Sunday, January 29, 2012

DeKalb School Watch Blog is Moving!



Click here to visit DeKalb School Watch Two for a fresh, new site with a new look powered by Wordpress! Don't miss our latest BIG report on the shuttered and vacant schools scattered around DeKalb!

DCSS vacant properties causing blight countywide

Click on over and continue to chat - we'll see you there!

Finis

Yes, it's time. My job is complete. I am going to retire from the DeKalb School Watch blog. Although others will continue with a fresh, NEW blog full of announcements, news reports and blog posts that our writers contribute on their own, this blog will now be flying on 'team-pilot' without Cerebration as moderator.

We have spent two years reporting on the waste, fraud and corruption in DeKalb Schools - as well as the good news as it comes our way. We've created over 950 original posts, played host to many divisive but insightful conversations that generated over 50,000 comments, and built a place that has had almost a million and a half page views! All of these postings will stay in perpetuity and can be searched using the search bar.

My biggest hope is that you will all take the time now to simply pray for Dr. Atkinson. Pray for her to have wisdom. Pray for her to have discernment. Pray for her to have clarity. Pray for her to have support. Pray for her to have the power to implement the changes she seeks for the betterment of nearly 100,000 children's futures. And pray for her protection.

And then look to be astonished! This school system has the capacity to garner national attention as an exemplary turnaround. We can show the world that when communities work together, discuss differences, honestly address issues, grapple with challenges and make decisions with the same end-goal in mind, great things can happen. I believe great things do happen and will happen more for the students of DeKalb county. And I hope that we will always remain mindful of the damage that can occur when we take our collective eyes off the prize. We owe it to our children. They cannot easily recover a missed education. Never turn away.  When your job is done at your school, carefully pass your torch. Insist on integrity from the top down.  Our schools belong to us. They belong to our children. They represent our greatest hope. Love them. Support them. And work together to make a difference.

Au revoir my friends! I've truly loved "meeting" you all - whether live and in-person at a variety of coffee shops around town–or virtually–on the blog or via email.  This adventure has surely been one of my most enjoyable and endearing.  Putting it away is bittersweet.  But DeKalb county is chock-full of wonderful people - true Americans - and like a family, we will continue to work through our differences together with love, commitment and dedication to a mutual cause.

All the best,

"Cere"



* Make sure that you click over to the new blog and set up an ID to continue to participate in our discussions. Although you will have to create a moniker, or blogging name, your identity will continue to remain anonymous.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Show and Tell: A mess of shuttered vacant DCSS buildings litter the DeKalb landscape

Have a look at this map.



Vacant buildings scattered around DeKalb
After doing extensive research on the shuttered, abandoned buildings left scattered around the county by the DeKalb school system, we took a driving tour of the county.  We wove our way over about 60 miles and took pictures of the blighted, decaying structures discarded by the school board.

Tune in to our story at the new, DeKalb School Watch Two:

DCSS vacant properties causing blight countywide

Friday, January 27, 2012

Superintendent Atkinson releases her Excellence in Education Plan

Dr. Atkinson knows how to adhere to a schedule and make good on her promises.

And as promised, she has delivered a draft of her plan for the future of DeKalb schools that she is calling "Excellence in Education".

First, as we all know, Dr. Atkinson spent her initial 90 days on the job reaching out to all areas of stakeholders - teachers, parents, administrators, community leaders and school house staff. Then she interviewed and replaced some critical top level staff members. Now she is turning her attention directly on results for students.

I really like her 5 Guiding Principles:

No. 1......... Students Come First.
Student achievement is our business and must be the central theme in all initiatives.
No. 2..........Every school must believe that parents are our partners.
It is the School System’s responsibility to include and value parent and guardian input into their children's education and school.
No. 3..........Leadership and accountability at all levels are key to success.
Every classroom, every school and central office department must have a strong leader.
No. 4..........We are not alone in this endeavor.
It takes the entire community to ensure the success of the district, and we must tap into the knowledge, skills, and support they can offer to assist in providing a quality education for all students.
No. 5..........Victory is in the classroom.
Daily teaching and learning is where the battle for improvement in student achievement is fought.

She then informs us:

With the information from the listening and learning sessions and guiding principles established, the next and final phase of the entry plan was to develop and present to the Board of Education and community the "Excellence for Education Plan ‐ 2017.” This is the explicit and tactical strategy to improve the achievement of all students and improve internal operations, reporting and accountability systems.

The "Excellence for Education Plan 2017" has also been designed to actualize and prioritize the levers necessary to deliver a balanced scorecard and an aligned management system that reiterates and executes our core values and mission.

This "Excellence for Education Plan ‐ 2017" will become the district’s essential and critical guiding document for continuous improvement.


Click here to read the plan in its draft form and prepare to give Dr. Atkinson relevant feedback. Do what you can to advance her stated goals. It will take all of us to turn this ship of schools around!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Smokey Bait and Switch Arising at Smoke Rise?



The photos of the playground equipment above were sent to Kaboom in order to get a $15,000 grant.

Monday night the Smoke Rise Charter Elementary (SRCE) School Principal and Governance Council called a special meeting and demanded that the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation (SREF), a separate fundraising entity, provide them unlimited access to nearly $45,000 in funds previously raised by parents and the community over the last 3 years for the specific purpose of replacing the current dangerous playground equipment. The Principal and Governance Council want to cancel the previously approved playground upgrade project. The administrators are wanting carte blanc use of the money that had been designated for the playground; including to pay an additional salary to a current full-time Dekalb County School System employee whose children attend the school.

In addition, last spring, SREF volunteers applied for and received a renowned KaBOOM!® $15,000 grant (http://kaboom.org/about_kaboom/programs/grants) to match funds already raised for the playground. After previously approving the playground purchase, the Principal and Council at SRE suggest to just “walk away” from this generous grant. Nearly every fundraising event that has occurred over the last 3 years was advertised specifically as going to fund a new playground for the school children and local community. The $45,000 includes funds that were collected via a website established explicitly to collect funds for a new playground (http://www.crowdrise.com/srplayground/fundraiser/gosmokerise) and to show issues with the current playground equipment built in 1969 and 1980’s.

The mission of the SREF (http://gosmokerise.org/) is to continually improve the educational experience at Smoke Rise Charter School by creating sustainable business and community partnerships that provide financial and other resources. SREF was established years before the existence of the SRE Governance Council and without regards to the Council. The Council believes SREF is forced to do as it says.

Parents who donated for the expressed cause of building a new playground for their children are outraged that their money appears to have been donated under false pretenses.

Please contact current Foundation members for more information: Monti Staton 678-467-6996 or Karen Weitzel 770-906-2477.

Click here to link to the photo album directly.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Budget decisions can sometimes return to haunt

It may be time to pay that piper.

Read this article by Ty Tagami at the AJC:

Suit could cost DeKalb millions

The school system in DeKalb County experienced a setback in a lawsuit brought by employees that could someday cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, yet a top official says he’s unaware of plans to set money aside in case the county is forced to pay.

Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger ruled in October against DeKalb’s claim that it was immune to a lawsuit over suspended payments to a supplemental retirement fund for teachers, bus drivers and other employees.

The case is on appeal, with hearings scheduled for April. If the school system loses the appeal, the lawsuit will continue in the DeKalb court system. So far, the case involves only two plaintiffs, but they are seeking class action status. If it is granted and if the county loses the case, taxpayers could be compelled to make back payments to the thousands of employees in the retirement plan.

The school system had been paying into the plan since 1979, but suspended payments in 2009 because of a budget shortfall. A teacher and a school counselor sued last March, charging the suspension was a breach of contract. They are demanding the restoration of all payments for three years and counting. It’s unclear how much the total could be.

The only calculation available in the court record is for the 2009-10 school year, when DeKalb was scheduled to pay $26.5 million into the tax-sheltered annuity plan.

Assuming the annual contribution — about 6 percent of each employee’s pay — didn’t change much, the total could exceed $50 million, said John Salter, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Yet school board Chairman Eugene Walker said he knows of no plan to save money for the possibility of a payout.


That's the word from the former finance chair who is now our board chair.

Click this link to read the rest...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hello? Is anyone paying attention?

This is such bad news! While our board and system leaders were busy and distracted, millions of dollars went zipping by - un-captured.

