Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fernbank Science Center - C'mon and Visit Y'all






I truly believe the Fernbank Science Center, while a nice educational resource for the school system (despite questionable staffing levels), would be much better off as a non-profit separate but affiliated with the school system.

The DCSS Central Office has proven it is fiscally incapable in everything it does. FSC has so much potential, but it's dated, long overdue for a makeover, and held back by the incompetence and lack of leadership of the DCSS Central Office and Board of Education.

Still, one of the biggest problems with FSC is the Central Office has never promoted it properly. It is paid for by county taxpayers, and it is open for use by all county residents. If DCSS is paying millions a year to operate it, well, heck, then promote it. I'd guess that maybe 2 percent of the county population has ever even visited FSC at 156 Heaton Park Dr., Atlanta, GA 30307.

There's a cool planetarium with shows:
http://www.fernbank.edu/planetarium.htm
CHILDREN'S PROGRAMS
All are welcome, but great for kids 10 and under.
Saturdays 1:30 pm
PUBLIC PROGRAMS All are welcome, but targeted at adults and children 10 or older.
Thursday 8:00 pm
Friday 3:00 and 8:00 pm
Saturday 3:00 pm


THE SKY TONIGHT
11:00 a.m. Saturday mornings (except December)
Presented live by a Fernbank astronomer, this is a guided tour through the constellations, planets, and events of the current evening sky.

STORIES OF AFRICA
February 5 – February 26, 2011
Come join us for a tour of the Atlanta night sky. Look for the winter constellations. Then, travel with us to the continent of Africa where we’ll explore the night sky again and see how it has changed. Join us for stories of the stars and stories of Africa!

HERE COMES THE SUN
March 5 – June 3, 2011
Quick! What’s the closest star to Earth? If you answered, “The Sun!” you’re on your way in our newest adventure. Watch the Sun as Earth rotates and revolves, find out about life without our star, and see some stars in the night sky as well.


There's the incredible Fernbank Forest, 65 acres with walking trails:
http://www.fernbank.edu/forest.htm
Mon - Fri 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Sat 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
(Closed on Sunday
)

Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre tract of relatively undisturbed mature mixed hardwood forest. It is a small remnant of the type of forest vegetation that originally covered the Piedmont region of Georgia, including the Atlanta metropolitan area. Practically all of Atlanta's original vegetation has been destroyed, first by farming and later by urban and suburban development. Visitors to Fernbank Forest can observe firsthand the beauty of forest land as early explorers and southern Native Americans would have done hundreds of years ago. Trees, shrubs, wildflowers and ferns are labeled so these plants can readily be identified. Animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, birds, turtles and snakes live undisturbed in their natural environment. A small pond teems with aquatic life.

And they need volunteers for cleanup days:
Volunteer in Fernbank Forest!

Help with the removal of exotic, invasive plant species (English Ivy, etc.) and other labor. DeKalb students will receive community service hours required for graduation! Last Saturday of every month. Everyone is welcome! For more information, or if you plan to bring a group or have a club participate, then please contact Dr. Larry Wilson at larry_wilson@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us

Dates for 2011: February 26, March 26, April 30

DCSS HAS RESOURCES OPEN TO THE PUBLIC THAT IT DOES NOT EDUCATE THE PUBLIC ABOUT. C'MON VISIT FSC!

125 comments:

Anonymous said...

My daughter always enjoyed the weekend programs (Birding) and summer programs (Stream Ecology) and we used to visit the Planetarium sometimes.

The main problem I have with Fernbank Science Center besides it being terribly outdated is the cost - currently around $7,000,000 in science funding while science teachers in our middle and high schools have up to 36 in their classes and are buying science supplies out of their own pockets.

Mastery of science content cannot be mastered without daily science instruction, something Fernbank Science Center only offers to a few hundred students a year.

I am also concerned that a science center that has as its backbone ecology instruction would put thousands of buses on the road transporting students and adding to the metro area pollution.

I agree that spinning it off from the school system makes more economic sense. 35 admin and support personnel should not be necessary to run a center that only has 28 teachers. Hopefully, this would put the focus back on teachers and not admin and support.

A slimmed down admin and support staff, teacher visitations to the schools, and keeping the programs offered you mentioned would be a great start. DCSS could keep the $7,000,000 for decreasing the class sizes in the middle and high school and ensure up to date equipment and supplies while still having a place for the "extras" that are nice to have as a follow-up to the science curriculum.

It's past time to change this 1950s science center. Spin it off as a non-profit and funnel the millions into the classrooms.

Anonymous said...

It is literally Emory University's neighbor. There are so many opportunities for FSC to work with Emory, GA Tech, the CDC, etc., but entities like that are not going to deal with the Central Office incompentents. I'm not sure if FSC has an advisory board, but if it does, it should have high ranking administrators from Emory, tech, the CDC, the county, GA Perimeter College, Agnes Scott, GA State, etc.).

It's time FSC steps out on its own, still works with DCSS, but gets a chance to spread its wings.

And if you haven't walked the Fernbank Forest, it's very cool, tell your neighbors, friends and family!

Anonymous said...

I've lived here for three decades. I heard of the Fernbank Science Center and Fernbank Forest, but assumed it was only for school use. This school system doesn't give a darn about people who pay property taxes but don't have children in the system.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect O and T, the Science Center has a staff plenty large to promote itself.

Seven million dollars is an outrageous amount of money to spend on something that is so extra. Not another school system in GA has such an expensive extra. And almost, without exception, those systems have higher science scores than DCSS.

Seven million dollars would put a full time, dedicated science teacher in every elementary school and if we close and consolidate schools as we need to, an extra science teacher in middle and high school as well.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the fate of Fernbank Science Center, the DCSS needs to do everything they can to retain the Science Center teachers in the system. These are some of the most talented and educated teachers in DCSS and it would be beyond shortsighted to close the center without ensuring that the teachers will be retained to teach our kids.

Anonymous said...

"Seven million dollars would put a full time, dedicated science teacher in every elementary school and if we close and consolidate schools as we need to, an extra science teacher in middle and high school as well."

Extra science teachers in the schools would be wonderful, but do we trust our friends in CO to redirect any funds saved from FSC into science instruction. More likely, the money will go to paying King and Spalding, pay raises in CO, or who knows where. Who can we trust to be sure the money will go to science, or even to instruction? All of these details would need to be in place well before the center is closed or downsized.

Anonymous said...

Do not look to FSC's large admin and support group to promote a "spin-off" into a non-profit entity.

O+T is right. Fernbank Science Center could remain viable if they turn into a well managed non-profit center. The green space is a wonderful resource for close-in DeKalb and the Fernbank community.

But DCSS science scores are abysmal and steadily decreasing. This is such a shame since science, math and engineering are the wave of the future and global economy. EVERY DCSS student needs better daily science instruction or science achievement will continue to slide.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:46

"Who can we trust to be sure the money will go to science, or even to instruction? All of these details would need to be in place well before the center is closed or downsized. "

Good point. But if we don't enact any cuts except to decrease the content area teachers in the schools and increase class sizes, we're going to be in even worse shape educationally. We can only cut content area teachers so much. Already they can go up to 36 per class. How many would you like to see in a class - 40, 42, 45?

I'm retired with my only child long through schools, and my taxes are already over $4,000 a year and slated to increase another $500 next year just for the county. If the school system raises them even further (no thanks Dr. Walker), I'll be paying over $400 a month just in property taxes, and I live in a modest 1960s ranch house. And my water rates are going up as well. DeKalb is getting too expensive for my husband and I, and our house has been paid for years ago. A young family will have to take on a house payment. Are they really going to want to take on a tax burden that is twice that of Gwinnett in addition to their mortgage? This is particularly troubling for young families when the DeKalb school system is scoring at the lowest level of any metro school system.

Something has to give with DeKalb County services and the school system. We are pricing ourselves out of the marketplace and getting less and less in services, and the school system is continually sliding in achievement as it cost more and more.

Retirees would like to see DCSS cut costs like Fernbank Science Center, small schools, special programs like the Security personnel and MIS, non-teaching personnel like Inst. Coaches, counselors, parent center coordinators, etc. My guess is that families looking to move into DeKalb are going to want this as well.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 3:40 pm

"Whatever the fate of Fernbank Science Center, the DCSS needs to do everything they can to retain the Science Center teachers in the system."

Agreed. And these teachers could easily be placed in schools. Schools are always needing science teachers. They are hard to get and harder to retain.

I'm not so sure about the admin and support personnel though. That group and the transportation costs to bus children to FSC would be a savings of millions of dollars.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 3:33 pm

"Seven million dollars would put a full time, dedicated science teacher in every elementary school"

I can't imagine having the resources to have a dedicated science teacher for every elementary school. Fernbank Elementary School has a dedicated Science teacher to do science specials every week with all the students, but the Fernbank Foundation pays his salary. That really gives Fernbank kids a leg up in science achievement to have a dedicated science teacher just for their school. That's a great idea. I just wish every school could have that.

Anonymous said...

"Agreed. And these teachers could easily be placed in schools. Schools are always needing science teachers. They are hard to get and harder to retain."

True. But this plan to place teachers would have to be written up and approved before the center wss downsized, otherwise the SOW would simply be to lay them and let them look for job (as occured to a FSC last year). I would want to make it easy and attractive for these teachers to stay in DCSS.

Another consideration is that fSC does provide training for teachers, resources for teachers in designing science experiments and curriculum, and many other functions. We need to be sure that ALL of these important functions are retained, as well.

Anonymous said...

Everyone, please walk through the Fernbank Forest. It belongs to you, not Ramona Tyson or Tom Bowen or Ron Ramsey, and it is truly beautiful.

The Hodgson House at the Fernbank Forest is a gorgeous historic house built way back in 1914. What is it being used for inside of the house? Storage for junk.

This historic house will be 100 years old in three years.

Again, 100 YEARS OLD!

What does DCSS have planned for its centennial?

A non-profit with a strong board could do wonders for the aging science center, the forest, and the Hodgson House. But left in the hands of the Central Office, the conditions will deteriorate to the point where it will need millions to renovate and repair, and its already heading down that way fast.

Anonymous said...

I was at FSC this morning for a science program. The building is very outdated and the exhibits are old and do not attract children like the more modern exhibits at the Fernbank Museum on Clifton Rd.

I agree that the FSC could be a good resource if turned over to a private foundation. Perhaps it could be an alternative energy/environmental themed program.

The school system should move all the FSC teachers into the classroom where hundreds more students would benefit. Heck, I'd even let them keep their high salaries if they agreed to mentor other teachers and oversee the science education program at the school where they are placed.

Anonymous said...

I was there today too. It is so OUTDATED, but it truly has so much potential. The school system has so many other things to deal with, it really is time to let a foundation run it. Could be a win-win if done right.

