Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Some testimony for your reading pleasure

I'm going to share bits of testimony from the Heery depositions that we received at the blog in hard copy form. I am posting this because I am tired of people calling us "intolerant" for calling out Lewis, Pope and the Board of Education's poor behavior. This is serious. This school system is in deep doo doo and it's certainly not the fault of the angry teachers, parents and taxpayers who vent at this blog. This testimony is childish and ridiculous. There are no crimes here, just manipulation and game-playing.

At a meeting of the DCBOE on June 13, 2005, Dr. Crawford Lewis requested that the Board authorize the employment of Lanta Technology Group to conduct an assessment of DCSD's (DeKalb Co School District's) Human Resources Department. The stated purpose was to identify and prioritize the areas that needed to be reorganized, retrained, reamped and redirected. Surprisingly, his undertaking occurred out of view of the public bid process. Instead, Dr. Lewis informed the Board that it was "urgent" to proceed with this assessment as quickly as possible. Dr. Lewis expressed that he had a long relationship with Lanta and had a great deal of confidence in them. (Motion was adopted 6-2) Shortly after, Dr. Lewis engaged the services of Lanta as "head hunters".

In his deposition Lewis states:

Q Are you familiar with Lanta?
A I am
Q How are you familiar with them?
A We asked Lanta to come in and do an assessment of our HR Dept
Q Have they placed any employees with the school district?
A They have
Q Do you recall which employees?
A Yes, Pat Pope, I want to say Gloria Talley and Darren Ware
Q Was Mr Ware placed in the human resources dept?
A Yes he was
Q How long was he here?
A A short period of time, maybe a couple of months or so
Q Ok and why did he leave?
A We learned that Mr Ware - had not been truthful about his employment and education
Q Ok so honesty is important to the DeKalb County School System?
A I think honesty is important

Pay attention to Dr Lewis' use of the word "urgent" to get board approvals. This occurs over and over. I"m betting it will come up regarding these budget cuts.

For those unfamiliar with Darren Ware, click here for the link to the news item.


In her deposition, Ms Pope was asked about her employment history. She testified that after completion of college, her first employment was with a company she called "Eichley". ... then for a couple of years, she worked for Epstein Construction in Chicago. Next, she worked for a smaller company, but she forgot the name of it. Then a company identified as "Ruscilli" where she was a project manager for commercial construction. Next, Lathrop Company, a division of Turner Construction for about 2 years. Then she moved to Atlanta to take a position with Skanska, USA (Beers), -- she then went to Manhattan Construction Company and remained there until 2004 when she left to work with her purported husband, an architect. After that, she became an employee of DCSC (See deposition of Patricia A. Pope, Novermber 13, 2007, pp 19-26).


At another point, Pope was asked about her relationship with Lanta during the time she was being recruited by the DCSD. The resume that was furnished to the DCSD was identified by Pat Pope.

... numerous spects of Ms. Pope's prior employment were omitted and the chronology was confusing and unexplained. - Here is some of her testimony -

Q Ok I noticed that on your resume - you gave the names of certain entities that don't appear on the resume, in your previous testimony. Was there a reason for that?
A Generally, on a resume, and I'm not positive why - since I didn't produce it - but generally on a resume, the rule of thumb is the last 15 years.
Q Ok but the way I understand it, you were employed by Eichley Engineers from 1980-1990, is that correct?
A No I didn't do that I'm not sure who did. I'm not sure who did.
Q Ok Were you at Rucilli from 1990-1994?
A No I was at Ruscilli and then Lathrop.
Q Lathrop. I'm sorry.
A Yeah, so that is really messed up.
Q Is that accurate with Skanska, USA?
A I log about -- no. Actually Skansa, no. I can't say who did that, no.
Q Did you proof your resume before they puti it on?
A No this is the first time I've seen this one.


In addition to the numerous discrepancies regarding her employement history, it is also important to not that the resume submitted to the DCSD dos not identify "Patricia Pope" as the candidate for employment. Instead, ther resume pertains to "Patricia A. Reid". ...

She repeated the use of Patricia A. Reid when she prepared and submitted her application for employment with DCSD.

The name "Mrs. Patricia A. Reid" also appears.

She identifies her employer as DeKalb County Schools with Dr. Lewis as her supervisor. Her duties are stated to be "Consultant for SPLOST Program."

Ms Pope furnishes information about her previous employment and as to "Employer/Activity1" she states that she was employed by Vincent Pope & Aossociates, Inc. as Chief Operating Officer and that her immediate supervisor was Anthony V. Pope. In the space marked "your name when employed (if different) is left blank, creating the impression that her name was Patricia Reid when she worked for Vincent Pope.


In this employment application, for the first time in this case, Ms Pope has disclosed that prior to her current employment, she held a position with the DCSD as a consultant for the SPLOST program, working under the supervision of Dr Lewis.

In addition, from Sept 2004 to Oct 2005, Ms Pope states that she was simultaneously employed by Vincent Pope & Associates (and DCSD). (Her) application leaves many unanswered questions: When did she assume the position of "consultant" for the SPLOST program? How much was she being paid as a consultant? Was she being paid with SPLOST revenue? Was Ms Pope actually a consultant for SPLOST prior to the inception of the search process conducted by Lanta? Why didn't she inform Lanta of her employment with Vincent Pope & Associates? Was the 'search' process by Lanta merely a ruse to mislead the board? ... Were Ms. Pope and Dr. Lewis concealing an ongoing confict of interest created by Ms Pope's simultaneous employment by both the BOE and one of its architects?