Read the latest at the AJC:

DeKalb misses Race to Top deadline; new deadline could have consequences if missed

The DeKalb County school system has to do some hiring – and in a hurry.

School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson was notified Wednesday that the school system has until Feb. 28 to make 15 hires, mostly teaching coaches to help low-income students struggling with math, science and other subjects.

If the system misses the deadline, Atkinson has been warned, there could escalating consequences. The most extreme: loss of the district’s $34 million, four-year federal Race to the Top grant.

In 2009, DeKalb and 25 other local school districts were collectively awarded $200 million through Race to the Top, an education reform program created by the Obama administration.

In exchange, the school districts had to agree to certain initiatives, such as creating turn-around plans for their lowest-performing schools, and to certain deadlines.

DeKalb school officials agreed to but missed a deadline to have the 15 new hires on board by the start of the current school year last August. Their main jobs involved working with students and parents at four of the county’s most economically and academically challenged schools: Freedom Middle School, McNair Middle School, Towers High School and Clarkston High School.


Read the rest at the link above. Please, I beg of you, complain! People in these schools need to demand more for their children from our leadership.

Board holds a retreat at SACS headquarters

The DeKalb County Board of Education Retreat was held on Wednesday, January 18 and DeKalb School Watch has the following report from an observer.

I have planned and run successful retreats and I can tell you – this was not one. Dunwoody City Council recently announced that they will be having an all day retreat. Click this article at the Patch to see what a well-planned retreat should look like.

This BOE “retreat” was billed as a discussion between the BOE and the Superintendent from noon until 3 PM. Actually, the meeting began 50 minutes late and ran over by 2 hours! And I’m still not sure why they met at SACS headquarters. Mark Elgart did not make an appearance. Nor did anyone from SACS.

It was just another typical BOE meeting – but with food and without the hour of public comments. This meeting was enlightening in random, unexpected ways. Although, some BOE members mumble and don’t speak up or speak clearly, even a casual observer could tell that there are BOE members who are not well-versed in the operations of the schools in their districts. For example, most do not know which high schools are on a 4 x 4 block and which are on a 7-period day. Surely they could know this information about the high schools in the districts that elected them! Gene Walker did not know that there are only 4 Parent Councils in DeKalb. Sarah Copelin-Woods went ballastic at the mention of Alvin Wilbanks’ name (Gwinnett Superintendent) because of an error in judgment made by a few Gwinnett teachers. Gene Walker did nothing to rein her in. Sarah continued to rant “sotto voce” as Superintendent Atkinson continued through her PowerPoint presentation.

There was a lot of unprofessional behavior–the same behavior that teachers struggle with in their classrooms every day. Jay Cunningham alternated between leaning way back in his chair with his eyes closed, playing with his phone and getting up to leave the room to take calls. While Superintendent Atkinson was presenting, there was whispering between some adjacent BOE members. At least two BOE members did not bother to take notes even though they were each recently provided their own iPad. To be fair, I could not see all of the BOE members because they were seated at a round table.

Tom Bowen, now vice chair, left the meeting at 3:50 PM – just when the highly-anticipated, $150,000 new salary audit summary from Management Advisory Group (MAG) was introduced by Superintendent Atkinson. He missed the best part of the whole meeting! The most discussion and, certainly the most passion displayed all afternoon, came to the fore with regard to DCSS central office staffing. It was clear that Jay Cunningham, Sarah Copelin-Woods and Gene Walker think of DeKalb County School System as a jobs program, keeping their friends and family fully employed. While that may not be the opinion of others on the BOE, not one person called Jay, Sarah or Gene on their thinly veiled “concerns.”

Below are my reactions to the report from Management Advisory Group (MAG) regarding bloat in the central office:

  • Where we are now is exactly the same place we were following the Ernst & Young report.
  • This report came to almost exactly the same conclusions as Ernst & Young.
  • And, they made the same request to look at what employees really do and to standardize job descriptions/requirements across DCSS, while also standardizing the salary scale.
  • So, we are paying again for essentially the same information. Surely no one expected an improvement! Hopefully, this report will not go AWOL.

One final thought: Thank you, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for sending a reporter, Ty Tagami, to sit through the whole, interminable “retreat” yesterday! It’s critical that respectable news publications tediously track the spending of the people’s tax dollars, as well as the quality of education in Georgia. Ty wrote an excellent article which can be read here. However, I do differ with Tagami’s interpretation that Superintendent Atkinson said she would “massage” the MAG report. First, we did not see the whole report, just a summary. And, second—the way I heard it—what Superintendent Atkinson was specifically referring to when she used the word, “massage” was the MAG-suggested organization chart. And, I agree. It was poorly drawn, looked like an after-thought, and did need a lot of “massaging”!

Education-Related Legislative Updates

Stay tuned to this post during the next month or two. We will try to add news as it reaches us from the Capitol during this legislative session.  Please send updates to the blog at reparteeforfun@gmail.com

===
Submitted by David Montané:

By banding together with Republicans, one of the DeKalb Delegation, Democrat Senator Jason Carter, may succeed where other Democrat Senators failed. Last year, he and five Republican Senators sponsored Senate Bill 49, which if passed into law would raise the age for mandatory education from 16 to 16-1/2.

Last year, Senate Bills 14 and 208 sought to raise the mandatory education age from 16 to 17, and Senate Bill 43 sought to increase the range of mandatory education from ages 6-16, to ages 5-17. All sponsors of these three bills were Democrats, including several from the DeKalb Delegation. SB 49 was the only one of the four bills to make it out of the Education and Youth committee, and to be re-activated in the current legislative session. Republican Senator Fran Millar, also part of the DeKalb Delegation, is the committee Chairman.

Unfortunately, this mandate would: further expand the state's power over the people, is estimated to add $8 Million to the state budget, and may give school boards (including DCSS) yet another excuse to increase local taxes instead of tightening their belts. Forcing would-be high school dropouts to remain an extra semester will not have the desired effect (more jobs or higher pay), instead leading to even more teenage angst, more truancy, more security risks. More disgruntled students distracting the attention of teachers from your motivated child.

The bill can be found at http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/display/32420.

===

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interesting news on the new audit report

Click the link below to read the article posted at the AJC online: (Gotta love the shocking title!)

Report: DeKalb schools have too many administrators

So, basically, what they're saying here is, we have too many administrators. Over 300 too many in fact. In the central office of course. Apparently we have almost 1,500 staff in the central office, when we really should only have 1,162.

In addition, "Job titles, and their lack of descriptiveness, are a problem. The district employs directors, coordinators, secretaries and others in the central office whose titles don't reflect their responsibilities."

They also found "confusion about who does what and how much they should be paid. Some secretaries, for instance, have more responsibility than the presumably higher title of coordinator."

So, sadly, we were right.

Now Atkinson says she will take the report and "massage it".

Hmmmm. She may need to get a gizmo from Brookstone to help with that.



A Public Service Announcement

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.


Go to Fight for the Future and read more.

Visit Wordpress.org and sign the Petitions. Go to Stop American Censorship and send an email to your senator. Then go to "Free Bieber" and create your own "Bieber Cam" video from "behind bars".

This is so serious that many blogs have purposely blacked out today in protest, showing us what the future of the internet could look like if Congress has it's way. The vote on "Protect IP" is scheduled for January 24, so time is of the essence.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Much Should DeKalb Schools be Spending for Maintenance?

The expenditure data for DCSS Maintenance personnel shows that DeKalb is on the high side of spending for Maintenance personnel when compared to eight other metro Atlanta school systems. Clayton County Schools ($188) and Atlanta Public Schools ($162) consume the most per pupil dollars for maintenance with DeKalb coming in third ($137). The other six metro school systems spend under $100 per pupil on Maintenance.

Looking at each cost center in terms of per pupil dollars consumed is critical to DeKalb Schools. How low can Dr. Atkinson and the DeKalb Board of Education get those non-teaching expenditures is the question. There is a finite amount of per pupil funding. If student achievement is to improve, more per pupil allocation must go into direct instruction and equipment and supplies for the classroom.

Dr. Atkinson has experience with outsourcing in her last school district Lorain City Schools. She proposed and was successful in outsourcing non-core functions when there was a budget crunch. When she interviewed for the CEO position for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, she stated, “My passion is for urban schools districts. I enjoy putting in place programs that are designed around students’ needs. It is my belief that we can educate all children at high levels.…I subscribe to the practice of zero-based budgeting…..I have negotiated contracts to outsource operational services as well as managed internal support services.” Dr. Atkinson has the will and experience to do what is necessary in order to redirect taxpayer dollars into the classrooms, but the citizens of DeKalb must diligently and vigorously support her efforts.

