Friday, February 27, 2009

“Who’s going to pay for all of this?”

Since being elected Governor, Sonny Perdue has cut more than $1.3 billion dollars from the state funding for Georgia’s public schools through “austerity cuts”. His announced austerity cuts for the next school year exceed $100 million. But the economic recession, declining tax revenue and increased state operating costs are driving that number higher. Economists forecast that Perdue’s next cut to school funding will surpass $375 million. And there’s no end in sight.

The Georgia PTA convened its annual PTA Day at the Capitol on February 24, 2009. It’s an informative program for citizens interested in our public schools and our state government. And, consistent with previous editions, this year’s event was outstanding.

Governor Perdue’s relentless cutting of public school funding was the common thread in every issue discussed. Increases in class size, reductions in programs, eliminations of positions, delays in improvements; the list of insults to our public schools as a result of Perdue’s cuts knows no limits. Their number is exceeded, it seems, only by the profound injuries they inflict.

At the Capitol, PTA representatives met with members of the General Assembly. The consensus was clear: our public schools are in jeopardy and the situation is very likely to get worse. “We can’t afford to pay for it” is the unanimous refrain.

No enterprise could possibly survive the loss of revenue experienced by Georgia’s public schools since Sonny Perdue took office. Yet in spite of this fact the cuts to state funding for public schools are expected to continue unabated.

As a citizen, the current condition of Georgia’s public schools is unacceptable. The Governor’s cutting of education funding is outrageous. And the current state of affairs reminds me of a story I heard long ago.

In 1968, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy brought his presidential campaign to the deep south. He chose Birmingham, Alabama as the location to deliver a speech about his positions on public education issues. And an unruly crowd turned out to greet him.

As Senator Kennedy spoke about the fundamental importance of public schools and their necessity to a democracy, individuals in the crowd began to heckle him. Ignoring them, Robert Kennedy continued his call to create the best possible schools open to every child in the community.

“Who’s going to pay for all of this?” Someone in the mob shouted.

There was a pause.

“Who’s going to pay for all of this?” The heckler yelled again.

Departing from his prepared address, Senator Kennedy turned to the individuals in his audience who’d been shouting at him.

“Some have asked, ‘Who’s going to pay for all of this?’ That is a fair question. And I shall answer it.”

“Who’s going to pay for all of this?”

“We will. We all will pay for it.”

“The alternative would be to pay for not doing it. And none of us can afford that.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

If you have 20 minutes, and you think creativity is lacking in school, watch this talk by creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson as he makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

From one of my favorite websites,

Report From The Capitol - Day 22 by Margaret Ciccarelli on 2/24/2009

PAGE Day on Capitol Hill kicked off to an exciting start this morning when several legislators addressed attendees regarding the state budget, vouchers, National Board Certification, and other topics. Thanks to Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Hill, Senate Education and Youth Chair Dan Weber, House Education Chair Brooks Coleman, House Education Vice-Chair Fran Millar, and the Governor’s House Floor Leader Jimmy Pruett for stopping by.

Later in the morning, PAGE members contacted their House and Senate members and heard resolutions honoring PAGE read on the House and Senate floors. The House passed HB 100 which expands the voucher program allowing for tax credits for donations to student scholarship organizations.

See Day on Capitol Hill Video Highlights:

House Appropriations Education Subcommittee Passes 2009 Budget
After lunch, PAGE members attended a meeting of an Appropriations subcommittee which passed their version of the 2009 Supplemental budget. Capitol watchers expect the entire House to vote on the supplemental budget very soon. Work continues on the 2010 Budget.

National Board Bill Heard by House Education Subcommittee
Day on the Hill attendees witnessed a lively subcommittee meeting, and several PAGE members actually spoke before the subcommittee which considered HB 243. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Pruett on behalf of Governor Perdue and seeks to repeal the portion of Georgia law mandating that teachers with National Board Certification (NBC) receive a 10% pay supplement. House Education Chair Brooks Coleman offered a substitute version of HB 243, about which PAGE has concerns. The substitute bill would allow current NBCT’S to retain their certification but would make the 10% supplement subject to appropriation, meaning that legislators would decide each year whether or not to fund NBC. Many programs in Georgia law which are subject to appropriation are never funded, and making the National Board program subject to legislative appropriation would help deflect legal action against the state for failure to pay the 10% supplement.

Employees from the Governor’s office passed out flyers alleging that NBC is ineffective. Several NBCT’S countered those allegations with information from the Congressionally-appointed research counsel which found that NBC leads to improved student achievement and teacher retention. Ultimately, the subcommittee voted to table HB 243 for one week to allow time for NBCT’S, PAGE, and other groups to work with Representatives Coleman and Pruett.

During the next week, those concerned about the proposed NBC elimination must continue to contact House members and the Governor’s office concerning HB 243. Tabling the bill was a positive move on the part the subcommittee, but it only delays movement until next week, at which time the subcommittee could vote to eliminate the program. PAGE comments to the subcommittee regarding HB 243 are below.

More than 2,500 Georgia teachers have earned this designation by submitting themselves to a lengthy, expensive and rigorous process.

The process is much deeper than simply looking at test scores, it leads teachers to make the connection between their practice and how that practice impacts student achievement.

Despite glib statements to the contrary there is research that shows NBC has positive impact on student achievement, research we have shared with legislators.

We have in place a substantive, research-based program. The legislature has made the commitment to thousands of educators all across the state- “Do these things successfully and we will pay a stipend for ten years.” That is a commitment that should be honored.

To pull the rug out from under these teachers now is unfair, legally dubious and will create a hardship of a significant salary reduction – for the state’s top teachers!

Given the financial straights local school districts are in, most will not offer any salary increases next year and many may have to seek reductions in staffing. In this economic environment, imposing such a salary cut on the state’s best educators is not the smart thing, nor the right thing to do.

Many national board teachers have made long range financial commitments (car loans, home mortgages, college tuition for their children) based on the state’s commitment to them.

Perhaps the worst affect, though least obvious here, is the long term affect. If our state’s leaders walk away from this commitment, then why ever again would any teacher anywhere trust any future program?

The subcommittee also considered two other bills. HB 278 would allow school systems to waive expenditure controls on direct instructional costs, media center costs, staff and professional development costs during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years. The subcommittee passed HB 278 which will now move to the House Education Committee for consideration. The subcommittee tabled HB 336, calling for establishment of testing windows for state assessments relative to local school systems’ school calendars. HB 336 was tabled by the subcommittee.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Case for Re-allocating SPLOST 3 Funding and Re-writing the Rules for Arabia's Enrollment

A review of recent data from the DCSS Planning
Department’s website tells the story - Arabia has pulled a bait and switch.

A brand new Arabia Mountain-area high school is currently scheduled to open for the 2009-2010 school year. The attendance lines have not been drawn as promised, because Arabia is no longer scheduled to be a neighborhood school. At its inception, the new school was promoted as necessary to provide relief to Martin Luther King Jr. HS, Miller Grove HS and Lithonia HS as promised by Dr. Lewis in his State of the System address in January 2007. Now that it has been built and become a crown jewel, the administration has quietly changed direction and decided to instead deem it a "Choice" school, meaning students must qualify, apply and then win a seat in a lottery. Now, it will only be accepting 350 students from MLK and 250 students from Lithonia, leaving 1,000 seats available for "Choice" transfers (although it looks like for the first year, they are only accepting 500 "Choice" students for a total enrollment of less than 1,100). The capacity of the building is 1,600 students with expansion room for 2,100.

