Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The April 21, 2010 ELPC Town Hall Meeting
Frank. Open. Knowledgeable. Articulate.
The Emory Lavista Parent Council hosted a town hall meeting this morning featuring our interim superintendent, Ramona Tyson. I thought of a flood of adjectives during the meeting to describe my impression of Tyson and the new direction and determination the school system seems to be exhibiting. Tyson and her staff are concerned. They are aware. They are working very hard. Really.
Sincere. Focused. Determined. Caring.
I think Tyson is an excellent choice for an interim leader. She is a mother of two young children in DeKalb schools—she wants them to succeed. She plans to ‘focus on the core business’ with a ‘laser light’ and work to restore trust and rebuild morale. I believed her.
These are some of the tough decisions on the plate:
Balancing the budget for FY 2011.
This must, by law, be done by June 30. We are certain to have an $88 million shortage, however she recommends that the board plan for $115 million. It is the board’s final decision, however, in the past, the board has chosen to accommodate the immediate shortage, and then consistently been hit with more reductions from the state over the summer. This requires emergency budget changes and Tyson wants to just go ahead and plan for that now. Smart.
We have 11,0000 empty seats in our system. The board discovered that three schools—Heritage ES, Briarcliff HS and Hooper Alexander—although they have been closed are still counted by the state as having “open seats”. The board plans to take these schools out of commission, which will take the seats off the list. This will reduce the 11,000 to around 9,000.
Next, we have several elementary schools operating at far below the magic number of 450, where state funding kicks in. Consolidating those schools will reduce the number of “open seats” another 2,000 to around 7,000.
We must recover as much as we can from the state. Property tax collections are down and can no longer fill the gap. The state has steadily decreased school funding to the point that funding has flip-flopped. The state used to pay 60% and the county covered 40%. Now, it’s exactly the opposite. We can’t afford the luxury of tiny schools funded entirely with local dollars. The money is just not there and Tyson, staff and the board have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of DeKalb.
The staff recommends implementing the full transportation savings plan, meaning eliminating all magnet and extra-curricular transportation. They are also looking into electric buses, which are manufactured by a company in China, as well as hybrid buses in order to save fuel costs.
Tyson gave us some numbers. We have 15,859 employees, 13,873 are full-time and 1,906 are part-time. Of these, 14,620 are school-based and 1,239 are central office staff. The current proposed budget cut eliminates 152 of these central office positions, but they will continue to evaluate and streamline the central office and other areas of administration.
Business-like. Engaging. Prepared. Capable.
Overall, the one take-away message stated by Tyson was, “We need to protect services that are closest to students.” She wants to do a forensic audit to take a hard look at the programs that are not working. She understands that the system is asking a lot of teachers and wants to offer things in return, such as eliminating some of their paperwork, creating a venue for communication and creating a classroom environment that allows teachers to do their job.
Overall, Tyson exhibited a deep understanding of the issues at the fore. She reads the news reports but warned us that she has made the decision not to comment to the media. She can’t control how what she says is reported, so she will choose not to comment. She was impressive in her commitment to take the very serious legal and other issues about to come to fruition and place them aside, with her focus remaining on the children.
She certainly didn’t sugar-coat the fact that the “train” is coming. We will be in for a world of bad press here very shortly. A board member even indicated that indictments will most likely be filed soon. This is not going to be pretty. But Tyson has steeled her team and they plan to put on their blinders, allowing all "that" to live on the sidelines, while they execute their “laser light focus” on the task of rebuilding our school system. She wants to “put the students in a cocoon and push through”.
And I believed her.