Around 600 teaching positions (also known as the “core business”) were cut in 2009-10 and 2010-11 in order to ensure the continued employment of all DeKalb Schools personnel. Student achievement also fell to the lowest level in the history of the school system and the lowest in the metro area in our Title 1 schools during the last two years as literally hundreds of teaching positions were left unfilled when teachers left the system.

Much has been made of the Compensation audit that Dr. Atkinson is using to assess where DeKalb can save money and reinvest in the classroom. The audit is an excellent start. However, Dr. Atkinson and the Board members must look at the numbers of personnel that perform the functions as well their compensation. Dekalb employs 280 Maintenance personnel for our 95,481 students while Gwinnett employs 154 Maintenance personnel for 159,814 students and Cobb County employs 133 Maintenance personnel for 106,619 students. Gwinnett County has 131 schools while DeKalb has 133 schools. In addition, Gwinnett County has 64,333 more students than DeKalb. That is to say, 64,333 more students are using the equipment that must be maintained in Gwinnett than DeKalb, yet Gwinnett is maintaining that equipment with considerably less maintenance personnel. “Rightsizing” the number of personnel is just as important as “rightsizing” the compensation of those personnel. Protecting jobs should never take precedence over the “core business” of the classroom, which is to educate students. Students are the only reason we have a school system and the reason taxpayers pay school taxes. As Marietta Superintendent Emily Lembeck said when she had to make tough budget decisions, “It becomes more difficult to protect what happens in the classroom without looking at some services that are not directly related... Reducing days of instruction through furloughs and larger class sizes is not in the best interest of our core business of educating students.” Dr. Lembeck ought to know. Marietta City students have had remarkable achievement rates (before and after strict test monitoring) over the last 10 years under Dr. Lembeck even as the school system’s poverty rates have edged higher than DeKalb. That’s exactly why she was named Georgia’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year last week.

School year 2004-2005:
DeKalb Schools employed 280 Maintenance personnel to serve 97,282 students.

School year 2010-2011:
DeKalb employed 251 Security personnel to serve 95,481 students.

The charts below compare DeKalb School System’s current number of and expenditure for Security personnel with other metro Atlanta school systems (* references demographically similar systems).

Every Per Pupil dollar spent for Maintenance is a Per Pupil dollar NOT spent for Instruction.

Comparison Summary (including benefits calculated at 20%):

DeKalb County Schools – 95,481 students – $12,761,613 for 251 Maintenance personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $137

*Atlanta Public Schools (APS) – 48,805 students - $7,891,496 for 169 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $162

*Clayton School System – 49,551 students - $9,322,532 for 360 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $188


Gwinnett County Schools – 159,814 students - $9,616,462 for 154 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $60

*Rockdale County Schools – 15,582 students - $1,381,985 for 26 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $89

Fulton County Schools – 89,920 students - $8,105,289 for 129 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $90

Cobb County Schools - 106,619 students - $6,754,106 for 133 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $63

*Marietta City Schools - 8,010 students - $359,738 for 8 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $45

Decatur City Schools – 2,894 students - $269,057 for 5 Maintenance Personnel
Maintenance Cost per pupil - $93

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Much Should DeKalb Schools be Spending for Security?

The expenditure data for DCSS Security personnel shows that DeKalb is considerably out of line when compared to metro Atlanta school systems. No other school system except Atlanta Public Schools comes close to the massive expenditure of DCSS regarding Security personnel. Demographically similar school systems with much higher student achievement spend a great deal less per pupil for Security than DCSS. In an economic climate that must make every dollar count, DCSS needs to evaluate its expenditure for Security personnel.

School year 2004-2005:
DeKalb Schools employed 164 Security personnel to serve 97,282 students.

School year 2010-2011:
DeKalb employed 204 Security personnel to serve 95,481 students.

The charts below compare DeKalb School System’s current number of and expenditure for Security personnel with other metro Atlanta school systems (* references demographically similar systems).

Every Per Pupil dollar spent for Security is a Per Pupil dollar NOT spent for Instruction.

Comparison Summary (including benefits calculated at 20%):

DeKalb County Schools – 95,481 students – $10,844,887 for 204 Security personnel
Security Cost per pupil - $114

*Atlanta Public Schools (APS) – 48,805 students - $5,126,593 for 282 Security Personnel
Security Cost per pupil - $105

*Clayton School System – 49,551 students - $1,020,186 for 180 Security Personnel
Security Cost per pupil - $21

Gwinnett County Schools – 159,814 students - $2,755,802 for 48 Security Personnel
Security Cost per pupil - $17

*Rockdale County Schools – 15,582 students - $101,582 for 5 Security Personnel
Security Cost per pupil - $7

Fulton County Schools – 89,920 students - $4,292,198 for 66 Security Personnel
Security Cost per pupil - $48

Cobb County Schools - 106,619 students - $2,313,225 for 44 Security Personnel
Security Cost per pupil - $22

*Marietta City Schools - No expenditure in school budget for Security personnel
Marietta City Schools contracts with the Marietta City Police Department for 191 days of SRO services
SALARY RANGE BREAKDOWNS by District

*DeKalb County Schools – 95,481 students – $10,844,887 for 204 Security personnel
Salary Range   Number of Security Personnel in Salary Range   % of Personnel in Salary Range
$100,000+ 5 2%
$90,000 to $100,000 5 4%
$80,000 to $90,000 11 5%
$70,000 to $80,000 22 11%
$60,000 to $70,000 25 12%
$50,000 to $60,000 20 10%
$40,000 to $50,000 80 39%
$30,000 to $40,000 22 11%
$20,000 to $30,000 4 2%
$10,000 to $20,000 3 1%
Less than $10,000 7 3%
Total Personnel 204

*Atlanta Public Schools – 48,805 students - $5,126,593 for 282 Security Personnel
Salary Range   Number of Security Personnel in Salary Range   % of Personnel in Salary Range
$100,000+ 2 1%
$90,000 to $100,000 1 <1%
$80,000 to $90,000 1 <1%
$70,000 to $80,000 2 1%
$60,000 to $70,000 1 <1%
$50,000 to $60,000 9 3%
$40,000 to $50,000 8 3%
$30,000 to $40,000 19 7%
$20,000 to $30,000 53 19%
$10,000 to $20,000 85 30%
Less than $10,000 101 36%
Total Number of Personnel 282

*Clayton School System – 49,551 students - $1,020,186 for 180 Security Personnel
Salary Range   Number of Security Personnel in Salary Range   % of Personnel in Salary Range
$100,000+ 0 0%
$90,000 to $100,000 0 0%
$80,000 to $90,000 0 0%
$70,000 to $80,000 0 0%
$60,000 to $70,000 0 0%
$50,000 to $60,000 0 0%
$40,000 to $50,000 0 0%
$30,000 to $40,000 1 <1%
$20,000 to $30,000 15 2%
$10,000 to $20,000 22 18%
Less than $10,000 142 80%
Total Number of Personnel 180

Gwinnett County Schools – 159,814 students - $2,755,802 for 48 Security Personnel
Salary Range   Number of Security Personnel in Salary Range   % of Personnel in Salary Range
$100,000+ 10 21%
$90,000 to $100,000 11 23%
$80,000 to $90,000 0 0%
$70,000 to $80,000 0 0%
$60,000 to $70,000 1 2%
$50,000 to $60,000 1 2%
$40,000 to $50,000 1 2%
$30,000 to $40,000 3 6%
$20,000 to $30,000 8 17%
$10,000 to $20,000 7 14%
Less than $10,000 6 13%
Total Personnel 48

*Rockdale County Schools – 15,582 students - $101,582 for 5 Security Personnel
Salary Range   Number of Security Personnel in Salary Range   % of Personnel in Salary Range
$100,000+ 0 0%
$90,000 to $100,000 0 0%
$80,000 to $90,000 0 0%
$70,000 to $80,000 0 0%
$60,000 to $70,000 0 0%
$50,000 to $60,000 0 0%
$40,000 to $50,000 0 0%
$30,000 to $40,000 0 0%
$20,000 to $30,000 3 60%
$10,000 to $20,000 1 20%
Less than $10,000 1 20%
Total Number of Personnel 5