It is my opinion that one reason for this bait and switch is to ensure that Arabia won't have to take on AYP transfers (from failing NCLB schools). If Arabia did take on AYP transfers, this could greatly relieve the overcrowding at Lakeside, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Druid Hills due to the hundreds of AYP transfers from Arabia's demographic area these schools have had to accept by law. Arabia, however, will conveniently slip by the NCLB law by labeling it a "Choice" school that will only serve qualified, pre-tested students, hand-chosen by the school system to attend this suddenly "special" school. I think this move goes against the grain and purpose of public education. Could you imagine the outrage if Lakeside tried to implement this type of acceptance policy?

Additionally, House Bill 251 was the first school choice legislation to pass one chamber and was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives Thursday by an overwhelming vote of 139 to 23. This Bill would allow parents of public school students to enroll their children in another school within their assigned school system. Was the requirement for Arabia to accept only pre-tested, qualified students an effort to circumvent legislation like this in the future? Will Lakeside, Dunwoody and the rest have to accept students who request transfers based on this bill now? The bill stipulates receiving schools cannot be over-crowded, however, "over-crowded is not defined by law and DCSS doesn't seem to think our buildings really have a maximum, as they can continue to add trailers such as the 21 at Lakeside to accommodate the unchecked influx. Aren't 21 trailers sitting on the tennis courts at Lakeside enough to call it over-crowded? Not to DCSS - they just refuse to say no to anyone who asks for a transfer - as long as it's not a transfer to Arabia.

Interestingly, there is a bill in the Legislature, SB 90, that allows for private school vouchers to be given using public school funding. Below are a few reasons, aside from fiscal responsibility, the State PTA does not support the voucher plan currently being debated in the Legislature:

• Private schools choose the student not the other way around
• Private schools may discriminate based on ... intelligence, academic success or behavior. Public schools take everyone; private schools exclude those who they don’t choose to serve.
• In a US DOE survey of private inner city schools, 68% stated they definitely or probably would not accept vouchered students with learning disabilities, limited English or low academic achievement.

Ironically, Arabia will now adhere to several of the same tenets as private schools, only they will be fully funded with taxpayer dollars. It seems we have built one heck of a really nice private school that has been kind enough to take in 600 students from the area – as long as they pass muster and win a lottery. Meanwhile, schools like Lakeside, Dunwoody, and Druid Hills remain seriously over-crowded due to AYP transfers, Administrative Transfers, Cheaters and Special Permission as well as growth.

MLK is currently 637 students over capacity, Lithonia is 276 over capacity*. The school system, as stated above, now says it will only accept 350 students from MLK and 250 from Lithonia. I think another reason for the bait and switch is to leave MLK overcrowded and still in need of the large addition planned for it with SPLOST 3 - an addition that would not be necessary if the school system would have re-drawn the attendance lines as originally planned and taken all of the over-capacity students from these schools. But they pulled a bait and switch, leaving MLK, Lakeside, Dunwoody, Druid Hills, Chamblee and SW DeKalb with the same old over-crowding issues, solved by adding more and more trailers to their campuses. Meanwhile, students at Arabia (which was built to relieve over-crowding) will enjoy a spacious, open campus with plenty of fresh air and space to expand programs if they choose.

Arabia High School will hold 1600-2100 students.
As publicized, "Arabia Mountain High School will be 240,000 square feet with a capacity of 1,600 students and an expansion capacity of 2,100 students." (For comparison, Lakeside is 164,666 SF with a capacity for 1,281 and a current enrollment around 1,700.) Arabia will include an environmental sciences lab, three business labs, Vocational Technical environmental sciences lab, a 600-seat auditorium, three music rooms, an indoor (and outdoor) running track, practice athletic fields, an outdoor classroom/amphitheater and walking trail. Why are we putting so many of our resources into a school that will no longer solve one of our biggest problems? Why do we need a "Choice" school within a stone's throw of SW DeKalb, a "Magnet" school for high achievers? Will we need to provide transportation via the new "hub" system or are students expected to get there on their own? AYP transfers coming from Title 1 schools get Federal mileage reimbursements and would have the resources to pay for their own transportation. Are they being shut out of Arabia?

Oddly, the school system has decided to make Arabia a "Choice" (a euphemism for "elite" in this case) school for qualified applicants only and they are pretending that this was their plan all along. (In reality, there is little actual "choice" for those who aren't accepted.) The decision has been made NOT to relieve over-crowding at MLK. Lithonia will be balanced and Miller Grove is no longer over-crowded and in fact has 13 available seats*, most likely due to the exodus via AYP transfers. The school system instead will only take 600 students from these schools. This leaves 1,000 (or more) seats available for "Choice" lottery winners from around the county. What if those students "Choose" to leave a school like Stephenson (with nearly 300 empty seats) or McNair (with 577 empty seats) or Towers (321 empty seats) instead of an over-crowded school like Lakeside? How will this solve our number one issue – balancing enrollment? Arabia is a crown jewel - a gorgeous facility - not unlike many very elite private schools. Should we really be funding such a thing with taxpayer money? How is this different from a private school voucher in reality?


Please encourage your Board representative to vote to reassign some of the SPLOST 3 dollars to meet the ever-growing needs at these north DeKalb schools and to open Arabia to accepting AYP transfers in an effort to relieve overcrowding at the three schools that currently take on ALL the AYP transfers.


*UPDATE - Enrollment numbers have dropped further since this writing. Currently, the 2008/09 enrollment reports tell us that Lithonia is only 45 students over capacity, Martin Luther King HS is 446 over capacity and Miller Grove now has 330 available seats.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Report From The Capitol-Day 21 by Margaret Ciccarelli on 2/19/2009

I get these regularily and I will try to post them when I remember. There are some interesting topics.

School Board Legislation
The Senate Education and Youth Committee met this morning and passed SB 84 which seeks to better define the roles of school board members. SB 84 would also mandate a code of ethics for local boards and allow for removal of board members. The legislation will now move to the Senate Rules Committee for placement on the Senate Calendar.

Math and Science Differentiated Pay Proposal
Despite PAGE’S efforts, the House Education Committee passed an amended version of HB 280. PAGE previously spoke before a subcommittee considering HB 280 and pointed out that an existing, but unfunded, state law already allows Georgia to differentiate educator pay for critical shortages. PAGE also expressed deep concern that current budget constraints would not allow funding for HB 280 until the 2010-2011 school year. HB 280 is a differentiated pay proposal purporting to attract more math and science teachers to Georgia’s public schools. The legislation would allow high school and middle school teachers who are certified or who become certified in math or science to move up the state salary schedule and be paid as if they had five years of creditable service.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers who receive endorsements in math and science would receive a stipend of $1,000 per endorsement for each year each such endorsement is in effect, for a maximum of five years. After five years, teachers with these endorsements may continue to receive such stipends if they achieve Master Teacher Certification; if Master Teacher Certification is not obtained or if the certification expires, the teacher would lose the stipend. Math and science endorsements must be post-baccalaureate nondegree programs, independent of an initial preparation program in early childhood education, and the endorsements must consist of a minimum of three courses, of which two courses shall be focused on the advancement of content knowledge and one course, or any additional course, must be focused on content-specific pedagogy and proven strategies for teaching math or science to children in grades k-5. HB 280 will now move to the House Rules Committee for placement on the House Calendar.