When you met with Ms. Pope, were there any restrictions that you placed on her regarding her involvement in matters relating to Mr. Pope?
A Yes, yes.
Q Ok Do you recall what those restrictions were?
A I think so. Mr Pope was already working on a project in DeKalb schools at the time we were doing the interviews. And Mrs. Pope and Mr. Pope came in and shared with me that they were husband and wife.
And at that time, Mrs. Alexander and Mr. Hawkins and I shared with them that there was only one option, either Mr. Pope could continue to work as an architect, or if Ms Pope took the job opportunity, he would not be able to continue working in DeKalb because of the conflict of interest.
And we -- I consulted with our attorneys and with the Board and we were in agreement that we would allow Mr. Pope to finish the work that he had -- that he had begun.


I have also learned from these documents that DCSS paid over $3.5 million to a company called Nielsen-Wurster/Marsh for an enormous 54-volume study to determine the damages to seek against Heery Mitchell. By evaluating 20 projects, the company then used an average score and applied it to all of the SPLOST 1&2 projects to come up with a figure of somewhere between $85 and 125 million in damages.

This all sprang from the fact that when originally hired, Pat Pope fired about 3 people who then sued DCSS and Heery sued for $500,000 owed.


This is from the AJC article, Huge DeKalb schools project altered, aiding spouse --

It appears that Tony Pope should not have been working on the project, regardless. Schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis has said that he told Pat Pope that Tony Pope could not work as a subcontractor for the project or any others he wasn’t already working on before his wife joined the school system.

Tony Pope disputes that. He contends that he was given written permission by the school district to be a subcontractor on the project. He gave the AJC a copy of an April 2008 letter he said granted him the permission.

In it, an attorney for the school district, J. Stanley Hawkins, wrote to Lewis that he did not consider the arrangement a conflict of interest.

“I told Pat that so long as there was no actual conflict of interest — and I did not see one here — the situation did not present any legal problem at all,” Hawkins wrote. “To the extent that any issue is presented, it is one of perception.”

But Hawkins left the ultimate decision up to the school board. It’s unclear whether the board resolved the matter.


So, in the end, Lewis himself signed the contract that plainly showed Pope Architects as an approved vendor.  The board approved it as well. The rest of the story revolves around whether or not Pat Pope lied about her identity - which would only be a lie if she was fully aware that her previous marriage had not been legally dissolved. (Is there a realistic motivation for that?) However, she states that she thought she had legally divorced her first husband and when she found out that the paperwork was not complete in the courthouse files, she took steps immediately to complete it. Oh, and her resume on file is messy.

What do we have here? Essentially, we have a daytime soap opera featuring a superintendent who got a car for a cheap price and who then used his school system credit card to buy gas for it - three times in one day.  The District Attorney felt that this crime was worthy of an "interview".  The interview must have gotten pretty intense, as it was during this interview that Lewis urged the DA to investigate Pat Pope - the most damaging item coming to the fore as a result of investigating Pope is to find out that she was not officially, legally divorced from her first husband when she married the second. And now, as far as we can tell, the whole thing has dragged out for over 15 months and we have our top two employees, each with a salary of over $200,000, on some kind of "leave".  We have an interim superintendent and a board comprised of 4 of 9 members having served less than 18 months and a $100+ million revenue shortage–resulting in cuts will harm students and teachers in our classrooms, while preserving most of the fiefdom created by our housebound leader.

Is there a bigger mess anywhere?  Can someone help us?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Letter From the Fernbank Elementary School Council

Well, at least it looks like we're not the only ones writing open letters to Ms. Tyson and the board! The letter below was sent by the Fernbank Elementary School Council to the board, outlining their viewpoints on the proposed budget cuts. The letter is long, so I will simply highlight the key points.

We recognize the difficult, and sometimes painful, cuts which must be made and we appreciate the range of comments and criticisms which permeate the conversations about the budget. We are but one perspective which we hope reflects the broader interests of all students served by DCSS.
We urge an approach which, as far as possible, keeps intact the instructional environment and needs at the school house. To this end, we believe that certain selected cuts may appear easy on their face but will have significant ramifications in the day-to-day school life. 