Dunwoody Mom said...

The forest is actually leased from Fernbank, Inc. and there are requirements within that lease as how to forest must be maintained.

DCSS owns the 4 acres the Science Center is located on.

I wonder if Fernbank Inc., which runs the Museum, would be interested in the Science Center as well?

Anonymous said...

"Heck, I'd even let them keep their high salaries if they agreed to mentor other teachers and oversee the science education program at the school where they are placed."

for the record, the teachers at the FSC are paid on the exact same salary schedule as all other DCSS teachers. Many of them have higher salaries because they have PhDs. And these are real PhD, in a subject area, not a mail order EdD like the truly overpaid administrators in central office.

Please don't sell to the Fernbank Museum. They would charge 10 bucks for a walk in the forest.

Anonymous said...

$7,000,000 a year is just too much when we are closing schools and need good science instruction in the schools so we certainly don't have the money to put into FSC that would make it a dynamic attraction.

I agree that non-profit organization could do wonders with Fernbank Science Center. Getting it out from underneath the Central Office would mean it could be run efficiently and brought into the 21st Century. Going into the museum and the classrooms feels like science mired in the mid-20th century. It has great potential for an organization interested in investing the time and money needed to update it.

So how do we go about getting FSC moving to be a non-profit? I'm surprised it's not become a non-profit entity before now. What's stopped it?

Anonymous said...

I am pretty sure they are still showing the same programs I saw when I was in elementary school. Yes, the school system should remain attached but let's ask this: Does the Fulton County School System own the Atlanta History Center?

No, there is a charge associated with visiting but it is negotiated by the county and parents who book the field trips. Just because the FSC resides within our area, not exactly close to most of Dekalb, doesn't mean we must continue to support it. Dump it. Use the money and negotiate with the newly formed non-profit group for the school to utilize. A non-profit with more fund raising experience will come up with better resources to enhance the property.

My kid has never walked in the forest with her school class. I took her when she was still in the stroller. But they see the planetarium programs twice a year. Let's not forget the truck to Fernbank in the fifth grade to hear about puberty, etc. Valuable information that could be related in the school in a science class by science teachers.

Anonymous said...

You know, our kids learn in spite of outdated buildings so let's not turn up our nose at the FSC buildings. They do great teaching inside those buildings and we need to avoid complaining about it being old, lest our children get the idea that the teaching is not important.

My children and I spent many hours in the forest when they were young. Our favorites were the bullfrogs in the pond. We liked it better than the fancy museum.

Anonymous said...

I think the staff at FSC must be very comfortable with the status quo and believe that all will stay the same. Otherwise, after last year's budget discussions, they should be sweating bullets and looking for a new model to stay open.

What do they know that we don't?

Anonymous said...

"My children and I spent many hours in the forest when they were young. Our favorites were the bullfrogs in the pond. We liked it better than the fancy museum.'

I'm glad you enjoy the $7,000,000 bullfrogs.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 9:26 pm

"Otherwise, after last year's budget discussions, they (Fernbank Science Center) should be sweating bullets and looking for a new model to stay open."

FSC personnel know that the Fernbank community pulled strings to keep this beautifully kept green space in their community last year when it was threatened with cuts.

Specifically, Marshall Orson, Chair of the Fernbank Elementary School Council, sent and published an "Open Letter to the Board of Education" supporting leaving Fernbank Science Center untouched while science classes that met every day and are responsible for the science achievement of DCSS students soared to 36 in the high schools.

They worked behind the scenes as they strongly supported the closing of DCSS schools with less than 450 students in the south end of the county (that was before Fernbank was considered for redistricting.

They elicited the help of prominent Emory personnel such as the professor who placed an Op Ed pieces in the AJC supporting the elite STT program which serves 90 students a semester including his daughter quite some years ago.

Please look at the exceptionally fluent "Open Letter to the Board" of Education that the Fernbank Elementary Council penned with Marshall Orson as the spokesman (go to the link below):

http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/03/letter-from-fernbank-elementary-school.html

The Fernbank community pays a lot of property taxes, they are the most well educated and affluent group in the county, and they will ensure that taxpayers continue to support and preserve the lovely community they enjoy. They are happy with the status quo for many reasons, and they will not let anyone upset it. I thought everyone knew they are the most influential group in DeKalb County.

Write your BOE members if you think that the $7,000,000 DCSS taxpayers spend on Fernbank Science Center needs to be reviewed in light of our declining science achievement scores. Unless that happens, the Fernbank community is a sleeping giant that the Central Office wants to leave alone no matter what it costs the rest of the county.

Anonymous said...

"I think the staff at FSC must be very comfortable with the status quo and believe that all will stay the same. Otherwise, after last year's budget discussions, they should be sweating bullets and looking for a new model to stay open."

Many of these staff are regular teachers who work long hours traveling to schools across the county with car/truck loads of equipment to do special presentations. They do what they do because they love teaching science to kids not because they are trying to hold on to the model of science center. Many have left more lucrative careers to devote their lives to teaching. Why such animosity towards these science center teachers?

Anonymous said...

A non-profit model is a great idea but who is going to make it happen? And who is going to make sure that any funds recouped from the science center will go to science instruction in the classroom? Someone has to take the lead and make it all happen with central office.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 10:07
Taxpayers/parents need to be emailing their BOE members asking that Fernbank be cut dramatically starting with the transportation of students to the center. With the exception of STT and AP classes, the FSC teachers should be going into the schools EVERY day to teach science lessons. This would immediately save the transportation expense of thousands of buses to and from the center. In addition, the science instruction from FSC personnel could be conducted from 8 until 4.

Currently, most science classes AT the center do not start until around 9 or 9:30 and last around 1.5 hours or in the afternoon they start around 12 or 12:30 and last around 1.5 hours. Students must return to their schools around 2:30 or 3:00 - so you can see the incredibly inefficiency of science instruction delivery.

With the FSC teachers in the school, the 35 admin and support personnel could be easily by 50% or more. This would save additional millions.

If the Fernbank community wishes to keep FSC "as is", then they should find a way to fund it that does not require all of the other taxpayers to do so.

It is unconscionable for neighborhood schools to be closed, while Fernbank Science Center with 28 teachers and 35 admin and support personnel to remain "as is" consuming $7,000,000 a year.

The $7,000,000 a year that Fernbank Science Center consumes equates to almost 1/2 of the savings Ms. Tyson is predicting from the entire school closing and redistricting plan.

Continue to write your BOE members asking why this $7,000,000 science center is consuming so much of our science dollars as our science scores decline, neighborhood schools are being closed and children are being redistricted. Making cuts to cost centers like Fernbank Science Center should be a top priority for the DCSS administration.

Anonymous said...

There is so much non-instructional bloat that must be cut from the budget before we remove the science center. A new and more efficient model for science education must be developed and implemented by DCSS to utlize the tremendous resources of the science center more effectively. The problem is there is not one person in a leadership positon at DCSS who knows how to do this or even what should be done. Does Dr. Beasley know anything about science? The people at the science center know a lot about science but none of them are in leadership positions where they can influence decisions at the county office.

We can agree that science education and the science center need to be revamped but blasting the leadership and BOE with messages to simply close the science center will result in less science. The leadership and the BOE had demonstrated through the redistricting process that they have NO CLUE how to create effective models for education and even less of a clue how to implement them. They are relying on parent groups to come up with better plan, complete with maps, financials, and outcome measures.

Before we tell the BOE to trash the science center, we must have a plan for how to retain the essential and important services the center provides (it is much more than STT). Telling the BOE to cut FSC will result in less science for DCSS - guaranteed. We need to present them with a better alternative!!

Anonymous said...

We need to be a bit more honest about the money the county would gain by closing Fernbank Science Center.
Let's start with the misconception that the money saved would go into science instruction. Any amount saved would go into the general fund. If we believe the county needs to spend more money on science instruction we need to communicate that to the superintendent and she will need to add it to the budget. Also, Fernbank's budget, like all schools, is over 90% staff salary. The only way the county would gain the money being discussed on this blog would be if all the staff were released. Savings from Fernbank Science Center can only generated by RIFing the entire staff. That might be something the county could do to the instructors and exhibit designers, but my guess is that most of the support staff would have to be reassigned to other buildings, and their salaries would still need to be paid out of the budget.
Also, the county is sort of stuck with the building... it is leasing the land it is on from Fernbank Museum, and it is my understanding that if the Science Center closes that building and land go back to them. The county cannot "sell" the building to a non-profit.
Finally, as for the savings in transportation costs, my guess is that field trips to Fernbank are a very, very small portion of the total bus trips our children take. If we are truly concerned with the environmental and financial impact these trips have, we need to look at eliminating all of them, and no longer transporting any child to any school other than their home school. Now that would really save some money and improve the the quality of the air.

Anonymous said...

FSC is a great resource to all of DeKalb, and many of these blog postings are misquoting information. The teachers at FSC all travel and teach at other schools in DeKalb, and they offer extensive teacher training and science resources to their peers.

The AP courses at FSC don't start until after high-school is nearly over, usually around 3pm. These teachers are teaching kids who want to learn science from 3-6pm in the evening. Show me any other school where teachers are teaching that late after they've taught all day.

Many of these FSC teachers have PhD's in the sciences and energize kids into learning. Many of these FSC teachers write grants for additional funds, such as the recent $20M MENTOR award just received in collaboration with Georgia Tech. These FSC teachers and the FSC programs are the BEST science programs in DCSS. They should be expanded, not eliminated.

STT is an awesome program, and yes, it reaches only 100 kids each semester (200/yr), but if there were leadership in DCSS, they would work to expand this program to other schools. It is our CO leaders who do not understand this gem and who don't know how to replicate it across the county. STT is also highly effective at getting members of under represented groups to pursue careers in science and engineering. I know of no other program in the country that is as successful. Their secret seems simple - have real scientists, who love teaching kids, spend a few hours everyday engaging the kids in real science.

As for transportation, let's get real transportation leaders (e.g., from UPS or FedEx) who know how to schedule routes. Our transportation folks are awful when it comes to efficiently routing busses. This is not a FSC problem, but a CO problem, and it is evident with all the county's schools, not just FSC. I drive both my kids to school each day b/c their bus schedules are abysmal.

As for the $7M, I don't know the details, but I expect much of that has to do with the 64 acres of forest that FSC has. The last I heard, DCSS was not willing to sell any school property.

Anonymous said...

Anom 1:12 "As for the $7M, I don't know the details, but I expect much of that has to do with the 64 acres of forest that FSC has. The last I heard, DCSS was not willing to sell any school property".

DCSS does not own the forest. Fernbank Science Center rests on land leased from the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The Science Center staff maintain a forest that the county does not own. On many occasions I have seen Science Center staff doing landscaping on Museum grounds as well- I have been a member there since it opened and visit regularly.

