board. The parties shall serve a copy of these pleadings by email to the Hearing Officer and opposing counsel by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, January 11, 2013. The parties are further directed to exchange copies of documents by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, January 11, 2013. The parties are required to provide copies of all exhibits (tabbed, indexed, and bound) at the hearing for the Hearing Officer, the Chair, and each Member of the State Board.

    SO ORDERED, this 21st day of December, 2012.

    Barbara Hampton, Chair
    State Board of Education

    K.P. Reddy, Hearing Officer
    State Board of Education

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