Sunday, October 30, 2011

To SPLOST or not to SPLOST


The Get Schooled blog at the AJC has a conversation going about politician's views on SPLOST - the penny sales tax up for renewal for school construction. Former mayor Shirley Franklin stated,

"I have been surprised at the opposition toward the education SPLOST on the Nov. 8 ballot in Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, Decatur, Gwinnett, Buford, Cherokee and Henry."

Given the stark reduction in state funds for education and the depressed housing market, schools are in desperate straits, and there would seem to be no more critical time to renew the penny sales tax for construction and capital improvements than now.

Among those who have not signed on — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the business community. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year, Reed said the penny — which has helped build or renovate 84 city schools or other buildings in the last 15 years— instead needs to go to a regional transportation plan expected to be put to voters next year.

Reed did not want the school system to seek to renew its SPLOST because Atlanta residents will be asked three times to raise their taxes between November and July. In March, Atlantans will vote on an extension of a 1-cent sales tax to upgrade the city’s water and sewer system, and later deal with another penny tax on the transportation bill. If both were to pass, Reed warned that the city would have the state’s highest sales tax at 9 percent and would be at a competitive disadvantage.


There is a standard mantra among SPLOST supporters that somehow this is "free" money - or at least money we collect a large portion of from our visitors, therefore, why not? I have some personal thoughts on why not:

1) We are in the middle of a $100 million lawsuit over SPLOST II construction that has cost us $15+ million and committed us to another $19+ million in legal fees - which comes from the General Operating budget - not the SPLOST budget — thus taking directly from the money earmarked for our children's education. We need to resolve these lawsuits, identify exactly how deep the corruption goes and put practices in place to prevent future mishaps.  Further, SPLOST money, projects and discussions take time, energy and attention away from the main task of the school board: Educating Students. Our test scores show the dismal job our board has done in this endeavor.

2) We have criminal charges looming and criminal trials yet to take place involving SPLOST and our former superintendent, our former COO and others. This is bad news and will require additional resources and attention as the trial moves forward. (BTW, these trials can now move forward, as the decision has been handed down that Lewis can keep his Alston & Bird attorney. Read about it and download the decision here.)  Compounding the taxpayers cost for defending our employees, is the fact that taxpayers are also funding the plaintiff in this story; the taxpayers themselves via the District Attorney's office. Finish the corruption cases and identify and release any and all other 'players' that emerge during the trial and then revisit restructuring the system. This includes restructuring the Auditing and Accounting offices. Any future SPLOST dollars should be monitored, reviewed and paid by an independent firm, with citizen oversight and transparency via the Online Check Register.

3) The current plan is not focused. There are projects promised in SPLOST IV that were listed as political favors for a chosen few who are very organized and very vocal. We will still have schools with great needs that will not get their needs addressed in full. Like our curriculum, the project list is vast, yet vague. A more focused, educationally-driven plan needs drawn. We need to give our new superintendent a year to develop that plan. As it stands now, she will be forced to redesign an educational system within the confines of the structures currently planned on the table. I would like to offer Dr. Atkinson the chance to first create a vision for educating our 100,000 children and then formulate a brick and mortar and technology plan to support it. SPLOST IV as it stands will tie her hands. What if she decides that a superb vocational/tech high school would feed a demand? She can't create it, as the SPLOST plan must be followed as written for the vote. What if she has other great ideas and would like to propose facilities to house those ideas? She won't have that option. She must work within the buildings as planned by SPLOST IV. By voting for SPLOST IV, we will be forcing our new superintendent to effectively work backwards with her hands tied and one eye closed.  Allow her the time and the freedom to formulate a vision and a plan to turn this ship around in every way, for every child.

GeorgiaSPLOST.org points out the drawback of SPLOST fundraising, which I believe is what has happened consistently in DeKalb. "In practice the SPLOSTs combine many projects into one referendum. Often many of the projects do not enjoy broad community support but are included in the list as a favor to certain special interests. The voters often have to vote for five or ten projects that they oppose in order to pass the two or three that they strongly support. Another problem with current practice is that SPLOST referendums are often held concurrent with elections with low expected voter turnout and the special interests promoting the SPLOST can have a greater effect on the referendum." This is why every SPLOST passes. There is always a very vocal group promised a project they have dreamed of for years. This group will promote the referendum with fervor, ensuring that it passes in order to have their own dreams realized, regardless of how inequitably the rest of the money is spent or (mis)managed.

As far as Shirley Franklin and others go, I find it interesting that some politicians get up in arms when voters question handing hundreds of millions of dollars over to a school board that has failed miserably in it's one and only true task: Educating our children. Why is it that people like the good mayor will advocate for new buildings, but not advocate for great reading and math scores? Why don't politicians feel compelled to make it Job #1 to provide a highly qualified, educated workforce to entice new business to incubate or locate in Georgia? Why are they not ripping their hair out in angst over being rated #49 in the US in education year after year? Glitzy buildings don't educate students – gifted teachers do. We need to make our universities train up the best teachers in the country and then we need to pay them well so that they will stay in Georgia and teach our own children.

The leadership in DeKalb has proven that when given bags of money, they will spend most of their energy finding ways to divert that money to their own and their friends' pockets and neighborhoods. Watch any board meeting in DeKalb; over half the time is spent discussing construction contracts. Improve test scores by hiring great teachers and principals and then supporting them in their task by paying them well, offering consistent, quality training, in-class support staff and smaller class sizes. When we have a functional educational system, then our construction needs will be easy to identify and voters will support those needs. 

Form follows function. We need to get our function – which is to educate – in order before we start planning the form (buildings). Maybe next time...

PTA President Admits Prior Knowledge of Cell Tower Proposal



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Lithonia, GA: Monday, Oct. 24, 2011:

Words were exchanged in anger, tempers flared and PTA President Evelyn Cunningham, wife of school board representative Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, admitted she had been aware of talks with the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) regarding the cell tower proposal for more than a year. She offered no explanation about why the subject was not announced to the parents or community until May, just a month before the school board was scheduled to vote.

