Friday, February 12, 2010

Why Good Governance Matters

Written by a regular contributor to DeKalb School Watch

DeKalb County Schools face inherent challenges in developing and maintaining a good governance system. And, this challenge continues as we see a board, or at least certain members, seeking to reduce good governance in the guise of standardization and more control. Last December, the Board considered changes to the By-laws of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee (“CAC”), the group of citizens charged with providing public oversight of the SPLOST III program. The CAC is not given any administrative or decision-making functions but serves to try to insure there is a level of accountability. Without going into the merits or effectiveness of the CAC (we can save that for another day and there is much to discuss), the current structure provides for a degree of independence and continuity so that the CAC will, hopefully, make recommendations and comments without fear of recriminations by board members or the administration.

Paul Womack spearheaded the effort to alter the rules governing the CAC make-up, including changing the terms of members from terms equal to that of the person appointing them (i.e. 4 years) to terms of one year (or even less). Womack’s argument for making the change was that the President has the right to change his cabinet at any time. But, this is a faulty argument as the Board is not the executive of DCSS but essentially the legislature. As a legislature, it has the power to approve cabinet secretaries but not to remove them (except in extreme cases leading to impeachment). And, even this analogy is incomplete as the CAC is more akin to an independent agency for which such appointees serve fixed and substantial terms.

Board members frequently state that they “set policy” but actually understanding what that means is essential to good governance for the system. Setting policy is exactly that—establishing the broad parameters and expectations for outcomes and leaving it to the executive for execution. Creating an environment where “setting policy” is measured simply by whether there are five votes is not good governance or healthy governance. While the debate about the CAC may sound academic, it reveals a fundamental problem with DeKalb—the proper way the school system should be governed. The CAC debate is simply a microcosm of the broader challenges facing DCSS. While the Board may ultimately change the structure and make-up of the CAC or other citizen committees, it does not mean that is a good or even proper outcome.

Of course, good governance requires a capable and effective executive, an executive that leads by example and that is willing to make tough choices and suffer the consequences. Without such leadership, DCSS is likely to spiral down even further. Without an effective executive, the net effect is that the Board is far more likely to stray from its role and to interfere in the management of the system, causing a further decline in the effectiveness of the system. Think this is the opinion solely of this writer—a member of our own state school board has made the same exact point.

So, what does any of the foregoing have to do with the most recent discussions regarding citizen committees? The effort (now broadened beyond the CAC for the ostensible purpose of standardization) is really about aggregating more control to the Board in a way which runs counter to good governance. And, so the cycle will continue--the Board will seek to aggregate more power, the executive leadership will continue to weaken and the system will descend into further dysfunction. We have seen this scenario play out in Clayton County with the direst of consequences. Without good governance, and without each player understanding its role and being capable of executing it, our system, our community, and our children will suffer.


Anonymous said...

Why is Womack going crazy about the CAC? Is he trying to push Marshall Orson off the CAC? orson is infinitely more knowledgable about school systems than Womack, or anyone on the BOE. Is Womack threatened by Orson and the other members of the BOE?

It says a lot about the BOE's competence when David Matthews, a school construction company owner, is still on the CAC, and has been mentioned as part of the Pat Pope investigation. Tom Bowen still has not removed Matthews from the CAC. What a farce.

Ella Smith said...

I agree that Marshall is a good member of this committee. I have a great deal of respect for Marshall.

I believe it is all about power. I see some members of the current school board being power hunger in the sense that they feel they know a great deal about running a school system.

I recently talked to an associate superintendent at another school system and I asked him about the problem with school board members today. I also talked to an attorney who represent school board members in the state. Both of these individuals where professors of mine in the last year. Both of them indicated that many older school board members want to make schools the way they were. However, schools can never be the way they were.

Populations of students are different. Testing is different. The big thing both of them indicated is that school board members do not have
administrative training.

Each class I take in Educational Administration I realize how little I really knew about running a school and running a school system and how much I have to learn. School board members have no training. Many of them do not have high school diplomas. There are very little requirements to be school board members.

I am fearful that there may be some micro-managing going on. The school board needs to be making policies and allow the trained individuals to run the school system.