     For example, we note the proposed elimination of library clerks. We understand how this position might seem redundant of the role of the librarian. However, as you know, DeKalb librarians are teacher-librarians—they provide regular collaborative whole-class instruction that supports classroom curriculum. ... Eliminating the library clerk position will require librarians to choose which services to provide. In many situations, librarians will be relegated to the role of clerk and we will effectively lose the teaching services of a number of highly trained professionals and impair learning throughout our schools. ...
      We also urge that DCSS avoid cuts that appear to have a cost savings but at the expense of other monies. Pre-K would fit this role. Though DCSS may have responsibility for some paraprofessional costs, lead teachers are paid for by the state. We would lose substantially more money then we saved by reductions or eliminations in this program area. In addition, paraprofessionals provide invaluable services at a much lower cost than certified teachers. This last observation is not meant to suggest reducing certified teachers; rather that the critical work provided by the paraprofessionals enable certified teachers to engage the entire class in a way that would not otherwise be possible. The net effect of their loss would be to impair learning for entire classes.
      In these difficult times, we also believe it is critical to save programs that provide a point of distinction for DCSS and which are instrumental in recruiting and retaining students. The High Achievers Magnet programs fit this role as does the Fernbank Science Center and its programs. We do understand the perceived higher cost of programs such as Scientific Tools and Techniques at the Fernbank Science Center but we also note that this program addresses a critical shortcoming in national education delivery and serves a substantially underserved population, all in a program of national renown which simply cannot be duplicated in the typical schoolhouse.  ...At the same time, we believe that Fernbank Science Center is one of the DCSS entities best positioned to seek longer term third party external support, particularly in the absence of any other science museum or center in the close-in Metro Atlanta area.
      Reluctantly, we must also urge the consolidation of more than four schools. DeKalb has a long history of small neighborhood schools, an arrangement we can no longer afford. Based on the stated projected cost savings of nearly $600,000 per school, the consolidation of additional schools should realize a significant savings. And, we believe the savings would be greater when you account for shortfalls in state funding (based on 450 elementary school minimums) coupled with lower central staffing requirements to serve fewer facilities.
      Revenue enhancements may also be necessary, though we understand the challenges DCSS will still face in budget out-years. Such enhancements should not be in place of making changes which are needed but should be used to bridge short-to intermediate revenue shortfalls. In fact, the Board might consider sun-setting any increases if they are viewed as a stopgap measure. However, we also believe that the issue of per pupil expenditures, as reflected in the available revenue from all sources (local, state, etc.), is much larger than the immediate economic crisis. The crisis presents an opportunity to discuss what level of investment in education we really need to ensure our children receive a first-rate education and that our graduates are competitive nationally and internationally.
      With all the challenges faced by the system, there is a rare opportunity for a wholesale re-imagining of the system. We believe devolving decision-making and accountability closer to the point of implementation can create an environment of innovation and success while enabling DCSS to realize greater savings in non-instructional/non-schoolhouse expenses. We certainly do not wish to adversely affect the lives of many of DCSS’ tireless employees but economic realities dictate a change in our economic structure. At the same time, we can reinvent how our school system works, to the betterment of all DeKalb children.
      These are no doubt difficult times, but from adversity can come success. We urge you to retain a long-term point of view which will best position the children of DeKalb for success in the future.

Marshall D. Orson
Fernbank Elementary School Council

Monday, March 29, 2010

Let's Use Our Grassroots Network for Lasting Change

by AMP in DH

As many readers are aware, five of the nine members of the Board of Education are up for re-election this year. These members represent the odd-numbered districts -- Jim Redovian (District 1), Sarah Copelin-Wood (District 3), Jay Cunningham (District 5), Zepora Roberts (District 7), and Eugene Walker (District 9). At the following link, you can find street-level maps outlining the boundaries of these districts (found by clicking on "Board of Education District Map" and the "Board of Education Super District Map") available at this link.

Also, for those of you who may be considering running or who want to recruit candidates, please mark on your calendars June 28, 9:00 a.m., through July 2, 12:00 noon. Candidates seeking to run for Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9, must qualify with the DeKalb County Elections Superintendent during this time. The qualification fee for these seats is $540.00 Click here for the fee chart.

I think it would serve us all well to start in-person meetings after spring break for the purpose of establishing networks of volunteers in these five districts, brainstorming potential candidates, and developing campaign plans. Our goal should be to get our process underway before school lets out and, of course, before the qualifying deadline.

The only way we can achieve real, lasting change in our school district is to achieve a change in its leadership. It's our school district -- let's take it back and make it better than it's ever been.

Thanks so much for writing up this important post AMP!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Open Letter to the Board

Greetings Board members,

As you continue in your difficult endeavor to make the necessary, deep cuts to the school system budget, the online bloggers who converse and debate on the subject have gathered information and input we hope you will consider during deliberations.

We have over 2,400 "unique" visitors and several thousand page loads every day at the blog. Many of these readers and contributors do their own research and post what they learn. Here are some of our suggestions:

CUT CENTRAL OFFICE MORE! They have much more bloat to be eliminated.
If you look at the Georgia Open Records you will find many other areas that can be examined for cuts before cutting the people who work with the students directly at the local school.
Figures include:
562 employees at a cost of $28,800,437 in salaries and $228,868 in travel expenses.
Job titles for the above include:
(over $5.5 million)
(over $6.5 million)

Eliminate DOLA completely. Use the State's online virtual school, it's better and the credits transfer seamlessly.

Magnets should be funded at the same level as other schools, following state guidelines.

Eliminate take home cars except for the superintendent and a couple of on-call security officers (who must live within a 15 minute response time).

Sell off closed property where possible. Do a complete audit of exactly what the system owns and then sell off the properties we simply do not foresee needing in the future. Heritage School is a great example. With only 18 classrooms and 40 parking spaces, it is far too small to serve as a viable school in the future and would make a great park for the neighborhood. The county has money for greenspace. District 2 has been severely under-served in parkland and need this property to be conserved as a park.

Put ALL high schools on the 7 period day. If you insist on making teachers teach 6 of 7 periods to full classes - do so for ALL high schools. And set a limit on the total number of students a teacher may have on his or her roster. (You could take it a step further and eliminate the extra credit required in Social Studies that is not required by the state for graduation.  If you do this, you could consider going to a 6 period day or a modified schedule.)

Create a public/private partnership to run Fernbank Science Center. Put the Fernbank science teachers in the classroom where they are desperately needed. Let the private entity keep the scientists they choose and they can offer in-service training for all of our science teachers on an on-going basis.

Audit the security department and reduce it. DeKalb has far and away more security officers per student than any other metro system.
Gwinnett County Schools with 150,000 students to our 100,000 has 49 Security personnel for a cost of $2,500,000 in salary and benefits. This is an average of $51,000 per Security employee.
DCSS has 218 Security employees at a cost of $12,500,000 in salary and benefits. This is an average of $57,300 per Security employee.
Does anyone feel that their child would be less safe in Gwinnett schools?