I imagine the museum must be paying the county for the landscaping services the Science Center provides... how much does the county receive for this service and does this money go into the science center budget or the general fund?

Would the science center need such a large support staff if they did not maintain the forest and the landscaping for Fernbank Museum, which is a for-profit organization not in any way associated with DCSS?

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 12:50

You are saying it's better to keep the status quo of $7,000,000 in annual costs at FSC because the decisions are hard. Can you please cite some sources for your facts?

Let's look at your statements.

1. "the misconception that the money saved would go into science instruction. Any amount saved would go into the general fund."

Do you have opinion polls that show DCSS taxpayers would be opposed to savings going into the general fund?

2. "Also, Fernbank's budget, like all schools, is over 90% staff salary.... Savings from Fernbank Science Center can only generated by RIFing the entire staff."

The 28 FSC teachers should be going to the students in the schools to teach instead of the students being bused to them. With teachers gone from the building most of the day, many of the 36 admin and support will not be necessary (see next post for list of admin and support).

3. "my guess is that most of the support staff would have to be reassigned to other buildings"

Last year Ms. Tyson cut seven CTSSs, a few coordinators (including one at Fernbank Science Center) and hundreds of paraprofessionals. They were not reassigned to other buildings.

4. "my understanding that if the Science Center closes that building and land go back to them. The county cannot "sell" the building to a non-profit."

This is what the FSC website says:
"In 1964 the Fernbank Trustees developed a 48-year lease which was accepted by the DeKalb County Board of Education....While the lease is for a 48-year period, it is reviewed each year and renewed at 8-year intervals. "
http://fernbank.edu/history.htm

This is from the Fernbank Museum website:
"In 1964, the Fernbank trustees deeded four acres of land to the DeKalb School System for the construction of Fernbank Science Center, which opened in 1967. "
http://www.fernbankmuseum.org/museum_info/about/history.aspx

So it appears that DCSS owns the 4 acres the Science Center is located on while it leases the Forest. Does anyone know how much a year DCSS pays to lease this land? Is this is an additional expense for taxpayers to be tacked onto the annual $7,000,000 FSC expense?

5. "Finally, as for the savings in transportation costs, my guess is that field trips to Fernbank are a very, very small portion of the total bus trips our children take."

Thousands of additional bus trips are a result of children being brought to FSC. Transportation to local schools is generally within a radius of a few miles. Bus trips to FSC are often 20 to 40 miles roundtrip. DCSS Bus drivers are paid an average of $13.00 per hour (per DCSS website). Here is the quote from the DCSS website Field Trip manual:
"All field trips for DeKalb County Schools Transportation Department will cost $1.50 per mile plus the hourly rate of the selected driver ($20.93 maximum per hour)."
A bus driver charges to take students to and from FSC and then is paid his/her per hourly rate to sit there while the lesson is conducted. FSC trips are one of the main sources of bus driver additional pay. Sam Moss transportation personnel need to coordinate those thousands of buses to and from FSC so that’s an additional cost. FSC's annual transportation cost alone is the price of 15 to 20 highly qualified science teachers including salary and benefits.

5. "If we are truly concerned with the environmental and financial impact these trips have, we need to look at eliminating all of them.."

Eliminating FSC trips has nothing to do with established bus routes to DCSS schools.

Anonymous said...

2010 36 Fernbank Science Center admin and support personnel (as contrasted to 28 FSC teachers):
Support Maintenance $56,402
Support - Technical Support $66,088
Support - Support Services $6,790
Support - Security $48,093
Support - Security $47,150
Support - Security $46,929
Support - Secretary $39,427
Support - Secretary $39,427
Support - Scheduler $43,516
Support - Photographer $67,380
Support - Media Specialist $91,320
Support - Maintenance $47,150
Support - Maintenance $34,276
Support - Maintenance $44,836
Support - Maintenance $33,616
Support - Maintenance $32,426
Support - Maintenance $39,276
Support - Head Custodian $52,091
Support - Geologist $75,430
Support - General Administration $50,520
Support - Gardener $44,836
Support - Exhibit Designer $77,892
Support - Exhibit Designer $69,516
Support - Exhibit Designer $84,720
Support - Exhibit Designer $63,576
Support - Designer/Photographer $66,096
Support - Custodial $31,048
Support - Custodial $29,310
Support - Custodial $31,048
Support - CTSS $49,194
Support - Clerical $7,679
Support - Clerical $37,485
Support - Bookkeeper $27,707
Administrator - Director, Fernbank $98,568
Administrator - Administrative Coordinator $91,884

Total salary: $1,772,702
With benefits (est. 25%): $2,215,877

source: Georgia Salary and Travel audit:
http://www.open.georgia.gov/

Do we really need 4 Exhibit Designers for that tiny museum?

Anonymous said...

Support - Exhibit Designer $77,892
Support - Exhibit Designer $69,516
Support - Exhibit Designer $84,720
Support - Exhibit Designer $63,576


What??? I was there yesterday, and the exhibits are old, boring and mediocre. Over $300k a year in salary and benefits for those exhibits??!! That is insane and talk about zero return on investement.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 1:12 pm
"FSC is a great resource to all of DeKalb, and many of these blog postings are misquoting information. ...As for the $7M, I don't know the details, but I expect much of that has to do with the 64 acres of forest that FSC has. "

If you don't know the details, why would you say bloggers are misquoting information?

This information is a matter of public record. Close to $4,000,000 is paid in salaries to the 60+ employees of Fernbank Science Center. If you add benefits (est. at 25%), this figure rises to $5,000,000. The facilities cost and transportation costs are conservatively calculated at $2,000,000 based on the cost of the number of students served annually by FSC. I don't know what the annual lease cost is for DCSS to lease the forest, so maybe you can cite a credible source that tells us. We could add that in as well.

If you doubt these figures, call FSC and ask for a list of all FSC employees, and then make an Excel spreadsheet and enter every employee's salary (obtainable from the State Salary and Travel audit http://www.open.georgia.gov/). Use the Autosum function. It's not that hard to do.

Just saying Fernbank Science Center is a terrific resource when DCSS science scores have experienced a consistent decline year after year is not enough, especially when we spend $7,000,000 of our very scarce science dollars every year on this top heavy entity while we starve the classrooms that teach science to the same students day after day.

Please go into some of our regular education science classes that meet every day, are filled with 30+ students, lack adequate supplies and equipment, and are unsafe for students to conduct laboratory experiments.

After you have done that and reviewed DCSS science scores, please reconsider your opinion that $7,000,000 science dollars should continue to go to Fernbank Science Center.

Anonymous said...

Wow Anon 2:22, take a chill pill. I am not attacking you or your concerns about the science center. I was trying to add to the conversation. Let's look at each of your bullet points...

1. I am a taxpayer, and I would love to see money go into the general fund. My comment was in response to several posts, not yours, that have said all funds saved through reductions at Fernbank would go to science classrooms. We both know that is not the case, but others do not.
Let me add that I agree with you that we may no longer be able to afford Fernbank- I just want us to be clear about where the savings we will gain in closing it will go.

2. Unless we eliminate (sorry, RIF) the instructors at the Science Center, we will still be paying their salaries. There is no way we can keep them and still have the $7 million dollar budget gain we have been throwing about. Even a cut to the support staff will not get us anywhere near the $7M amount. As long as the building is open it will need support staff, and their salaries are not as high as the instructional staff. Remember, the savings we will be gaining from closing schools will come from staff reductions... this is true for Fernbank too.

3. Well then we agree... the entire staff could be RIFed. I was thinking the county would not have the backbone to do this. Letting all the staff go is the only way to ever see the $7 million back in the general fund.

4. You raise a good question... how much of the $7M goes to pay for the lease? And if my math is right, the original 48 year lease will be up in 2012. Will the lease be renewed? Will the terms be the same or will the fee for DCSS access increase?
I am glad that DCSS owns the land around the science center, but I still do not think we would be able to sell it to anyone else, including a non-profit organization that could take over running it. If we close the science center it will be taken over by Fernbank Museum- which might be a solution? I am guessing we would have to start paying for access and programs then...

5.Have to disagree with you here. Fernbank is just a small drop in the "too many buses" bucket. The Magnet program is the biggest user of busses, by far. And schools take lots of field trips to places besides Fernbank. We need to look reducing the cost of transportation countywide, including Fernbank. A previous poster had a great idea to actually hire someone who knew something to run transportation... what a great idea!

5. Try to be a more careful reader- here is way I said about transportation to local schools...
"If we are truly concerned with the environmental and financial impact these trips have, we need to look at eliminating all of them, and no longer transporting any child to any school other than their home school"

As you can see, I am all for transporting children to their home school, which is the only transportation cost our county must cover. Everything else, including transport to magnet schools, and field trips to history centers, plays, museums and Fernbank Science Center are extra. We do not have a budget that allows for a lot of extra anymore.

themommy said...

Response to #2 above.

DCSS has 100s of teachers who retire, resign or leave each year. Those science teachers could easily be absorbed with just the current openings.

As we speak, there are two science positions posted on the DCSS job site.

Many science teachers in the schools are part of the Foreign teacher program that DCSS has been using to fill hard to locate positions like science. This program is being phased out. The Fernbank teachers can be inserted where those teachers were.

Anonymous said...

Anon2:53 thanks for clearing up where the $7M comes from. I was under the impression that that was the total budget for the Science Center. So $2 million of that is for transportation? How was that number arrived at? Did that come from the county?

Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt that few, if any of the science center instructors would end up in DCSS classrooms. Can you imagine how attractive they would be to other counties or private schools? Sounds like many of them might go back to private industry or back to teaching college. If you could teach anywhere in the area, would you choose to teach in DeKalb County? Just asking...

Anonymous said...

@ 3:18 pm
"So $2 million of that is for transportation? How was that number arrived at? Did that come from the county? "

No. The cost of $5,000,000 for personnel is actual. That's easy - just list every employee of FSC and look up their salaries and enter them into a spreadsheet.

The facilities and transportation cost is an estimate. Do you have the actual county figures? Can you email Ms. Tyson to give you the precise figures?

Part of the $2,000,000 estimated cost is Transportation and Facilities upkeep - e.g. roofing, water, electricity, heat, air conditioning, etc. Remember that Fernbank maintains an extensive garden and greenhouse. There is a large overhead cost from soil to fertilizer to plants to extra water in the upkeep for the larger facility as well as the smaller facilities.

The transportation cost are a little easier to estimate. That came from the number of students FSC said they served. I estimated 35 to a bus and computed the numbers of buses times the figures for mileage and drivers salaries. Look at this from the DCSS website regarding the cost of a field trip (Reference DCSS Field Trip manual - http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/transportation/files/FieldTripManual.pdf).