Fulton County Schools – 89,920 students - $4,292,198 for 66 Security Personnel
Salary Range   Number of Security Personnel in Salary Range   % of Personnel in Salary Range
$100,000+ 1 <2%
$90,000 to $100,000 3 5%
$80,000 to $90,000 8 12%
$70,000 to $80,000 16 24%
$60,000 to $70,000 19 29%
$50,000 to $60,000 10 15%
$40,000 to $50,000 2 <3%
$30,000 to $40,000 3 5%
$20,000 to $30,000 1 <2%
$10,000 to $20,000 1 <2%
Less than $10,000 2 <3%
Total Number of Personnel 66

Cobb County Schools - 106,619 students - $2,313,225 for 44 Security Personnel
Salary Range   Number of Security Personnel in Salary Range   % of Personnel in Salary Range
$100,000+ 1 2%
$90,000 to $100,000 0 0%
$80,000 to $90,000 1 2%
$70,000 to $80,000 3 7%
$60,000 to $70,000 7 16%
$50,000 to $60,000 14 32%
$40,000 to $50,000 14 32%
$30,000 to $40,000 1 2%
$20,000 to $30,000 0 0%
$10,000 to $20,000 2 5%
Less than $10,000 1 2%
Total Number of Personnel 44

*Marietta City Schools - No expenditure listed for Security personnel
Contract with Marietta Police Department for 191 days of SRO service

*Demographically comparable school systems

Sources:
Open Georgia (Salary and Travel Reimbursements):
http://www.open.georgia.gov/

Georgia DOE (Report Cards for Districts):
http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/ReportingFW.aspx?PageReq=102&StateId=ALL&T=1&FY=2011

Saturday, January 14, 2012

PDPs: Professional Development Plan or Bullying Tool?

We have been hearing from a lot of teachers who say that their principals and assistant principals are bullies. We have no evidence to prove or disprove this, but the comments on the blog tell amazing stories of sorority cliques, blackballing of teachers who speak out against preferential treatment and general mistreatment of teachers who are not part of these inner social circles.

It does seem rather arbitrary and easy for a principal to set their sights on destroying a teacher in DeKalb. One does have to wonder if giving principals more latitude is truly a good idea. Our teachers have little protection when it comes down to it. Remember the case of Kesha Lanier, the Georgia Tech educated math teacher who ended up without a job after refusing to change grades for a student when requested to do so by a high-ranking administrator. DeKalb lost a terrific teacher in that power play.

We came to possess what is commonly referred to as a "Professional Development Plan" or PDP written by a principal putting a teacher on some kind of probation type status.

Below are the principal's complaints about the teacher along with demands for "improvement". To us it looks more like a vaguely worded, difficult to quantify, condescending control mechanism. Let us know what you think.

Required Plan for Specific Needs Development

Specific Objectives for Improvement
1. [Teacher] will interact in a professional manner with students and parents
2. [Teacher] will work cooperatively with school administrators, special support personnel, colleagues, and parents.
3. [Teacher] will only use appropriate and research based instructional and discipline intervention strategies as directed by the DCSS Office of Teaching and Learning and the school's local administration.
4. [Teacher] will provide plans of remediation for failing students in a timely manner.

Activities and Timelines
1. [Teacher] will participate in two workshops during the months of X and X that focus on effective classroom discipline strategies and developing effective interpersonal skills through the Office of Professional Learning.
2. [Teacher] will schedule and have two conferences with the Assistant Principal for Instruction, [another AP] and the principal to discuss strategies for improving instructional practices and workplace communication and during these meetings, teacher must share success in this area prior to [date].
3. [Teacher] will research and summarize at least three articles related to appropriate communication with students, colleagues and parents. [Teacher] will submit to the principal by [date] a plan outlining at least three professional goals in these areas along with appropriate actions teacher will implement in the workplace/classroom to improve communication with students, supervisors, colleagues and parents.
4. [Teacher] will schedule and have a conference with the principal prior to [date] to discuss progress [teacher] is making and to receive feedback about areas addressed in this PDP.
5. [Teacher] will observe three model teacher-leaders in the building, complete a summary of those observations and implement the effective teaching strategies observed in [teacher's] own classroom. Evidence/usage of these strategies must be demonstrated when [teacher] is observed by county personnel, local administrators and/or the instructional coach.

Criteria for Measurement of Progress
1. There will be no documented instanced wherein [teacher] does not follow school policies and procedures (e.g. using unofficial hall passes, not standing at the door between classes)
2. There will be no documented instances wherein [teacher] uses an unprofessional tone when interacting with supervisors, students, colleagues and parents.
3. There will be no documented instances that required conferences or expectations as communicated in this PDP have not been fulfilled as set forth in this PDP.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The GA legislature is in session -- participate!

  
Celebrate Georgia's school choice options and rally in support of a quality education for ALL Georgia students!

After the rally, you'll have an opportunity to thank your legislator for school choice and to tell them how it impacts your life. And if you do not currently have quality options to educate your child, you can ask your lawmaker to provide better educational options.

More than 1,100 students, parents, teachers, and advocates attended last year's rally. Come and be part of this amazing event.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 from 10am to 12 noon

Georgia State Capitol on Washington Street


Register for the rally by clicking here, and get more information at www.schoolchoicerally.com


Monday, January 9, 2012

Board Meeting Tonight, Jan 9 at 6 pm - Tune In!

Attend the board meeting or watch it live on Comcast 24 tonight at 6:00 pm. You can review the agenda by clicking on our link to "Meetings & Announcements".

I noticed Khlid Farrakhan is on the list of citizen speakers. I am always offended by this man's remarks. I always hope that Tom shuts him down and stops allowing him to rant his racist (against whites and Hispanics) and anti-semitic remarks. However, Tom always lets Farakhan spew his hatred. All I can say is that if a white person said one tenth of what Farrakhan says, security would usher them from the room. Last time I reported on him, Mr. Farrakhan Something about "America needing to repent from her sins. Frogs and locusts overtaking towns...? God will destroy the wealth of America in order to deliver us to the promised land. My children no longer attend your public schools. Homeschooling is better. That's a fact." In the past, he has requested that the school system stock schools with books stating that the Jews are the cause of black people's hardships. He wanted this taught in the curriculum. Tom's reply? "Thank you Mr. Farrakhan." So disappointing.

Interestingly, the agenda for tonight is very short. However, the biggest item is choosing the new chair. It could be boring - or it could be very interesting. See you at 6!

===

6:10 - Tucker Tigers honored for winning the state football championship!

