SPLOST. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
DeKalb voters have passed three so far, raising hundreds of millions each time for school renovation and new school construction.
There are numerous schools still in need of major renovation (or even blowing them up and starting from scratch). Sequoyah Middle is in deplorable shape. High schools like Cross Keys, Lakeside, and Chamblee are in extremely poor condition, while the new Arabia Mountain High (alledgely built to relieve overcrwoding but the Lewis/Tyson administration pulled a bait and switch) and soon to be completed Tucker High are university quality buildings. Cross Keys, Lakeside, Chamblee and Sequoyah are falling apart while the bottom of the SPLOST project list Mountain Industrial mega-complex for Central Office administrators and the Sam Moss Building jumped to the top of the list with millions spent on them before actual schools. Without a peep from the BOE.
Voters have supported SPLOST because the need is there, and it goes without saying that we believed every penny would be spent efficiently with close oversight.
Stop right there. We should know better to assume. As the AJC article points out, millions of SPLOST dollars were controlled by one administrator. An administrator who can't even remember where and when she worked for an accurate resume. Crawford Lewis brought her to the school system as a consultant first, and then as his hand-picked Chief Operating Officer.
Every school system has some administrators who use questionable judgement with spending decisions. But not every school system has administrators who make questionable spending decisions that benefit a family member. (Speaking of family members, nepotism is still rampant at DCSS).
The major issue here is not the questionable decision making; the question here is how so many of these questionable decisions were allowed to happen without being caught or questioned by those signing the checks. How did CFO Marcus Turk, then head of Business and Administration Ramona Tyson, Supt. Crawford Lewis, and the Board of Education allow such malfeasance?? Even the Georgia Dept. of Education should have discovered some of this shadiness. See the timeline below from the AJC:
May 20, 2003 —The school district signs a $627,000 contract with architectural firm Brown Design Group to design a traditional school then identified as McNair Cluster Elementary School.
Dec. 14, 2005 — Pat Pope orders architectural firm Brown Design to stop working on the McNair project.
Jan. 17, 2006 —The school district informs Brown Design that it is terminating the contract, saying it is making changes to the school.
Feb. 3, 2006—The school district re-advertises for the McNair project.
April 25, 2006—C.D. Moody Construction Company signs $11.9 million contract to design and build the McNair school, now named Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy. Moody hired architect Tony Pope to work on the project.
Nov. 16, 2006 —School district authorizes paying an additional $15,000 to C.D. Moody to do a study about whether McNair should be a traditional or non-traditional school. The district eventually decides to build a traditional school.
Mountain Industrial Center
May 14, 2003 —The school district hires architectural firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates for the first phase of the Mountain Industrial Center project.
June 25, 2004 —Smallwood signs $735,000 contract to design the rest of the facility.
Jan. 12, 2006 —The school district informs Smallwood that it is terminating the contract, citing budgetary issues.
Sept. 6, 2007 —The school district begins advertising the Mountain Industrial Center project, which was broken up into two phases.
Jan. 12, 2008 —The first, and much smaller, phase is awarded to Hogan Construction Group.
Feb. 14, 2008 —The remaining portion of the project is advertised.
May 11, 2008 —The district signs a contract, now worth $21.3 million, with Nix-Fowler Constructors to design and build the rest of the project. Nix-Fowler hires Tony Pope to be its architect.
The common denominator here is when the original contracts were terminated, Vincent Pope suddenly became the new architect for the new contracts. But this goes beyond that. Thousands and thousands of dollars given to architects, and then, boom, a complete 90 degree turn and major project changes, and even more spending to a new architect and construction company.
At this time, Marcus Turk, Ramona Tyson and Crawford Lewis "signed the checks", with BOE approval. We are not talking about pennies here. We are talking about contracts in the millions.
How does such behavior that involves millions of dollars go unchecked? And the undeniable truth here is that Crawford Lewis only brought some of this to the attention of law enforcement when he was under investigation for his own actions. CYA not because of the questionable spending of taxpayer dollars. CYA because he was on the hot seat.
We can talk all we want about school closings, millions spent (and possibly wasted) on large purchases like eSIS and America's Choice, the massive bureaucratic build-up of the Central Office, MIS under Ramona Tyson, etc., etc. We will continue to have questionable spending of taxpayer dollars until there are checks and balances within DCSS and hammered home by the BOE. We will continue to have waste and bloat even under a new superintendent if the upper administration of the Central Office in place now isn't swept out. We will continue to waste precious taxpayer dollars meant for academics and needed programs if the Board of Education doesn't just say they value tax dollars, but puts in place procedures and policies that stop such silliness from repeating itself.
With an estimated $100 million plus budget hole, increased classroom sizes, and multiple school closings all a very real reality, we cannot tolerate one penny being wasted by the Central Office and BOE.
Not. One. Penny.