Consider the long-term commitment required by retaining so many people in administrative positions, regardless of whether or not their salaries are paid with Title 1 funds;
I don't think any taxpayer begrudges retirement costs for the 7,000 (soon to be 6,600) teachers who instruct our children every day because we want to ensure stability for the students. However, DCSS is now in the situation where turnover among the non-teaching ranks is minimal while the turnover among teachers is phenomenal in DCSS.
Paying retirement costs at 9.25% for 8,800 non-teaching personnel (not to speak of the astronomical Health Care benefits) will eventually break the DeKalb School System. Many observers would argue it's already broken.
We must:
1. Cut admin and support personnel dramatically
2. Increase teaching personnel
3. Decrease the teacher turnover rate

Double-check the data you are using to make your decisions.
I do not trust the data the school board is using to make decisions. We need to demand an audit. First, we cannot trust that they have the number of students correct. Unbelievably, our board reps won't even believe their own enrollment numbers submitted to the state. They keep repeating the mantra - "we have 101,000 students" -- We do not.
The number reported to the state on the October 2009 Official FTE count for DeKalb was 97,958, however, the State website currently shows DeKalb with 96,907 students.
Check out these numbers yourselves - at the DOE Reporting Site and the DOE system description site.


By and large, the public you serve is very concerned that the vast majority of the cuts will be made to the classroom. Teachers and others who have direct contact with students have given up enough. It is time to dig deeper, get out the scalpel and make thoughtful, deliberate reductions that will serve to improve the delivery of education for the future.


and the DeKalb School Watch Team

Friday, March 26, 2010

Another charter school to open doors in Lithonia this year

Reprint from The Champion I thought folks might enjoy...

Academy designed to help students become leaders
by Jonathan Cribbs

DeKalb County’s third charter school in two years will open in the fall in Lithonia: The Leadership Preparatory Academy, an elementary and middle school designed to instill leadership skills in students.

The school, which received its charter earlier this month, will be led by Frankie Callaway, a former DeKalb County School System deputy superintendent for administration, who retired in July after a 36-year career as an educator.

The school, which has been in the works since 2008, will open in the fall to grades kindergarten through fifth, expanding by another grade each year until the eighth grade, Callaway said. The school expects to enroll about 300 students in its first year, adding between 50 and 60 each year after, said Lonnie
Hall, a parent who helped organize the school.

It would be open to anyone living within the county’s borders, Callaway said. The school would meet all state educational and curriculum requirements, leadership teaching would be infused into the instruction, she said. Students will be taught from learned texts such as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a widely known book by business professor and author Stephen Covey. His book tells readers to, among other things, be proactive, visualize the end result of goals and learn the principles of integrity.

“It’s something we have always worked on in DeKalb but not to this level,” Callaway said. Prior to a similar charter school opening in North Carolina recently, Hall said the closest school with a similar goal and curriculum was in Virginia. “It doesn’t exist anywhere (in Georgia),” he said. “There was an opportunity that (organizers knew) we could be missing in terms of preparing children at the grade school level for the challenges they will be facing in the early part of the 21st century.

… Every child, we believe, can be a leader. But there’s not much opportunity left to develop those other skills that a child will need once they complete their secondary school education. Being educated and being prepared are two different

The school is hiring personnel, including teachers, and will open off Evans Mill Road in eastern DeKalb County near Interstate 20, inside a vacated academy, Hall said. Two fellow charter schools will also open their doors to students this fall: The Museum School of Avondale Estates and Peachtree Hope Charter

Both were denied charters through the DeKalb County Board of Education but reapplied through the state’s charter school office – an appeal of sorts – and received their charters. These sorts of disagreements over home rule and state control over local money have sparked a lawsuit between several metro Atlanta school systems, including DeKalb, and the state Department of Education that has yet to be resolved.

The Leadership Preparatory Academy’s charter was initially denied in 2008, Hall said, because board members did not doubted the school was original enough. When the organization reapplied the next year, the board approved it, he said. If the school proves successful, Callaway said, it could expand through 12th grade.

“We want every child to believe that they can accomplish,” she said.

The Budget Recommendation

Here is the budget sheet that was passed out today at the Budget Committee Meeting. This is what the committee approved to be the recommendation for 2010-2011. There are 29 cuts, a clear majority coming from the teachers and classrooms.

Click the image to view larger on-screen or to print.

Please add comments if you attended the meeting or have additional input.

This is a really sad day for DeKalb schools.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Should we reduce the size of the board?

The Champion recently published an article describing the racial tension on the school board.  Specifically, the fact that there is a proposal to reduce the size of the board from nine members to seven.  Walker and Cunningham see this as a ploy by Womack to squeeze Walker off the board.  Womack says he just thinks they will be more efficient and save money.

Zepora made a statement I found very interesting:

“I don’t trust the people that’s going to be drawing the school board members,” Roberts said. “If we approve this, we’re doomed.”

What are your thoughts on reducing the size of the school board?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Equalization or Robbery?

The topic of Georgia's "Equalization" grants has been brought up here several times - prompting me to make a post solely dedicated to the subject. One contributor wrote, "Interestingly DeKalb is one of the districts currently levying a millage rate in excess of the State's constitutional cap. This irks some since many Counties receiving benefit from the Equalization part of the funding formula have MUCH lower millage rates."

Some of our brilliant bloggers researched the topic and found the following resources:

The full text of the equalization grant statute, OCGA Sec. 20-2-165 can be found at this link. The legislation describes the funding formula in detail.

The Georgia School Council Institute has put together a nice nine page write up on school funding. Take a look at page 4 of the .pdf file found at this link. Page 3 may also be of interest to help avoid confusion of "Local 5-mills / Local Fair Share" vs. "Equalization".