Speakers

1. Wanda Roberts {Warren Tech was a wonderful life changing event for her] Standing O from the crowd!
2. Jenny Horton [PTSO co-pres] good things happening at DHS due to great parents and teachers extra hard work - ranked #23 great high schools ATL magazine
3. Loreen Booker-Brown - brought up the grand jury investigation. admonished the board for excessive lawyer fees - suggested outsourcing internal affairs - asked the board to voluntarily resign immediately
4. Julius Brown - SW DeKalb - takes AP art - wants help to go to GA Perimeter College in Clarkston. Showed some art [really was quite good!!]
5. Ayesha Lakes - loves to spend time volunteering in child's elementary school - parents must demonstrate to their children that education is important
6. Ronda Ward - parent of 3rd grader at Meadowview. Good things happening there. Despite some board decisions I don't agree with, the principal has had good results. You need to acknowledge teachers who go above and beyond - provide extra help - to buying socks for poor children. Please support and commend them.
7. Sandy Purkett - Redan Blue Thunder Band members earned $6 million in scholarships. Named all top level administrators who helped. Jan 17 Federal Financial Workshop. South Carolina State taking applications Jan 24 in the media center.
8. Khalid Farrakhan - Greetings "In the name of Allah." Mentioned Gwinnett's math worksheet talking about slaves picking oranges. Mocked black fathers saying they're hurt. They deserved it due to agreeing to integrate. Quoted Lincoln saying races are different. Why is this not in the history books? Jefferson said blacks should be colonized. True sentiment of former presidents that hopefully 2012 Republican presidential candidates will [heed?]... ramble ramble...
9. Karla Pierce - Wadsworth Magnet School - cited academic awards - robotics team took 1st place in DeKalb. 3 students took honors at DeKalb SS Fair. Many more Wadsworth student achievements were listed. 6th graders taking a trip to Puerto Rico for language immersion... [wonder if Farrakhan was listening to Karla...]
10. Ilene Farley - Tucker HS - children first. Highlighted achievements. Great things happening.
11. Janice Clark - absent
12. Greta Mason - FAMU hazing. Certain schools, primarily SW DeKalb targeted in the media. Glamorized. Legacy of leaders distorted. Restore the morale that has been tarnished in the media. Trust needs restored. Communicate what needs to happen to go forth. Students need to know that you support them. Lift the suspension.
13. Luci deJesus - Hawthorne ES parent. Teacher has been suspended for mishandling a child. Long term sub in place. 4-8 weeks or longer. Tearfully reported that there has hardly been a familiar face in the classroom so far. Understands teachers rights to fair trial - but don't children have a right to a good education? Students are not learning. HR needs to make a decision and send us a teacher! [Bowen asked to have info passed to Tyson]
14. David Schutten - ditto on Meadowview. We are part of $2.2 million Gates Foundation grant. (Not sure what for.)
15. Keith Sailor - Concerned parent. Dr A - rumored that you may be in over your head. I tend to agree. People and persons responsible for your transition have done a terrible job. Communications is terrible. You have yet to speak with anyone about the band suspensions nor revealed the nature of the investigation. Members of your staff say band parents have too much power and need controlled. You have the appearance of being manipulated. They are keeping you out of the schools. You have done a poor job of taking control of the situation. You have made all of our kids suspects in a criminal investigation. You are wrong if you think this won't effect their chances for scholarships. We got $21.5 million last year - from our reputation alone.
16. Kerry Banton - SW DeKalb PTA/School Council. Disappointed in the band suspension. Disappointed in Atkinson. Band parents are some of the most dedicated. We have no pass no play rule for band. Band breeds good students. I assure you I can't think of a safer place for my son after school. Requesting a letter of explanation from Dr. A.
17. Willie Pringle - "Praise given to God"... I come as a parent - as a volunteer - for all our children not just my daughter as SW. In the news - DeKalb school board should be investigated. This new year should be about our children - not focused on the continued dysfunction of our board. God is watching. You all have to be accountable because you have been entrusted with the leadership of our schools. Cunningham - you need to come to our school and listen to our parents. It's time to get serious with our children because they are being short-changed.
18. Dan Schafstal (?)- Support 18 kindergartners at Hawthorne. HR has allowed the classroom to go without a certified teacher for an extended period of time. Need to find ways to speed up the process. Principal says only HR can do anything. Need to give principals more hiring flexibility. Lack of communication between the school and the families has been very lacking. Very involved parents who can't get answers for their children.
19. Jacqueline Belton - 2nd best kept secret - DeKalb HS of Tech South. Provides students with marketable job skills. Very pleased with the education her son is getting there.
20. Natasha Walker - Issues and concerns for DeKalb Elem School of the Arts. Vandalized again. Copper removed a third time. Portion of school without heat. How many times are going to have to occur before something is done? How would you feel if your child had no heat in their classroom for over 2 weeks? We asked for a crime assessment of the area you moved us to. Building was no better. More resources needed to assess the buildings. Some schools get tens of millions of dollars like Tucker HS - but we continue to get nothing. Make a plan - we are wasting money with all this moving around.

JAY - personal privilege. "#1 -- everybody have a right to their opinion, but at the same time period I'm not going to be threatened or bullied. You can vote for whoever you want. We met with the SW DeKalb band booster president. Me, and Mr. Walker and Mr. Atkinson." [Interrupted by Bowen but Cunningham continues to push back - saying it's "ridiculous".]

He then nominates Gene Walker for board chair

McChesney nominated Pam Speaks

CLOSED

VOTE - Walker - Yes - majority win for Gene Walker for chair

Vice- Chair nominees

JAY - nominated Tom Bowen

McChesney nominated Pam Speaks

CLOSED

VOTE - Yes - majority win for Tom Bowen as vice-chair

BREAK

Gene - He is humbled and honored. Says his objective is to improve the education of every child in DeKalb County Schools.

Speaks says 14 policies were reviewed and discussed in the committee mtg. The meeting was one hour long, so I've calculated that's about 4 minutes a policy,

Dr Atkinson's report - says she, Dr. Walker and Jay met with leaders at SW DeKalb regarding the band. She also said that the intention was to keep the good reputation of our bands intact. The edict to principals was not to cancel all events, but to submit approvals for events over the holidays - all that were submitted were approved. Also, stated that once internal investigation is complete she will communicate the plan. Wants to keep our bands in good standing publicly. Proud of our programs and our children. She will be grand marshal of MLK Day parade. Join us in celebrating Dr King's legacy. 90 day plan comes to an end Jan 24. Next step will be to present blueprint to the board, and then to the community. Plan to move systemwide to a district of excellence. We are up to the task.

Gene added comment: Jay and I met with SW school council members. We had heard the explanation. We agree. Zero tolerance for hazing or bullying. Wanted to be proactive - not to inhibit. Wanted procedures and protocol in place. Dr. A made it clear that if any student encountered difficulty with a scholarship (specifically SW DeKalb) she would personally intervene. She said in that meeting that she would come back and speak to members of the community after the investigation. We do not take lightly our responsibility for our student's safety.

ACTION ITEMS

Board meetings for 2012 calendar: APPROVED

Financial Report -- Ms. Susan M. Hurst, Director, Budgets Office: Jester: Spent $7.8 million on electricity - budget was $4.5 million - Need more realistic budgets. Legal fees are under for the month which is good - need to move that line item elsewhere in the budget. Atkinson says she asked Ms Hurst to provide 5 year history on electricity etc. Will have this for our zero based budgeting. Womack - I don't know how we can not overrun the electricity. There were 2 or 3 increases we weren't clued in on. Edler - looking at block vs 7 period model... wondering where we have decided to go - and impact on budget. Walker - take to the budget committee. PASSED.

Excess Worker's Comp -- Mr. Michael S. Florio, Director, Office of Risk Management Services: $174, 150 Star Insurance Co. Don: bothered a bit. Second time for this discussion. Policy is already a month late. Fiorio - had it extended. McC - try to get it on time in the future. Also, there were 6 other companies. F: No others agreed to carry this. Mc Chesney - please, as I've told many people, give me all the info I need to make a decision. Dr. A - we're going to change some of these processes. Need three months to get a broker (can't buy directly from insurance co). Will start earlier next time. But have to do this now, or we'll be out of insurance. Jester: historical Q. We were told that part of policy that stipulated we can't get competing bids. F: Not the case here. J: So, it's that we need a different broker.

HR Report -- Dr. Tekshia M. Ward-Smith, Director, Staff Services, Division of Human Resources: Cunningham: ask that we not have as many long term subs. [not sure how to do that...people get sick, have babies, etc] Edler: 3 vacancies - all have been filled? Yes. Edler: Does that cover the Hawthorne kindergarten. No. We're not aware of a teacher vacancy at Hawthorne. Walker: We would like for them to be fully staffed. Jester: known about this problem quite some time and I have communicated it - the system is aware. We're making adult problems the problems of children and I'm pretty mad about that. The children are already missing 2 report cards. One bad school year takes 3 good years to overcome. This is a systemic breakdown. When a teacher is removed, there is no vacancy - we hold it open while we investigate. We need to replace with a permanent qualified teacher. If the case is resolved, the teacher can be placed elsewhere. A from Ward-Smith: We have a list of 225 certified substitute teachers we can pull from. Jester: this should have been a 'vacancy' - it's not ok to place a sub. Not ok to make children suffer to protect adults jobs. Dr A: we have been auditing divisions - one of them HR. We are trying to understand where we have holes. It's more than an HR issue - it's a leadership issue too. Need a 'rapid response team' to address these kinds of issues - which we will be putting in place. This is on the top of the list for the morning. Sarah: We need to investigate how other schools are faring. We've had this discussion many times. Legally, can we replace a job that's not vacant? Ward-Smith: Internal Affairs does not have to be complete to replace a job. Sarah: Can't make a rash decision and have to watch out for people's jobs. We do need to see how long subs have been in place around the county at all of our schools. Jay: subs can't come to meetings, can't get emails, can't communicate w parents. We can at least look into these things quickly. Need a report on the Star program. Want to know where we are. Some schools have subs and they're not counted in the program. Arabia for example. Need more cafeteria subs. They are short when we send some of them out for training. APPROVED

GADOE Charter Facilities Grant Contracts: Walter Woods - Sarah: Could you slow down and explain again? Woods: items purchased by the state go back to the system if charter goes away. McChesney: Different amounts - who determined? A: the state. Museum School ($75,000), PATH Academy ($70,000), Destiny ($65,000) and International Community School ($65,000)

The rest is all approved... check the agenda for details...