Cunningham approached the group of approximately 12 - 14 people who had gathered outside the entrance to Martin Luther King, Jr. High School around 11 am. Monday, Oct 24, to inspect the location where they recently learned a T-mobile cell tower will reside for the next 30 years, thanks to the school board’s approval to lease its property, along with eight other school properties, in exchange for about $400 a month which will be deposited into the county’s general fund. The deal also includes a one-time payment of $25,000 that will also be deposited into the general fund, but those funds will be “directed” by the PTA or a School Booster Club that the school wishes to support.

While the group was assembled outside the school, a spokesperson for the local non-profit group “Get the Cell Out - Atlanta” was also being interviewed by a reporter from WXIA-TV for a story related to SPLOST IV. That story has not yet aired. As the group was disassembling and preparing to return to their vehicles or walk back to their nearby homes, Ms. Cunningham approached them and demanded to know their names and what had been reported to the news media. After several minutes, the group convinced the PTA officer to calm down and discuss her concerns rationally, which is when she admitted to having known about the cell towers for more than a year. When asked if she received the information from her husband, she replied that it was her understanding that lots of people in the PTA were aware of the proposal and it was not specific to anything her husband told her directly.

The DeKalb County Board of Education Administrative Rule O.C.G.A. 20-2-1160 requires: "… public forums from time to time, especially when dealing with controversial issues or matters of deep community concern, to receive input from citizens on policy issues, the educational program, and school administration."

The DCSS official position on the subject of public notification has been that public meetings were held at each of the schools once carrier T-mobile had been selected. Critics claim the flyer sent home with children was vague and did not convey the message that the meeting was to discuss the intent to place cell towers on the school property.

DeKalb County zoning laws specific to the permitting of cell towers has language that prohibit cell phone or cell tower companies from constructing towers, which emit low levels of RF radiation 24 hours a day, within close proximity of residential neighborhoods unless there are no other suitable alternatives. T-mobile representatives stated during the school meetings in May that the schools were selected because they were the “easiest” choice for them to pursue, not the last alternative as required by the county.

T-mobile also reported in the community meetings, according to one parent who attended the meeting at Brockett Elementary in Tucker, that they did not want to build their towers in neighborhoods where they are not wanted. The community members and neighborhood associations near Martin Luther King, Jr. High School have stated that they have been shut out of the process completely, only learning recently that a 150’ tower with a base size of 60’ x 60’ has been approved by the school board.”

At the July 11 board meeting, Jay Cunningham spoke out on the cell tower issue, stating that the community was in favor. In an interview with a reporter from the Crossroads newspaper in July, Cunningham said “Everybody has their view,” adding that he only had one call opposing the proposal. “Everybody had no problem with it. I didn’t hear anything negative from the community.” Read more: CrossRoadsNews - Cell Towers Going to Schools

“It is very disappointing and makes you wonder if you can trust anyone in this school system,” stated one of the people who witnessed the altercation between the PTA President and the community members who say they would like some answers.

“We have fought things like this before,” said one man from a neighborhood right next door to the school. “This is the first time something like this has happened where they plan to allow zoning for something and we do not hear about it until it is too late.”


Update: At a subsequent meeting held Oct. 25, Jay Cunningham admitted that the community surrounding MLK High School did not get adequate notice and agreed to take their concerns back to the other board members. After being well prepared and well armed with information and questions about the cell tower issue, the community was able to collectively prove their points and give Mr. Cunningham no choice but to back down from his earlier claims that the community was in favor of a tower. He said he would ask for a reconsideration of the vote in light of the new information. This meeting has gone the same route as the meeting between Paul Womack and Briarlake, and all involved are still hoping for a reconsideration. They must move quickly, however, as the 30 day period following the permit application has expired and they will now be working against the clock to stop any signs of construction. T-mobile should have the permits all in place no later than the end of January. And, their substandard towers can be built overnight and brought up to code later as a result of their claim to exemption from DeKalb County's zoning laws. This is one of the legal issues that might be contested.

To read our post on a similar meeting held at Briarlake ES, with board rep Paul Womack, click here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

George Carlin tells it like it is



If you are offended by the 'f-word' don't watch this.  But if you loved George Carlin and can hear the truth, then click on...


Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

REQUEST FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES

The following RFP was posted today by DCSS. Let's hope it's a sign that they mean to really shake things up. I am 'cautiously optimistic'.  The request begins:

The DeKalb County School District (“DCSD”) is seeking professional services from highly qualified and capable offerors having salary, position specification, and organizational restructuring experience with K-12 school districts comparable to “DCSD.” The selected offeror will review and provide an in-depth, detailed recommendation regarding an appropriate organizational structure for “DCSD.” Additionally, the selected offeror must modify, update, and develop position specifications for all positions in the restructured organization compliant with applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations, as well as policies of the DeKalb County Board of Education (“Board of Education”).

This project will be conducted in two phases. Phase 1 will focus on Central Office staff, Principals, Assistant Principals, and Instructional Coaches. Phase 2 will focus on all other DCSD positions.

The selected offeror will:
(1) Review and recommend a DCSD organizational restructure, based on national benchmarks, industry standards, and best practices of other K-12 schools districts comparable to DCSD;
(2) Review, modify, and/or create position specifications based on the recommended restructuring of DCSD; and
(3) Recommend the appropriate salary range for each position title in the restructured organization.
The selected offeror will manage all aspects of the areas listed above, including, but not limited to: job analysis; salary evaluation; position and pay classification; and preparation of requested reports. DCSD, at its sole option, may engage the selected offeror to manage the implementation of accepted findings and recommendations.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Our "Friends" - Who Are They?







Irony, contradiction, hypocrisy...or a combination of all three?

With what is sure to be a very contentious vote for SPLOST IV, the Board of Ed., the new Superintendent and the Central Office are aggressively promising that the spending for SPLOST will be unassailable.

“One of the central missions of our administration is to assure parents, citizens and taxpayers that we are committed to accountability at all levels,” Dr. Atkinson said. “We will continue to enact policies to ensure oversight, transparency and efficiency. Our schools, parents and, most importantly, our children deserve nothing less.”

