Sunday, May 1, 2011

Don't let the board sweep the leaks under the rug

The recent leaks from our school board's executive sessions beget a lot of questions. Who could have possibly leaked the information about the negotiations with Dr. Cox - and why? What would be the motivation for leaking such sensitive, personnel-related information? Richard Belcher and the AJC have stated that they had two confirmed, reliable sources. Since the board (except Paul Womack) does not appear interested in finding those sources, as citizens, let's try to determine who those sources might be.

Let's start by listing who had access to the information. Obviously, the entire board had first-hand knowledge. Since this was a legal document, we certainly can assume that lawyers were somehow involved. And since the information released was very detailed in nature, we can assume that it came from someone who had taken notes, or typed up minutes or otherwise had access to the written offer. This is a very small pond.

Sandy Spruill asked a valid question regarding the AJC and Belcher publishing this information. "How is protecting the confidentiality of a jackboot source with a personal agenda more sacrosanct than protecting the legally sanctioned confidentiality of personnel/contract negotiations (per §O.C.G.A 50-14-3 and DCSS BOE board policy)?"

Although I don't think these reporters would or should reveal their sources, I think they were complicit (albeit maybe unknowingly) in driving a very good leader for our schools out of DeKalb. Tom Bowen publicly stated that the leak was the main reason Dr. Cox dropped out of the race. We don't know the reasons the other two finalists also dropped out.

Tom Bowen was also very quick to state to news reporters that the board may now consider Ramona Tyson as the permanent superintendent.  Could Tom have a reason for pushing the 'Tyson Agenda'?  Is Tyson simply being coy by insisting she does not want the job permanently? Tyson is a long-time insider and keeping her on as superintendent will certainly maintain the status quo.  Why does Tom keep pushing for the status quo?

A comment on the blog quotes Maureen Downey's defense of publishing the leaked contract offer, "I can assure you that unnamed sources are not used lightly and have to be approved by top editors at the AJC." (Tuesday, April 26, 2011)

Downey also stated, "But here’s my position: If I know something important, you are going to know it, too. The newspaper is not paying me to collect information and then hide it from readers. If it is relevant, if it is newsworthy, if it involves tax dollars, then my job and the job of this newspaper is to report it." (Sunday, April 24, 2011)

Maureen is a journalist. She is going to publish news as she receives it and as it is confirmed. Whoever leaked this information knows that. This person knew that the terms of the negotiations would be published and the public, without realizing that this was negotiation, not a final offer, would be outraged at Cox's requests.  This person must have known that the public outcry would effect the outcome of the process.

This is how negotiations work. You start with your highest demands. Then you compromise. But Cox's chance to compromise was compromised when "someone" leaked the negotiations.—someone who knew that Cox was probably about to be given an offer by the board and wanted it stopped—someone who has a lot to lose if we hire a superintendent who will really make changes and focus our resources on the children, rather than the adults who are under-qualified to milk the school system for their inflated salaries and/or contracts.

The REAL story is that a DeKalb County School System Board of Education member, for personal agenda reasons, knowingly broke BOE policy and revealed confidential contract negotiations with a candidate for superintendent who had been approved by the majority of the BOE. Belcher and the AJC just fell into their hands.

Most certainly, this boils down to a race issue. Cox is white. Although some supportive board members were black, the members of the board who did not support her were all black and often bring up race as an issue. These board members also have a lot to lose if a "friends and family" clean-up occurs. For example, Gene Walker has several relatives and friends working in the system. Gene Walker is also admittedly race-driven.

“I am a very, very race-conscious person,” Walker said at a board meeting in October 2009. “I will never ever try to lead you to believe that I am race-neutral. I see color. I appreciate color. I celebrate color and I love color. But judge me by my actions.”

Could this be one of Gene Walker's actions? Sabotaging a white candidate for school superintendent?

How about Jay Cunningham? Below are some blog quotes regarding Jay's agenda:

As reported in the AJC - Documents show that Cunningham’s restaurants collected $3,077 from schools in the five years before he joined the school board, compared to at least $22,655 in the three and a half years after. That doesn't seem as important to me as the fact that Jay has a previously undisclosed criminal history for theft from McDonald's, where he worked as manager and more recently for three alleged accusations of violence.

Additionally, he led the insistence to retain the Alexander law firm - costing the school system an additional million and he led the charge to continue to spend millions on the magnet transportation hubs while voting to cut school staff such as parapros, media clerks and CTSS technicians at regular schools. Jay continues to carve and support a racial divide on the school board.


For that matter, what about the Alexander law firm?

Alexander & Associates hold their contract with DeKalb schools only due to the racial outcry of Gene, Jay and others. In fact, Pam Speaks read a prepared statement at a board meeting stating that she had been pressured behind the scenes to retain the Alexander firm. Pam took the ethical high road and publicly stated that she would not be manipulated.

