Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Pizza Pie in the Eye

I would love to hear from District 5 parents who are involved in booster clubs and PTAs about whether you felt pressured to purchase products from Zo's pizza. When Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn's business sold athletic wear to a middle school, I believe that the parents and sponsor felt pressured to purchase from her. Whether that was real or perceived because of Ms. Anderson-Littlejohn's role, I can't say. Her child was a student at the school and may have been involved in the activity.

I would also like to know if the booster clubs and PTAs comparison shop and if Cunningham's restaurant offers the best prices. Our school uses a local Italian restaurant to cater events occasionally. The PTA chair is expected to shop around and get the best price. Flat Rock Elementary is huge, nearly 1000 students, so the total bill doesn’t surprise me. I share Tom Bowen's concerns about the increase in sales from pre-board to now.

Table appears set for conflict

AJC investigation: Board member's business caters to county schools

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
7:59 a.m. Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Tim Eberly

Before Jay Cunningham won election to the DeKalb school board, his restaurants catered the occasional school pizza party.

But in the three years since taking office in January 2007, his food sales to DeKalb schools have increased substantially, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an Open Records Act request.

Cunningham owns Zo’s Pizza, formerly named daVido’s Pizza, on Panola Road in Lithonia. Zo’s was previously on Mall Parkway, also in Lithonia. At one time, he operated restaurants at both locations.

Documents show that Cunningham’s restaurants collected $3,077 from schools in the five years before he joined the school board, compared to at least $22,655 in the three and a half years after. The purchases mostly came in the form of large orders of pizza, chicken wings or both for teacher gatherings, yearbook parties and other events.

The rest of the article can be found here:


Anonymous said...

I would be interested in this. We also have had teachers who pitch their products/services on DCSS websites, and parents have been approached to buy.

Cerebration said...

Kudos to Tim Eberly! We have discussed the pizza pushing here at the blog before but were told vehemently that Jay donated all of the pizzas!

I would venture a guess that the actual amount of business from DCSS is much larger, due to the fact that the booster clubs are the ones who order the most and they are not part of the probe. The numbers in the article simply represent the budgets of the schools - not the booster clubs, etc.

FWIW -- while on the subject of pizza -- there's a wonderful pizza place on Buford Hwy at Shallowford called "Pizza Patrone" - delicious pizza very reasonably priced - and if you save your receipts, you can turn them in to either Cross Keys or Sequoyah and they will get a donation from Pizza Patrone if their school collects the most receipts!

This is a clever fund-raiser dreamt up by good old Kim Gokce of course! One guy with integrity to spare!

Anonymous said...

The end of the article provides information that is equally disturbing -- his BOE paychecks have been garnished for years, and one of his business has a $16,000+ tax lien. Seriously, he's one of the people charged with closing a 100M deficit and finding a new superintendent?!

Cerebration said...

Actually, he's the one who proposed only cutting the magnet transportation in half, instead of cutting it completely. His logic cut the savings only in half - from a $4 million savings to only $2 million. But logically, this can't be true as it's simply not a proportionate cost (like ordering fewer pizzas). I have a feeling this magnet transportation, although the hub sites have been reduced, will still cost taxpayers several million dollars. Money that could have been used to save at least 65 parapros in the schoolhouses. Those were the choices made by the board at the budget cut meeting.

Accountant types - will you please weigh in on this?

Be True to Your School said...

Worth Reading and Sharing:

Manvotional: Wanted-A Man
by BRETT & KATE MCKAY on JUNE 27, 2010
from Pushing to the Front, 1911
By: Orison Swett Marden

Keep in mind that this was written in 1911, so it is not as politically correct as it might be. On the other hand, I sometimes think that "politically correct" is achieved at the expense of other, perhaps more important standards.

As you read this -- if you read it -- it will become crystal clear that there is not a single person on the DCSS BOE or in DCSS middle-to-upper-level administrators who can even come close to meeting the standards and basic tests of character described in this 1911 article.

themommy said...


What I find so strange about this article is that Cunningham seems to be connecting his service on the BoE to declining business, but yet nearly every vote he makes on the BoE is about being reelected.

Many may not realize it, but he was one of the big advocates for moving up school closings to the 10-11 school year. Without his vote on the budget committee, the original plan for school year 2011-20112 would have stayed in place. However, within a few months, he got nervous and changed his mind.

The vote on magnet transportation is a main problem I see with Cunningham, but it was true with the person who served District 5 before him as well. There is tremendous pressure on him from parents who use choice programs. I suspect that he is one of the main reasons we have an Arabia Mountain as a choice school.

In the meantime, many of the high schools in his district are shrinking, some rapidly.

So, if being on the board is bad for business, why would you run again?

No Duh said...

In reading the whole article, it appears that Cunningham lied to Bowen. I suppose some people would admire a person like Cunningham, who knows how to "work the system."