Quality administration members is extremely important.

Cerebration said...

Lord - who doesn't have a high school diploma? That can't be right...

Also, Anon 4:18 PM - I think you meant David Moody of Moody Construction - not Matthews. (were you hungry?) David Moody is the chair of the CAC - and has been the recipient of millions of dollars of construction contracts with the system. Since he's been on the board, he's not supposed to be taking on DCSS construction projects though.

Cerebration said...

You know, as far as working as a team to replace the five whose terms expire and who may or may not run again, I think it was SongCue who brought to our attention the fact that -- not that many people - aka - voters really pay attention to school board issues! Yes, I know that as ultra-concerned parents, community members and bloggers, you may find this shocking - but a large number of regular citizens - even parents with children in DCSS - are oblivious to the dire situation at hand.

That said - I was chatting with a person who has held a public office in the past and was given this advice -

"I lived in my district for many years. I thought I knew most everyone in the district, especially those that are civic minded enough to vote. Imagine my surprise when I ran for public office and with the help of a consultant saw the list of voters who historically showed up for the “small” (non-presidential) elections – maybe 20%- 25% were familiar to me. Much as one may think that the PTA moms and dads can carry the election, they can’t. If supporters want the board changed they’ll need to send their message far beyond those in their school’s camp. They should pull (free) a list by precinct of votes cast in the last election; the DeKalb County Voter & Elections site is a good place to start:

So - let's start there. And those of you who are feeling a scratch that may need to be itched - think about running for school board, or think about asking that very special, qualified person who has a deep concern for the future of our children if they would consider a run for school board. If you know of someone who might be a good candidate, have them send an email to us here at the blog -

We're going to seriously sort through and find those special people and support them in the good old grassroots fashion called American politics!

Kim Gokce said...

@cere: "not that many people - aka - voters really pay attention to school board issues ..."

Literally, folks that showed up to vote the last time around that knew me were asking me who to vote for in the BoE races while standing in line ... just saying, it's a hill to climb.

That said, we should also not be fooled by these races being "non-partisan" ... candidates for BoE are favored by one major party or the other and that makes a huge difference. Anyone supported by a grassroots effort will likely still need the "quiet" support of one or other of the parties to win.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Kim's comments about BoE elections -- there are many uninformed parents and taxpayers out there. For many reasons, not the least of which is that a school board post, which should probably be at the top of the ballot, is the most under-hailed position of them all. An amazing thing, when you consider that the board controls the most tax dollars and the most constituents (non-voting little people) in their hands.

That said, I heartily decry the statement regarding an unspoken partisanship. I know of at least two former board members in the last five years whose sole mission for being on the board was to bring what was best for all children, in all districts -- and whose votes carried that notion. It can happen. And it's dangerous to imply that board positions are partisan. There's a reason that DeKalb board posts are declared non-partisan. They're supposed to be, to steer clear of partisan bickering. Does party affiliation sometimes find its way on the board? Yes. Can't be helped. Does that mean that board members or those seeking the office should declare a party affiliation to be seated and represent their districts? Absolutely not.

Also consider this: with the declaration of party affiliation comes a price with eligibility to declare: certain employers, etc. will not allow a candidate to run for office at all if party affiliation must be declared -- and you've just shrunk your pool of qualified candidates. After all, if these people are not of retirement age or own their own businesses, they still need to work.

Cerebration said...

Has the CAC committee released any kind of report? I haven't seen or heard much about SPLOST 3 projects lately. Last I knew, we had over $100 million in unspent tax collection (that's a whole lotta pennies!) Anyone know where to get an update?

Also, I think terms on this committee need to be at least 2 years. Many large construction projects take this long and consistency in monitoring is important.

Cerebration said...

I mean - here's the thing - when you visit the Operations Division website - considering that they are spending about $500 million in tax revenue - there is very little information.