Also check out:

Where the funds for equalization come from.

And where they go, as described in Senator Jack Hill's essay on the subject. The section on equalization starts about halfway down.

Click here to read Part 2 of the Senator's essay.

Also, the amounts reallocated can be found at this link at the Georgia DOE's website. (After clicking Set FY, choose QBE003, System allotment sheets)

Do all this reading and then post your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More cuts to k-12 education will compromise our children

By Kathy Cox
9:09 p.m. Monday, March 15, 2010

Georgia law requires the Legislature to approve a balanced budget, which I believe is very wise. In these difficult economic times, I do not envy the task they have before them.

But, just as we should not saddle the next generation with our debt, we also should not take away the opportunity for our kids to receive an education that prepares them for their 21st-century world.

We are fortunate to have some of the best teachers and school leaders in the nation (Georgia has had a National Principal of the Year for three years in a row). They have been laser-focused on their mission of improving student achievement, and I am proud to see so much progress being made.

But I maintain that drastic and severe cuts hurt teachers and students and negatively impact our progress. If there are further cuts to school system funding, then we can’t expect things to be business as usual.

While I fully recognize the severity of our revenue shortfall, I am not in favor of additional cuts to public k-12 education.

Recently, the House and Senate asked that we discuss budget options if revenues were less than the governor’s original FY 11 budget submission.

When looking at such a bleak scenario, we told members of the General Assembly it is unrealistic to think you can truly retain 180 days of quality instruction for students if all 10 days of pre- and post-planning for teachers are cut.

Expecting teachers to begin and end a school year on the same day students do is like a restaurant manager asking staff members to show up at the same time the first customer is to be served. That manager knows that if dinner service starts at 5 p.m. you better be willing to pay your chef to come in for preparation a few hours earlier. And when have you ever seen the staff leave the restaurant at the same time as the last customer? That restaurant would not be successful. Similarly, teachers need preparation time to be successful.

Do I want to cut the number of instructional days for students? Of course not.

But as a former classroom teacher, I know we must provide teachers time to prepare so they can give our students their very best. Our kids deserve it.

I appreciate the diligence of the legislators and the seriousness of their exploration of all the issues and all the options. I am hopeful that the Legislature will prioritize this budget to fund one of our primary constitutional obligations — educating Georgia’s k-12 students.

Providing for our students now is an investment in our state’s current and future success. If we want to continue making progress, then we must be willing to invest in Georgia’s greatest resource — our children.


Kathy Cox is Georgia’s superintendent of schools.

Find this article at:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Like Kids in a Candy Store

Ok. So read on and then tell me DeKalb School System is not a candy jar of jobs–robbed daily of it's contents which are then freely distributed to friends and family of the people who know the jar's secret code and have access to it's contents.

New questions about how Pat Pope awarded DeKalb school projects.

By Tim Eberly
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DeKalb County school official Patricia “Pat” Pope hired a family friend from Washington, D.C., to work as a furniture consultant on three school construction projects, and the school district paid for the woman’s plane tickets, hotel stays and car rentals when she traveled here, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

Around the same time, Pope also hired an Atlanta interior designer to serve as a furniture consultant on two other projects.

Both hirings apparently violated school district policy. When asked for documents to show that purchasing policies were followed, the district could not produce any.

Records show that Pope’s construction program paid D.C.-based furniture consultant Judy Hasbrouck $108,730 for three contracts between 2007 and 2009 for her work and travel expenses.

Pope also paid $19,263 to Atlanta interior designer Vanessa Shorter, an acquaintance who later went to work for Pope’s architect husband, for furniture consulting work in 2007.

The revelation about those contracts is the latest in a series of AJC articles about Pat Pope and her involvement in the construction projects under criminal investigation.

Hasbrouck and Shorter began working for the district after Pat Pope cut ties with a retired employee on the grounds that she had a full-time employee who was ready to take over the work. The retired employee had been working part time for the system.

Within a month, Pope fired the full-time employee and brought Hasbrouck and Shorter into the picture.

The school district doesn’t have records to compare Hasbrouck’s and Shorter’s workloads to that of the retired employee, but Hasbrouck alone made nearly as much money in half the time, documents show.

Pope’s hiring of Hasbrouck and Shorter was not only unusual, but apparently violated school district policies.*

Two of Hasbrouck’s three contracts were worth more than $25,000 and should have been competitively bid through public advertisements, according to the school district’s policy for purchasing goods and services.

The third Hasbrouck contract — and Shorter’s single contract — were worth more than $10,000 and should have been approved only after the district got two written quotes from possible vendors.

*So - now do you suppose the board will fire her and save the taxpayers her $200,000 salary plus benefits?


Follow this link to read the entire AJC story.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Spring 2010

English Language Arts • Mathematics • Science • Social Studies

This test contains four questions similar to the ones asked by voters everywhere. Each question is followed by four possible answers. Read each question carefully before answering. Choose the one best answer to each question and circle your answer.

1) Please correct the following grammatically incorrect statement:

These times are tough easy solution is cut.
a. During tough times, the best solution is to sacrifice your future by cutting your investments.

b. When the going gets tough, the tough just cut out the ones who need the most.

c. During tough times, real leaders make tough decisions to ensure that the future of our state and
nation are supported 100 percent, and given the best opportunity for success.

d. Rather than ask citizens to invest in their community when times are tough, leaders should look
out for themselves and their own re-election efforts rather than do what’s right.