If a new superintendent investigated exactly where we are spending our legal dollars, that could have an effect on the Alexander firm's income. For example, how many additional law firms do we employ to support the areas in which Alexander is not capable? Where in the budget can we find details of legal fees — which firms are paid, how much are they paid and for what legal services? Could it be that we could easily function without the nearly $1 million annual contract with Alexander? We don't know, because legal costs in the school system budget are concealed. They must be brought into the light and made known to the public. Perhaps supporters of Josie Alexander were afraid that Dr. Cox would have reason to cut the tie.

There is a long and winding road leading from these leaks. It leads to "someone's door".  All we can do as citizens is speculate, which I hope we will continue to do until some action is taken. I sincerely hope that those on our school board who care will demand an investigation and an audit. After that, demand that our check register be published online so that the public can monitor who is being paid and how much.

21 comments:

Open+Transparent said...

This all falls on Tom Bowen.

A board chair with any leadeship qualities would have reacted strongly to "The Leak". A strong chair would have met immediately face to face with Dr. Cox and remedied the situation, and convinced her this was the place for her to become supt.

Tom Bowen was the chair of a board that directly supervised a supt. who is now under criminal indictment. Tom Bowen allowed and enabled his chief operating officer to act in such a manipulative manner that she is also under indictment.

Tom Bowen has never disclosed to the public that he has relatives working for the system. Tom Bowen is a disgrace. Tom Bowen is a phony. Tom Bowen has little ethics. Tom Bowen is a wimp.
Tom Bowen has "no stones".

We deserve so much better.

Open+Transparent said...

Remember when Bowen allowed the incoherent and incompetent Sarah Copelin-Wood berate Tyson for 20 minutes non-stop at a BOE meeting? Remember how passively Bowen reacted to the "I'm Gonna Slug You" mess? It was front page news, and damaging to the county in so many ways.


http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb-school-boards-behavior-668737.html

As a DeKalb County board member berated the superintendent during a 20-minute rant about school redistricting being racist, another turned his back to her. Two others whispered in the corner.

A week earlier, the board reprimanded its vice chairwoman for threatening to slug a reporter.

The two incidents in August have garnered thousands of hits on YouTube and may be talked about by DeKalb residents more than the school system’s lagging academic performance and its search for a superintendent to replace the one who was just indicted.

The board’s behavior and alleged corruption that led to criminal charges against former schools superintendent Crawford Lewis and three other school officials have drawn the attention of accreditation officials.

Lewis was fired in April, so in the midst of this, the squabbling board has to try to hire a superintendent qualified to run the district. The board plans to hire a firm today for a national search for a new schools’ chief.

In May, Lewis, former chief operating officer Patricia Reid and two others were indicted on charges they ran a criminal enterprise at the school system. Prosecutors say Reid funneled multimillion-dollar school contracts to her then-husband, architect Tony Pope, and his friends. In exchange, Lewis and Reid pocketed high-priced sporting tickets and other items, prosecutors said.

In the past several months, DeKalb school administrators were caught profiting by selling their own books to their schools, and board member Jay Cunningham’s pizza parlors sold $22,000 worth of food to schools.

Communications strategist Bill Crane, who is a member of eduKalb and a graduate of DeKalb schools, said residents need to look at high-achieving systems and the qualifications of their board members.

“If you look at smaller communities, you see bank presidents, hospital executives, Fortune 500 businessmen, accountants and Ph.D.s on their school boards,” he said. “Here, you see some of that, but you also see political activists with a parochial view.”

Open+Transparent said...

http://www.ajc.com/opinion/an-open-letter-to-549921.html

By Tom Bowen

There have also been questions about why the board was unaware of the activities alleged in the indictment.

Ultimately, however, the final responsibility rests with the board. We accept that responsibility and will review our public bidding procedures and strengthen our ethics policies.

When internal reviews reveal irregularities in bidding and other procedures, we will report those to the proper authorities, as the school system did in this instance.

Whenever the focus of our board and administration, parents and supporters is shifted away from education, we face a challenge far greater than the controversy that distracted us.

Cerebration said...

The thing is, for as long as I can remember, the only real work the DeKalb school board has done has been to "react" to crises. There has been very little dedication to improving education. They are far too busy putting out fires - many of which are set by themselves.

fedupindcss said...

Beyond Tom, I also find it odd that more Board members aren't aggressively trying to hunt down the leak. That is truly puzzling.

Anon said...

Fedup is right on! Why isn't the board working harder to find out who leaked this.

First, this board is still a very much "You scratch my back, I will scratch yours." They each have their pet projects or constituencies that they need to protect and they refuse to jeopardize those valued assets. If you don't believe me, just reflect back to the redistricting vote a few months ago.