I have another way to look at him: flim-flam artist.

Heard something that perhaps someone else can elaborate on about he and his wife's shady dealings with the gymnastic program at Tucker Rec Center. Anyone with better info?

But all of this goes to one of the questions from Downey's list of questions we should ask before voting for a BOE member. (all the questions are now listed on the front page of the blog -- thanks Cere). We should NEVER elect someone who does not have his or her own personal financial house in order. And NEVER elect someone who depends on their BOE position as their main source of income.

This doesn't mean only independently wealthy people can be BOE members, it means flim-flam, con artists should be rejected -- wholesale. But, until our electorate wakes up and realizes what that free piece of pizza just cost them, we'll continue to elect these people who's personal financial lives resemble cesspools.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. If you are unable to keep your home and business finances in order, how are you going to help run a school? This should be part of the criteria for running for any type of government office. You can't spend more than you bring in.

Anonymous said...

This article was a waste of time.
Poorly written, missing the climax to tie it into DCSS BOE issues. The conflict is not as big of an impact to us as his lack of business skills.

Earning 22k of DCSS business over 3years is very little to nothing. This will cause sympathy. I can hear it, " they are picking on Jay, he gave up a lot to help us,

This is a witch hunt to nowhere concerning the pizza business. The ajc blew it.

The article missed the bigger story
that would have helped parents understand about the importance of making sure your BOE reps have successful business skills.

Hint for AJC: if he couldn't manage his own money why should we expect him to manage ours.

Anonymous said...

"The article missed the bigger story
that would have helped parents understand about the importance of making sure your BOE reps have successful business skills.

Hint for AJC: if he couldn't manage his own money why should we expect him to manage ours. "

That would have placed this article on the Editorial page rather than the Front page.

I came to the same conclusion as everyone on this blog - that he is inept in handling his own affairs so maybe the subtext was there for the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Where I grew up, members of school boards were elected volunteers. They served for the good of the community and every one of them had a day job. Everyone, please, before you vote in the next election, be sure you know who you are voting for and why you want that person to represent you.

Schools do purchase food for PTA meetings, class parties, etc. I really hope that local schools did not feel compelled to purchase from Mr. Cunningham's business.

As for the magnet programs and related transportation issues we really need to find out why parents have such a strong need to transfer their children out of their neighborhood schools. As I've said before, it takes a lot of time and effort to send your child across town to go to school. This isn't a choice that parents make on a whim. We are spending a lot of money for the benefit of a relatively small percentage of students. Is there a better way?

Anonymous said...

Now is the time for people to come forward and put their money where their mouth is.... Qualifying for School Board Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 begins tomorrow, June 28 at
9 am and ends on Friday, July 2 at noon.

Each candidate must meet the following qualifications:
O.C.G.A. § 20-2-51 (2009)
§ 20-2-51. Election of county board members; persons ineligible to be members or superintendent; ineligibility for local boards of education; ineligibility for other elective offices.
(a) No person shall be eligible for election as a member of a local board of education who is not a resident of the school district in which that person seeks election and of the election district which such person seeks to represent. Whenever there is in a portion of any county a local school system having a board of education of its own, receiving its pro rata of the public school fund directly from the State School Superintendent and having no dealings whatever with the local board, then the members of the board of such county shall be selected from that portion of the county not embraced within the territory covered by such local system.
(b) Whenever a member of a local board of education moves that person's domicile from the district which that person represents, such person shall cease to be a member of such local board of education, and a vacancy shall occur.
(c) (1) No person employed by or serving on the governing body of a private educational institution shall be eligible to serve as a member of a local board of education. No person employed by a local board of education shall be eligible to serve as a member of that board of education. No person employed by the Department of Education or serving as a member of the State Board of Education shall be eligible to serve as a member of a local board of education. This paragraph shall not apply to institutions above the high school level.
(2) No person who has an immediate family member sitting on a local board of education or serving as the local school superintendent or as a principal, assistant principal, or system administrative staff in the local school system shall be eligible to serve as a member of such local board of education. As used in this paragraph, the term "immediate family member" means a spouse, child, sibling, or parent or the spouse of a child, sibling, or parent. This paragraph shall apply only to local board of education members elected or appointed on or after July 1, 2009. Nothing in this Code section shall affect the employment of any person who is employed by a local school system on or before July 1, 2009, or who is employed by a local school system when an immediate family member becomes a local board of education member for that school system.
(d) In all counties of this state having a population of not less than 500,000 or more than 600,000 according to the United States decennial census of 1990 or any future such census, the members of the county boards of education taking office after December 1, 1975, shall not hold any other elective governmental office.

If you want to offer yourself for election go to DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections on Memorial Drive.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does” Margatet Meed

Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about any of this except to say that the place makes GREAT wings! :)

Anonymous said...