“Your dollars are in good hands, believe me,” Womack said, speaking on behalf of Colman’s professionalism and experience.


Yet, the leading advocate group for the passage of SPLOST IV, the nebulously named "Friends of DeKalb Education", doesn't abide by this new focus on transparency. Even though they are soliciting donations.

They have produced the "SPLOST for Schools" website, listing every possible positive for passing SPLOST, while virtually ignoring all of the issues with SPLOST III, and the fact that the last full-time supt. and Chief Operating Officer are under indictment for criminal enterprise related to SPLOST contracts and such.

The "Friends" also have a Facebook page. Nowhere on the website or Facebook page does it list who the "friends" are. No names, when they meet, who appointed them or if they are self-appointed, who funds them, when they meet, etc., etc.

Are they just a group of parents, and if so, why not say who they are? How are they funded? Are they companies who benefit from SPLOST passage, and the half a BILLION dollars that will flow their way because of it? Are they DCSS employees, retirees, consultants, etc.? Heck, are they Board of Ed members, or their friends and family?

SPLOST is supposed to be for the students, except when $2,000 chairs, $400k for lighting their meetings, hundreds of thousands to re-do an adequate parking lot, etc., are spent specifically for the Central Office's and BOE's Mountain Industrial Mega-Complex.

Who really most benefits from the passage (Follow the Money)?

Remember how effective the Citizen's Advisory Committee for SPLOST III was?
http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/01/whats-really-up-with-citizens-advisory.html
Link
Is the construction contractor/former CAC chair, a "friend"?

From the Facebook page, there is little info. Whenever a question is asked on the page, a Fernbank parent/attorney is quick to respond. And another prominent Fernbank parent is the page's only "friend".

The SPLOST for School page promises:
  • Builds Better Schools; Renovates and Upgrades Our Existing Schools
  • Improves Technology in the Schools Throughout the County
  • Benefits All Homeowners by Keeping Property Taxes Down
  • Generates More Than 30% of Revenue From Shoppers and Tourists That Live Outside DeKalb County
  • Creates Jobs and Increases Economic Activity in DeKalb Neighborhoods
  • Reduces the Need for Portable Classrooms, Promoting a Better Learning and Teaching Environment for Our Students and Teachers
But, we've heard that all before for SPLOST I, II and III. They even have a "What You Should Know" page.

And this is almost as troubling as their lack of transparency, a veiled and ominous threat:

"IF SPLOST FOR SCHOOLS DOES NOT PASS, a portion of homestead exemptions for DeKalb County homeowners will automatically be revoked, effectively raising property taxes immediately. However, this will generate only $7.5 million dollars per year for capital improvements to schools. Most of these dollars would be needed just to cover bonds already issued for the replacement of Chamblee High School. Very few, if any, capital expansion or renewal projects on the approved list would be possible.
"

The "Friends" are actively soliciting donations so they can "persuade" us. Would they various companies who would benefit from SPLOST passage be willing contributors?

http://splostforschools.org/articles/how-you-can-help
DONATE to the School SPLOST campaign so that we can persuade voters to say ‘YES’ to the School SPLOST with mailers, yard signs, and radio. Use the PayPal link at the right of this page or make your checks payable and send them to:

Friends of DeKalb Education
P.O. Box 607
Decatur, GA 30031


Am I wrong here? Does anyone know more about the "Friends" and SPLOST for School website? Why can't they simply state who they are, how they are funded, when the meet, etc.? But don't forget, they want to "persuade" you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Message from Dr. Atkinson - DCSD Citizens SPLOST Oversight Committee

Date: Tue, 18 Oct 2011 11:11:25 -0400
Subject: DCSD Citizens SPLOST Oversight Committee
From: cheryl_atkinson@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us

Greetings ~

The DeKalb County School System today announced a series of initiatives to ensure transparency, accountability and effectiveness in the operations and finances of all departments of the School System.

Today’s actions are a key component of Superintendent Dr. Cheryl L.H. Atkinson’s 90-Day Entry Plan, which pledged to identify and correct critical issues facing DeKalb Schools.

The accountability initiatives include establishing a Citizens SPLOST Oversight Committee, a 12-member body of community representatives formed to provide oversight of SPLOST-funded construction projects and to report to DeKalb County residents on how SPLOST funds are being spent.

The SPLOST, or special purpose local option sales tax, is an opportunity for voters to continue a one-cent sales tax that funds new school construction and ongoing facilities improvements. An extension of the SPLOST, known as SPLOST IV, will be decided by voters on Nov. 8.

In addition to the Citizens SPLOST Oversight Committee, the School System also has recently implemented a number of internal operational and financial checks and balances, including:

Independent Auditor. The auditor, who works in conjunction with the Office of Internal Affairs, conducts ongoing review of the School System’s finances and makes monthly public reports to the Board of Education

EthicsLine. Available on the DeKalb Schools website, the EthicsLine allows employees, parents, citizens and others to alert School District officials and the internal auditor of irregularities in finances or operations. Citizens can access the EthicsLine at
www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/audit-and-compliance
or by calling 888-475-0482

Purchasing Oversight. New purchasing reporting policies have been implemented in all departments to establish improved transparency and oversight of School System expenditures

“One of the central missions of our administration is to assure parents, citizens and taxpayers that we are committed to accountability at all levels,” Dr. Atkinson said. “We will continue to enact policies to ensure oversight, transparency and efficiency. Our schools, parents and, most importantly, our children deserve nothing less.”

For more information about SPLOST IV and the DeKalb County School System accountability measures, please visit www.dekalb.k12.ga.us.


Cheryl L. H. Atkinson, Ed.D.
Superintendent
DeKalb County School District

SPLOST IV: Let’s Talk about Technology


““We are behind technologically in public school education; we’re behind the nation and the rest of the world,” (Cheryl) Atkinson says. “It is imperative that we make technology the norm, not the exception. Our students must be comfortable with technology, because otherwise we will lose our country’s competitive edge and students will not be able to survive. I’m very passionate about public school education being a great equalizer.”