FSC trips are at least as much as this example of a field trip to Zoo Atlanta:

"All field trips for DeKalb County Schools Transportation Department will cost $1.50 per mile plus the hourly rate of the selected driver ($20.93 maximum per hour).

To estimate the cost of a field trip please use the following information:
Driver’s salary = $20.93 per hour (maximum hourly rate)
Mileage = $1.50 per mile

Example:

1 bus going to Zoo Atlanta
Departure time: 9:30 am
Return time: 1:30 pm
28 miles round trip
Driver’s Salary: $20.93
Number of hours: 4 hours
Estimated Salary: $83.72
Mileage: $1.50
Cost Mileage: 28
Estimated Mileage Cost: $42.00
Total Cost: $125.72"

The lease that DCSS pays for the FSC forest was not even a consideration. I didn't even realize DCSS taxpayers paid a lease. Does any poster know the lease price for FSC forest?

Anonymous said...

In the interest of accuracy, I have to disagree with one of Anon 4:24's assertions:

Remember that Fernbank maintains an extensive garden and greenhouse. There is a large overhead cost from soil to fertilizer to plants to extra water in the upkeep for the larger facility as well as the smaller facilities.

Fernbank does not maintain a greenhouse that I am aware of. The gardens are not "extensive", either. There is a demonstration vegetable garden that is about 30'x20' and a demonstration herb garden that is about half that size. There are wildflower plantings along the edge of these gardens, and a small shed for storing tools. There are chicken pens. The gardens are maintained by the staff and [mostly] by volunteers. There is also a Master Gardeners group that comes regularly to do maintenance and work on the composting demonstration ares.

The plantings in the front are very attractive, and, again, several of them are the result of non-FSC staff work. The flower gardens at the sidewalk are planted by the School Master Gardener classes each summer - each class has its own with a theme.

(By the way, the School Master Gardener program is an invaluable and FREE asset to DCSS. It educates and trains school faculty and staff about gardening, with particular emphasis on incorporating it into the curriculum at all levels, K-12 as well as Special Ed. These School Master Gardeners then work at their own schools FOR FREE on their own time.)

Dekalbparent said...

To me, the best solution is a public-private partnership, where the Science Center was improved (what ever happened to all the great space station simulation they bought from SciTrek?) and it was made attractive and available to the whole multi-county area.

However, in this discussion we are mixing up the "Fernbanks". There is no official connection between Fernbank Elementary School and FSC. There is, as far as I am aware, no connection between FSC and The Fernbank Museum of Natural History. They are all located in the same geographical ares, known as "Fernbank" because it was all once part of a very large estate called "Fernbank".

A (not-so-brief) history:

The estate was owned by the Harrison family. Emily Harrison, one of the daughters decided it was too large for one family to own and persuaded her siblings to sell the property to a corporation in 1938. The corporation was organized to save the core property of 70 acres.
The original Directors of the corporation that bought it purchased 70 acres and later another 50 acres. The year following the purchase of the property, the Directors amended their charter for a corporation for profit to convert it to a non-profit corporation. They became Trustees of Fernbank Forest.

In the contract, the corporation accepted the responsibility to hold the property in perpetuity and to see that it was used for the education of children. For about thirty years, it was used by the public and private schools of the area, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Campfire Girls, YMCA and YWCA, day campers, and many other groups. The Girl Scouts had an active day camp program in the forest for thirty-two years.

In the 1950’s the Trustees offered the property for management to Emory University, Agnes Scott College, the City of Decatur and others. There were no takers, because it was an extremely large undertaking – maintaining 100+ acres of forest in its original condition.

The head of the Biology Department at Emory, the chairman of the Trustees of Fernbank and the DCSS Superintendent, Jim Cherry, put together a plan where the entire forest would be fenced, and the forest would be leased to DCSS, along with the four acres deeded for the Science Center. The Fernbank Trustees is who leases the forest to DCSS, not Fernbank Museum. I would assume these trustees would be the ones involved in any public-private partnership.

Now, back to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

"Fernbank does not maintain a greenhouse that I am aware of."

I took my students to the Greenhouse for field trips. So yes - it does maintain a greenhouse.

This center is not worth $7,000,000 a year. If teachers had another choice for field trips, believe me they would take it. The same tired lessons are given over and over by the instructors. And it's appalling that $300,000 is spent for exhibit designers. The actual museum if tiny and outdated.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:08 Thanks for providing more detail on where the $7M is coming from. I agree that the salary cost is a no brainer to come up with. So the actual amount is almost $4M, with another $1M for benefits. I had no idea benefits cost the county an additional 25% of an employee's salary! That is amazing... anyway, this brings us up to $5M for the employees.
As for the remaining $2M, sounds like they don't maintain an extensive green house, so the cost of water, soil, electricity for that might be a bit high. The cost for the facilities might be similar to that of a like-size school.
As for factoring in the amount we pay to bus students there, I think you are getting at that cost the right way, but how many students did you use to figure out the number of bus trips? You said you use a figure of the total number of students they serve?

My concern is that if we are going to look at this clearly we need to make sure we have our numbers right. As soon as I hear in more detail about how you got at the additional $2M I will contact Tyson as you requested.

I will also try to figure out how much DCSS pays for the lease on the forest, and how much they receive from Fernbank Museum to maintain the forest and grounds.

Anonymous said...

@ Dekalbparent

"However, in this discussion we are mixing up the "Fernbanks". There is no official connection between Fernbank Elementary School and FSC. There is, as far as I am aware, no connection between FSC and The Fernbank Museum of Natural History."

I don't think that's true. The Fernbank Trustees founded and run the Fernbank Museum. The Fernbank Trustees also lease the forest to DCSS who in turn is responsible for maintaining the forest. It seems the Fernbank Trustees who run the Museum gain revenue from the DCSS in terms of the lease as well as depend on the school system to bear the cost of maintaining the forest which is really a part of the Museum.

In a 2008 interview with the Fernbank Museum's Chief Operating Officer, she states that Fernbank Museum owns the 65 acres of property behind the Fernbank Museum - that's Fernbank Forest.
http://cliftoncommunitypartnership.org/view/articles/view_one/&articleid=257

Fernbank Science Center owns only 4 acres and the rest they lease from the Fernbank Trustees who are in essence Fernbank Museum.

Good deal for Fernbank Museum - not so good for DCSS.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 6:04 pm

"As soon as I hear in more detail about how you got at the additional $2M I will contact Tyson as you requested."

I would urge taxpayers to contact Ms. Tyson and the BOE members regarding the $4,000,000 in salary and $1,000,000 in benefits for 60+ employees of FSC. In addition, ask Ms. Tyson to provide the EXACT figures for transportation costs to FSC, the EXACT facilities cost and the EXACT cost to lease the Forest from Fernbank, Inc.

Taxpayers should know the EXACT figures for this cost center. That will allow for calculating if taxpayers are seeing a Return on Investment in terms of student achievement. In the case of FSC this achievement should be occurring in the area of science scores increasing throughout the county.

Anonymous said...

@ 6:04 pm

"I will also try to figure out how much DCSS pays for the lease on the forest, and how much they receive from Fernbank Museum to maintain the forest and grounds. "

That would be very helpful. However, I do not think DCSS receives any money to maintain the forest and grounds. It appears that DCSS leases the forest and grounds from Fernbank Museum (via Fernbank, Inc. who own Fernbank Museum) and in addition DCSS is responsible for bearing the cost of maintaining the forest property. Let me know if you find a credible source that says differently.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:04 "Taxpayers should know the EXACT figures for this cost center."

Exactly right, which is why the $7 million budget that has been stated on this blog for the last year needs to be better explained. Before we go complaining about the $7 million budget of Fernbank Science Center, let's make sure that is what it really is. Right now, it looks like all we are sure of is the $4 million DCSS pays the staff. Where did the other $3 million come from?

It would have been good to get the "exact" figure a year ago, but better late then never.

Go Green Bay

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 8:11

"Before we go complaining about the $7 million budget of Fernbank Science Center, let's make sure that is what it really is."

You are absolutely right. The 8 year lease that DCSS pays to Fernbank, Inc. as well as the maintaining the 65 acres of Fernbank Forest are not calculated into this cost. Perhaps the cost is considerably more.

Perhaps you're right. Let's do absolutely nothing about these millions and millions in science dollar expenditures since the DCSS administration has not been forthcoming about FSC as a cost center while science achievement scores have hit rock bottom.

Let me guess - you live in the Fernbank community and you like things "just the way they are".

Why don't you bother to do some calculations? Oh - I forgot - you think no one on this blog has the sense to research and include hard data - so it's easy to obfuscate the information.

According to your post there are obviously:
1. NO employee benefits for FSC personnel(even though retirement is computed at a 10:28% override + health care @ an average of $12,000 a year for a family - $2,400 paid by the employee (http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/administration/humanresources/benefits.html)

2. No transportation costs even though FSB advertises 250,000 students a year/35 students per bus = 7,000 buses a year x $125+ per bus on the DCSS = $875,000 annually in transportation costs.

3. No facilities cost - FSC receives FREE electricity, gas, water, plants, roofing, painting, plumbing to a 1960's building, etc.

4. Fernbank, Inc. has decided to suspend ALL lease payments for the 65 acres in the Fernbank Forest, and DCSS has NO responsibility to maintain this acreage even though that's on the FSC website.

Here are the FSB employees' titles and their cost to DCSS taxpayers while science scores continually decline. I will not give you their names, but if you email Cerebration, she has the Excel spreadsheet. Please, please look this up for yourself (not Anonymous 8:11, but other bloggers). I spent hours looking for each FSC employee name on Community Net to ensure they worked at FSC, and then went to the State Salary and Travel audit to make sure the data is accurate.

Anonymous 8:11:
Perhaps you might donate a little time doing the same (see the next post for the full list):

Anonymous said...