2) Your family needs to earn $40,000 a year to pay for all your bills. Your boss has decided to only pay you $35,000. Which solution is most appropriate?

a. Stop feeding your children, thus saving $5,000.
b. Stop paying your mortgage because you know your bank cares about you too much to foreclose
on your home and retirement investment.
c. Find additional income by taking a second job temporarily because you have a commitment and
responsibility to monetarily care for your family.
d. Close your eyes and pray for money to fall from the sky.

3) Newton’s Third Law states that: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If our leaders ask the auto industry to build the most sophisticated, technologically advanced car, better than any other nation, yet consistently cut funding to the research and development departments,
what do you think will happen?

a. The car they develop will magically come out better, faster and stronger, like the $6 million man.
b. They will just come up with some new technology that will transform a beat up Chevy Nova into a Dodge Viper.
c. They will produce an inferior product that is unable to compete with the ones being produced in other nations.
d. The workers will just use their own money to buy all of the things they need and put in all of the extra time for free because they just want to make the best car possible.

4) You are building a foundation for your home. Which of the following choices demonstrates the most appropriate action?

a. Tell the contractor that although you think she is the best you just don’t think you should pay them what they are worth.
b. Tell them that you want the best possible foundation, but you want them to make it from sand and water.
c. Give them the freedom, funding and resources to do the job you hired them to do.
d. Stand in their way and block them from doing their job and blame it on your neighbor.

Failure to safeguard the children of this State could adversely affect a community’s ability to thrive.

Such practices will be reported to the general public as failure to lead and do what is right.

(Submitted to the AJC blogs by a group of disillusioned teachers)

They Just Don't Get It

"Board members Eugene Walker, Zepora Roberts, Sarah Copelin-Wood and Jim Redovian said they are looking at raising the millage rate by amounts varying between half a mill and 2 mills."

Unbelievable. They don't get it. And they don't want to.

The school system actually has less students now than it did when Crawford Lewis took over as superintendent. So what happened under the Lewis administration? He hired over 1,000 more administrators and staff during his tenure. The Board of Ed looked the other way. Why not? Property tax revenue was flying in.

But the Lewis way is unsustainable. Over $20 million per year and 290 employees for the formerly Ramona Tyson-run, with no measure of effectiveness, MIS. Millions for large staffs at Human Resources, school police, the Central Office, etc. A large number of highly paid instructional supervisors and coaches, yet our teachers complain that they only recieve busy work from them, like how bulletin boards in their classrooms should look (?). More administrators making six figure salaries than ever before, more than any other school system in the state, yet the first cuts to be made are to the schools and teachers.

A property tax increase is not the solution. It addresses the symptons, not the disease. This is the opportunity for the BOE to "right the ship". To out the focus back on the class, the teacher, the school building. Not on $300,000 lights for televised meetings. Not hundreds of thousands to repace an already decent parking lot, at you guessed, the new Central Office HQ. Not for the weak $8,000,000 America's Choice curriculum, which makes teachers into autobots, and the AC company conveniently hired a high ranking DCSS administrator to grease the wheels for the purchase.

It has to end and end now.

More than four out of five households in the county do not have children in DCSS. Yet Board members, led by Gene Walker, want to increase property taxes instead of reconstituting the system. Long-time board members Sarah Copelin-Wood and Zepora Roberts, who has no problem with nepostism and cronyism, since its benefitted her, have no problem with having a thousand more administrators and staff than we do teaches. They would never consider a lean and mean administration. Nope, DCSS is a jobs program. it's disappointing to hear that Jim Redovian may favor a property tax increase, as he has stated before there is too much admin bloat in the system.

"Board member Jay Cunningham said he is undecided." Say NO, Jay Cunningham.

We all need to demand to the Board of Education that everything needs to change and change now. We will no longer accept the bloat, the waste, the departments that expand and expand yet don't serve teachers and students. Say NO to a property tax increase. treat the disease, not the symptoms.

To look up your own state legislator, follow this link.

Big surprises on possible DeKalb closure list, including Kittredge
DeKalb schools deficit nears $115 million; targeted school list released