Second, rumor is that Cox wasn't coming anyway. This was not her first offer, but a counter from her to a board's counter offer from her original offer. She is fielding offers and interest from other school systems, most of which, even at a lower pay off, are more attractive.

Finally, this is a board that continues to be reluctant to hold themselves or each other accountable for anything. Senator Emanuel Jones introduced ethics legislation specific to the DCSS board and it never left the delegation. Surprise!

This is the legislation that Womack got into a spitting match with Jones about and called himself God. Citizens would have recourse to file an ethics complaint. Right now, we have no path to address grievances with the board.

teacher said...

I really had hoped that the new members to the board would not allow status quo to continue. I am not hearing their voices of concern or outrage by this and other offenses committed by Tom and board members. The entire board needs to go and we need new leadership in the district. I do believe that the state or someone needs to take over and make heads roll. We have too many administrators with little teaching experience and a board that cares more about jobs for friends and family than the education of our children.

America is in an education crisis and it's because we have the Department of Education mandating all kinds of really unnecessary things that cost districts more money than they receive, and because of unqualified local school board members who don't have the mental capacity to understand what the children need.

Cerebration said...

To add to your comment, fedup, there is no way that we will ever complete a contract without at least a year's severance package. This board has proven themselves unpredictable and anyone we would hire would certainly insist on protection. Besides, how is it that different from the contract the board has entered with Tyson? She gets a serious salary ($250,000?) plus a year at that salary AFTER the new super is hired (to mentor???) and $2000 a month for expenses that do not have to be itemized. I believe there is more...

Cerebration said...

Even though Sarah Copelin-Wood apparently supported Dr. Cox, she also has played racial politics in order to get her way - she manipulated the members of the Citizens Planning Task Force throughout the process -

Things to remember at the polls

According to the AJC, Wood made phone calls and pitted one school against the other in her own district. I think that’s very wrong,” Coward said Saturday. “She’s supposed to represent all of the schools in her district.”

Reached at her home on Saturday, Copelin-Wood denied the allegations and refused to answer some questions.

“This is a lie,” said Copelin-Wood, who represents District 3. “The person who would do that was mad they didn’t get their way. I don’t have to answer to them.”

“As a board member, she [Copelin-Wood] has the responsibility to stay neutral and not make this a racial issue because it was not a racial issue,” Coward said. “But she kept making comments about black and white task force members.”

Cerebration said...

Add to this, the previous board, which includes some current members, as well as some things that happened as the current board was charged with oversight - This is beyond unforgivable, yet our board just dodged the blame and moved on. Too few in the public are aware and even fewer seem to care thus these things will continue.

DeKalb Schools Forfeit Millions in State Money

How is it that with so much oversight, so much legal representation, and people at the state raising red flags, that our board still was not able to figure out that they were being duped by Lewis and Pope? Is it ineptness? Is it that they were cleverly deceived? Or was it because they were too busy with petty arguments and stomping out small fires, many of their own making, that they failed in their fiduciary responsibility?

In the midst of a major budget crunch, Channel 2 Action News has uncovered more than $10.5 million that DeKalb County Schools failed to collect in state construction reimbursements.
Lynn Jackson, Associate Superintendent for Business Operations for Georgia’s Department of Education told Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer the district repeatedly missed deadlines to submit paperwork and failed to follow state guidelines to qualify for the reimbursements.
“I was perplexed by this. Truly, I could not understand why DeKalb County could not comply," said Jackson.
When the DeKalb County School District built McNair High School, the state was planning to contribute $297,010. However, the district missed the deadline to turn in paperwork, thereby forfeiting the money for that project. The same 18-month deadline was also missed for projects at Stone Mountain Middle and Peachtree Middle.
Recent indictments for racketeering against former Superintendent Crawford Lewis and former Chief Operating Officer Patricia Pope mentioned four additional schools where the state noticed problems years ago.
Lewis and Pope are also accused of authorizing payments for Pope's then husband, an architect who made millions on school projects.
Jackson said, "It's not our role to criminally investigate anything. We knew there were problems and we withheld state funds because there were problems."
Jackson said she couldn't think of another school district with a worse track record. “It was Pat Pope and Crawford Lewis that I met with repeatedly and I handed these documents to," said Jackson...

===

Below is a list of each school construction project the state questioned, the reason for the problem, and how much money the school system lost.