Local Systems to Move to Four-Day School Week?
The House Education Committee also passed HB 193 which will move to House Rules.
The legislation would allow local school systems to schedule classes for the hourly equivalent of 180 days, which would enable local systems to decide to move to a four-day school week, if they so chose.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Conversation About Race

Eric Holder, our new Attorney General in the above 16 minute speech called us a “nation of cowards” because we refuse to talk about race and race related issues honestly. The creator of a popular Race Relations blog disagrees with Holder's statements, but adds this, "There are certainly some honest conversations happening here and all over the place in the blogosphere. But even tucked away behind our keyboards, blind accusation and gross generalization plague “discussions” of almost every racial issue that comes up. When people disagree they all too quickly and frequently resort to name-calling and refuse to entertain opposing or even tangential points of view. When challenged, many just cling to their original position more tightly."

Do you think we could attempt to have a conversation about race here at this blog? Do you think we can do it intelligently, civilly and without resorting to defensive responses? Do you think we could try to open our minds and just try to see each others' perspectives and move our race relations here in DeKalb Schools just a little bit forward?

I have faith in you guys -- I think we can do this!

New Bill: That will Allow Students to Attend Any School in the County That is not Overcrowded.

I thought the bill below was very interesting. I think it is a good bill as long as the DeKalb County School Board and County Administration will not allow too many students to go to schools that are already overcrowded. I also was concerned that in the past students have been allowed to attend schools like Lakeside, Druid Hills, and Chamblee even if they are at their maximum capacity. Do you feel this is a good bill? If it passes what effect will it have on schools in Dekalb County that are already overcrowded? What will it do to schools that are already not at maximum capacity?

By: Representatives Morgan of the 39th, Kaiser of the 59th, Setzler of the 35th, Reece of the 11th, and Dawkins-Haigler of the 93rd
To amend Part 13 of Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to organization of schools and school systems under the "Quality Basic Education Act," so as to provide that a public school student can attend any school in the local school system under certain conditions; to provide for continued attendance at such school; to provide for statutory construction; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
Part 13 of Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to organization of schools and school systems under the "Quality Basic Education Act," is amended by adding a new Code section to read as follows:
(a) Beginning in school year 2010-2011, the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school in this state may elect to enroll such student in a public school that is located within the school system in which the student resides other than the one to which the student has been assigned by the local board of education if such school has classroom space available after its assigned students have been enrolled. The parent or guardian shall assume the responsibility and cost of transportation of the student to and from the school.
(b) No later than July 1, 2010, each local school system shall establish a universal, streamlined process available to all students to implement the transfer requirements of subsection (a) of this Code section.
(c) A student who transfers to another school pursuant to this Code section may, at his or her election, continue to attend such school until the student completes all grades of the school.
(d) This Code section shall not be construed to affect any student currently attending a school other than the school to which the student has been assigned by the local board of education pursuant to a transfer authorized under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110)."
All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Classrooms in Crisis: We Need Less Administrative Costs in County Offices and More Effective Administrators in Our Schools

While doing research about the percentage of a school systems budget I ran across several articles in newspapers in Florida, which indicated what school systems in the state spent less money on administrative costs per student than any other school systems in the state. This was an indication to me that maybe the legislative branch of government in Georgia needs to require that this type of information is public knowledge, so that the taxpayers know what is being spent on administrative costs that meet the students daily. Maybe we need a school board in DeKalb County who also will investigate the amount of money in personnel, which actually have direct contact with the students daily.

As many of you know, Kim and I did some data analysis. I actually helped Kim decide what job titles in the school systems have direct contact with our students every day and which job titles have no direct contact with our school children. When Kim ran the data, we found that DeKalb County School System is spending about 24.9% of its personnel budget on personnel that have no direct contact with our students on a daily basis. Gwinnett County Schools, Fulton County Schools, and Decatur County Schools were spending about 10-11% of their budget on the same type job titles.

Lower costs for administration and other personnel that has no direct contact daily with our children in the DeKalb County School System would mean more money for instruction. More money for instructions would definitely help with providing extra types of experiences with different types of modalities of instruction, which would improve learning. For instance, it would be very helpful if every classroom in the DeKalb County School System was equipped with a Smart board. It would be beneficial for science students in DeKalb County to have more science supplies to experience many science experiments, instead of just learn science facts from a book. Applying science is totally a different concept than just learning science facts.

Our school classrooms are in crisis across the county currently due to our tests scores and due to new accountability from NCLB. We do not need “top heavy administrative jobs,” at the county office. Spending money on these “extra high paid jobs” has not shown improvement in our test scores. Our schools need high quality Assistant Principals and Principals to be visible in the classrooms at their schools daily. We need county administrators and principals who are among the best for channeling financial resources to classrooms and instructional initiatives that will make a difference in the educational, emotional, and physical needs of our children. We need administrators who are in classrooms everyday evaluating why some schools are not meeting basic standards under NCLB. We need administrators giving our teachers the support that they need to do what they do best which is teaching. We need administrators who can see that the block schedule apparently is not providing results and make changes to provide the results needed to make DeKalb County Schools the premier school system we all as DeKalb County citizens desire.

Contracts Reviews Investigation into Pat Pope's Office Allegations Are Finally Sent to the District Attorney's Office For Review

The results finally of the allegations of irregularities with DeKalb County School’s construction contracts, in Pat Pope’s office, have finally been forwarded, to the district attorney’s office. The school system forwarded this review to the district attorney’s office and requested that “a few things” to be looked into, to make sure a criminal investigation was not necessary. The school system would not cite specifics because the investigation was still open and ongoing.

This story was mentioned in the Community Briefs in the Metro Atlanta Journal Constitution on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009.

Enrollment Shrinking/Beverly Hall

Two pertinent articles in the AJC regarding education today.

Dale Davis, a spokesman for the DeKalb County School System, said his district has been in the 100,000-student range for several years with little change. Enrollment spiked a little after Hurricane Katrina bashed Louisiana and Mississippi and brought refugees to the area. But Davis said, “As things got back to normal, about 99 percent of them went home.” He described DeKalb as a “mature community” where not a lot of growth in enrollment is expected.

Student enrollment growth has slowed throughout Georgia. Here are the October enrollment figures for some of the big Metro Atlanta systems the past four falls.

2005 144,598
2008 157,219

2005 81,100
2008 88,299

2005 102,310
2008 99,775


Enrollment is down, yet we never hear from Crawford Lewis, Marcus Turk, Bob Moseley, or the BOE, about "righting the ship". The DCSS Central Office administration has grown and grown unchecked for years. It's just not the high salaries that cost taxpayers and take away resources from students, it's the benefits and pensions. The benefits and pensions cost us for decades after an employee retires. I've said it before, no pensions for staff with no student contact, give them nice 403b's/401k's instead.

Crawford Lewis and Marcus Turk put out small fire after small fire, but long range planning never seems to be a priority.

Also, I'm being frank and agressive with this accusation: The enrollment numbers are actually inflated! DCSS Central Office, Crawford Lewis, Turk, Moseley, etc. know this and ignore the number of students, most likely in the few thousand, who do not live in DeKalb. DCSS is arguably the most lax system in the state when it comes to checking both residency and FRL qualifications.

The system has taken on hundreds if not more Clayton County students. But there is no effort to check residency. I've heard from many teachers in the southeast part of the county, and they all tell of parents with license plates from Rockdale, Clayton, and Henry. When teachers point this out the principals and administrators, they are told to quiet down.

The actual enrollment number for DCSS should be closer to 97,000 or 96,000 or even 95,000. We are spending our precious few resources on parents who are gaming the system. And there is no doubt that parents from Clayton, Henry and Rockdale are going to try to sneak in their children to the beautiful new Arabia Mountain High School. What is the plan to stop it?