Dr. Atkinson understands the value of putting technology into students’ hands. One of her landmark educational initiatives in Lorain City Schools was to ensure every student in 6th, 9th and 10th grades was equipped with a netbook to access textbooks online, put the Internet at their fingertips, and enable them to be members of the 21st Century Classroom. And this was only the beginning of an initiative that will span grades 4 through 12.

The current SPLOST IV proposal is troubling because it does not support Dr. Atkinson’s understanding that technology integration and abundant access is essential to students’ future success.

Look at the DCSS SPLOST IV Educational Technology goals:
“(17) (15) Upgrade classroom technology (including interactive boards, student response systems and projectors), upgrade and refresh to hardware (including desktops, laptops, and servers), software, wireless infrastructure in all schools, digital communication technology (including video conferencing, virtual and learning technologies), enterprise content management solution, upgrade and increase data storage systems, upgrades to telecommunications and implementing a mass notification system….”

Currently, classrooms of 30 to 35 students have an average of 2 to 3 computers per classroom. Most elementary schools have one computer lab to serve hundreds of students, and high schools have an even worse student to computer ratio. SPLOST III “upgraded and refreshed” the hardware which basically meant they replaced the existing computers. The current SPLOST IV proposes “upgrading and refreshing” which means student access to technology will remain stationary.

Technology for students has remained stagnant in DCSS as the opportunity for implementing the 21st Century classroom has been delayed. SPLOST I saw the lion’s share of technology money spent on software while the hardware to use the software was severely limited. SPLOST II saw most of the technology funds spent on the network as DCSS installed a private fiber optic cable network. SPLOST III saw the majority of technology dollars go to interactive boards for a relatively small percent of our teachers, replacing computers that were out of warranty (also called upgrade and refresh), and the purchase of eSis and Schoolnet. SPLOST IV now proposes interactive boards, student response systems, projectors, a wireless network, video conferencing, and replacing computers that are out of warranty. The SPLOST IV Educational Technology goals show a very teacher centered view of technology with little additional hardware for students.

Since student access will not reach a critical mass with SPLOST IV, benchmark testing with students “bubbling in” answers using paper and pencil while teachers take planning time to “scan” in 150 tests will be assured for the next five years. DCSS classrooms that do not look noticeably different from their parents’ classrooms will appear even more disconcerting in this fast paced world of global competition.

DCSS’s “Digital Divide” is increasing with children in affluent schools having much greater access to cutting edge technology than children in low income areas. Leveling the playing field should be a prime concern for a school system that has such disparity between schools in terms of student progress.

This is the problem with SPLOST IV passing “as is”. Technology access for students will stay “as is” while tens of millions are spent on non-student centered initiatives.

DCSS must involve the end users in the technology decisions. What do the teachers who are charged with increasing student achievement want in the way of Educational Technology in DCSS? What do the students want? What do the parents want? Who has made these plans for spending the tens of millions of dollars? Where is the Return on Investment in terms of student achievement projected and detailed? What is Dr. Atkinson’s vision of DCSS students as 21st Century learners? Where will the money come from to implement the one-to-one netbook initiative she has suggested for DCSS students once these SPLOST IV parameters are set? How will she get the real time data analyses she and the teachers need to make smart educational decisions?

These are questions that need to be asked and answered before moving forward with SPLOST IV. The 21st Century Classroom puts technology into the hands of students. DCSS is stuck in the bricks and mortar world of the past while our children must compete in a world without boundaries.

DCSS School Police On the Job??

Approx. 200 DCSS School Police Officers. 2 Chiefs (yes, two chiefs for one department). 9 Detectives. 4 Admin Assistants.

Computers stolen so often Tony Hunter automatically replaces them and doesn't even keep track on how much it costs the system. School air conditioning units stolen without investigation. MARTA Police Officers catch truant DeKalb Alternative School students with DCSS School Police nowhere to be found.

No return on investment. Mediocrity Defined. Simply Embarassing.

(And I still don't know what the heck they do during the summer and holiday breaks).

Break-ins plague Chamblee Charter high school

Nearly a dozen break-ins have plagued the school in recent months with thieves walking away with computers, keyboards, calculators and other electronics and equipment.

Five of the thefts occurred over the Labor Day holiday weekend and six over the Columbus Day weekend, according to Channel 2 Action News.

The targets have been the 32 mobile classrooms students and teachers have been using as the construction continues around them on Chamblee Dunwoody Road.

Teachers in the classrooms are increasingly frustrated over the thefts. They say they want to feel secure and want assurances that the district is doing all it can to prevent future break-ins. They are also concerned the missing equipment won’t be replaced.

District spokesman Walter Wood said a dollar figure has yet to be attached to the missing equipment, but he said the district is taking steps to increase security. He said additional patrols are being made and motion sensor alarms and new fencing locks are being installed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

K&S will remain on schools case: More on the story

Reprinted with permission from Daily Report online

Civil case over DeKalb construction contracts will go to trial after criminal matters have been tried
By Kathleen Baydala Joyner, Staff Reporter

A DeKalb County Judge ruled Wednesday that King & Spalding can remain the counsel for the county school system in a multimillion-dollar case, despite his view that the firm's lawyers negotiated an unfair fee agreement, stonewalled discovery and potentially witnessed discussion of criminal activity.

Judge Clarence Seeliger:
The case "has probably infuriated
me more than any other."
Superior Court Judge Clarence F. Seeliger said the fee agreement was an issue between the school board and the firm—and the school board and the voters. The discovery battles have been resolved, he added, and allegations that K&S lawyers witnessed discussion of criminal activity could be verified by non-attorneys who may have seen the same events.

Seeliger said he thought of ordering mediation for the school system and the construction companies with whom it has been locked in litigation for four years. But he decided there is no way the two sides can resolve the case without a trial, which will take place after the criminal matters have been tried.

"I've had lots of cases, but this has probably infuriated me more than any other," said Seeliger.

His decision came after several hours of heated arguments between King & Spalding lawyers and lawyers from DLA Piper, representing the construction management companies whose firing by the school district in 2006 prompted the litigation.