Then, when you click on the minutes for the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting minutes - all you still get are the minutes from a meeting back in September. Those meetings say that the next meeting would be in November, but as a citizen, I have no idea if that occurred. (The next CAC meeting (November 12, 2009) will be longer. There will be a presentation on all projects;
we will go through each of the 44 projects in great detail. The Project Managers will attend. A
presentation of the Local School Priority Requests will be provided.
) There was also one scheduled for Jan 14th. Any news?

Jay Cunningham suggested at this September meeting that the CAC improve the website and make it more user-friendly. I see that suggestion has been completely ignored.

Also, Zepora asked for the minutes after each meeting but David Moody (chair - and president of Moody Construction) stated that some kind of "Cliffs Notes" would be distributed after the meeting. What? Millions and millions of tax dollars and we get "Cliffs Notes" from the oversight committee?

And, on top of that - the minutes seem to be prepared by a person named Cointa Moody. Tell me she's not related to David Moody, please.

Anonymous said...


You'll never get the information you want from the DeKalb School System as an outsider. Do you even know who the project managers are (Harold Lewis was one before he moved to the Service Center) or what they do? If you knew their backgrounds, you would know that so many costly errors have been made because none of them have educational backgrounds so they have no idea of how the systems they implement should serve the end user.

There are so many ways to discourage outsiders from finding the real data. There are layers upon layers of bureaucracy built up over the lifetime of the system.

This blog has real value in that you are focusing on the "big" picture of too many support and admin personnel versus schoolhouse personnel who directly interact with students. In the end, you can only work with the data Dekalb Schools is forced to publish. I agree with your urging DeKalb to "start cutting" the bloat.

Dekalbparent said...

The Druid Hills PTSA sent out the following email from the PTSA president alerting school families to the budget crisis, and it included a note from the Tucker Middle School PTA President, mentioning this blog (YAY! - the first time DHHS has ever mentioned that it exists!)

Unfortunately, The Druid Hills PTSA president felt the need to editorialize:

Dear Druid Hills Community,

The letter below summarizes comments made by DeKalb School Superintendant Dr. Crawford Lewis at a regularly scheduled PTA dinner meeting held on Thursday, February 11, 2010. We heard similar predictions at our own PTA meeting last week, where our local school board member, Mr. Don McChesney,
commented on our school system's budget crisis.

The DCSS administration provides information related to this on its web site:

Please note that the budget proposals provided on the DCSS web site only reflect the ORIGINAL budget deficit; we now face one that is substantially larger. The Druid Hills PTA cannot vouch for the accuracy of the blog website mentioned in Ms. Carlysle's email below; statements (made anonymously) by contributors may be factually incorrect, for example. Nevertheless, we encourage parents to stay informed.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Parents;

At the PTA Council dinner this evening, Dr. Lewis updated us on the budget crisis for DeKalb County Schools. The deficit has gone from $56 to $88 million dollars. He stated that 20 parents have been appointed to a Citizens Planning Task Force to recommend school closures and redistricting. He also stated that sometime in March it will be announced that 4 elementary schools will be closed and that for the
'11-'12 school year 8 - 10 mix of elementary, middle and high schools will be closed. The properties will not be sold immediately.

He said there will be layoffs and program cuts but could not give out details. There may be more itinerant music and art teachers serving more schools.

I urge everyone to forward this information on to your neighborhood groups and stay aware of the changes affecting our communities and schools.

An interesting website to access about school community news is

Lisa Carlysle
TMS PTA President

A big thank you to Ms. Carlysle!

Anonymous said...

All the more reason to be accurate on this blog. There is an enormous amount of information on the DeKalb Schools website, the state of Georgia's website, direct quotes during BOE meetings, etc.

Providing links to information buried in official websites as well as analyzing the data provided by the DeKalb Schools website and the state's websites helps keep parents and taxpayers informed and involved.

Cerebration said...

Well thanks Tucker MS! And the Druid Hills PTA is correct - we can't ensure that everything written here is true - but it seems to be the only place for now where parents and community members can get information - unless you have the flexibility to attend one of Lewis' meetings. We try very hard to dig up data and factual information to share and support our blog articles. As our readership and participation grows, we seem to be getting more and more reliable information. We try very hard to police each other here - people often bring corrections if they are aware that someone has misspoken.

It's the best we can do!!