We need to push and push the BOE to make student residency and FRL qualifications a priority. We need to educate and focus resources on actual county resident students. Lewis and Turk need to continue to downsize the Central Office, and make it known very publicly that DCSS will not tolerate parents who break the law trying to sneak in non-county residents into the school system.
Atlanta superintendent named nation’s best
Beverly Hall honored by the American Association of School Administrators

Hall came to Atlanta in 1999 and has steadily improved students’ test scores and increased graduation rates through various academic programs. She required low-performing schools to implement rigorous programs that focus on literacy and math skills. She increased the amount of training teachers received and she removed weak principals and replaced them with those she deemed better equipped to improve student learning. State data shows the programs are working. For example, about 72 percent of the system’s students graduated on time in 2008, up from 39 percent in 2002.


Not to kick Crawford Lewis whens he's down, but...

Beverly Hall has focused on academics. More rigorous literacy and math skills. It's a big, big thing to hold principals more accountable. DCSS is infamous for a very, very political scene for principals and assistant principals. It's a whole lot more who you know than what you know. Many asst. principals are getting their advanced degrees from these online diploma mills. We have way too many principals getting involved in areas where they know nothing, like facilities and grounds and athletics, instead of constantly focusing on academics. We have some weak principals and weak asst. principals who will do whatever they can behind the scenes to advance. And once a principal gets a little burned out, he or she always scores a cushy Central Office gig at the same salary of higher. Heck, the BOE allowed a former principal to run the Sam Moss Center and over a billion dollars worth of facilities for years with no qualifications to do so.

Here's the easiest way to know you have a good principal at your school: He or she audits at least one class a day. If your principal isn't in at least one classroom for an entire period a day, he or she simply isn't getting the job done.

Hall had a huge, disgusting scandal on her hands with the federal computer/school technology program. Millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted and there were criminal charges. She's far from perfect. But Crawford Lewis has been a DCSS insider for four decades. He's not going to change. He's not going to suddenly reduce the Central Office waste & bloat. He's not going to emphasize academics over everything else. He's not going to make the long overdue changes needed for the growing Hispanic population in the northern part of the county (we don't even have one mid- to high level Latino DCSS administrator).

I thank Lewis much for his service, but it's high time to bring in a new superintendent from a top school system, preferably from Ohio or another part of the country that gets education done right.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Notes from 4th Annual Lunch and Learn @ Arabia Mountain HS

As I understand, this is a luncheon sponsored by the Operations Division to both thank those that do business (construction related) with DCSS and make them aware of current and upcoming projects. The meeting was held at Arabia Mountain HS. While there is a ‘naming committee’, I personally believe the name of the school should remain the same, given the designation associated with the area. It could make it easier in the future in requesting private and grant dollars to support the instruction programs.

My recollections include:

-Dr. Angela Pringle, principal for Arabia Mountain, spoke of the success of the community meetings and the bar being set high for success. She is ready to exceed any expectations the district and community has for her and the school.

-Dr. Crawford Lewis shared information about the state of the budget. He indicated 25 million has been cut from the budget thus far and he expects he will need to recommend cuts of at least another 16 million dollars. He indicated due to bad formulas at the state level, DCSS is not getting its equitable share of facility dollars. He is advocating for a change to the formula. I believe I’ve heard rumblings that DCSS will get more however that is not confirmed. Dr. Lewis also recognized Ms. Pat Pope for the job that she has done. He indicated that since she has come on board, change orders have stopped. He indicated it was due to having a construction professional at the helm. Ms. Pope later mentioned there was one change order request however it was due to a scope change. Dr. Lewis is waiting to find out if any stimulus dollars will be available for school renovations.

-IMO, the highlight of the luncheon was hearing from NASA astronaut and Henderson High School graduate Eric Boe. I found out that Henderson High School is the only High school in America that has had 2 shuttle astronauts. Eric matriculated though Evansdale to Henderson and was very complimentary about the education he received in DeKalb. He reiterated a point made by Dr. Lewis that everything starts with education. Mr. Boe presented a flag to the school system that was flown on the shuttle mission he participated in.

-Ms. Pope gave her State of the CIP update. I know I will forget a few things but she indicated her PPT will be on the website in a few days. Points she mentioned include:
• Tax revenues for SPLOST 3 are 23% ahead of projections.
• Factoring in the $300 million dollar bond and $128 million dollars of tax receipts thus far, they have been able to make great progress.
• The Mountain Industrial Facility will consist of over 275,000 square feet and will be home to seven programs, including the administrative offices.
• 100% of the projects have been under budget.
• 98% of the projects have been on time (Note: Arabia Mountain was 1 year ahead of schedule and under budget).
• There are currently no delays and no claims with current projects.
• Currently involved in a mid program assessment. Some projects in the current plan may not be done (perhaps Lithonia expansion?). Based on a combination of factors (projects finishing earlier, recommending some projects be cancelled), it is expected that an additional $32 million dollars can be allocated to other projects.
• LEED standards will be a part of every project going forward (This one is for you O&T).
• Custodial staff has been trained in use of green products. All cleaning products going forward will meet green standards.
• Pilot Green campaign has exceeded expectations thus far. Plan to roll it out to all schools in August 2009.

I did find out that the new Tucker HS will have a design similar to Arabia Mountain. That community REALLY has something to look forward to.

Alright DeKalbSchoolWatch bloggers, have at it!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Children in over thirty (30) DeKalb County School System schools will return to scenes like this one Thursday. A hard rain fell on Metro Atlanta Wednesday evening. And the school roofs that should have been replace long ago yielded little -- if any -- resistance.

Buckets catching rain water will be deployed. Janitors will mop furiously. Ceiling tiles will bulge and collapse. Halls will be impassable; bathrooms unusable. Indoor tarps (above) will groan with the weight of the newly collected rain.

Our children and their teachers will be exposed to a wide range of environmental risks. Indoor mold will continue growing unabated. Legionella will find a fertile host environment. And the petrochemical ingredients in the deteriorating roof above will be carried into our children's classrooms in the cascading rain.

The conditions in our schools are deplorable. And the serious risks we are exposing our children and their teachers to are unacceptable. A cursory visit to any of these campuses quickly reveals these truths. Common sense tells us no school should be like this. But they are. Over thirty of them are exactly like this. And on Thursday morning hundreds (if not thousands) of children will be going in to schools with these outrageous conditions.

It's easy to blame the administration that allowed this occur. The evidence of mismanagement, malfeasance and short sightedness is overwhelming. But that's not the issue I suggest we focus on at this moment. I believe we should examine something else.

What are we telling our children when we send them to schools in this condition? What are we as a community saying about the value we place on their education? What do our actions (or inaction) tell our children about the importance of their school?

Would any of us buy groceries in a store where water poured through the roof and aisles were impassable? Of course not. Would any of us shop anywhere the bathroom was off limits and the threat of a falling ceiling tile was ever present? No way. Would any of us eat in a restaurant where buckets caught rain, the floor was soaked and the aroma of mold filled the air? Not a chance.

Why not?

Why wouldn't we chose to frequent establishments like that?

And why do we accept such conditions for our children and their teachers?

When we send our children to schools in this condition, what are we telling them? What are we saying about the value we place on their education? Their safety? Their welfare?

When we send our children into schools like this, what are we saying about ourselves?

Maybe DCSS was a real leader in cutting the budget???

When DCSS announced proposed budget and personnel changes during the fall, some in the community felt it was due to a history of mismanagement. Legitimate questions were raised about central office staffing levels and setting budgetary priorities. Programs and services that many in the community had become accustomed to were significantly reduced or eliminated. At last count, DCSS was in the process of reducing its budget by about 31 million dollars, close to 3% of the overall budget.