FSC personnel:
Teacher - Science $75,888
Teacher - Science $45,467
Teacher - Science $52,688
Teacher - Science $56,662
Teacher - Science $70,913
Teacher - Science $77,467
Teacher - Science $75,888
Teacher - Science $67,488
Teacher - Science $93,192
Teacher - Science $42,084
Teacher - Robotics and Engineering $98,556
Teacher - Physics $49,728
Teacher - Physics $66,424
Teacher - Meterology $71,543
Teacher - Ecology $81,504
Teacher - Ecology $61,692
Teacher - Ecology $91,320
Teacher - Ecology $57,714
Teacher - Ecology $98,556
Teacher - Earth and Space $81,504
Teacher - Chemistry $56,695
Teacher - chemistry $61,752
Teacher - Botany $76,089
Teacher - Botany $50,227
Teacher - Biology $71,556
Teacher - Biology $74,674
Teacher - Biology $83,112
Teacher - Astronomy $98,556
Teacher - Agriculture $87,876
Support Maintenance $56,402
Support - Technical Support $66,088
Support - Support Services $6,790
Support - Security $48,093
Support - Security $47,150
Support - Security $46,929
Support - Secretary $39,427
Support - Secretary $39,427
Support - Scheduler $43,516
Support - Photographer $67,380
Support - Media Specialist $91,320
Support - Maintenance $47,150
Support - Maintenance $34,276
Support - Maintenance $44,836
Support - Maintenance $33,616
Support - Maintenance $32,426
Support - Maintenance $39,276
Support - Head Custodian $52,091
Support - Geologist $75,430
Support - General Administration $50,520
Support - Gardener $44,836
Support - Exhibit Designer $77,892
Support - Exhibit Designer $69,516
Support - Exhibit Designer $84,720
Support - Exhibit Designer $63,576
Support - Designer/Photographer $66,096
Support - Custodial $31,048
Support - Custodial $29,310
Support - Custodial $31,048
Support - CTSS $49,194
Support - Clerical $7,679
Support - Clerical $37,485
Support - Bookkeeper $27,707
Administrator - Director, Fernbank $98,568
Administrator - Administrative Coordinator $91,884

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:59 you said you went to the Fernbank greenhouse with your students? You must have been teaching a few years ago. The old greenhouse on Briarcliff Road was closed at least ten years ago. There is a small greenhouse in the forest, but students do not go there on field trips.

Anonymous said...

How much does DCSS pay for bussing kids to sports practices and games/matches? Can we see that figure? And how much pollution do these buses cause.

I would much rather my kid be bussed to a science program than a soccer game.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:12, if you are going to keep posting the staff salaries could you at least clean them up a bit? Most of the staff received a 6% pay cut last year and they no longer have a photographer. Let's try to be as accurate as we can be... it makes our arguments stronger.

Anonymous said...

How much time does the maintenance crew spend maintaining the Museum's forest and grounds, and how much does DCSS system receive from the museum for this service. Do the funds we receive cover the maintenance crews salaries? That should be factored into this...

Anonymous said...

@ Anomymous 8:11

All those FSC employees listed above have benefits:
1. Retirement:
10.28% provided by taxpayers:
http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/administration/humanresources/benefits.html
..and an obligation of 60% in Defined Benefits by taxpayers when they retire for the REST of their lives.

2. Health Care:
Family Health Care benefits are an average of $12,000 a year for a family (around $2,400 a year paid for by the employee)

3. Transportation:
FSB advertises 250,000 students go through its doors (average of 2 visits per 100,000 DCSS students per year). 250,000/35 per bus = 7000+ students multiplied by $125 per field trip (see DCSS field trip manual http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/transportation/files/FieldTripManual.pdf)= $875,000

4. Electricity, gas, plants, soil, fertilizer, equipment repair, roofing, painting, cleaning supplies, science equipment and supplies, travel expenses for FSC personnel, computer software, etc.

5. Fernbank,Inc. lease that DCSS pays to rent the Fernbank Forest and then DCSS must pay to maintain it as well.

I think $7,000,000 a year is a VERY modest estimate.

Millions and millions spent for a cost center that has seen continual DECLINE in science achievement scores. This is a no brainer. This center needs to be shuttered before we close neighborhood schools and move children around to balance the budget.

Closing FSC is 1/2 of the savings Ms. Tyson says we will realize with the disruption students will receive in their day to day lives.

You must be a member of the Fernbank community.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:33-"Millions and millions spent for a cost center that has seen continual DECLINE in science achievement scores. This is a no brainer. This center needs to be shuttered before we close neighborhood schools and move children around to balance the budget"

Good point. Looks like we would save $7 million, but only by closing down the building and RIFing all the staff. And even if we could get the staff to transfer to a school, would we want them to? Their salaries are so high that we could hire 2 new science teachers for each one of them... that would be a much more effective way to reduce class sizes.

Anonymous said...

Is the county factoring the savings in benefits into the amount we will save by closing the schools? According to Anon 9:33 this represents an additional 25% savings beyond those gained through salary reductions. This might significantly change the 15-16 million dollar a year in savings figure- would make it more like 18-20 million. Maybe we wouldn't need to close so many schools if we followed Anon 9:33's formula for calculating savings.
Do all the departments factor benefits into their budgets? Interesting....

Anonymous said...

"Their salaries are so high that we could hire 2 new science teachers for each one of them... that would be a much more effective way to reduce class sizes."

Do you understand that the teachers at FSC are paid on the same exact teaching schedule as all teachers in DCSS? Many are paid more because they have masters and PhDs. This is a good thing and a reason to keep them!!!

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 9:25

"Most of the staff received a 6% pay cut last year and they no longer have a photographer. "

Doug Hrabe, Director Fernbank Science Center:
2009 - $98,568
2010 - $98,172 (with benefits - $122,715)

Joyce Gamble, Administrative Coordinator:
2009 - $91,884
2010 - $91,512 (with benefits - $114,390)

Shelia Ward, Exhibit Designer:
2009 - $86,720
2010 - $84,384 (with benefits - $105,480)

Mary Larsen - Media Specialist (who has her certification listed as EXPIRED on the Georgia Professional Standards Certification website - https://www.gapsc.com/Certification/Lookup/look_up.aspx - please look up her certification) Is DCSS receiving funds for a certified media specialist who has an expired certificate or are we paying $100,00+ totally out of local funds for an uncertified media specialist?:
2009: $91,320
2010: $90,960 (with benefits $113,700)

Marvin Madden - Photographer - (Oops! I thought he was gone):
2009: $67,380
2010: $65,832 (with benefits $82,290)

These are just some examples. Please tell me if I have made any mistakes in my computations.

Here is my source:
State Salary and Travel audit:
http://www.open.georgia.gov/
Click on Salaries and Travel Reimbursements and then sort by 2009 and 2010 for DeKalb County Schools. Look this up for yourself.

My sympathy goes out to the thousands of students in DCSS who are sitting in science classes with 30+ other students in unsafe laboratory environments while their teachers struggle paying out of pocket for science supplies.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Tyson calculates benefits into her calculations since she estimated $65,000 in savings for every teacher point (position) she cut last year in her budget.

She uses 20% benefits in her calculations:
Average teacher salary is $54,586.86
(http://public.doe.k12.ga.us/ReportingFW.aspx?PageReq=102&CountyId=644&T=1&FY=2009). You can do the math to see how she came up with the $65,000 figure.

However, she is not taking into account the 60% defined benefits and COLA figure that DCSS is committed to, and we are getting more and more retirees. DCSS paid a little over 9% in Teacher Retirement benefits less than 5 years ago. Now we pay 10.28% (http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/administration/humanresources/benefits.html) - over a 1% increase on $700,000,000 in personnel salaries and health care

25% is a better long term figure than Ms. Tyson's short term figure of 20% since she is only looking at a one year snapshot. She will not be the head of DCSS in 5 or 10 years, but many of us will have children in the system at that time, so it behooves us to look at the 25% benefits figure.

No one seems to realize the cost of benefits to DCSS. When Ms. Tyson took outsourcing off the table, that was devastating to our budget. A custodian who makes $23,000 a year gets the same benefits (around $10,000 a year ofr a family policy - paid for by taxpayers) as an employee who makes $50,000 a year - except the custodian's health care cost makes up a 50% override in benefits - and we have 700 custodians. Nothing against custodians - but while feeling sorry for them - no one feels sorry for our kids packed 30+ to a classroom - who stands up for them?

Does no one see the implications in Ms. Tyson's decision?

I guess we have grown lazy when it comes to cost analysis.

Anonymous said...

"Their salaries are so high that we could hire 2 new science teachers for each one of them... that would be a much more effective way to reduce class sizes."

we are lucky to have these teachers in our ranks. Their salaries are high because of their degrees and years of experience. How about we try our best to keep them in the system instead of attacking them as overpaid?

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 10:37

"How about we try our best to keep them in the system instead of attacking them as overpaid? '

How about we put them in schools to teach science every day to the same students?

Only day after day after day after day of science instruction by qualified teachers coupled with a small enough number of students to SAFELY conduct laboratory experiences will make our students proficient in science.

Anonymous said...

Support - Maintenance $47,150
Support - Maintenance $34,276
Support - Maintenance $44,836
Support - Maintenance $33,616
Support - Maintenance $32,426
Support - Maintenance $39,276
Support - Head Custodian $52,091
Support - Custodial $31,048
Support - Custodial $29,310
Support - Custodial $31,048


Whoa, it should in no way take four custodians to clean that building. And I'm not sure what the six maintenance staff members are doing, because the place is falling apart. More bloat and waste.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:35 Wouldn't the maintenance staff be needed for the grounds and forest? I don't think they work on the building. Too bad the job title info on the internet does not provide greater detail on what people actually do.

As for the custodial staff, they would need more than a local school because they are open nights and weekends, longer hours than a crew of two could cover. I think that would go for security too.

Does DCSS receive funds from the museum to maintain the forest for them? That has got to cost a good bit of money.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:49, I don't think it is up to us where the instructors go once we close Fernbank. As another post noted, they will be in great demand by other systems, private schools and colleges, so they will be able to work any where they want. It will be a great loss for the county, but then again so many other great teachers are choosing to leave DeKalb as well. Really, who would choose to work for this county right now? So sad...

Anonymous said...

More scandel regarding misuse of money at Miller Grove High. A paraprofessional who was one of two Senior class sponsors for the class of 2010 has been down at Internal Affairs for a week regarding money paid in by students and parents for Senior and Junior dues.

This para is a personal friend of the demoted Principal now under investigation for under the table purchase of 500 books from her former boss who was also demoted from his position as Area Superintendent.

This news is getting around to parents of students have have graduated but paid that money to the school. these dues were like 300-400 dollars each student. Graduating senior class was near 300 Seniors, not including Junior.

Anonymous said...

@6:40 -
I am all for overhauling programs in DCSS, including current models of science education, but if in the process, we don't fight to keep the few things left that are good in DCSS (teachers, in particular) then we really will be left with nothing. Given the mediocre teaching in many of the science classrooms in DCSS, we should do everything we can to keep any good teachers we have, including many at the FSC. If we are ready to cut these teachers loose and let them go to other systems or private schools, then we, the DCSS community, might as well throw in the towel now. Overcrowding in science (and other) classrooms is currently a problem but the much larger problem is the lack of good teachers leading these classes. A truly gifted teacher can be effective in a large class while a mediocre teacher can be completely ineffective even with a small group of kids.

Anonymous said...

The lease price is one dollar

Anonymous said...

The science center can not be sold. The land was given by Fernbank inc to the school system (along with the land that Fernbank School sits on). If the the system discontinues the sicence center according to the deed the land and anything on it reverts to Fernbank Inc. So yes you could give it back along with the building and its contents.