The hearing was the latest chapter in a saga involving DeKalb's former school district superintendent and chief operating officer, who are facing criminal indictments for corruption; three major construction management companies accused of civil racketeering; and big-name Atlanta attorneys.

DLA Piper is representing Heery International Inc., E.R. Mitchell & Co. and Heery/Mitchell Joint Venture, which did construction work for the school district. They wanted Seeliger to kick K&S off the case because, they claimed, K&S essentially controls the litigation—possibly against the best interests of the school district—due to its contingency fee agreement with the DeKalb schools.

DLA Piper also asserted that K&S concealed or blocked evidence, including the suspect status of a top-ranking school district official who oversaw construction projects, and that K&S attorneys may be called as material witnesses in the civil trial and a separate criminal case.

DLA Piper's lead attorneys are Atlanta managing partner Mark E. Grantham and Paul N. Monnin. K&S's lead attorneys are partners W. Ray Persons and Robert C. Khayat Jr., but K&S partner L. Joseph Loveland Jr. represented his colleagues during the hearing.

Heery/Mitchell and the other companies filed suit against the school district in 2007 for breach of contract, seeking roughly $1.5 million. The district filed a countersuit seeking $100 million, charging the companies with racketeering. In May 2010, former school district superintendent Crawford Lewis and chief operating officer Pat Reid (she then went by Pat Pope) were indicted on corruption charges.

DLA Piper claimed that as early as November 2008, Lewis notified K&S about a criminal investigation into the chief operating officer, a matter K&S concealed or misrepresented to the court and DLA Piper.

"Roughly three years ago [when the DeKalb County District Attorney began its criminal investigation], the school district trial counsel was confronted by a fork in the road and they shifted from merely acting as advocates for their client to key participants," Grantham said during his opening statement.

Grantham said K&S wanted the civil case to go to trial without evidence of criminal conduct by school district officials being revealed.

"It seems there is a question of fraud on this court by refusing to disclose to the court or us that a criminal investigation was under way and may have a serious impact on the civil litigation."

Grantham said K&S has unfairly painted his firm's discovery and deposition attempts as harassment, mischaracterized whether K&S's star witness Reid was a suspect in a criminal investigation and advised Lewis to try to convince the DeKalb DA to delay his investigation until after the civil trial to preserve K&S's case against Heery/Mitchell.

Grantham added that K&S's financial stake in the form of a contingency agreement forged in 2008 means the firm may veto attempts by the school district to settle the matter at a lesser amount than the firm's break-even sum of about $35 million, which is calculated as the firm's post-June 2008 fees and payments for expert witnesses.

Grantham posed a scenario to the court that if the school district were to win its case and receive an award of $35 million, it would not actually net any money because all of it would go to either reimburse the district for costs already incurred or to finish paying K&S.

"Disqualification would remove the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads in the form of their unconscionable fee agreement, where counsel's financial interest is paramount," Grantham said.

Loveland, speaking for K&S, told Seeliger, "These unproven attacks are simply legion, and no evidence supports any of them."

Loveland accused DLA Piper of kicking up dust to conceal its clients' deceit of the school district and county taxpayers through its mishandling of $500 million in school construction projects.

"This case has been pending for four years. There have been three separate motions to disqualify [K&S]," Loveland said. "There is no claim here that King & Spalding has a conflict of interest with Heery/Mitchell. Instead, as Mr. Grantham says, Heery/Mitchell takes the remarkable position that it, not the school board or the school board's independent counsel, should stand as the guardian for the school board's interest. That is simply not the law in Georgia or anywhere."

Loveland accused DLA Piper of filing its latest motion to disqualify to pressure the district to drop its suit or at the very least further delay a trial to cause the district to rack up more expenses.

"This is a phenomenal motion to bring to this court with no affidavit or any legal experts on ethics with any facts that [King & Spalding's] contract constitutes any violation of ethical rule[s]," Loveland said.

Loveland then argued that ousting K&S would prevent the school district from having its day in court because no other firm could pick up where it left off and successfully litigate the complicated case.

"Our firm has spent hundreds of hours going through documents because the fraud [by Heery/Mitchell] is in the documents," he said. "The conflict would be if our firm did not put time and energy in the case to zealously represent our client."

Monnin said one reason that DLA Piper did not move the judge for disqualification of opposing counsel sooner is because K&S dragged its feet on handing over evidence during discovery.

DLA Piper served discovery in March 2009 but didn't receive some evidence until two years later, including calendars and notes that showed meetings between school district officials, internal affairs investigators and attorneys for K&S and other outside counsel, he told the judge. That evidence further shows that K&S had knowledge of a criminal investigation but did not disclose it to the court or DLA Piper, he said.

After the ruling, Tom Bowen, chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education, said he was relieved.

"Had the judge gone the other way, there would have been pretty serious hardships for the district because the case is so complex to start with it would have cost millions just for a new firm to get up to speed," he said.

Bowen acknowledged that the district's fee contract with K&S would obviously be part of any settlement discussion, but he defended the agreement by saying paying the firm on a contingency basis avoided up-front costs from the schools' already-strained operating budgets.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More money down the rabbit hole


Read this article at the AJC:
Construction firm to ask judge to remove DeKalb schools' lawyers in $100 million suit

This article tells us that not only have we been in a lawsuit with Heery-Mitchell for over five years now over SPLOST II projects, we have spent a reported $17 million from our general operating fund (you know, the one that is supposed to run the schools) on attorneys. Not all that long ago, the board made a deal with King & Spalding (our $17 million law firm in this case) to continue the suit on a contingency basis, meaning that if they win, they get a portion of the reward on top of what they've already been paid.

If DeKalb loses the case, King & Spalding gets nothing. If DeKalb wins, the firm would get a percentage of the earnings, based on accrued work. Right now, that figure stands at $19 million.

In Heery’s motion, the contingency fees give King & Spalding a financial stake in the case, and should disqualify the firm.