Board Comments

Pam Speaks: Update on work of elementary student - Smile Train. Cleft condition. Andi Kezh. Started a FB Page - Andi's Smile. Raised enough money to pay for 4 surgeries for other children. Now has made a difference in the lives of 40 children. Very proud of Andi!

Nancy Jester: Reiterate our need for a regular report from safety dept. Property loss, damage and incidents. Lots of burglary and vandalism. We're self-insured and we need to know our risk and cost. Chief of Police in my district says they are often called in to take reports of violence so that they aren't recorded by the school system. That should be stopped so that we can have a realistic view of crime in our schools.

Cunningham: Columbia HS - first place in a national competition for [not sure] -- brought economic dev to the county as visitors shopped. Sponsored by Converse. Thanks Dr. W and Dr A for going with me to meet with PTSO and school council at SW DeKalb on the band issue.

Sarah: MLK parade is going well. 5 bands to play. MLK, Stone Mt. Cedar Grove, McNair and Clarkston. Cheerleaders, ROTC coming. Open to anyone, no fee. Sign up at 11:30 4th street Stone Mt at the MARTA station. Call Sarah for more info.

Dr. A - introduced Dr Ralph Taylor. Assoc super for ?? Discipline, alternative programs,etc...

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. Schools & Administrative Offices Closed ~ Monday, January 16, 2012 ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday

2. DeKalb NAACP 10th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade and Rally, 1:00pm, Monday, January 16, 2012, downtown Stone Mountain

3. Title I Mathematics Summit; 8:00am, Saturday, January 21, 2012, Miller Grove High School, 2645 DeKalb Medical Center Parkway, Lithonia

Adjourn. 8:58

Young Inventors Fair & AT&T Spirit of Innovation Youth Challenge - May 16, 2012

On May 16, 2012, Cross Keys High School will be hosting DeKalb's 1st Annual Young Inventors Fair open to students from all public schools in DeKalb County.

Please spread the word about this amazing opportunity for our DeKalb public school students from the 4th - 12th grade. I telegraphed to this blog this past summer that the Cross Keys Foundation would be working hard to support the initiation of DeKalb's 1st Annual Young Inventors Fair. At the time, I had no idea what an exciting form the project would take with our support and a commitment from Career Technology administration. DeKalb County is really going to turn some heads with this event!

For me, the most exciting part is the "AT&T Spirit of Innovation" section of the Fair. AT&T has agreed to supply 40 units of a custom Arduino-based kit. Arduino is an open hardware initiative that has captured the interest of engineers at AT&T. They are proto-typing a special purpose AT&T Arduino board for use in public education initiatives. The videos embedded in this post contain samples of creative uses of Arduino hardware.

In addition, the company formerly known as, "Ma Bell," has provided training to a dozen Cross Keys manufacturing students on the Arduino product so they, in turn, can provide two workshops for DeKalb students who would like to enter in the special section of the fair, "AT&T Spirit of Innovation." All-in-all this is a very exciting and cutting edge program and truly a ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity for our young people.

Entrants in this special section must attend one of the upcoming CKF-sponsored and CK-student lead workshops in February. Below is the detailed announcement - make sure your schools' kids take advantage of this and let's all meet at CKHS this May to see what they innovate!

The Young Inventor Program for Dekalb County Schools and AT&T Innovation Youth Challenge

PURPOSE
The Young Inventors Program and AT&T Innovation Youth Challenge is intended to stimulate interest in the study of science, technology, engineering and math by supporting a student Invention & Innovation Program in Dekalb County Schools. These programs involve students in grades 4 – 12 in hands on science, technology, engineering and math activities.

YOUNG INVENTORS PROGRAM
During the 2012 Spring Semester the Cross Keys Manufacturing Center will invite students to submit proposals for inventions they will develop and build during the 2012 Spring Semester. The deadline for the proposals will be March 29, 2012. These will be accepted on a first come first serve basis. The Young inventors Fair will serve grades 4 – 8 in the Middle School Division and grades 9-12 in the High School Division.

“Dekalb County Young inventors Fair”

Grades 4 – 8 in the Middle School Division Forty Applicants ONLY
Deadline 03/29/12
Grades 9 – 12 in the High School Division Forty Applicants ONLY
Deadline 03/29/12

==============================================

“AT&T Innovation Youth Challenge”
Grades 4 – 8 in the Middle School Division Twenty Applicants ONLY
Deadline 03/29/12

Grades 9 – 12 in the High School Division Twenty Applicants ONLY
Deadline 03/29/12

The Young Inventors Fair will be held in the Gym at Cross Keys High School on May 16, 2012.

Set-up will start on May 15th at 4:00pm – 6:00pm. All participants must complete set-up and receive a judge interview time for the following day no later than 6:00pm. Judging will start at 8:00am – 1:00pm and the fair will be open for the public from 2:00 pm – 4:00pm. The Awards Ceremony will begin at 4:00pm.

The Young Inventors Program and AT&T Innovation Youth Challenge will honor the achievements of the Dekalb County students by providing a public venue for the young inventors to display their inventions and receive awards. Official judges drawn both from Dekalb County teachers / college professors / and the surrounding Engineering / Manufacturing community will select winners of the Fair. If any student project is determined to be “Patentable” this invention will receive donated patent attorney services. The inventor is required to pay all filing fees.

AT&T Innovation Youth Challenge Purpose
To create a specialized, competitive “AT&T Innovation Youth Challenge” section in the First Annual DeKalb County Public Schools “Youth Inventors' Fair” in May 2012. This will amplify the impact of the power of open hardware, AT&T's commitment to education, and the energy of youths' inventiveness. The Cross Keys Foundation seeks to demonstrate the ease-of-use of the Spirit of Innovation Kit and to encourage youth interest in technology.

The event will have two main sections, one for 4-8th grade and a second for 9-12th grade. The Foundation and our partners will provide promotion of the event, logistical support, recruit judges, and raise scholarship funds as awards for the event winners.

“The Spirit of Innovation Youth Challenge” Will encompass a maximum of 20 middle school and 20 high school entrants. The section would be limited to those with viable “Spirit of Innovation Kit”-based projects and would have a separate set of awards from the general sections of the competition.

By generating community and media interest in the event and AT&T's commitment the innovation process, the Foundation will raise awareness about the need for and the opportunities in technology education.

The Foundation is seeking the incremental funding necessary to sponsor scholarship prizes for the three students judged to have the winning inventions in each section, 4-8th and 9-12th and the proposed “Spirit of Innovation” section. Our goal would be to provide 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place scholarship awards in each section.

Participants in the “Spirit of Innovation Youth Challenge” will be required to attend a three hour workshop at Cross Keys Manufacturing Center. Two workshops are scheduled:

Thursday 02/09/12 4:30-7:30pm

Thursday 02/16/12 4:30-7:30pm.

At these workshops students will receive the ”Spirit of Innovation” project Kit and training on how to use the kits to enter the Competition.

Cross Keys Manufacturing - Preparing Students for the 21st Century Workplace

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Atlanta Magazine Top 50 (Public) High Schools—five from DeKalb

by Tom Doolittle


The January 2012 Atlanta magazine includes the first of its kind high school rankings. These are public school ratings only. What the magazine terms as “independent” schools do not distribute performance data. The list details nine numerical categories in what appears to be its most objective attempt to date. In previous years, Atlanta magazine provided a more subjective Top list for several subject area strengths, such as math/science, fine arts et al, allowing private schools to be included.

The Atlanta Metro's lifestyle oriented periodical states, “SATs are helpful…but (can) mean a school has little socioeconomic diversity.” The editors write confidently that their nine categories, “present a compelling portrait of how well public schools prepare their graduates.”