Anonymous said...

1. Retirement:
10.28% provided by taxpayers:
http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/administration/humanresources/benefits.html
..and an obligation of 60% in Defined Benefits by taxpayers when they retire for the REST of their lives.
Wrong-Teacher retirement is self funded form employee contributions,

Anonymous said...

@ 9:09 am

"Wrong-Teacher retirement is self funded form employee contributions, "

Did you go to the DCSS website link link I provided? I guess not. So I'll provide it again. Teachers and other school system employees pay 5.53% of their retirement out of their paychecks and the Board of Education pays 10.28%. Look on your paycheck stub where it says TRS and you will see that 5.53% comes out of your paycheck.

Here is the quote from the DCSS wepage on Benefits:
"Teachers Retirement Plan: The Teachers Retirement System of Georgia is one of the best in the nation with 10.28% of salary paid by the DeKalb Board of Education with teachers contributing only 5.53%. For more information regarding the Teacher Retirement System, please visit the TRS website at www.trsga.com"

Did you see where it says "10.58% of the salary by the the DeKalb Board of Education"?

Here is the link so you can read it yourself. You also might want to go to the TRS link. If you register, you can use their retirement calculator.

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/administration/humanresources/benefits.html

Anonymous said...

"The science center can not be sold. The land was given by Fernbank inc to the school system"

Only 4 acres was given to DCSS. And yes. We need to give it back. $7,000,000 a year is just too much. They will never make it more efficient and it will continue to be a place that has more admin and support than teachers. My understanding is that teachers are doing more school visits, yet the admin and support are still in place just like the teachers are there. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 9:06

"The science center can not be sold. The land was given by Fernbank inc to the school system (along with the land that Fernbank School sits on). "

Although I agree that the land Fernbank Science Center sits on was given to the school system by the Fernbank Trustees, Fernbank School does not. Fernbank Elementary School was built in the 1950's. The Fernbank Trustees developed their 48 year lease for DCSS to have access to the forest and deeded 4 acres "on the edge" of the forest in the 1960s.

Read of the close relationship between Fernbank Science Center, the Fernbank Museum and Fernbank, Inc. the trustees and owners of the museum and the land FSC leases. Fernbank Science Center should be a par of the Museum if it continues to exist.

"The Science Center now operates on a budget from the DeKalb County School System. In 1989 the special relationship, which had existed for many years between Fernbank Science Center and Fernbank, Inc., was formalized in a public ceremony during which both groups were designated as Partners-in- Education. In October 1992 Fernbank, Inc., opened the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The additional resources provided by the 160,000 square-foot facility have ensured that the partnership between Fernbank Science Center and Fernbank, Inc., continues to offer an innovative and exemplary educational opportunity to all citizens."

http://fernbank.edu/history.htm

Anonymous said...

@ 6:34 am

"Does DCSS receive funds from the museum to maintain the forest for them? That has got to cost a good bit of money. "

DCSS pays the museum to lease the forest and then we must maintain it. Sounds like an excellent deal for the museum.

Does anyone know what the lease cost is per year. It's renewed every 8 years. One poster said the lease is coming up for renewal in 2012. Where did he/she get that information?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone studied the Fernbank Science Center Task Force paper presented several years ago. It's all there -- The lease that expires in 2012; the history, original arrangements, and recommendations.

Surprisingly the forest and the rose gardens at the corner of Clifton & Ponce are supposedly maintained by DCSS staff. Also, Several DCSS staff have offices in those large homes facing Ponce.

For the record - the forest is not maintained well. Invasive plants rule. The Center is also poorly maintained.

I agree that we need a non-profit foundation to take over -- THE FERNBANK MUSEUM should take over the forest and DCSS should close out the center.

Thousands of children each year visit the museum from surrounding counties... except DeKalb.

Past Board members never could keep who-owns-what straight but as much as they hated that center up there, they didn't want to give it up. But it is time!

More than anything DCSS's expansive view of education: Science Centers, Pre-school Inclusion Programs, night classes, magnet programs, etc., etc. should be pared and there needs to be a focus on public schools' main goal.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 10:31

"Has anyone studied the Fernbank Science Center Task Force paper presented several years ago. It's all there -- The lease that expires in 2012; the history, original arrangements, and recommendations.
"

Where can the Task Force paper be located?

Anonymous said...

"For the record - the forest is not maintained well. Invasive plants rule. The Center is also poorly maintained"

all the facilities in DCSS are poorly maintained. Why is this? The bathrooms at our school are a public health hazard.

Anonymous said...

"Has anyone studied the Fernbank Science Center Task Force paper presented several years ago. It's all there -- The lease that expires in 2012; the history, original arrangements, and recommendations.
"

Why did Ms. Tyson abandon looking at outsourcing custodial support so fast? I was hoping our schools would be cleaner with an outsourced group that was there only as long as the facilities were clean for students.

Is it just me or does Ms. Tyson seem to propose a lot of things and then just abandon them? It's tiresome to see the limit of budgetary creativity being limited to closing schools, cutting schoolhouse personnel, eliminating teacher positions, and increasing class sizes. How long can she keep this up? Until a new superintendent is hired apparently.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - former post was in response to:
" "For the record - the forest is not maintained well. Invasive plants rule. The Center is also poorly maintained""

Dunwoody Mom said...

Why did Ms. Tyson abandon looking at outsourcing custodial support so fast?

What makes you believe she abandoned "so fast"? There was an RFP submitted and the responses were deemed unacceptable and not did not save the school system any money.

Anonymous said...

Outsourcing does not always save money as overhead on contract can be very high.

Anonymous said...

@ Dunwoody Mom

"What makes you believe she abandoned "so fast"? There was an RFP submitted and the responses were deemed unacceptable and not did not save the school system any money."

Are these RFPs and a summary of the responses on the DCSS BOE website? I certainly couldn't locate them. Did I overlook them and the BOE meeting notes? You must have seen the RFPs and the summary that compared them to our current costs on the DCSS BOE website.

I've read an article in the paper that had some quotes from Ms. Tyson, but the BOE meeting notes and RFP summary attachments are the official "voice" of the DCSS administration, not the AJC.

ALL of the other RFPs I've seen from America's Choice to Interactive Boards to construction contracts to laptops to printers, etc. have the RFPs and the summary on the DCSS BOE website.

I read in the AJC that Ms. Tyson stated she called some former DCSS administrators, and they told her DCSS had not had good experiences with custodial outsourcing.

Arabia Mountain HS has had custodial outsourcing for a number of years (3?).

Ms. Tyson published in her 20102011budgetrecommendation spreadsheet:

Plan Option:
Outsource Groundskeeping (for Future Consideration in FY11 or FY12)
Option Amount:
TBD

Plan Option:
Outsource Maintenance (for Future Consideration in FY11 or FY12)
Option amount:
TBD

Plan Option:
Outsource Security (for Future Consideration in FY11 or FY12)
Option Amount:
TBD

Does that mean these options are now off the table since she decided the custodial outsourcing was not a good idea?

I really feel uncomfortable that no BOE meeting notes are being published so DCSS taxpayers are getting their information from quotes the AJC decides to run.

Since you've seen the RFP information on the custodial outsourcing (it should be in the form of an attachment on the BOE website), would you mind posting the date of the BOE meeting that has the attachment?

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 12:35

"Outsourcing does not always save money as overhead on contract can be very high"

So you've seen the RFPs and the summaries comparing current custodial costs with the proposed RFP cost?

Could you tell us which meeting you found the RFPs as attachments and the summary for taxpayers?

Believe it or not, taxpayers are actually supposed to have the real data to look at.

Dunwoody Mom said...

Why would RFP's be listed on the BOE website? The board does not get into RFP's - those are handled by the Purchasing Department.

Here is the memo from Ms. Tyson re: her decision....

All DeKalb Employees
From: Ramona Tyson, Interim Superintendent
Subject: Outsourcing Statement
Date: 16 January 2010

The interim Superintendent’s office has received welcome feedback from employees and members of the community over the past weeks regarding a number of proposed Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for Ground Maintenance, District-wide Cleaning Services and other facilities services.

I wanted to take this opportunity to inform school system employees that I have made the decision to not pursue any of the RFPs for facilities services.

My decision as superintendent to not pursue this initiative is based on but not limited to the following:
1) non-responsive RFPs,
2) historical precedence of poor performance of work,
3) minimal cost savings and,
4) negative impact including poor work quality and inefficient operations.

In addition, none of the RFPs were responsive to the specifications required by the RFP. As a part of the process, the potential vendors are provided with a listing of specifications in order to be responsive to the RFPs. Non-responsive RFPs are disqualified from the process for not meeting critical specifications. It is not the DeKalb School System practice to move forward with vendors' non-responsive RFPs.

Anonymous said...

@ Dunwoody Mom

"Why would RFP's be listed on the BOE website? The board does not get into RFP's - those are handled by the Purchasing Department. "

RFP comparisons are most certainly listed on the DCSS BOE website. And they are a matter of public record. That's why public entities have RFP (Request for Proposals). Look at the 5-4-09 BOE meeting regarding Cellphones and you will see the cost comparison between vendors with the information coming directly from the RFP. This was an attachment. And the RFP comparisons between vendors for the laptops and desktop computers is an attachment.

I see you are quoting an Internal Memo to the school employees. Did Ms. Tyson send you this memo, was it published in the paper? How did you obtain this Internal Memo? I don't work for the school system so I didn't receive this memo. I just pay thousands a year in property taxes. How would taxpayers know this information in an Internal Memo to school employees? By reading this blog?

Anonymous said...

the board contribution to TRS is in lieu of social security (social security costs more).

Dunwoody Mom said...

RFP's that have been accepted by DCSS and the Board needs to approve are on the BOE agenda.
The issuance of RFP's in general are not BOE business.

Sincet this particular RFP was Cancelled, it did even come up to the BOE.

Here is a copy of the RFP for the Cleaning Services:

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/administration/purchasing/solicitations/documents/RFP_11-09.pdf

Anonymous said...

I will also try to figure out how much DCSS pays for the lease on the forest, and how much they receive from Fernbank Museum to maintain the forest and grounds.

Answer the lease cost only a token amount($1.00).

Dunwoody Mom said...

Look at the 5-4-09 BOE meeting regarding Cellphones and you will see the cost comparison between vendors with the information coming directly from the RFP

The BOE was being asked to approve a contract - that was why the cost comparisons were there.

Anonymous said...