Arabia Mountain High --$1,231,990.00
5-year deadline passed for expending state reimbursement bonds *MONEY CANNOT BE REGAINED
Miller Grove High --- $1,173,659.00
5-year deadline passed for expending state reimbursement bonds *MONEY CANNOT BE REGAINED
McNair Cluster Elementary--$524,999.50
5-year deadline passed for expending state reimbursement bonds *MONEY CANNOT BE REGAINED
McNair High -- $ 297,010.00
18-month deadline passed before DeKalb Schools submitted the request for reimbursement
Peachtree Middle-- $733,468.00
18-month deadline passed before DeKalb Schools submitted the request for reimbursement
Stone Mountain Middle --$ 890,131.20
18-month deadline passed before DeKalb Schools submitted the request for reimbursement
Columbia High-- $ 907,904.00
DeKalb Schools violated state law by failing to bid out 2nd phase of construction, Pope’s ex-husband remained on project
Flat Rock Elementary-- $4,747,248.00
After money was approved, DeKalb Schools opted to fund with local bonds instead Mountain Industrial Center. No money forfeited. Failed to submit architectural plans for approval until AFTER students were already in the completed building

dundevil said...

Open & Trans Tom did disclose (it was in the AJC) that his mother-in law worked as a teacher for DCSS. It was not disclosed whether she got the job before or after Tom joined the BOE.

All of the comments on this thread are well taken. But the powers that be have won this round to keep the status quo. Ramona or some other insider will be appointed. Nothing will change unless the balance of power shifts to get rid of the personal agenda people when the BOE goes to 7 members or SACS takes over. The latter is very unlikely

Atlanta Media Guy said...

The fraud continues! Folks nothing is going to change. Friends and Families will keep their jobs for now. New Birth will continue to deduct tithes directly from DCSS payroll and Tom Bowen is still Chairman of the most ridiculous, fool filled BOE this nation has ever seen!

Tom do the citizens of DeKalb a huge favor and resign! The fact that CLew's leadership circle is still employed by DCSS is very telling! It also tells me there is no plan to move on and truly follow the mission statement of DCSS. Instead, the system will continue to fail because DCSS would rather pay lawyers and unskilled employees, who just happen to be friends or family of people in high places. Enough Tom, your five minutes of fraud are up big guy! Time for your trip to the dustbin of local political hacks!

No Duh said...

If Womack knows who it is, why doesn't he say? He was personally pushing Culver during the night the three candidates answered questions. He's not known for liking smart women.

All of these BOE members have such huge egos (a couple are the exception) that I wouldn't be surprised if they were just chatting up Belcher and running their mouths to show how powerful they are. I mean maybe one of the six who wanted her was just stupidly talking. Maybe it wasn't Machiavellian. Maybe it was Womack and he's just trying to cover up his "oops." The old "me thinks he doth protest too much."

I don't know. The whole thing makes my head hurt and my heart sad for the children and taxpayers of DeKalb County.

I do miss hearing from y'all who are in the trenches. Really only takes a second to make up a name for yourself and register. You are DCSS' true assets. How about registering under the names Asset, Asset I, Assest II, etc. Come back y'all!!

Cerebration said...

Tune in to tonight's board meeting -- PDS Comcast 24

DEKALB BOARD OF EDUCATION
WORK SESSION & MEETING

Monday, May 2, 2011
6:00PM

Atlanta Media Guy said...

Cere, can we make this post the open thread for tonight's meeting? I hope more assets come forward. We need to hear from you! What's amazing with all this is that Tom Bowen actually thinks everything is great! Far from it, Tom, DCSS is a disaster thanks to YOU!

Cerebration said...

No, I'll make a new post... stand by...

Dekalbparent said...

I'm with No Duh! PLEASE PLEASE, insiders and folks in the trenches, come back! Asset1, Asset2, is perfect! You can call yourselves Heroe, The Real Deal, I Teach, golly, anything.

Just come back - we need you.

travelingjoe said...

This is a test message.

travelingjoe said...

The Board needs to address the leak before any new candidates will consider DCSS. First, while the BOE must select the new superintendent, it is ridiculous for the full Board to be involved in day-to-day contract negotiations. The Board should leave the negotiations up to a compensation consultant or the Sutherland law firm. Bowen is an attorney and works for a large firm and he knows this. Corporate boards do not negotiate with the future CEO-this is done by attorneys or the compensation committee. Once they reach the best deal possible, it is presented to the full board for a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Second, while I like Downey, I am not giving her a pass on this one. She knew this was confidential, non-public information. Would she have reported confidential medical information about a candidate? I think not.

themommy said...

As suggested in various posts and conversations, Lily Cox has accepted a job as superintendent of a 23,000 student school system in NC. She was previously employed as an administrator here.

http://www2.hickoryrecord.com/news/2011/may/02/8/hickory-schools-superintendent-leave-july-ar-998811/

Cerebration said...

That's interesting, themommy. She certainly was interviewing for several jobs at once. Good for her. I would imagine her robust requests for compensation from DeKalb was what it would have taken to make her choose us over one of the others. It's nice to be in demand! Our loss...

Also, interesting article about the new principal at IHM. Seems our kinds of troubles even exist in little Catholic schools -

Immaculate Heart of Mary Names New Principal

Education certainly has become a hotbed for community outcry.