Fast forward a few months and it seems everyday in the news, you hear or read about school systems making cuts. In the 2/18 AJC, Cobb County announced it will need to cut about 76 million dollars from its budget, close to 8%. As one looks at some of the numbers provided, it appears many are close to those for DCSS.

Was DCSS a leader in addressing this issue sooner rather than later? There was a LOT of publicity involved when DCSS made its announcements. It seems citizens now expect to hear of cuts in school system budgets, making this less a major news item. At the same time, is there more 'fat' that can be cut from our budget without compromising the delivery of services, specifically instruction? Yes, we've blogged about this many times before but does seeing other school systems face the same challenges make you feel better about DCSS addressing them early?

Following is the article about Cobb County School System from the 2/18 AJC.

Best estimate’ for schools may be $76 million deficit


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cobb County school officials are in the early stages of planning next year’s budget. Already, the outlook isn’t good.

The district could face a $76 million deficit, said Mike Addison, the school district’s chief financial officer.

“It’s just our best estimate,” said Addison. “There’s no doubt that we’re going to have a shortfall. But how big is it going to be?”


The bulk of the shortfall is due to an anticipated decline in county property values, which means less tax money collected. The school system expects to lose at least $34 million in property tax revenue.

How big is the budget?

The current year’s budget is $940 million, with 90 percent going to personnel costs in the state’s second largest school district.

Is there reserve money?

Yes, just over $101 million. Dipping into this would be a last resort, Addison said.

What about SPLOST?

In September, voters approved the third straight special sales tax to fund capital improvements. Since SPLOST

is tied to spending, it may not pull in the estimated $856 million. That money is separate from the general budget.

What could happen?

The state education department has allowed class sizes to increase slightly, meaning fewer teachers. But Cobb officials say it’s too soon to know what that will mean.

What’s next?

Superintendent Fred Sanderson has asked cabinet members to come up with cost-cutting ideas. Today, leaders will have the first of many budget meetings.

“We’re lean already, he said. “It’s very serious. But we’ll work diligently to make it work.”


• Students: 106,673

• Total employees: 15,663

• Classroom teachers: 8,532


Grade Ga. Max Cobb ratio
K 20 18:1*
1st-3rd 21 19:1
4th 28 26:1
5th 28 26:1
6th-8th 28 22.5:1
9th-12th 28 25:1
* plus 1 parapro per classroom
Source: Georgia Department of Education

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fulton County Schools Open and Transparent Decisions Regarding Budget Cuts and Adjustments

Communication to staff and members of the community is so important. I find as an employee of the Fulton County Schools that they are very transparent and open about what is going to happen due to the budget shortfalls. Because I am impressed with the communication I continue to receive, I decided to share these communications so you can see for yourself how open and transparent Fulton County Schools appears to be.

I have included information about the budget to share about Fulton County Schools. The Fulton County School Board approved and has posted in board docs information called Summary of Budget Cuts & Adjustments which include ‘Cost Avoidance” that are now confirmed for the 2009-10 school year. These include:

Salary adjustments-step for non-teaching staff frozen
Salary adjustments-step for teaching staff frozen
EIP Schools eliminated (held harmless)
Special education (maintain current staffing allotment)
K-8 language arts/reading textbook adoption frozen

In addition, the following communication was sent out to all principals to share. Please take a moment (actually about 12 minutes) to view this information at your leisure if you are interested in what is happening at other school systems in the area. DeKalb County is not the only school system which is making big cuts in their budget. All school systems in the state are affected.

Do You Feel That the DeKalb County School Board Has Too Many Members?

On February 10, 2009 at the DeKalb County Legislature Hearing, where only part of the Legislature members attended, School Board member Zepora Roberts spoke to the delegation and stated she disapproved of State Bill-84 that may limit the number of DeKalb County School Board Members to seven verses nine members. She stated, “This decision should be left up to the county and should not be decided by the state.” She stated also that, “she represents 43, 000 citizens in her district and that they deserved representation.”  Zepora Roberts does represent the new District 7 for the DeKalb Board of Education. Ms. Roberts’s term will end in 2010.

As stated in SECTION 3 of the SB 84-Local Board of Education; election; revised provision:

1) Each local board of education shall have no more than seven members provided by local Act.

(2) This subsection shall not apply a local board of education whose board size exceeds seven members as provided by local constitutional amendment or federal court order or pursuant to a local law in effect prior to July 1, 2009; provided, however, that if the local law of any such local board of education is amended to revise the number of members on such board, paragraph (1) of this subsection shall apply.

Does the DeKalb County School Board have too many school board members? Would it be more functional with five districts like the DeKalb County Commission and two at-large districts? Would it be better with just seven districts and no at-large districts? Is Zepora right and should a decision like this be left up to the county?

I feel the at-large districts are very important districts as these two school board members represent a larger section of the county and see a bigger picture than just the needs of certain areas of DeKalb. Because I feel the at-large district are important, I would like to see two of the smaller districts done away with and I would like to see the at-large districts stay as they currently are.  

What do you think?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What is eTwinning?

and other 21st Century Teaching Tools...

What follows is a discussion about eTwinning, Twitting, Tweeting, Blogging and other creative, cutting edge teaching tools. The video below highlights the mind mapping by teachers at the eTwinning conference brainstorming sessions focusing on creativity in the classroom. Creativity is where the American Spirit triumphs. We need to move beyond rote learning and competing with the Japanese for high test scores, we need to recapture that great American skill - Creating.

eTwinning is the newest European concept used by teachers to connect with other schools in Europe. The eTwinning project aims to encourage European schools to collaborate using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Being 'twinned' with a foreign school also encourages cross-cultural exchanges of knowledge, fosters students' intercultural awareness, and improves their communication skills. It's a lifelong learning concept in our new "small world."

Have a look at some other cutting edge teaching tools designed to incite creative learning in the high-tech, fast-paced internet world we live in today.

Twitter, used by Barack Obama, answers the question, “What are you doing right now”. To many people it seems like an endless stream of pointless text messages, however, if you start to follow like-minded educationalists, you can soon build a very effective personal learning network who can answer your questions, collaborate in projects and teach you all sorts of new ideas. It can also be a great tool for teachers to communicate with their students. Check out the Twitter4Teachers Wiki - and find teachers of like minds.  Give it a go, it’s addictive. Oh, and you can embed your Tweets into your blog, too.

Textspeak is the way students write simplified versions of messaging for digital texting. For example, phrases like Laugh Out Loud become LOL. (For an eye-opening shorthand list visit here.) One teacher I read about utilized this to engage students in studying Shakespeare. The challenge was to rewrite parts of Romeo and Juliet using textspeak. Very fun!

Blogging has exploded on the internet. Bloggers in fact, have been some of the first people to evaluate and publish what is actually in the stimulus package. Members of Congress, who were each only given a (unsearchable) hard copy (!) of the plan, went out to the 'blogosphere' to get the low-down on what is actually written in the plan. Teachers who are on the front lines of communicating with students need to maintain blogs chock full of information, challenges and world connections for their students. Unlike a stagnate website, blogging is two-way communication. Connectivity to the world at large is now in the DNA of the young generation - why do you think they live their lives in places like Facebook and MySpace? However, the disconnect is with the teachers. Teachers who have no understanding of technology or do not utilize it in the classroom are hard-pressed to engage their students. Setting up a blog is so easy -- I created this one in less than 5 minutes! (Since then, of course, it has taken over as my latest addiction.)