STEM CAREERS COLLEGE DAY
Fernbank Science Center and NASA SEMAA, as part of the DeKalb County
School System, strive to provide STEM experiences for the students and parents
in the DeKalb County School System and the surrounding areas. This year we
are proud to sponsor the STEM Careers College Day. The focus of the event to
connect students and their parents with Georgia colleges, universities, technical
and vocational schools for post secondary learning opportunities in science,
technology, engineering, mathematics and education. We will also have an
exhibit honoring the Tuskegee Airmen and, a tribute to Dr. Benjamin E. Mays,
famous Georgia Educator in recognition of Black History month.
Date and Time
Saturday, February 26, 2011
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (Noon)
This event is targeted at high school students and their parents who are
interested in pursuing post secondary studies in the areas of science,
technology, engineering, mathematics and education.
For more information contact
Joyce Gamble, Fernbank Science Center
gamblej@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us
678-874-7102

Anonymous said...

I found my visit to Fernbank science center relaxing and informative. It is an interesting answer to the more country club atmosphere of the museum. The facility was crowded the day I went and the audience was diverse. All the families and groups seemed to be enjoying themselves. I came because my child had had numerous classes at her school from science center staff (outreach?) and has now decided that she either wants to be an engineer. Fernbank also sent an exhibit to her library. Since I haven't been to college I was grateful that she had been inspired. Please forgive my mistakes in this message. Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 2:02

I always found visits to Fernbank Science Center interesting and relaxing. I don't think you would find a visit to a local school science class so relaxing although you might find it interesting when you go in and try to wedge yourself into a class of 30+ students and look at the outdated lab equipment. Ask the science teacher how she/he likes buying science supplies out of his/her own pocket?

It's really a matter of the millions that go to Fernbank draining the science instruction budget for the 96,000 DCSS students who need daily science instruction in a reasonably sized classroom with access to decent science equipment and supplies.

Ar you comfortable with the fact that as the FSC teachers have more visitations into the schools, the multi-million dollar cost of the admin and support (36 of them to 28 teachers) and facilities has not decreased?

I'm glad your daughter had such a great experience. My son averaged maybe one trip a year to FSC during elementary and middle school. I don't believe he had any trips in high school.

Students master science content ONLY through day after day after day of instruction by high quality teaching. 28 FSC teachers just can't give that to 96,000 teachers. Let's pour that $7,000,000 into the classrooms. What a difference it would make. and let's let Fernbank Museum take over Fernbank Science Center.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:56 pm

"Answer the lease cost only a token amount($1.00). "

Great answer. Can you give us your source and how we can access it? Just provide a link.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 2:13-

While no one can dispute that we need smaller science classes, better equipment, and excellent daily instruction, simply removing FSC will not make this happen. As has been stated over and over in this blog, the money saved will not magically go to science or even decrease class size. In all likelihood, the money will be sapped for other mysterious purposes by county office.
The result may be that some excellent science teachers from FSC will teach in classrooms across DCSS but there will be functions that are lost. We need a complete list of ALL the services and functions that the FSC no provide for DCSS to determine what we need and what we don't need. Simply throwing the whole thing out without really knowing all these functions would be irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:30, I think most of us know the reality of where the savings gained from closing Fernbank would go... seems like some folks are insisting on trying to propagate the false idea that the funds will magically end up back in science classrooms.
I do think you might be a bit optimistic to hope that RIFed Fernbank instructors will end up teaching in DCSS science classrooms... there are too many other school systems, private schools and colleges that would welcome them with open arms. If you could teach anywhere in the area, would you choose to teach in DeKalb? We are making a mistake when we assume the Fernbank instructors will stay with us.

Anonymous said...

"Outsourcing does not always save money as overhead on contract can be very high."
February 7, 2011 12:35 PM


This is not true, especially for custodial contracts in metro Atlanta. A number of city and county governments, and other ntities, contract out custodial as there is a large number of local vendors who bid very competitively for this service.

But yes, it's all how the contract is written out; the devil is in the details.

Tyson absolutely bungled the custodial RFP. It was rushed, and she bowed down to the pressure from custodians, their families and ODE.

It would have been very easy to have it done on a trial basis at a few schools before it was rolled out system-wide. The trial would have been very informative on compiling all of the positives and negatives needed for a wider roll-out.

Actually, where's the best place for contracting out custodial on a trial basis? The Fernbank Science Center, of course!

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 4:00 pm
"I think most of us know the reality of where the savings gained from closing Fernbank would go... seems like some folks are insisting on trying to propagate the false idea that the funds will magically end up back in science classrooms.'

I'm fine if they end up back in the general fund. Maybe this will help with the overall budget deficit. Fernbank Science Center is an inefficient and ineffective way to achieve mastery of science content for 96,000 students.

If the private schools want to hire them, that's okay. But I think they could easily get jobs in DCSS. Why doesn't Fernbank Museum take it over? They would probably keep all the science teachers, but I know they would not want to keep all those admin and support.

The admin and support at FSC outnumber the teachers and never teach a child. Why are we paying millions of our science instruction dollars for them?

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 3:30

"As has been stated over and over in this blog, the money saved will not magically go to science or even decrease class size. In all likelihood, the money will be sapped for other mysterious purposes by county office."

What a poor excuse to keep a $7,000,000 cost center open. It's ridiculous that we're closing neighborhood schools and redistricting kids like crazy, but no one wants to touch this sacred cow. I can look at the scores of the students whose schools are being closed and see what impact the school is having on the children.

When I look at the DCSS science scores, I see a steady decline. It's not FSC's fault. We simply have not run a good science program. 29 FSC teachers can't possibly impact the science scores for 96,000 students, but I'll bet $7,000,000 more a year that is funneled into FSC if poured into science instruction in the middle schools would ensure our EOCT science scores go up.

Have you seen the science EOCT? It has very basic science questions that our students can't answer - never mind scientific critical thinking skills.

We need zero based budgeting. Every cost center needs to be looked at from the bottom up and cost justified in terms of increasing student achievement.

I don't see as many Fernbankers on here as usual when discussing FSC. Maybe they're too busy fighting redistricting.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:25 If/when the science center reverts to the museum, I don't think they will be looking to hire instructors. They have a very small education staff. Like most museums they are exhibit based. When you visit there you pay to walk around and see things, not attend a class. They have very, very limited class offerings, and most of them are designed for large groups and therefor not hands-on. I have visited there with my students several times, and it is very different from the experience you get in a science center classroom- not better or worse, just different.

I am in the realist camp when it comes to the Science Center. It was great at one time, but it is an extra we can no longer afford to keep as it is. I think the best solution would be to keep it open, but make some major changes: End all travel there except for forest visits and the planetarium. Eliminate STT. Reduce the number of support staff and hire more instructors. Relocate the 2 science coordinators at the county office over to the Science Center and coordinate all science instruction for DCSS through the Science Center. Increase the focus on teaching teachers. Stop taking care of the forest for the museum. Making changes like these would dramatically reduced their budget and improve the quality and quantity of science instruction in DCSS classrooms.

I am also realistic enough to realize this sort of positive change might be beyond the ability of DCSS, and Fernbank Science Center will more than likely be gone in the next year or so.

Anonymous said...

For the forest, the only current maintenance that seems to be getting done currently is removing fallen trees for the trail and blowing leaves and branches off the trail. The asphalt is in disrepair in many places, and needs the moss/mildew pressure washed off in many areas. Many of the wood benches need repair or boards replaced. The exhibits and shelters throughout the forest o not seem to be receiving any care or cleaning.

The forest is purposedly designed to be somewhat low maintenance. There's no mowing or other landscaping needs, other than right in front of the Hodgson House. I'd love to see the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual list of maintenance tasks and duties for the forest.

Private school guy said...

I love the FSC I hope it continues. But is has become like some fine old grand piano belonging to a family that generations enjoyed wealth and dignity but now has fallen on hard times. The family keeps the piano around just to remind themselves of what they used to be. Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

"I think the best solution would be to keep it open, but make some major changes: End all travel there except for forest visits and the planetarium. Eliminate STT. Reduce the number of support staff and hire more instructors. Relocate the 2 science coordinators at the county office over to the Science Center and coordinate all science instruction for DCSS through the Science Center. Increase the focus on teaching teachers."

I agree 100% (and no, I am not a Fernbank Elementary parent or a resident of the Fernbank area).

Let the experts at the science center be the leaders and coordinators for science education for DCSS. Let's use their tremendous expertise, instead of burying them under layers of admininstration. The science coordinators should be part of the science center, and Dr. Beasley should not be making decisions about science eduation for DCSS. Let's utilize the depth of experience, education, and expertise at the science center to the fullest extent to create new models for science education for our county. There are teachers at the center who not only know their stuff but know how to get kids excited about science. We need this!!! Please don't throw it away.

Anonymous said...

We desperately need leadership in science education in DeKalb County.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 7:11

"Let the experts at the science center be the leaders and coordinators for science education for DCSS. '

Just what we need - 28 more science Instructional Coaches and Coordinators while the science teachers in the regular education classrooms have 36 students per class.

You do realize it's unsafe to run labs with 30+ students in a class - right? So with all the tap dancing in the world science teachers will not be able to keep students "excited about science" if they cannot do any laboratory based learning without being in unsafe conditions.

Don't worry too much. The Fernbank Community will probably keep taxpayers on the hook for the $7,000,000 a year because they get a lot of benefit from FSC.

Anonymous said...

Removing Fernbank Science Center will not lead to smaller class sizes, better science instruction. or more money for science. This is not a "cause/effect" relationship.

Anonymous said...

Without strong leadership for science within DCSS, the state of science instruction will never improve.

Anonymous said...

So what's the 2020 vision for science education for DeKalb County? What about the 2012 vision? We should be focusing on this vision instead of a vision for redistricting, or a vision for tearing down the science center.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 6:17

You just don't seem to get it... if the forest is no longer the responsibility of Fernbank Science Center then they will be able to RIF the maintenance staff. That would be a huge reduction to their budget. Of course the Museum would have to start paying to have their lawn mowed and they would have to hire staff to keep maintain the forest, but I'm sure they have the funds to cover that.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:11
"Just what we need - 28 more science Instructional Coaches and Coordinators while the science teachers in the regular education classrooms have 36 students per class."

Your kidding, right? Don't you know what Science Center instructors do in the schools? They go into regular classrooms with 36 students and they take over instructions for the day. They do hands-on labs, bringing state of the art technology and labs into the schools. At some elementary schools they provide the only hands-on science the kids will get all year. These instructors work their butts off. For all 5 periods that classroom teachers teach. From bell to bell.

If you don't know what you are talking about, step out of this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Anon 7:11, I meant Anon 8:28
All these Anonymous posts are so confusing, especially the same night as a crazy board meeting.

Anonymous said...

@anon 9:40

Thank you! I know that these FSC teachers do work their butts off, dragging heavy equipment to schools most days of the week, teaching the entire day with no break or planning period.

Future discussions about the FSC need to be based on all the functions the science center provides and which of these functions are essential and should be maintained or expanded and which are not essential. This focus on the $7 million saved diverts our attention from the important conversation we need to be having about how to harness the tremendous expertise and education of the science center teachers to improve science education for DCSS. Please don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!