As DeKalb County school district learned its projected deficit had soared to nearly $115 million, budget committee members weighed in Thursday on possible tax hikes and program cuts and agreed on sweeping staff cuts.
Meanwhile, the Citizen Task Force charged with selecting four DeKalb elementary schools to close in a cost-cutting move, released its short list of targets.
The school board is split down the middle about raising property taxes but has decided to save some popular programs and cut staff deemed “fat.”
Board members said new state funding cuts have increased their shortfall for the fiscal year 2011 budget from $88 million to $115 million.
That means cutting even more jobs and programs, or raising taxes, they said. But with a 22.98 mill tax rate, the school board has little wiggle room. The state legislature caps school tax rates at 25 mills.
“If we don’t cut, we’ll be right back here anyway,” board member Don McChesney said. “A millage increase is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.”
While the board expects figures to continue to fluctuate, Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said, “To be really prepared and sustain the organization in the next fiscal year, we have to target ourselves somewhere between $115-$120 million.”
Those who said they do not want to raise taxes are McChesney, board chairman Tom Bowen and members H. Paul Womack and Pamela Speaks. Board members Eugene Walker, Zepora Roberts, Sarah Copelin-Wood and Jim Redovian said they are looking at raising the millage rate by amounts varying between half a mill and 2 mills. Board member Jay Cunningham said he is undecided.
While undecided on a tax hike, the board’s budget committee agreed Thursday to cut staff and keep some popular programs, including pre-kindergarten, magnets and Montessori.
Tyson said she reviewed proposals from parents and decided to maintain, but cut staff from, the magnet and Montessori programs.
For Adriana Gaffga, maintaining Montessori means she will keep her two children at Briar Vista Elementary School next year instead of putting them in private school.
“I came into the district just because of that program,” she said.
The budget committee also agreed to cut at least 427 jobs, including 200 paraprofessionals, 150 administrators, 59 media clerks and 18 technology specialists. The majority of the jobs were deemed “fat” in the budget, McChesney said.
Bowen said that in DeKalb —the state’s third largest district — staff growth has outpaced enrollment.
“My preference would be no tax increase this year and use the tough budget to make the reductions that are long overdue in terms of getting the organization to be most efficient,” he said.
A half-mill increase would add about $33 a year to property-tax bills for owners with homes valued at $200,000.
“If the economy ever improves, we can roll the millage back,” Walker said. “This constitutes in my mind that we can spread the pain across the county.”
The board is scheduled to vote on the budget next month.
One parent, Ronda Ward, said she is willing to pay more taxes if it means her son could stay at Meadowview Elementary, one of four schools being considered for closure to save about $2.35 million.
“If there is a half mill that can solve this situation or 2 mills that can solve this situation, I implore you to do it,” she told board members.
Task Force to consider school closings
The task force charged with recommending at least four elementary schools to close next school year has trimmed its list of possibilities.
Earlier this week, it eliminated 62 schools from consideration.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the list of 21 schools still under consideration on Thursday.
The panel will consider these schools on Tuesday. A public meeting will begin at 6 p.m.
The recommendation is due next month to the school board, which will vote on the final closures.
Closing four schools will save about $2.35 million, officials said.
These are the schools being considered:
Ashford Park Elementary
Atherton Elementary
Avondale Elementary
Bob Mathis Elementary
Briar Vista Elementary
Briarlake Elementary
Clifton Elementary
Flat Shoals Elementary
Gresham Park Elementary
Kelley Lake Elementary
Kittredge Magnet Elementary
Knollwood Elementary
Laurel Ridge Elementary
Meadowview Elementary
Medlock Elementary
Midvale Elementary
Peachcrest Elementary
Rock Chapel Elementary
Rowland Elementary
Sky Haven Elementary
Wadsworth Magnet Elementary

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Follow Cherokee County's Lead

A message from Cherokee County PTAs:

Dear Parents:

Over the past few months you’ve probably heard or read that the Cherokee County School District is considering make some classroom-impacting cuts because of State budget shortfalls and cuts handed down to them from our State Legislature. While we understand that the economy might have played a small part in this shortfall, the fact remains that in the State of Georgia the law states that the State Government must fully fund public education, but it consistently hasn’t for well over 7 years. Did you know that since 2005 the Cherokee County School District has held a rolling IOU, which now totals over $43M, that the State has not paid? Even when the economy was strong the State failed to uphold its legal obligation to fully fund our schools. But we have not held our representatives accountable and now we only have 20 days to save our schools!

We must act NOW! If we do not let the Legislature know that we value education over everything else and that we want our public schools fully funded we can and will see the possibility of the following:

  • increased class size again
  • art and music classes discontinued
  • loss of bus services
  • charging for the ability to play in school sports programs
  • loss of technology
  • a freeze on refreshing text books
  • ½ day Kindergarten

The list goes on and on. This will affect the quality of your child’s education. Please don’t think it won’t or can’t happen.

We are asking you to join us by participating in an eraser campaign –

“Don’t erase the Future of Public Education

It’s simple and here’s what to do!

Gather as many erasers as you can (they can be used).
Divide them equally into envelopes for each of the following list of representatives, and put a copy of the [letter below] in each envelope.

Address the envelopes as follows (Cherokee Reps below - customize for your own rep):

Sen. Chip Rogers P.O. Box 813 Woodstock, GA 30118

Rep. Charlice Byrd 1417 Old Forge Lane, Woodstock, GA 30189

Rep. Sean Jerguson 1107 Toonigh Road, Holly Springs, GA 30115

NOTE to Dunwoody folks - send a letter to Fran Millar - Vice Chair of the Education Committee -
417 State Capitol, Georgia 30334 Phone: (404) 656-5064

Atlanta/Fulton folks - Write Kathy Ashe - also on the committee
409 Coverdell Office Building, Georgia 30334 Phone: (404) 656-0116

To look up your own state legislator, follow this link.

IMMEDIATELY stamp and mail the envelopes before March 26.

Together we can help save the future of our exceptional education system. Never under estimate that a few, determined people can make a difference.

Thank you.

As your constituent, we don’t want you to forget the over (100,000) publicly educated students in (DeKalb) County and that with each budget cut you are erasing their future and their right to access free QUALITY public education.
As parents of these 100,000 children, we will not forget your voting records at the polls when the time comes. We are facing shortfalls not from the economy but from our State Legislature and Governor not upholding the law to fully fund public education. It’s time to fully fund education so that our children receive the quality education that they not only deserve but need to succeed in a dynamic, ever-changing world. Don’t erase the future of public education for all of Georgia’s students! Don’t give in to the pressure of special interest groups. We are your constituents. As parents of (DeKalb) County we won’t be silent anymore!
Stop the rhetoric. Stop the excuses.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Georgia PTA’s weekly update on legislative activity – Mar. 15, 2010

Karen Hallacy
2nd Vice President

Welcome to the weekly reporting of legislative activity for the 2010 session. The General Assembly is scheduled to reach Crossover Day, the 30th day, on Mar. 25th. Any bill that has not passed out of one chamber to the other, or ‘crossed over’ as it is called, is considered dead for the rest of the legislative session. The language of a bill may still be appended to another bill (as long as it pertains to the same area of Georgia Code) so it becomes very important to watch for substitute language now as bills move.

