In February, the AJC informed us in an article entitled, DeKalb schools hire law firm for ex-superintendent, that the school board capped Dr. Lewis' defense fund at $100,000. Then, Judge Cynthia Becker decided that Dr. Lewis had to find a new lawyer, as his current lawyer is a member of a firm representing DCSS' new construction manager, Barbara Colman's firm. Colman is scheduled to testify for the school system. So, has the board now thrown more money Lewis' way? Do taxpayers realize that they are paying for the prosecution and the defense in these cases? In that article, we also discover the following:
DeKalb County schools have capped the amount of money the district will spend representing former Superintendent Crawford Lewis in an ongoing civil lawsuit at $100,000.Well guess what! Again, according to the AJC, the school board just voted in February of this year to spend $700,000 defending seven former board members in the construction lawsuit. One of the seven, Sarah Copelin Wood is actually still a sitting board member. (Did Sarah vote to spend money on her own legal defense?)
The school board has hired Atlanta law firm Goodman McGuffey Lindsey & Johnson to represent Lewis in the school system’s ongoing lawsuit construction manager Heery/Mitchell, but capped the expense at $100,000, district spokesman Jeff Dickerson said Friday.
This is the third law firm the board has hired to help with the suit. The district has already spent $15.5 million in legal fees in the case. The district is seeking $100 million from Heery, alleging fraud and mismanagement.
Earlier this month, the suit was moved from federal to DeKalb State Court and 17 new defendants were added to the suit, including the individual board members and Lewis. Lewis was terminated April and has since been indicted on charges he ran a criminal enterprise at the school system.
So, the law firm, Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP in Atlanta, was given carte blanche to spend $700,000! Yowsa! And these are "bit players" in the big scheme of the Heery/Mitchell case.
Allow me to continue. But get a tissue, you will cry.
The board has a separate contract with attorney Halsey Knapp, Jr. for former board member Simone Manning-Moon.
There are other, miscellaneous law firms that are hired to handle worker's comp and other employee issues - cases that Josie Alexander is already under contract to handle.
Let's add the aforementioned $15.5 million spent at King & Spalding on the Heery/Mitchell case. The Daily Reporter tells us that King & Spalding might be pushing the limits on this case. The DA "stopped just short of accusing the firm of making a frivolous bid to halt discovery, implying via carefully placed quotation marks that King & Spalding and the school district engaged in disingenuous legal reasoning".
DeKalb DA Robert D. James Jr. wrote that King & Spalding and its client showed "bad faith and collusion" and claimed attorney-client privilege "where it does not exist" in discovery-related matters.Did I mention that we have paid over $15 million for King & Spalding's legal representation so far? And there is no court date yet on the docket. Judge Seelinger ordered them to remediation out of concern for taxpayers dollars, saying, “This has grown far, far too expensive for the parties, and one party is the school board. Taxpayers are paying for this. Mediation is the best way to get this resolved." However, that remediation quickly disintegrated.
This is taxpayer money - earmarked by the state and county for educating our children. How much more will taxpayers be forced to spend on law suits instead? What would happen if taxpayers revolted and refused to pay the school tax portion of the property tax bill? What would happen if the state stepped in and demanded an accounting of exactly how many state tax dollars are going into the pockets of lawyers instead of the backpacks of students? How much more of this financial vortex of legal fees must taxpayers endure? When on earth will this nonsense end? Are there any adults in the entire state of Georgia willing to step up and demand answers?
Ramona Tyson promised to the parents attending her first public meeting, the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting back in April of 2010 that she would conduct an audit. In fact, the ELPC minutes quote her as saying, "The priority will be to protect the services closest to students while conducting a forensic audit to examine programs that are not working." (Click here to review the other unfulfilled promises made at that meeting.)
A small, but rumbling group of parents is fed up. They have begun a campaign to declare the school board incompetent. They are currently taking an approval rating poll and may invoke a public vote of No Confidence. Thank goodness for the will of everyday parents and taxpayers. Maybe they can make a difference where no highly-paid, high-powered official has even raised an eyebrow. Fran Millar tried. He posed placing former state school board president, Brad Bryant as superintendent in order to clean house and mend fences. After giving Bryant a cursory interview, he was completely ignored. Two additional, viable candidates were sabotaged in the process. Nancy Jester, Pam Speaks, Don McChesney and Paul Womack tried to alert the public regarding the behind-the-scenes manipulation in an email, but were publicly criticized by the board chair. How odd is that? The messengers who informed us of wrong-doing are the ones to be criticized by their leader. However, that same leader put forth no effort to root out the saboteurs.
The comment below was posted by Carolyn Henry Rader on Maureen Downey's 'Get Schooled' article "Can someone shake DeKalb school board out of its fog so it can see mounting problems in schools?"
"A few parents and citizens of DeKalb representing Central and South DeKalb met for the first time last night to start the process of forming a county-wide “Parents Coalition”. There is enough talent, passion, professional and business acumen throughout DeKalb County that needs to be tapped into and utilized. It is time to mobilize parents, business and community leaders to move our school system from dismal to successful. There is no more waiting around for Board members to do this but we welcome those who are passionate about helping the whole school system to move forward in a positive direction. A strategic planning process for DeKalb may be the first item on the agenda and one that includes input from the community, and ultimately produces a bold vision and mission that we all can work towards and uphold. And one more thought – change the name of the School Board to a ‘Board of Trustees’ – elected community members who are entrusted to uphold and be accountable for ensuring the jointly (community/school administration) led strategic plan is followed and implemented. Our next meeting is August 24, The Marlay, in Decatur, at 6:15 pm. Please see http://www.washoe.k12.nv.us/community/strategic-plan
for an inspiring example of a school district that decided enough was enough and they embarked on a powerful strategic planning process with strong community partnership move their schools from failure to success."
Our board does not realize just how fed up the public is with their lack of fiduciary responsibility to the people of DeKalb. What level of cognitive dissonance do our board members have in order to continue this never-ending cycle of outrageous (but hidden) legal fees and bad governance? How disengaged are our state leaders in that they can continue to turn blind eyes to irresponsible actions of the DeKalb School Board?
At the very least, a NO vote on SPLOST IV this November would send a strong signal that taxpayers won't "take it" anymore. Do not give them access to another half-billion dollars to squander. Replace this board and place new school administrators and then we'll revisit SPLOST next year.
Message to DeKalb School Board: No. More. Money.