Here are a few examples of cutting-edge teaching techniques I found on the internet very quickly. One teacher in England, Tom Barrett maintains a blog entitled "ICT in my Classroom." He offers tutorials on creative ways to use your whiteboard and your pocket video camera as well as others. John Sutton also offers a great site "to provide educators and educational institutions with all the tools and knowledge they need to harness the power of blogs in school." His Top Ten Free Web Apps make great additions to teacher blogs. One of his recommendations is Teacher Tube, an educational version of You Tube. 

Fun tools also exist for students to use in writing and generating publications creatively. Stripey Design is currently creating a simple internet tool for children which allows them to create their own animated stories with a few clicks. And Comic Brush offers a fun way for students to create their own comics. Quikmaps is a Google Maps mashup that allows you to draw over the top of a Google Map. Teachers prefer this tool because it doesn't display all the community content that Google Maps does. Once you've added a location tag, you can add a photo or evn a Google video to that location: fantastic for local area studies or field trips etc.

I could go on and on - there are hundreds of thousands of fantastic supportive tools available on the internet. The resources exist worldwide - filtering them is a difficult task. Fortunately, reviews of the latest information on the use of technology and safety on the internet can be found at places like Think You Know, online.

A former principal I know shared what he had learned at a national principal conference several years ago. The point was made that if a time traveler from the 1890's stepped into today's world of technology, he would not recognize most anything. An operating room would be something unimagined. A high speed train or airplane would be mind-boggling. The tools used in business - the internet, cell phones and computers would be unbelievable. However, if that 1890's person walked into a standard classroom of today, it would look and function pretty much as it did back then with books, teacher lectures, chalkboards, pencils, papers and desks.

I would submit to you that public schools have failed to grow with and embrace technology. We have failed our children and yet we blame the children. We have failed the community and yet we blame the community. The rallying cry has been, "parental involvement is key". Why is that, anyway? Because good parents nurture relationships with their children and they use every teachable moment they see to enlighten and encourage their children.

Schools should not blame children for their failure to learn - ALL children can learn. It should happen all day long in the schools - regardless of what goes on in the homes. ALL children should be encouraged, enlightened and taught using the tools and technologies they can relate to and understand. The tools exist. Virtual travel and shared learning is possible. I implore the leadership in DeKalb county to focus their attention on implementing as much technology as possible and focusing on massive teacher training in the use of those technologies.

Simply providing the tools does not make a difference though. A paintbrush places the paint much differently in the hands of a master versus a novice. Teachers need help understanding how best to utilize these tools to inform and excite their students. My suggestion is to place someone who lives, eats and breathes technology in every school. This person does not have to go through the hoops of becoming a "certified" teacher - this person would function as an on-site technology leader and trainer - informing teachers daily about the world children live in and helping teachers utilize the tools readily available in order to excite the learning potential in each and every child. Let's not focus on catching up to other districts and states - let's focus on moving beyond them by truly embracing 21st century learning tools.

Please use the comments to add great resources for learning and to share stories about the places you see where interactive, high-tech learning is going on.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Everyday Heros

By Shayna Steinfeld
(originally written for her monthly column addressing the Atlanta Bar, as their president)

By now, those of you who were following the election have heard that I narrowly lost my race for DeKalb County School Board by 252 votes of nearly 20,000 cast in the runoff. It was an interesting adventure into Georgia politics. I appreciate your support and willingness to allow me, in a few of the columns this year, to indulge my passion for the education of the most vulnerable members of our society.

As Bill Ragland so kindly pointed out, this is my platform. I have sought to use it to encourage you, my reader and Atlanta Bar Member, to think about ways that lawyers can and should contribute to their own lives, to their families, and to society at large in a more positive way. We should strive to be our own everyday heroes.

We, as lawyers, are fortunate to be educated members of society. In fact, we have reached one of the upper levels on the pyramid of education. Therefore, we have the ability, and arguably, the obligation, to speak out for those who are unable to speak for themselves. Once again, please indulge me in the topic of where I believe we, in Georgia, have gone astray in education and what we, as individual lawyers, may be able to do to make a difference. This is different from the general solutions and interventions proposed; too often those on the left throw money at the problem, and those on the right argue for vouchers. A better solution is being sought by strong educators like Michelle Rhee, the new Chancellor who has taken Washington, DC schools by storm; she was featured in Time Magazine the week of November 26, 2008 in an article that notes that young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school and that America is behind most developed nations in math and science even though we spend more per pupil than any other country.

Maureen Downey, in her November 24, 2008 AJC Editorial, posited “Better schools will bring better jobs to Georgia.” She has called to our attention that “new reports cast doubt on Georgia’s strategy to use low costs rather than an educated work force as its calling card [for bringing new jobs to Georgia].” States that lead the 2008 State New Economy Index are Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia – and these are all states that have high achieving schools. Georgia, however, ranked 18th in 2007 and 21 in 2008 on this index. She contends that this is the result of our reliance on low taxes, low wages, and a declining emphasis on schools.

Thomas Jefferson first proposed creating a public school system and his ideas form the basis of the public systems developed in the 1800s. One of Jefferson’s main concerns was to make schools available to all regardless of their status in society. By the end of the Nineteenth Century, free public education at the elementary level was available for American children in order to create good citizens, unite society and to prevent crime and poverty. By 1918 all states had mandatory attendance laws for elementary school. The first publicly supported high school was founded in Boston in 1635. By the middle of the eighteenth century the demand for skilled workers increased and Benjamin Franklin established a new kind of secondary school in Philadelphia in 1751. As we progressed in the Twentieth Century, most states passed laws requiring attendance in school through age sixteen.

From the beginning, individual states, rather than the federal government, have had primary authority over education. Each state currently has a department of education and has enacted laws regarding funding and financing, hiring of personnel, attendance and curriculum. Generally, local districts oversee the administration of the schools, with the exception of licensing and rules concerning health and safety. Public schools rely mostly on property taxes to meet expenses. Under President Bush, Congress enacted No Child Left Behind legislation, which asserts federal mandates on local school issues. This legislation leaves the curriculum decision to the states and requires regular criterion-based testing of the students to determine if they are meeting the standards of the state-based curriculum.

A few years ago, I personally asked Senator Isakson why we didn’t have a Federal curriculum standard for No Child Left Behind and I was referred back to “State’s Rights”. I submit to you, my friends, this month’s frustration: Georgia, which tends to be ranked towards the bottom of all 50 states in education, for decades, in a country ranked towards the bottom of industrialized countries in education, develops its own curriculum rather than selecting the best curriculum from states in the top 10. Further, we seem to lack options for our students who are not college-bound (that 25-30% we’re losing through the dropout rate addressed in last month’s column).

This month’s plea to you: as we get underway in the Gold Dome, there are laws that can be passed to improve our educational landscape that require minimal (or no) funding. We can begin to re-think how we educate our children and how we develop curriculum. I believe that the only curriculum we, as a state, should be creating from scratch is Georgia Studies. Every other subject that our students are learning – at every grade level – is taught in another state. There are at least 40 states doing it better than we are. Why not stop reinventing the wheel and instead start cherry-picking the best of the lot, by subject? (Not just curricula, but the associated proven texts, tests, lesson plans, and teacher training methods.) Instead of developing a math curriculum from scratch over the past few years at taxpayer expense, we could have chosen the number-one ranked Massachusetts’ curriculum, which has been proven teachable and effective.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson and Rep. Fran Millar are re-introducing their BRIDGE bill this term. This Bill seeks to allow students, who are not interested in attending college, to earn a certificate to allow them to pursue a technical career (e.g. in aerospace, health care, elderly care, agribusiness, life science, energy and environmental, logistics and transportation, information technology, teacher education training, engineering, science and mathematics, humanities and fine arts) with an introduction to these areas in 9th grade and concentrating in one area beginning in 10th grade. This bill, as proposed, exempts these students from some current graduation requirements and this has drawn criticism from educators. There is merit to giving the 25% to 30% of the students who are dropping out some alternatives. Perhaps, some support from constituents would make a difference?