The other untruth that is plastered on this blog is that the Fernbank elementary community are the only beneficiaries of the science center and the only advocates. As someone who lives well outside this community, I find this offensive.

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with the labs taught at many of the DCSS high schools is not the crowding or lack of equipment but lack of an experienced and competent teacher to lead the lab effectively.

DeKalb Teacher said...

I totally agree with you 9:40, 8:28 does not have a clue.
Our school took our entire 3rd grade to our feeder HS (a 5 minute bus ride away) for a Fernbank program. We were combined with 2 other schools in the auditorium at the High School. The Fernbank Instructors were awesome. They kept 300 3rd graders on the edge of their seats for an hour, covered all the state standards in the content area, and then turned around and did the program again an hour later for another 300 kids. Then they taught a follow-up staff development class for all the teacher that same day at our school. This is the second year in a row we have taken all our 3rd graders to this program. I am looking forward to taking my students to it for years to come.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 9:40

"These instructors work their butts off. For all 5 periods that classroom teachers teach. From bell to bell.

If you don't know what you are talking about, step out of this discussion. "

And what do the 36 admin and support personnel left behind at the science center do?

Actually, I know a lot about what they do. I also can divide and dividing 96,000 students by 28 FSC teachers = 3,428 students per FSC instructor.

They may "work their butts off" as do all science teachers in DCSS, but science scores are declining and 28 science teachers cannot improve science achievement for 96,000 students. You know this.

Use the $7,000,000 to hire 100+ science teachers for the 22 middle schools or spend that money so the science teachers in the regular education schools don't have to spend their own money on supplies (my son was a science instructor so I know how much money he spent on science supplies). This would improve our EOCT scores.

And please justify the millions spent on the 36 admin and support at FSC. Tell me what they do to improve science achievement for students.

ONLY day to day to day science instruction by highly qualified science teachers can improve science achievement, and if you don't know this then "you don't know what you are talking about, (and need to) step out of this discussion. "

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 10:09

"The biggest problem with the labs taught at many of the DCSS high schools is not the crowding or lack of equipment but lack of an experienced and competent teacher to lead the lab effectively."

You are wrong. Labs in overcrowded classrooms are unsafe for students. Do you need me to cite the studies that show this? They are listed on the National Teachers of Science Association website.

Do you want science teachers to conduct labs when all the statistical studies show it is unsafe for students at the current levels of classroom sizes?

Do you think science can be learned with students just reading out books?

Cerebration said...

That's certainly the way my son's PhD level teacher at Lakeside taught freshman biology. She also made them make Powerpoint presentations explaining scientific concepts to the class. Not sure my son learned a single thing that year.

Anonymous said...

@ DeKalb Teacher

I have taken more students to FSC classes than you ever will starting in 1972. I agree that many although not all of the instructors are excellent. However, my husband is a scientists and my son is a science teacher. I know how difficult it is to master the science content of chemistry, physics and biology. I have seenDCSS. Once or twice a year of science instruction - no matter how excellent it is - cannot compensate for the lack of daily excellent science instruction in reasonably sized classrooms with adequate access to science equipment and supplies.

Please walk in the shoes of a regular education middle or high school science teacher for a week or a month. You will see that DCSS needs every penny we can get to ensure our students master science content, and this will only happen with DAILY high quality science instruction.

It's not so difficult to conduct a dynamic science lesson and hold the interest of students for a one shot lesson. Try to do that for 180 days and with an overcrowded class and scant equipment. FSC talked to me about working there as an instructor.

Sorry - but $7,000,000 for 28 science instructors giving one shot lessons - no matter how good they are - cannot improve our science achievement. That's not the way science works - my husband spent 5 years methodically working to develop a vaccine when he worked at CDC. That's science - and it begins with daily science instruction.

Science, math and engineering are hard subjects and we only have 20% of our students majoring in these subjects in college (China has 80% of their students majoring in these subjects). The basics cannot be learned in a day or two.

Cerebration said...

Let's see. If the Fernbank Museum took over the responsibilities of the Science Center and then back-charged the school system, how much would it cost? Say it's the full price ticket - $13 for under 12 plus $11 for an IMAX movie. So $24 per student for a full day at the Museum at full price (we all know schools get discounts - and the museum offers great ones here) -
School Programs Guide

But anyway - say each kid goes twice a year - that's $50 each - plus $10 transportation - $60 each x 100,000 = $6,000,000. That would be about a max - knowing fully that we would get serious breaks on the prices. Plus - they offer amazing programs... the planetarium could just be one more!

Anonymous said...

"I have seenDCSS."

I meant to say that I have seen a steady decline in DCSS science scores.

BTW - when FSC personnel talked to me about working there I was not interested. I knew that a one shot or two shot lesson was not an efficacious way to master science content.

Anonymous said...

"Science, math and engineering are hard subjects and we only have 20% of our students majoring in these subjects in college"

Kids chose to major in science because they are inspired by a exceptional teacher. The average science teacher at the high school level does not excite kids about science. And this is not due to large classes but to the teacher. My son was in an AP science class with 19 kids. Nice small class, lots of room to do labs, but uninspired, lackluster and incompetent teacher. Kids were turned off to science.

Another problem is that due to NCLB, many of our kids in elementary schools are getting virtually no science instruction and exposure. Kids get to high school having spent most of their elem and middle school days prepping for math and reading CRCT.

AGain, we must have a vision for science education in our k-12 school with leaders who can implement the vision.

Anonymous said...

No Child Left Behind has been the most significant driving force behind decline in scientific completency of our students nationwide.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 7:39

"Kids chose to major in science because they are inspired by a exceptional teacher. The average science teacher at the high school level does not excite kids about science. And this is not due to large classes but to the teacher. "

That may be true in the U.S., but not in the rest of the world. In China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore, and Europe students major in science, math and engineering because those are the pathways to success in a global 2st Centrue economy. They apply themselves to the task at hand which is to seek a major in a subject that is in demand for the ever accelerating future.

My husband is a CDC scientist and my daughter has a biology degree. Both of them understood from a very young age that science and math are extremely demanding subjects, and they needed to put an enormous amount of time into mastering the content.

80% of Chinese students major in science, math or engineering while only 20% of U.S. students major in these subjects. Do you really think that all of these Chinese students have "interesting" and "inspiring" teachers?

U.S. students need to apply themselves to these rigorous subjects if they want good paying jobs, and schools need to be pouring money into science, math and engineering or we will most certainly be left in the dust.

Students need daily science instruction. One or two interesting lessons a year will not be enough for our children to compete on a global level.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am a CDC scientist and have kids in DeKalb county schools. The biggest problem with science education in DCSS and nationawide is a huge deficit of qualified, quality teachers at the high school level. Most folks with expertise in science chose much more lucrative careers, jobs where they are rewarded for performance and where they have upward mobility. We are lucky to have a cluster of exceptional teachers, trained first as scientists, and secondarily, as teachers, employed by DCSS at Fernbank Science Center. We need to do everything we can to GUARANTEE positions for these FSC teachers in our schools should the science center be downsized or closed. These teachers are a precious resource.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with most blog posters about the Fernbank Science Center: I think that FSC is a tremendous asset to our county and to our children. I admit that the non-teachning staffing looks a bit odd, but that is something that could be evaluated and scrubbed.

Last Friday, my daughter attended FSC's "Science Night Out" and spent three hours designing and building a toothpick bridge to withstand heavy loading. This was run by FSC teachers and volunteers. That night, the sky was unusually clear, so when the engineering program ended we joined others in FSC's observatory for awesome views of several deep sky objects. The guy operating the telescope was a FSC teacher who patiently explained to everybody what they were viewing. The next "Science Night Out" will be in two weeks on Robotics. We won't miss this.

Fernbank's super teachers also offer advanced science courses that are available to ALL DeKalb high school students. These courses typically meet from 3-5:30 PM with occasional Saturday field trips. Next year's courses include ornithology, science of food, animal science, ecosystems alive, biology of amphibians and reptiles, stream ecology, wetland ecology, forensic science, AP Chemistry, AP Physics, and Robotics and Engineering. All this is on FSC's website.

The FSC teachers also help train and provide resources to ALL DCSS science teachers. Who would you rather provide science materials and ideas to your child's teacher: DCSS subject area coordinators or real scientists who are also gifted teachers?

STT is a highly successful program to help members of under represented groups pursue careers in science and engineering. I doubt there is more successful program in the state. As a recent poster pointed out; their strategy is obvious: have real scientists, who love teaching kids, spend a few hours everyday engaging the kids in real science. It is not cheap, but it is very successful.

It has been suggested that FSC be closed and all of FSC teachers sent to various schools to serve as science teachers. Can you imagine these scientist-teachers having to answer to DCSS Assistant Principals and having to document their class prep to the satisfaction of Dr. Beasley? I would bet all would leave DCSS in less than six months.

My suggestion is to eliminate what is not essential and allow FSC to hire more teachers to mentor more students and teachers.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 8:09

"My suggestion is to eliminate what is not essential and allow FSC to hire more teachers to mentor more students and teachers. "

But this will not and cannot happen with the number of science teachers and students we have in DCSS. $7,000,000 is just too much to put into 28 teachers who teach on a one or two shot basis.

The activities that you are describing that were so exciting to your daughter should be occurring in her science class EVERY day, not just on an occasional basis. This will never happen when we have $7,000,000 going for 28 science teachers in a science center.

Making exciting science an every day occurrence for your daughter will NOT happen with the millions and millions that are sucked out of the science classroom for FSC.

BTW - My students built toothpick bridges - awesome experience. We also used three straws, a bandaid and a lump of clay to build the strongest structure and pans of water and tinfoil boats to design the strongest boat - great physics labs. But I have to say that I taught Discovery and had much smaller classes than regular education teachers of the science curriculum.

It's because I strongly believe science should be exciting for kids on an EVERYDAY basis that the $7,000,000 FSC consumes needs to be directed back into the regular education science classrooms. Exciting science is for EVERY child EVERYDAY.

Cerebration said...

I wanted to share a resource I recently stumbled upon who would be fun and educational for all schools -

Greg Greer, former director of the Dunwoody Nature Center is a well-known history and eco-travel consultant who specializes in reptiles. In fact, Greg offers speaking engagements and reptile "shows" that you can book at your school, scout troop, birthday party, after-school science club - whatever. He will also consult on interpretive nature trails and help you set one up. Beyond that, his website is a very informative, interesting log of reptile information as well as notes on his travels and other animals he encounters.

Check out his website and call him to book an event. I met him serendipitously and found him to be a very engaging, interesting, lively person.

Greg's Natural History

Cerebration said...

Here's Greg's birthday party link:

http://www.birthdaypartyatlanta.net/