Heery-Mitchell's attorneys are claiming that King & Spalding had prior knowledge of the criminal activities of former superintendent, Crawford Lewis and his construction manager, Patricia (Pope) Reid and have a financial stake in the outcome of the civil trial with Heery and should therefore be removed as counsel. I infer from this that the underlying assumption is that the criminal trials could have a serious negative effect on the school system's civil case, as Pope and Lewis are their star witnesses against Heery. It seems we're in a game of cat and mouse. The criminal trial is the linchpin. If it happens before the civil trial, it could be devastating to the school system's case. If the civil trial happens first, the school system will have a better chance, due to the fact that their key witnesses have not yet been convicted of anything. (BTW, the criminal trial is also costing us millions in legal fees both for school system and the county DA. Taxpayers are essentially paying for both the prosecution and the defense in this case.)

“The loss of King & Spalding, five years into the case, would be financially devastating to the district,” Bowen said. “The cost to bring another law firm up to speed would be staggering."


(Just curious Tom, do you not think the costs to date are already staggering?)

How much farther down this rabbit trail do we plan to hop? Are we really sure we want to hand this group hundreds of millions more in construction money? I think we may want to stop, assess the past, clean up the mess and then perhaps turn our attention to devising a new plan – a plan that has an educationally-driven vision.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

SPLOST IV: The Referendum Just About Covers it All

Care to read the exact text of the Referendum voters are asked to vote on in November? 


NOTICE OF ELECTION TO THE QUALIFIED VOTERS OF DEKALB COUNTY TO CONSIDER A SPECIAL ONE PERCENT SALES AND USE TAX FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES

NOTICE is hereby given that on November 8, 2011 an election will be held at the regular polling places in all the election districts of DeKalb County, Georgia, at which time there will be submitted to the qualified voters of DeKalb County for their determination the question of whether a special one percent sales and use tax for educational purposes shall be continued in DeKalb County for a period of time not to exceed twenty calendar quarters, beginning the first day of the calendar quarter (July 1, 2012) following the calendar quarter in which the sales and use tax for educational purposes currently in effect expires, to raise not more than $______645,000,000 and shall be used and applied for capital outlay projects for educational purposes of the DeKalb County School District, the City Schools of Decatur and Atlanta Independent School System, respectively, as specifically described below.
(a) For the educational purposes of the DeKalb County School District the following capital outlay projects (the “DeKalb County School District Projects”) at a total maximum cost of $607,384,422:
(1) Improvement projects to make reasonable accommodations for the Americans with Disabilities Act at various schools throughout the DeKalb County School District;
(2) Upgrades, including turf installation, at stadiums and renovations to Athletic Facilities and Stadiums including, but not limited to Adams Stadium, Arabia Mountain High School, Avondale Stadium, Cedar Grove High School, Chamblee High School, Clarkston High School, Cross Keys High School, Druid Hills High School, Dunwoody High School, Hallford Stadium, Lakeside High School, Lithonia High School, McNair High School, Miller Grove High School, Martin Luther King Jr. High School, North DeKalb Stadium, and Panthersville Stadium, Redan High School, SW Dekalb High School, Stephenson High School, Stone Mountain High School, Towers High School and Tucker High School.
(3) Capital Renewal Program to include renovations, modifications, and upgrades to existing buildings and facilities that will include, but not be limited to, roofing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, kitchens and program-driven modifications as needed including, but not limited to Allgood Elementary School, Ashford Park Elementary School, Austin Elementary School, Avondale Elementary School, Avondale Middle School, Bob Mathis Elementary School, Bouie Elementary School, Briar Vista Elementary School, Briarlake Elementary School, Brockett Elementary School, Browns Mill Elementary School, Canby Lane Elementary School, Cary Reynolds Elementary School, Cedar Grove Elementary School, Cedar Grove Middle School, Cedar Grove High School, Chamblee Middle School, Champion Middle School, Chapel Hill Elementary School, Chesnut Elementary School, Clarkston High School, Clifton Elementary School, Columbia Elementary School, Columbia Middle School, Cross Keys High School, DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts, Dresden Elementary School, Drivers Ed N & S, Druid Hills High School, Dunaire Elementary School, Dunwoody High School, Eldridge Miller Elementary School, Evansdale Elementary School, Fairington Elementary School, Flat Rock Elementary School, Flat Shoals Elementary School, Freedom Middle School, Hambrick Elementary School, Hawthorne Elementary School, Henderson Mill Elementary School, Henderson Middle School, Hightower Elementary School, Huntley Hills Elementary School, Idlewood Elementary School, Indian Creek Elementary School, Intl Student Center, Jolly Elementary School, Kelley Lake Elementary School, Kingsley Elementary School, Kittredge Elementary School, Knollwood Elementary School, Laurel Ridge Elementary School, Lithonia Middle School, Livsey Elementary School, Marbut Elementary School, McLendon Elementary School, Meadowview ElementaryMcNair High School, MedlockMeadowview Elementary School, Midway Elementary School, Midvale Elementary School, Miller Grove Middle School, MLK Jr. High School, Montclair Elementary School, Montgomery Elementary School, Murphey Candler Elementary School,Narvie Harris Elementary School, Oakcliff Elementary School, Oak Grove Elementary School, Panola Way Elementary School, Pine Ridge Elementary School, Rainbow Elementary School, Redan Elementary School,Rowland Elementary School, Robert Shaw Elementary School, Rock Chapel Elementary School, Sagamore Hills Elementary School, Salem Middle School, Sam Moss Service Center, Shadow Rock Elementary School, SW DeKalb High School, Snapfinger Elementary School, Stephenson High School, Stephenson Middle School, Stone Mill Elementary School, Stone Mountain Elementary School, Stone Mountain High School, Stone Mountain Middle School, Stoneview Elementary School, Tech South High School, Toney Elementary School, Towers High School, Tucker Middle School, Vanderlyn Elementary School, Wadsworth Elementary School, Warren Technical School, Woodridge Elementary School and Woodward Elementary School.
(4) Modifications and upgrades to existing buildings and facilities to comply with health/safety and other building codes as required by DeKalb County or other local governments;
(5) Modifications, upgrades, and renovations to Coralwood Diagnostic Center;
(6) (5) Development of an Early Learning Center in the Wesley Chapel area to include design, acquisition, construction, renovation, and modification of an existing structure;
(7) (6) Modifications, upgrades, and additions to Avondale Middle School for an Arts School;
(8) Modifications, upgrades, and renovations to Southwest DeKalb High Schoaol and Stone Mountain High School;
(9) (7) Design, construction, renovation, modification, additions to and equipping of replacement elementary buildings and facilities atfor Austin, Fernbank, Gresham Park, Pleasantdale, Peachcrest, Rockbridge and Smoke Rise Elementary Schools, including the acquisition of land and the demolition of all or portions of existing structures, if necessary;
(10) (8) Design, construction, renovation, modification, additions to and equipping of buildings and facilities at Henderson Middle School, including the acquisition of land and the demolition of all or portions of existing structures, if necessary;
(11) (9) Design, construction, renovation, modification, additions to and equipping of buildings and facilities at Redan High School, including the acquisition of land and the demolition of all or portions of existing structures, if necessary;
(12) (10) Acquisition of replacement Chamblee High School pursuant to Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) lease-purchase financing;
(13) (11) Design, construction, renovation, modification, additions to and equipping of replacement buildings and facilities atfor McNair Middle School, including the acquisition of land and the demolition of all or portions of existing structures, if necessary;
(14) (12) Local School Priority Requests, involving minor projects deemed necessary to meet interior and exterior facility needs at various local schools;
(15) (13) Repurpose and/or demolish surplus properties as needed;
(16) (14) Modifications and upgrades to security and life safety systems for existing buildings and facilities, including, but not limited to, camera installation, lighting, intrusion alarm systems, fire alarm systems, closed circuit television, and video recorder installation;
(17) (15) Upgrade classroom technology (including interactive boards, student response systems and projectors), upgrade and refresh to hardware (including desktops, laptops, and servers), software, wireless infrastructure in all schools, digital communication technology (including video conferencing, virtual and learning technologies), enterprise content management solution, upgrade and increase data storage systems, upgrades to telecommunications and implementing a mass notification system;
(18) (16) Acquisition of buses, upgrade bus radio communications to comply with FCC regulations, and GPS reporting equipment and construction of three bus parking locations to serve various schools throughout the DeKalb County School District;
(19) (17) Acquisition of support service vehicles; and
(20) (18) Facility improvement projects throughout the DeKalb County School District, including but not limited to building and site renovations, replacements and demolition; code required renovations and upgrades; HVAC renovations and replacements; roofing repairs and replacements; electrical and low voltage repairs, renovations, and upgrades; technology additions, renovations and upgrades; transportation improvements; environmental and air quality control; and site acquisitions for new facilities.
If imposition of the tax is approved by a majority of the voters within the DeKalb County School District, such vote shall also constitute approval of general obligation debt of the DeKalb County School District in the principal amount not to exceed $150,000,000200,000,000 for the purpose of funding a portion of the DeKalb County School District Projects, including capitalized interest and the costs of issuing such general obligation debt. Such general obligation debt shall bear interest at an interest rate or rates not to exceed ______4 percent per annum as determined by the DeKalb County Board of Education prior to the issuance of such general obligation debt, may be issued from time to time in whole or in part in one or more series and shall mature (serially or, at the option of the DeKalb County Board of Education, by mandatory sinking fund redemption) in the years and amounts as follows:

Maximum Principal Payable in Such Year
2014  $36,655,000 
2015  37,145,000 
2016  37,755,000 
2017  88,445,000

Click here to view the SPLOST IV referendum with mark-ups.
Click here to read the exact text of the referendum on the ballot.
Click here to view the SPLOST IV Capital Planning Powerpoint.
Click here to view the school system's SPLOST IV project list.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tidbits


This post is designed to hold all kinds of random tidbits. Please add any kind of interesting bit of random information that is parent or education related to the comments section of this blog. If you would rather, send your info to us in an email at reparteeforfun@gmail.com and we'll post it for you. Let's try to keep each other informed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tune in at 6 PM for the October 3 Board Meeting

Work Session and Board Meeting beginning at 6 pm. Tune in to Comcast Channel 24 or stream it live on the DCSS website here. Download the agenda here.

Crawford Lewis Wins Court Victory



UPDATE: We apparently jumped the gun on this - no decision has been made yet. Seems this was actually old news. The crew at Channel 2 was doing some website updating and this story got moved - making it look like it was new, but it's from November, 2010. Sadly, the appeals court has not yet reached a decision on Lewis' claim. 


WSB Channel 2 is reporting that Dr. Lewis won his appeal to keep his Alston & Bird attorney. The court apparently agreed with his claim that the previous decision was drastic and unfair, leaving him broke and needing to start over with his defense and agreed to hear his case.

Lewis is apparently out of funds, having spent the $100,000 the school board allocated for his defense against racketeering charges stemming from a criminal enterprise he allegedly ran inside the school administration that focused on abuse and misappropriation of SPLOST construction funds as well as state funds that he misused for personal expenses and travel.

"Dr. Lewis has spent nearly all of his available funds to prepare his defense. Now, just three months before the trial, the trial court has disqualified his counsel leaving him with little time and resources to defend himself against serious charges that could send him to prison"

Ironically, they interviewed Manny Arora, Pat (Pope) Reid's former attorney who agreed that it would be a hardship for Lewis to start over. Reid is also charged with SPLOST misappropriation and racketeering. Her former husband, SPLOST architect Vincent Pope and her secretary Cointa Moody are charged as well and face trials of their own.

However, the first court still insists that the conflict of interest is clear.

When the appeals court actually does render a decision, a trial can begin.  Let's hope things can get moving. The public has waited long enough, and wasted far too much money on these trials, literally using money earmarked for student's educations to pay attorneys for construction lawsuits and alleged criminal activity instead. In fact, in the civil case with Heery-Mitchell, initiated by Dr. Lewis himself, the school system has spent well over $15.5 million to fund a countersuit against Heery. Something like 14 school system employees, board members or former board members have been named in this suit and the board has voted to pay for each of their defenses as well.  This must get resolved.  There are many school systems across this country that could effectively run their entire system on what we spend on legal fees.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Good Choices, Bad Choices, No Choice, and Hard Choices. What about Strategic Choice?