Let’s start teaching our kids what they really need to know. Let’s give them tools to become successful in life. Let’s focus on English and math basics. Let’s teach everyone up-to-date computer skills. Let’s make sure no child leaves school without being financially literate. Most importantly, let’s allow them to fail if necessary, at early ages so they can understand how to work hard, win and succeed in high school and beyond. Albert Einstein experienced failure. Chipper Jones strikes out. Litigators lose a case every so often. Why are we so afraid to teach young kids the art of losing a game?

I will get off my soapbox now. I really wish we, as individual lawyers, could urge our legislature to require our State Department of Education to implement the best educational practices from around the country, to utilize the best curriculum from one of the states that are in the top five -- in toto – not modified where any child must be a guinea pig. Plus, we need to give our students critical life skills and alternatives – so we can make the American Dream possible for future generations of Georgians and keep our State and Country strong. In the process, we would re-invigorate Georgia to pull back in those jobs Maureen Downey says we are losing to other states because our system of education has been weak for too long.

Be an Everyday Hero and participate in the legislative process in the way you best see fit. While you are at it, thank your colleagues who have taken the plunge and have succeeded in being elected to public office.


Many thanks to Shayna (who is herself, an Everyday Hero in my book) for allowing us to reprint her article here on the blog. I think she has done quality research and made excellent points. Although she is addressing her peers - lawyers - I hope this article inspires some creative, thoughtful conversation about how each of us in every occupation can work to improve our local schools. - Cere

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where's Mr. Potato Head?

No worries - our very important conversation has just gotten a little buried. Please click here to access the original post and continue the investigation and conversation about the salaries, bloat, compensation and budget of DeKalb Schools.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Construction Bond Funding for DeKalb County Schools: Requesting Equitable Funding

This information has been brought to us by Elena Parent, Sen. Adelman’s Chief of Staff. "It is Sen. Adelman’s belief that while there are many, many infrastructure projects of necessity in the DeKalb School System, there may not have been as many that were completely planned, passed by the School Board and “shovel ready” if you will as some of the other counties, and that those likely received the lion’s share of the bond package because they were ready for immediate funding."

When Ms. Parent asked for information from David Lakly, the Education Analyst for the Senate Budget and Evaluation Office, she got this response:

The Department of Education (DOE) awards money for Capital Projects based on need as determined by each system's five year capital outlay plan. The money allotted to DeKalb in the FY10 capital projects list is based on the plan DeKalb County submitted to DOE last year. This plan was approved by the DeKalb County School Board, and then approved by the State School Board. Without placing blame on either side, there has apparently been a good deal of miscommunication between DeKalb County and DOE. DeKalb contends that their current five year plan does not accurately reflect their current capital needs, and DOE has offered their assurance that they are currently working with DeKalb to assist with revision of their plan. This could result in more money for DeKalb in the FY11 for capital projects. Additionally, while it is currently a moving target, the proposed federal stimulus bill could provide additional money to DeKalb county for capital projects.


DeKalb County Schools received significantly less than other Metro school systems for construction needs in the Governor’s FY2010 budget recommendations for capital outlay and is therefore requesting additional capital outlay funding.

Metro District Allocations

Cherokee $7,983,293
Clayton $4,316,934
DeKalb County $1,203,680
Cobb $41,797,726
Fulton(includes APS) $22,522,568
Gwinnett $42,431,993
Rockdale $3,327,568

The five year facility plan school systems must submit for funding under the Entitlement Program was developed by the state and does not accurately reflect the needs of school systems. The Entitlement Program formula used by the Department of Education (DOE) favors enrollment growth and currently provides significantly more funds to neighboring school systems over DeKalb. This Entitlement Program funding is not based on the needs assessments local districts provide to DOE. Instead, districts may only apply for a reimbursement based on DOE’s calculation, which does not factor in what the system’s believe reflects their needs. If districts do not accept this, they risk not receiving any construction funding.

DeKalb County Schools
• Is the third largest school system in the state and the current appropriation could not meet the facilities needs of even one school in the County
• Has more buildings than any other school system in the state
• Has over 600 mobile classroom units on our sites to assist with overcrowding
• Has aging school buildings (some are 40-60 years old) with older related infrastructure (ie: air conditioning units)
• Has $2 billion in facilities needs even after 3 SPLOSTs totaling $1 billion
• Spent $66 million on recent construction at 3 schools (Princeton ES, Flatrock ES and Dunwoody ES). As the current construction formula is structured, DeKalb is not eligible to receive funding reimbursement from the State for these necessary projects
• Has enrollment growth in particular regions of the county which has escalated the construction needs of these areas
• Can not provide SPLOST IV funds until 2014 and there are immediate construction/infrastructure needs that need to be met.

The construction bond funding formula was developed by the Department of Education and follows no Federal or State requirements. This formula can be changed without amending current state statute.

Proposed Changes/Recalculation for Capital Outlay Formula:
• Developing a formula which emphasizes school districts with stable enrollment and aging facilities instead of significant emphasis on school systems with enrollment growth.
• More transparency from DOE in the formula factors and funding priorities as they relate to construction bonds.
• A formula that does not penalize systems for 'seats' that are in buildings that have been decommissioned for use as instructional facilities. Simply redrawing attendance lines or redistricting would not solve the problem if this is still a factor in funding.

"I went to a meeting and I heard..."

I decided to repost a post called, "I went to a meeting and I heard...", since we have lots of bloggers who go to lots of meetings and come back with lots of interesting info to share. When
you do that - post it here!!

Also included in this post are my notes from the DeKalb School Board Meeting, January 9, 2009.
Highlights -- Block scheduling, budget cuts, Arabia HS and a proposed Military Academy.

The Jan. 6, 2009 DeKalb School Board Meeting – as I saw it.

I just had to take a couple of Tylenol so that I could sit down and write up my meeting “minutes” after watching the first televised DeKalb School Board meeting of 2009 – featuring our new Board in it’s entirety. First, I must say, that after seeing Shayna Steinfeld on the tele greeting everyone and listening to Dierdre Pierce as one of the citizen commentators, I am sad that these two were not elected – they would have been terrific! As far as the citizen comments go, I was impressed most with the firm eloquence Jeff Bragg, a teacher at Cross Keys stated his case for showing some immediate support for not only Cross Keys, which was listed as #2 on the SPLOST 3 priorities, but also for the High School of Technology North, scheduled to merge with Cross Keys. However, not one shovel of dirt has been turned nor has one pencil been moved from the HSTN. For shame! This is really, REALLY sad and completely frustrating. Why on earth do these schools continue to suffer complete dismissal by the Board? They should be so proud of Cross Keys – having made AYP – in spite of a majority minority population along with poverty. Get on this people – they need to schedule classes for August ASAP!

I must mention the tearful plea made by Belinda Joines begging the Board to revisit their decision to eliminate daytime driver’s ed. Her best line was something like, “What good does it do our kids to take all these AP courses if they die in a car crash?” Powerful.

Another great line came from a parent who asked, "Why do we have people with degrees in Education running our Transportation department?" Great question.

I can’t even articulate the diatribe from a parent speaker who dissed the school board worse than I’ve ever witnessed. I never knew there were so many ways to say, “you guys suck”. Wow.