While I agree completely that DCSS is facing unprecedented,VERY SERIOUS problems, and as a parent, I am extremely worried about the education my children will receive in the coming years, I have to admit I would like to see the AJC start to focus their attention, equally, on the issues of the other metro area school systems. Most of these systems have faced terrible budget cuts this year, but DCSS budget cuts have received way more scrutiny and attention in the AJC. While the budget cuts at DCSS have made the front page, in bold font, Fulton cutting 400 teachers and music programs, or Cobb jacking their class size up to the max, has been practically a footnote. Yes, DCSS is drowning in a multitude of ethical issues and legal investigations, and I am glad our media outfits are covering the story, but I do think the coverage is now bordering on a witchhunt. I think if the media started to look as carefully at the other systems, they could uncover some interesting stories.

Anonymous said...

Remember Jacques Willie Hall, Jr. and Tyrone Presley are running against Cunningham.

Anonymous said...

If we are going to have a financial test for one candidate, we must have it for all.

The recommendations from Downey's list are based on some of the challenges faced in Clayton after accreditation was pulled. There were at least two board members who initially refused to quit, telling state officials to find them a part time job with the same income as they were making in Clayton!

I look forward to hearing what experience these two candidates have had with DeKalb schools.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe this article represents a "witch hunt". I see it as a much needed expose'. Having personally witnessing the Cunningham "flim flam" in school meetings...our children deserve better. I attended a meeting where he put a baseball type of cap with his restaurant logo on it soliciting support from the audience and meeting participants.

Anonymous said...

This is just part of a larger problem: I had an ass't principal who sold jewelry, sorority items, framed prints to teaches and the school...a teacher who sold tons of tee shirts from her husbands business...secretary selling mary kay..........All of them making money off a captive audience.

Anonymous said...

I think this article represents a witch hunt by the AJC because these questions were raised a few years ago around the same time as the investigation into Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn. Jay has provided food at or below cost to athletic teams and schools for years. His business offers food at a competitive price and the kids like it. Word gets around and I'm sure other school patronize Zo's for that reason. If you can show that he charged a premium and/or strongly encouraged schools to buy from his business, you have a story. Otherwise there is nothing here.

Question, given that many teachers are parents of DCSS students, should they be prohibited from selling fundraisers from the school their child attends at the school where they work? Anon 7:40 seems to suggest something is wrong with that. From what I have seen, most of the sales are to the adults, who have a choice whether to buy or not. Let's not go overboard with this.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:37. The problem is that Jay Cunningham is an elected official. He and his immediate family should not be doing business with schools in the DeKalb County School System. Not only is there the "appearance" of impropriety there could actually be an improper motive to purchase food from the Cunninghams. A school might think that if they buy pizza from his business that they will receive special attention from Cunningham, for example he might push their construction project or get them extra resources. Whether or not he makes a profit is irrelevant. (And he receives $18,000 a year for his BOE duties, I believe.)

The Cunninghams are free to sell pizza to area churches, other school systems or the general public.

I feel that no school employee (including principals, teachers, bus drivers, etc.) should be selling books, services, sorority items, Avon, etc. to other school employees or to the school system. That is exactly why the Board and the school system needs a strong ethics policy.

Anonymous said...

Tom Bowen and the other BOE members do not have the guts/smarts/hearts to censure or suspend Cunningham. Yet another case of a conflict of interest, yet Cunningham remarkably does not see it. The sad state of DCSS affairs starts and ends with the BOE itself.

Anonymous said...

Who is Cunningham's lawyer? None other than Vernon Jones' lawyer, Dwight Thomas.

Remember when there was an allegation of rape against Jones? Then Police Chief Lou Graham, who later resigned in disgrace, called Thomas, who contacted the victim that same night. An incredible breach of trust by Graham and behavior by Thomas which could have got him disbarred. The victim didn't want to be part of a media circus and dropped the charges (or did she feel intimidated?).

Thomas ain't cheap. Interesting to see that Jay has the money to pay Thomas despite havng his wages garnished.

Anonymous said...

I am surprized that Tom Bowen was so uninformed on what room moms, clubs, and sunshine funds to to provide food and parties for our children. These are NOT taxpayer dollars nor FTE funds. They are comprised of donations from parents, adopters and local businesses. However, it is nice to know that the Accounting Dept. audits all funds at the local level. Maybe Board Chair Bowen should add this element to all Central offices including the Supt. Oh, I forgot, his child goes to a private school, he wouldn't know about the public sector.

As for the AJC, they are just bias when it comes ti covering DeKalb. We have enough "Big Fish to Fry" for them to distract out attention onto "mess". Let's find a Supt. who is competent and experiened as a a large urban multicultural district who really wants a challenge and get our focus back on educating children. It doesn't matter the race or gender just the success rate.
I will study all candidates and do my research before I vote as I know others will do. not Anom

Anonymous said...