Five schools from DeKalb are in the Metro Top 50. In order of composite rank—DeKalb School of the Arts (#3), Lakeside (#16), Chamblee (#18), Dunwoody (#23) and Druid Hills (#42). Compare that to ten (10) each from Gwinnett; Fulton and Cobb. Cobb and Fulton had eight of the top 10 in the composite (overall) list.

In the most striking example of the breadth of the “portrait”, the five DeKalb county schools on the list make up five of the top seven in the “% college prep” category, however they range from #3 (DeKalb School of the Arts) to #42 (Druid Hills) in overall rank. Schools on the magazine ranked list generally have over 90 percent of graduates with college preparatory rather than vocational diplomas. None in DeKalb's top 5 were under 97%.

Like any data, you have to take it at face value and move along. For instance, SAT scores can be skewed by a school’s numbers taking the test; although determinant, neither school size or % of economically disadvantaged students can be objectively considered and no credit is given for progress toward closing the so-called “achievement gap”. It is also not clear how superior technology/vocational programs can be distinguished.

Figures derived from Georgia Dept of Education reveal all five DeKalb schools in the Top 50 have the highest % of economically disadvantaged students taking graduation tests, except two magnet schools in the City of Atlanta—and none less than 30.9% (DSA). Three are above 40% (Lakeside, Druid Hills and Chamblee). Except for DSA, only two schools in the Top 15 (higher than Lakeside at #16) had more than 20%. All Fulton and Cobb schools except one were less than 10%. Review of the data shows a marked gap between scores from the total population and that of the economically disadvantaged group, although those lower performing students did much better in environments with fewer than 10%--all passing AYP. Druid Hills passed AYP with 53.7% in the disadvantaged category, Dunwoody passed with 32.5%.

However, the full picture of the difficulties of high performing schools with large shares of economically disadvantaged cannot be appreciated until “student mobility rates” (ins and outs) are tabulated.

DeKalb
--5 schools in Top 25 overall (3 in Atlanta Mag Top 15)
--Top County for % College Preparatory Diploma--5 out of Top 7 schools
--Highest need for "Learning Support" among Top 5 Counties
--Top 5 in percentage economically disadvantaged (author research, not Atlanta Magazine)

(Data derived from: Georgia Department of Education)
(Modified from an article in The Patch)




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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Demonstration against T-Mobile Cell Towers held this morning

This morning at 10 AM, there was a demonstration against the construction of T-Mobile cell towers at DeKalb County Schools. Parents, neighbors, and citizens opposed to the use of public school property for commercial gain gathered at Briarlake Elementary School at 3590 La Vista Road, then marched as a group to the T-Mobile store at the corner of La Vista Road and I-285. This was a peaceful, orderly demonstration by families.

The demonstration was organized by a group formed in opposition to the DeKalb County Board of Education’s plan to lease property at Briarlake to T-Mobile to put up a cell tower. No Briarlake Tower LLC, is supported by the Briarlake Elementary School PTA as well as parents and neighbors of the Briarlake Community (www.nobriarlaketower.org.)

“The purpose of this demonstration is to generate awareness and give opportunity for the citizens to show how they feel about T-Mobile taking advantage of a loop hole in our local zoning to gain access to residential areas that they have no right to be in. We have code governing the placement of cell towers. T-mobile is violating that code while hiding behind the DeKalb County Board of Education. T-mobile has disregarded the PTA, the parents, and the neighbors around these schools. We urge T-Mobile to do the right thing and find alternative locations for their cell towers.”

For more info go to: nobriarlaketower.org or briarcliffheights.org



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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Petition to end the civil lawsuit with Heery Mitchell


Motion to Compel the Entry of  an Order
Compelling the Parties to Mandatory, 
Binding, Confidential Arbitration
in Full, Final and Complete Resolution 
of the above-referenced action
on behalf of Jane Doe, et. al., 
the citizens and children of DeKalb County

            Comes Now, the undersigned citizens and taxpayers of DeKalb County, Georgia and File, this, their Motion to Intervene for the Limited Purpose of filing this Motion to Compel the Entry of an Order Compelling the Parties to Mandatory, Binding, Confidential Arbitration on behalf of the Jane Doe, et.al., the citizens and children of Dekalb County and respectfully show the Court as follows:
1.
            The undersigned understand that this action began as an action filed by Heery-Mitchell, in essence to collect a debt on contract for $500,000.00 (approximately) owed by the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) for outstanding construction projects on SPLOST I and SPLOST II at the time that DCSS determined that it was no longer interested in having Heery-Mitchell continue as the contractor for various construction projects.  Heery-Mitchell’s claim includes a claim for approximately $1 million more in attorney’s fees.
2.
            DCSS has spent approximately $19 million in taxpayer funds, out of the general pool of funds that would otherwise be available to the children of the DCSS to fund education in the DCSS schools.  The undersigned believe that these funds could have otherwise been spent on things such as teachers, books, copy paper, toilet paper and roof repairs.  The undersigned further understand that a component of this $19 million includes over $3 million on a study to determine that the counterclaim against Heery-Mitchell in this suit should be filed for $100+ million in damages sustained by DCSS arising from issues relating to work orders and other issues stemming from the work done by Heery Mitchell during the course of the parties’ tenured relationship.
3.
            Heery Mitchell moved to add various individual members of the DCSS Board of Education (hereinafter “BOE”).  The BOE has funded the legal fees of these individual board members, just during 2011, to the tune of over $700,000. These funds have been paid out of the general operating budget, which could have otherwise been used to pay for teachers’ salaries, books, photocopy paper, toilet paper and roof repairs, etc.     The undersigned understand that additional funds have already been requested by these individual board members may have already been approved.  The undersigned fail to understand why the individual board members do not have insurance, specifically an umbrella or officers and director’s insurance policy to cover such legal fees.
4.
            The undersigned further understand that the pending criminal RICO indictment of the former superintendent, former COO, and two others in various positions in DCSS, make for the perfect “cat and mouse” game for this civil litigation based on what is perceived to be overlapping evidence and the different burdens of proof and personal interests at stake in the various cases.   It would seem that the criminal trial would have to come first.  Further, it seems that there would be appeals available to whoever wins this civil action.    Such appeals could be taken to at least one and to perhaps as many as two different levels.  It is not clear, however, to the undersigned, as to how the fees will be paid for said appeals for DCSS.   If paid further out of pocket, it is more money that could otherwise be spent on teachers, books, copy paper, toilet paper and roof repairs.   
5.
            If DCSS is to win the action and is to obtain a $100 million judgment against Heery Mitchell and win all these appeals, the undersigned fail to understand how this will be quickly translated into funds for the benefit of the children (e.g. dollars going to pay for the teachers, books, copy paper, toilet paper and roof repairs).
6.
            The undersigned have noted that the Court’s efforts to get the parties to mediation were not successful, partially, perhaps, because of all of the fees that need to be recaptured by counsel for DCSS before DCSS recovers a dime.    Accordingly, the undersigned believes that it is in the best interests of the children, who are suffering in classrooms stuffed to maximum capacity, with teachers who have been suffering with furlough days, DCSS’ failure to contribute to DCSS’ equivalent to social security retirement plan, to DCSS’ failure to give much of anything to the teachers in raises, to kids suffering in moldy buildings with leaky roofs (which may actually be the result of poorly done projects under SPLOST I and SPLOST II), to teachers running out of copy paper mid-year and parents needing to contribute copy paper, toner and toilet paper, we the citizens and parents of DeKalb County, urge the Court to stop the bloodletting in attorney’s fees that has gone unchecked at the expense of the school children and mandate confidential, binding, out-of-state, arbitration in this action. 
7.
            The undersigned propose the following:
a)         Each side chooses one arbitrator for a 3 arbitrator panel and the 2 selected arbitrators chose the third.
b)         The arbitration occur on “neutral” territory (an “Iowa” if you will)
c)         The arbitration be completely confidential and nothing shall be allowed to escape the confines of the arbitration except for the final order, which shall be reported back to this Court for final entry under seal for final, non-appealable, binding resolution of this matter.
d)         The arbitration shall last for however long the parties and the panel needs for both sides to thoroughly flush through all issues – this could be 3 days or a month.
e)         The parties equally share the expense of the arbitration but for DCSS this comes out of the $19 million already paid unless DCSS recovers more than that from the panel (e.g. the citizens have paid enough and unless the “victory” is big enough to sustain more than fees already paid plus additional costs and then “something” – it’s been paid).
f)         The panel shall put in terms that are collectible so that there is final resolution that finally and conclusively resolve this in a meaningful and conclusive manner.
g)         Nothing that comes out during the arbitration shall be allowed to be used in any other proceeding.
h)         Arbitration shall occur as soon as possible so that this can be concluded. Alternatively, we petition the court to set dates for the trials to begin. And then begin.
8.
            Thank you for allowing the citizens to address the Court.
            WHEREFORE, the Citizens and Taxpayers of the DeKalb County, Georgia on behalf of the Children of DeKalb County Schools, Jane Doe, etc., respectfully request that the Court grant it the relief requested herein, primarily that the parties be ordered to binding, mandatory, confidential arbitration in complete and final satisfaction of this litigation for the ultimate benefit of the school children and for such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.
======
THE PETITION
Settle the lawsuit with Heery Mitchell