I always enjoy the enthusiasm of Sandy Purkett, parent extraordinaire from the GREAT Redan High School and the Blue Thunder Band! Sandy works harder than just about any other parent I’ve ever known. She loves these Redan kids and has guided and mentored hundreds through the PILOT program. Love that lady! She is a gift to our community and represents everything good in this school system.

After a 10+ minute break, this meeting took off at a snail’s pace, due to the fact that Paul Womack tried to add an item to the agenda. He proposed that the Board create some kind of non-binding referendum which would allow them to reduce their own salaries by 2.5% (about $30/month) - in a show of support for the teachers loss of their STEP increase. Weird – but he somehow thought it would be a nice gesture of support for teachers. That is – until Gene Walker piped up stated that he would vote “no”. (Remember, this was just a vote to get it added to the agenda for later discussion.) He called the idea “grandiose” and a “farce”. Zepora says she’d vote “no” because she needs her $30. Sarah agreed as well and reminded the Board that they already return their unused travel expenses. Dr. Lewis clarified that everyone in the system got a 2.5% raise. The people earning over $100,000 had to take a 2% pay cut (he took even more), and the teachers were denied their earned STEP increase, which would have been on top of the 2.5% raise. This was all part of the package to save the $10 million withheld by the State. Dr. Lewis asked them to please not revisit the $10 million cut – to do so would cause a “train wreck”. This entire little motion (which failed) and it’s resulting discussion took nearly 20 minutes – BEFORE they even passed the agenda! Knife – please!!!

I had a thought during all of this. Weren’t the Board members supposed to have some kind of training? Better get on that.

Votes were taken on who gets to be the new Chair (Tom Bowen) and Vice-Chair (Zepora Roberts).

Marcus Turk reiterated that yet again, our budget is in the red by exactly the amount the State owes us in Homestead Relief Grant money.

One item that REALLY perked up my ears came from Jay Cunningham. He stated that his committee decided to spend the money to buy 1,500 new toilets, 1,500 new sinks and 500 new drinking fountains to be installed in some of the older buildings. (!!!) Best idea of the meeting, in my humble opinion. I hope Tom Keating, "The Bathroom Guy" finds out that someone besides him (and me) cares about working toilets!

There were other action items, but let me just end by saying that as Pat Pope stood at the podium as she always does in these meetings, asking for this contract or that to be approved for the lowest price from the responsible bidders, I couldn’t help but think about how truly lucky we are to have her on our team. I greatly admire her poise, her ability to articulate her agenda and the wealth of knowledge she is able to maintain and access in her own head! We really need her. I hope you will all support her in the coming weeks. I have a feeling she’s going to need us.

Options to DCSS

Metro Atlanta offers a wide range of private school options for students who are better suited to different educational environments. Some of the schools even specialize in areas of study or focus on helping with learning disabilities. However, with tuitions over $15,000 these schools can be out of reach for many. There is hope. Below I have listed some affordable – even free - alternative education solutions when traditional DeKalb schools are not meeting your child’s needs.

DeKalb county offers most core and AP courses online as an option. There are three alternatives for DeKalb OnLine Academy (DOLA) courses: During the School Day, Beyond the School Day And Credit Recovery. Regular fees are $250 per half-credit course. Out of county students can take courses from DOLA for an additional $50. However, there is a well-kept secret - you may take a DOLA course at school, during the school day at no charge. Your counselor will assign a designated area for you to work online. Most of the teachers are actual DeKalb county teachers who already teach in the school system. They teach online courses for additional income. You may even be assigned a teacher from your home school. Your high school guidance counselor must sign you up.

The AJC recently reported that there are 4400 students enrolled in the Georgia Virtual Academy (GVA) - this is state sponsored and completely separate from DeKalb’s online academy. The website says, “Imagine a high-quality public school program that offers the innovative use of technology, a rigorous curriculum from K¹², individualized learning plans for each student, and accommodations to foster different learning styles. This exceptional public school program is not imaginary—it's the Georgia Virtual Academy (GVA), a program of Odyssey School (a public charter school), and it serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade throughout the state!

A sponsor of, K¹² learning – the program used by Georgia Virtual Academy, is a completely online academy offering curriculum for every state from kindergarten through 12th grade. Visit this link to view a sample lesson.

DeKalb County also offers The Open Campus. The website says, this “alternative secondary program provides an educational opportunity to high school students who wish to accelerate the manner in which they complete the remaining required units for graduation. This alternative secondary program provides an educational opportunity to high school students wishing to enter college or join the work force early, to students who need to make up courses for graduation, to dropouts seeking education while gainfully employed or to married students. Open Campus enrollment is available to DeKalb County residents 16 years of age who have completed 75 hours or 5 units toward a diploma.” Visit the website for more information. While you're there, check out the student’s comments as to what Open Campus did for them – it’s a very promising program.

In addition, we now have a program called "DeKalb Early College Academy", which I have heard only good reports about. It is described at the DCSS website as an "early college initiative in joint partnership with Georgia Perimeter College. This program is very well-suited for students who may be struggling in high school. Students make a 4 year commitment and end up with their high school diploma and an associate's degree from Perimeter College: "In addition to the college preparatory curriculum, the program’s design makes it possible for the students to receive 60 hours worth of college credit leading to a two-year Associate’s of Arts degree from the college." It's a great deal, and thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the cost is very low.

Faith Academy, a SACS Accredited, Christian-based high school education program provides an alternative to traditional public high school. It is a very affordable, self-directed program where students pick up weekly assignment packets and do the work at their own pace. Faith has licensed teachers on staff for unlimited tutoring at no charge, as well as scheduled group tutorials for many classes. Many parents who homeschool turn to Faith Academy for an accredited high school curriculum. You must be at least 16 years old to enroll. They have Georgia locations in Loganville, Stockbridge and Buford. Since this is a private program, you don’t need to live near a location to attend. Further, if you move out of state, you can FedX your weekly packets.

Homeschooling is becoming more and more popular. To homeschool your child, you must closely follow certain laws. First, you must submit a Declaration of Intent to homeschool as well as fill out a homeschool packet that you acquire from the County. There is a helpful organization called Home Education Information Resource (H.E.I.R.) that will help you navigate the homeschool rules.

DASCH, Dunwoody Area Support for Christian Homeschoolers, is a group organized to help Christian home educators in the Dunwoody, GA area. This is a Christian group with a statement of faith. They offer Mom's Talk monthly meetings, park days, and field trips. Christian home educators of all denominations are welcome.

For a Catholic support network, visit the website of the Holy Family TORCH.
Group activities are held at St. Benedict Parish in Duluth, GA. This group takes monthly field trips together and the group is well over 150 per trip. In addition, this busy group puts on plays, hold spelling bees and do mission work.

C.A.R.E.F.R.E.E. (Children Achieving Real Education From Regular Everyday Experiences) Homeschoolers
is an all inclusive, eclectic (mixed bag of methods), secular homeschool group with roots in Dekalb, Clayton, Rockdale, Newton, and Henry counties in Georgia.

Ta'Alim Islamic Homeschool Alliance
 is support group for Muslim homeschoolers throughout Dekalb and Metro Atlanta area. Their group members are an eclectic mix of Muslim homeschooling families with various backgrounds in education and skills. Their website is very informative for anyone considering homeschooling.


It’s a horrible feeling to be in the “gray” area regarding your child’s education. With nearly 100,000 students in our system, logic tells us that we cannot serve them all with an educational plan that suits their individual learning style. So many kids end up outside the box, for a variety of reasons. Although it’s frightening and somewhat depressing, please know that there is hope out there. There are a number of alternatives to a high school diploma. I’ve listed some above – please add more ideas as well as share experiences in the comments links.