Manuel Maloof was an elected official and the county used Maloof's Tarvan for county events and catering.
Brad Bryant was an elected official and Chair of the Board and sold houses to the Principals, Associates Supts. and Supt Crawford Lewis in the Southlands about 20 in all.

By the way, Lewis attorney works for Alston & Byrd and so does Brad Bryant's son.Can't that be just a coindence or will the AJC make an issue out of it?

As long as it is legal and fair, I say "make your product so that it sells".
As for voting, do your own research and NEVER vote for an AJC endorsed candidate.

Dan M. said...

You know what's sad? That many DeKalb residents will not see the Cunningham mess for the incredible conflict of interest it is. In DeKalb, we no longer hold our elected officials in this county to high ethical standards. Maybe we're just numb after years and years of scandals by the likes of Pat Jarvis, Vernon Jones, Sid Dorsey, Terrell Bolton, Pat Reid/Pope, etc.

Ella Smith said...

However, I am concerned if he uses his position as a school board member to get into the sch ool and sale his product/food to the booster club members and clubs for banquets. That is where the money is to be made anyway. This is still questionable to me as it is using his position to make money which I feel is unethical. I hope this is not true.

It looks like most of the candidate will have opposition which is really important.

Anonymous said...

You know what is sad? Going on and on trying to guess at who is related to who in DCSS and worrying about who Jay Cunningham sells pizza to!!!

Land sakes alive, people, stay with what is important.

Cerebration said...

I wonder why he needs a lawyer...?

Anonymous said...

I did not feel any pressure from purchasing pizza and wings from Zo's. Since my elementary school was about 2 miles away, it was convient for the holiday parties. Zo's offered great deals and the food was ready when scheduled. The pizza and wings are not the best tasting. The students like it.

Anonymous said...

Jay is the older brother to Malcolm Cunningham of Malcolm Cunningham Ford. He sold cars to DCSS. The Ford 500(Lewis) under priced and Bronco(Pope). This is what got the whole investigation started. With that being said, was DCSS pressured in purchasing cars from Jay's brother.

Ella Smith said...

Anonymous 9:48.

Thank you for your comment. I stand correct. If booster clubs did not feel they needed to buy from Cunningham's, then there was no ethical violation for their banquets.

I am far from perfect and I am always the first to admit when I could have been wrong. I could be wrong here. This is what happens when you jump to a conclusion without thinking about all the angles which is what I did here. I am ashamed and I apoligize for making an assumption that this might be the case.

Again, thanks for letting me know you felt no pressure to buy. I stand corrected.

It is interesting for someone to question where the cars at the school system are bought. Surely they are not purchased from Cunningham's brother. That would be just too much to bare. I hope this is not the case. We really do not need anymore bad press.

Kim Gokce said...

@cere: "This is a clever fund-raiser dreamt up by good old Kim Gokce of course! One guy with integrity to spare!"

I would be rude to not say, "Thank you." So, thank you! But I would also be unfair if I didn't correct 3 points:

1) the owner of Pizza Patron is as responsible for this, if not more, than I,

2) The promotion ended in May with over $1300 in revenue generated by our schools in one month helping him launch his 1st store. Sequoyah won by $40. The shop is offering a percentage of sales back to us on an ongoing basis - Pizza Patron is offering a Cross Keys Foundation "special" on Wednesdays - an extra large specialty pizza and a small pepperoni pizza for $8 if you say "Cross Keys Foundation sent me," and

3) I do not have integrity to spare - it takes every ounce to navigate each day.

Armando del Bosque of Pizza Patron is an extraordinary Doraville business owner. Armando is the most un-assuming Harvard MBA you'll ever meet. He is 100% dedicated to public education and has an enlightened self-interest in supporting schools in the Cross Keys, Chamblee, and Dunwoody clusters (and soon, Gwinnett schools with new stores).

He is a Mexican-born American who recently relocated to Dunwoody. He is a Rotarian and a family man. He works hard and when he shows up with a van load of pizzas at an event, everyone assumes he is "just the driver." I wish we could clone him for DeKalb's sake.

You won't find a better value in carryout pizza. Go see him and thank him for being a community-oriented business owner in DeKalb. If you are a school group, he will bend over backward to accommodate your needs and help with fund-raising ideas:

5067 Buford Highway
(Buford Highway)
Doraville, GA 30340

As for Jay Cunningham, there is nothing wrong with a business owner sitting in that role. However, having to ask a Board of Education member to refrain from marketing their business while visiting schools is an indication that the member has lost any sense of ethics. Dan M., had it right above. There is no particular victim here but this is simply more evidence that ethics need to be resurrected in DeKalb public service.

No Duh said...

Where does Armando live? Any interest in running for BOE?