Monday's Board Meeting agenda is posted and we have before us for Dr. Atkinson's first Monthly meeting some items I'd like us to reflect upon.

Lifting from the blog of our suggestions for Dr. Atkinson I made this comment:

"I don't blame parents for seeking a better school for their child - I blame our decades long system of offering "escape" hatches to those who have the wherewithal to find it. We have a system that only responds to squeaky wheels and rearranges funding to support those emergency responses. What we need is a carefully thought out system that offers quality neighborhood schools - AND a few selections for those who wish for something different. But people shouldn't have to seek something different in order to escape the situation at their home school. That is wrong-headed thinking. And it's a self-perpetuating vortex of destruction.

Our system has for far too long been reactive. We need to become proactive. We need planning. We need to offer alternatives that have reasons to exist other than escaping the alternative. We need education-focused leaders - not leaders who simply respond to the most vocal in the community and let the others flounder."

Items 7&8 of Monday's agenda are an amendment to the charter for the International Community School and acceptance of a Letter of Intent to lease Medlock Elementary School to them. Both are recommended for approval. For those of you who are not familiar with this start-up charter school, it has existed in 2 rented church buildings for nearly 10 years. Here is a link to a year's worth of international press coverage that they got in the Christian Science Monitor a few years back. Article #10 discussed some of their struggles to find a permanent facility: http://littlebillclinton.csmonitor.com/littlebillclinton/

Item 9 is the presentation of a 5 year charter contract for the Museum School of Avondale Estates. Here is a link to the board item, which has a lot of text about the proposed tiered attendance zone for the school as well as the full text of the charter (THANK YOU!). The tiered zones would allow it to be a "community school" for the Avondale, Midway, and Knowlwood zones before admitting additional students county-wide. It has received much support and assistance from the city of Avondale Estates:

http://decatur.patch.com/articles/museum-school-celebrates-at-kidsfest

https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=4054&MID=17931

In a highly unusual move--the sentence that contains the superintendent's recommendation to the board has a blank where normally approval or denial is requested. Every other item on the agenda has a recommendation for approval.

So my friends. If you were Dr. Atkinson--what would you say to the board on each of these items?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thinking back to Sept 6

We have had these speeches stemming from the September 6 Work Session in our possession for a while and wanted to post them mainly for archiving. The public communication between board members during the superintendent search should be recorded so that everyone can read what each person actually said, and not what the gossip mills say people said.

First, Nancy Jester and Don McChesney each made statements at the August 29 meeting before taking the vote on the new superintendent explaining their personal decision to vote "no". Pam Speak's made a statement directly after the vote, highlighted in the August 29 post where she states, "The search for a new super has been an arduous and painful endeavor. I expected arduous, but not painful. I expected that we would interview highly qualified candidates. I did not consider that person needed to look like me. I will support Dr. Atkinson. I pledge my full support to her." All three stated that if hired, they would support Dr. Atkinson fully.

While Nancy and Don spoke, several of the other board members "walked out" of the board meeting. It was not recorded on camera, however, several print and internet news sources reported this behavior. At the next meeting, Donna Edler and Gene Walker each made speeches in defense of their actions and in support of the superintendent. The statements included some accusations about each other that simply weren't true. This is why we want to go ahead and post or link to every word that was said.

Dr. Walker's statement was posted on the AJC "Get Schooled" blog and can be read here. Nancy Jester posted her statement at her website. It can be read here. And Don's statement can also be found on Nancy's blog by clicking here.

The text of Donna Edler's statement has not been published. We transcribed it from the video and it follows here:

It has been reported that I walked out of the Friday, August 29 called meeting for a brief period of time during the reading of comments by Mr. McChesney. I walked out shortly after Mr. McChesney started his diatribe accusing board members, those in a minority faction, those present in the room did not support the candidate. He accused those board members of 1) leaking confidential information, 2) not caring much for the rules and oaths that we had taken and 3) seeking power and direction. He followed this defamation of our character by stating, “The real losers here are all the children of DeKalb.” 

I realize that my exit may be perceived by some as neither respectful nor professional. If any persons were offended by my acts of civil disobedience and personal protection, I apologize, as that was not my intent. Please know, however, that I will protect my person and my health from bullying and insult whether that bullying and insult comes from persons in the general public or from member or members of this board. Unless and until such actions are curbed, I will not dignify such bullying, insults and innuendo with my presence. 

Not only were Mr. McChesney’s statements hurtful and provocative, they were untrue. That is, leaks were obviously done by a minority faction of those present in the room. There was absolutely no justification or provocation for Mr. McChesney’s inflamed comments. Not only did anonymous leaks occur, the source of the leaks remain unknown. There was also at least one breach that was indentifyable. All breaches compromise the search process to some extent. The board was not silent on the issue of leaks and breaches, as Mr. McChesney indicated. The matter was discussed at length in executive session. I, for one, promoted public acknowledgement and condemnation of such breaches. It was the will of the board that we not make addititional attention to the board, I’m sorry. Mr. McChesney would have you believe that it was only he, and other selected few who were against such breaches. Mr. McChesney’s insulting comments, not his opposition to the board’s choice for superintendent were offensive, uncalled for, unprofessional and certainly not productive. 

As a board, we are not going to agree on every issue. It is our duty, however, to both argue our position during executive session and/or during our board meetings as appropriate and accept the majority vote to execute it with professionalism and unified manner. With respect to the selection of the district superintendent, I along with others on the board, researched and shared that research with the entire board. During executive session, every voice was heard and all positions were fully deliberated. A host of candidates, including a couple of my favorites did not arise to the level of finalist. Like Dr. Speaks indicated in her statement, gender or the need to look like me was not part of my evaluation matrix. However, unlike Miss Jester commented, I am not disappointed in the outcome of our superintendent search. The process, despite some breaches, was inclusive, thorough, and just. I am happy to welcome Dr. Cheryl Atkinson as our new superintendent. I thank the entire board of education for its full participation in the superintendent search and selection process. Thank you.