A letter from Shayna
My research shows that if you were to compare the size of the System now to when Dr. Brown left, you will find that the number of children enrolled in the System had been increasing and showed a bump in 2005 due to Katrina. If you look at the size of the System when Dr. Lewis took over and now, enrollment has steadily decreased to an October, 2009 FTE count of 97,958 to our current reported enrollment at the state's DOE website of 97,907.*
However, you look at past and present organization charts (if you can find them) you would find that the central office has grown tremendously since Dr. Brown's departure. Maureen Downey at the AJC reported that DeKalb has the highest number of employees per student by far of any metro school system. At 157 employees per 1,000 students, DeKalb is wildly ahead of Cobb (144/1000), Gwinnett (113/1000) and even Atlanta Public Schools (115/1000)**. Further, the salaries of many of the employees in the central office over just the past few years has increased significantly. The ratio of central office staff to teachers, with staff currently outnumbering teachers by over a 1,000 is appalling -- and your proposed budget cuts will increase that disparity even more. Furthermore, just between 2007 and 2008, “General Administration” nearly doubled from $10.6 million to $20 million and “Improvement of Instructional Services” grew from $53.4 million to $56.9 million but “Instruction” itself barely increased from $631.4 million to $639.2 million.***
I campaigned on an issue that bothered me deeply: I have a problem with former principals, without a business background, in charge of pure business functions. I believe that it isn't a wise use of tax payer money. I believe this is simply a reward system offering an increase in salaries for former principals, without consideration as to how those principals would best serve our system as a whole. This leads me to conclude that the System’s priority has not been about educating kids -- because while this has been going on in the central office, the class size in the school house is increasing, buildings are not being maintained, the teachers are having their retirements cut or eliminated (possibly incurring liability for a law suit based on a failure to alternatively fund social security from a prior program worked out between the County and the teachers), they are experiencing furlough days and other situations of massive stress exist. This certainly has a negative effect on the children.
The priority must be on the children. The children only have one chance at a childhood and one chance at their eduation. Many of our kids don't have adults in their lives who are responsible beyond their teachers for role models. Many of the kids will hit a point where they will make a choice to either get their education or to take some alternative and, for many, that alternative will ultimately lead to gangs and jail. There are already gangs in many of our Middle and High Schools. This results in criminal behavior. That crime may be against you, me, your child, my child, your friends, my friends, our neighbors, etc. The unproductive citizens that these uneducated children become cost society in terms of welfare, unemployment and other benefits that come out of pocket because you have made the decision to not take their education seriously and more importantly than the jobs of those in the central office.
The budget must focus on eliminating every unnecessary job and program, including America's Choice and similar programs. The very last place the cuts need to happen is in the school house and to the teachers who impact these children. They are your first and foremost responsibility -- they have this one chance and depend on you for their future. It may be that 30 years ago 38 of them could sit in a classroom all day. That is no longer the case. Have you seen a Lakeside classroom of 35? They can not move. You can't fit between the desks. The teachers can't hear themselves think. Kids figure out how to distract the teacher. The teachers have the kids grade each other's papers. The kids can't learn what they need to learn. They wind up failing a large number of their freshman class. Mr. Reed reported in his State of Lakeside address that 34.4% of freshmen received an "F" last semester. The classes are not homogenous. The teachers must differentiate the lessons. The teachers must comply with No Child Left Behind. They are supposed to meet AYP and pass the CRCT (at the younger ages). And now, they will have to teach more students with less planning time. None of this is as it was when the classrooms were stuffed to the gills in the 1970s and 1980s.
These kids are entitled to an education and a chance at a future. Don't leave them behind to protect adults who can ultimately get other jobs or return to the classroom to teach. Furthermore, the tax increase idea doesn't really work: there are too many foreclosures and equalization is still out there. More cuts need to be made to the central office and other areas outside the classroom. The budget cuts proposed by the committee hit teachers and students much harder than others. That is not only unfair, it is counterproductive to what should be the primary goal: educating each and every student to the best of your ability.