The school system has spent over $15 million on King & Spalding attorneys and could end up paying an additional $15-20 million or more when the case is resolved. This outlay of cash is paid from the General Operating Budget of our school system and is taking away from our children. Stop spending money on a lawsuit where the system's main witnesses are indicted on criminal charges of racketeering! Settle with Heery-Mitchell via arbitration or mediation. End this nonsense so that we can turn our attention to our schools and our children!
SIGN THE PETITION by clicking HERE.

Turk is out! Well, "reassigned"

From the AJC today:

DeKalb superintendent sidelines finance chief


Another high-ranking official in the DeKalb County school system has been sidelined as part of a restructuring by incoming Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.

Chief Financial Officer Marcus Turk was reassigned, a system spokesman confirmed Thursday.

The spokesman, Walter Woods, said it was unclear who would fill Turk's role until a permanent replacement is hired. The school board meets Monday, when Turk would normally present an update on system finances.

"We're working on that," Woods said.

Read more...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Open Records Request yields interesting information about SPLOST

Open Records Requests often yield information that although included in the request, is actually part of another conversation. All communication to and from board members is public information, therefore when a group of citizens requested all of Nancy Jester’s email correspondence, they came to possess a conversation about SPLOST IV that I found a very relevant and interesting ‘aside’.

It seems that Nancy was ‘virtually’ bullied by Gene Walker and others on the board for her vote against the SPLOST IV construction plans put forth by the board. She was also very concerned about the apparent advocacy by employees of the district for the passage of SPLOST. She repeatedly sought information and pointed out problems as she saw them. There was some very serious ‘cheerleading’ for SPLOST IV by some DCSS power players behind the scenes—a big ‘no-no’ legally speaking.

Below are some quotes from the stack of hard copies of the emails requested and received by the Dunwoody group:

Responding to Nancy’s inquiry as to the rumor that there was a meeting about SPLOST IV that evening, Barbara Colman (DCSS COO and head of construction) sent an email to the entire board announcing the upcoming meetings at the offices of ODE (Organization of DeKalb Educators) scheduled by “Friends of DeKalb”, the PAC with the goal of passing SPLOST IV.

Dr Walker responded, asking Nancy, “Since you have publicly stated your opposition to SPLOST IV what use would you have for such info?”
Nancy’s response: “Thank you for asking. First let me clarify what I have and have not stated publicly. As you recall, I did not vote in favor of this SPLOST resolution and stated the reasons for my vote prior to the vote. This is not congruent with being against SPLOST IV as a financial mechanism. This is an important difference.”

She goes on to explain that she wanted the info in order to keep a current calendar for her constituents. (Nancy maintains a blog which you can find here.)

Nancy asks in a later email to Barbara Colman, Dr. Atkinson, Ms. Tyson and the rest of the board, “Will our attorneys be present? This is a meeting of an advocacy group expressly gathered to promote the passage of SPLOST. As such, any use of employees and county resources dedicated to this meeting must be clear that they cannot advocate for this tax but only provide information. Also, if a group formed to advocate against the tax would the county provide equivalent personnel and resources? I want to make sure we are operating in compliance with the law.”

Ramona Tyson replied to the group, “Ms. Jester, Again, the administration has never met with this group or any other group to promote the passage of SPLOST. Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan (SAB) continually meets with staff to provide guidance and direction on our role which is simply to provide information to requesting groups. We have been scripted and advised in meetings with SAB on our role. We repeatedly communicate this to you and will continue to do every time we receive this type of communication We have been told by SAB that we may attend meetings where we are asked to provide information but never promote SPLOST. We are in full compliance now, and the past and will continue in the future. You have received emails that are archived that communicate this same position.”

To which Nancy replied, “Let me assure you my memory is serving me quite well here. Again, I write about this matter because I am not convinced that our staff is compliant with the letter or spirit of the law. I hope that offers clarity and assurance that I shall not drop this matter. To this point, I am in possession of an email from a staff member that states, '…the school district is asking for your energy, enthusiasm and support once again.'” 

Nancy goes on to indicate that Tyson’s statement is false since the email she obtained clearly predates Tyson’s assertion that “the administration has never met with this group or any other group to promote the passage of SPLOST” (see the above Tyson quote). Tyson was copied on that earlier email and was, therefore, aware that the staff member had been meeting with the PAC from earlier in the summer.

Tyson replied, “Give us this staff member’s name so that we can address this through personnel.” Nancy then replies that she will forward the original email from the employee to the attorneys and Tom Bowen.

Later in the emails collected, Paul Womack forwarded an email to the board written by Eric Johnson (former state legislator who proposed building prison camps for illegal immigrants) describing why he is supporting SPLOST. Nancy replied that Eric Johnson lives in Savannah and that his email was about Chatham County’s SPLOST and wasn’t meant to advocate for SPLOST in DeKalb. Further, of course, Eric Johnson cannot and will not vote in DeKalb. She questioned the relevance of Johnson’s actions in Savannah to support for SPLOST in DeKalb since the circumstances, which she described, were so different.

Gene Walker then responded with an email to Nancy stating that, “It both saddens and disappoints me to see how transparent and consistent you are in attempting to diminish or dash any scintilla of support one might muster for the November vote on DeKalb’s SPLOST. However, the most hurtful and insulting aspect of your response is your expressing the need to clarify any confusion over Eric’s email. In case you’re not aware, the implication is that your level of reading and comprehension is superior to ours.”

That comment made me chuckle. How could Nancy’s questioning the use of sharing the opinion of a former state legislator from hundreds of miles away to promote our SPLOST be “hurtful” or imply that she has superior reading skills? As I read it, I interpreted Nancy’s reply to only infer that Womack was misrepresenting support for DeKalb’s SPLOST by allowing people to assume that this email from Johnson promoted DeKalb’s SPLOST. Perhaps Nancy should no longer infer anything. Perhaps she should just say exactly what she is thinking.

However, Walker continues to berate Jester in his four paragraph email stating that he is well aware that Johnson does not represent DeKalb but that “former state senator Johnson’s explanation of SPLOST and why he supports it for his community is one of the least confusing and credible examples one can offer regarding the value of SPLOST and how it is managed. And the importance and meaning of his e-mail to me is that he is encouraging people in Georgia, no matter their county, to vote 'Yes' for SPLOST.”

So basically, Walker figures it is perfectly fine to plagiarize and send out someone else’s email with the intent of swaying voters in your own district on your own version of a similar issue. Interesting.

I read the Johnson email in its entirety. Not only does he not mention anything about the rest of the state SPLOSTs, nor encourage anyone anywhere else to vote for a SPLOST, Johnson references only specific tax benefits for Chatham County such as reducing the millage rate by 3 mils over 5 years (not true for DeKalb). He also says they have the lowest millage rate in the metro area (not true for DeKalb). In fact, he specifically says that property taxes will increase by law to pay for approved bonds (in Chatham County only). Further, one entire paragraph in Johnson’s email is devoted to the fact that SPLOST will provide much needed construction jobs for people. Specifically, he states, “This isn’t spending tax dollars as a ‘stimulus’ for green jobs or politically-correct purposes, but real, good-paying construction jobs.”

Nancy responded by reiterating the tax implication in DeKalb for non-passage of SPLOST, “If SPLOST fails, it would sunset and (the $2500 exemption) would result in a $57 per year increase in property taxes. This would be the same for any property. ($2500 x 22.98 mils). If the voters of DeKalb passed a SPLOST in the future, I believe that exemption would return."