The revenue numbers for February were released recently and they don’t look positive. As a result of the continuing declining dollars, the Governor revised his FY 10 and FY 11 budgets. The remaining ARRA dollars have been moved from the FY 11 budget to fill the over $300 million hole in the FY 10 budget. That means the estimates for revenue in FY 11 were reduced by over $300 million. Education’s budget continues to shrink. One well founded rumor is that the 2010-11 school year will be funded only for 170 schools days, not the 180 required by law, and teacher work days will be limited to 4, not the 10 as required. That would save nearly $600 million, on the backs of school children. The local boards of education could continue for 180 days, with their own revenues, like the property tax, which means they will take the heat for raising taxes, but the General Assembly will not.

Common Core State Standard Initiative (CCSSI)

The draft of the Common Core State Standards has been released. This initiative, lead by the National Governors Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers, is designed to create common standards across the states. They are internationally benchmarked and are intended to prepare students to be college and career ready. In an increasingly mobile society it is critical that a student’s education does not suffer because the child moves from one state to another. The goal is to have every state voluntarily adopt these standards so that what a child learns in Massachusetts is the same as what the child learns in Georgia. These standards will establish what students need to learn, but they will not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.

GA PTA supports this voluntary state initiative and encourages its members to read more about it. The standards themselves are open for review and public input is welcome and encouraged. Public comment will be accepted until April 2. Please forward this information to other parents and to the teachers in your school so they, too, can learn more about this initiative. The standards can be found at

Dim excuses for outrageous behaviors

I hate to say it, but our school leaders just don't seem to be all that bright when it comes to everyday, ordinary life skills.

First, we have a superintendent who swears that he panicked when he accidentally pumped premium gas into his car. (Which, as most of us are aware, will not harm your car in any way. Besides, isn't "premium" a synonym for "premier"?  Lewis should have known there's no difference between premium and regular!) Anyway - he was so freaked that he said he actually says he got "someone" to get a rubber hose and pump it out. We never learn exactly where the gas was pumped, or by whom, but if this story is true, some bloke had the last laugh–and a free tank of gas!

Now, his sidekick, "COO" and director of construction, apparently never realized she didn't get a divorce from her first husband before marrying her second!  To which I say, "Yeah, right."

"Puhleeze!!! Enough is enough!" "Uncle!!!"


An aside in the same article:

Last month, investigators searched DeKalb Schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis’ home and school offices as part of a search warrant. After the search, District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming said she needed 90 days to wrap up the probe.

The district attorney declined to say if Pope’s pending annulment would affect the investigation, which is slated to be wrapped up in less than three months.

"We are on schedule to complete the investigation by the end of May," district attorney's spokesman Orzy Theus said Monday.

Well, so much for a trial in March. Keyes is now claiming that they are "on schedule" but need 90 more days. Huh? This thing is going to fizzle into nothing. I have no confidence that we will see anything happen except a whole bunch of tax dollars spent on lawyers and maybe a judgement that will barely recover those attorney's fees.

In addition, I am incredibly disappointed in the board, who will not take a single action against Lewis and Pope, and allow them to continue collecting full salaries and benefits from the taxpayers.

To quote one of our regular contributors, "Cynical? Yes!"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Refreshing Idea from Kathy Cox

I about fell out of my chair when I saw this headline on today:

"Cox: Raise Lottery Ticket Prices For Schools"

Finally, someone talking about ways to keep funding levels for education where they are. Now if we can only get folks to stay disciplined about budget priorities even if we maintain revenue.

It is frustrating that it takes a budget crisis to focus attention on our public funding but at least we are having the dialog ...

What do you think about a $1.50 Lotto ticket? I can't think of a good reason not to do this as a stop-gap measure with a sunset clause based on property tax recovery.

I also spotted this impassioned plea for Fernbank's STT from an op-ed at AJC:

DeKalb: County can't lose its science jewel

I agree with the writer that it would be tragic to lose this program but compared to what??? That's the rub with a deficit of the size we have. I'll gladly suffer a 50 cent increase on my lotto ticket to save this "crown jewel" and even some of the rusty iron underpinnings of our public system.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In Case You Missed It

In case you missed this AJC article, there are some telling quotes that at least two of the BOE members are getting serious:

DeKalb: Need to close more than 4 Schools

“Coming from a day where there were no programs, I think we’ve gotten program-crazy,” said McChesney, a former teacher. “We think the program is the answer. But the answer is the teacher and the student. That’s what makes a good education.”

“There were as many as 10, maybe 12, schools that we were looking at consolidating with others,” confirmed board member H. Paul Womack, chair of the board’s budget committee.

With 101,000 students, DeKalb is the third-largest district in Georgia, but it has more buildings than any other school system. The district built dozens of schools in the 1950s based on neighborhood boundaries rather than on major thoroughfares, McChesney said.

“We were set up to cater to the local community, but we can no longer do that,” he said. “Our dilemma is the small schools are all located in one area. It’s not about north vs. south. You can’t deny the numbers.”

However, they are stil flat out wrong about so many DCSS surplus properties:
"The schools will sit empty until the real estate market changes, Womack said."

Surplus DCSS properties and closed schools can and should be leased short-term to small business, non-profits, churches, and even local cities and the county to generate revenue and save on operational costs.

It is disappointing that the BOE is focusing so much on cutting progams ("Yet programs must be slashed to meet the deficit, McChesney said. The only other option is to raise property taxes."), than looking at the bloated departments, like MIS, school police and Gloria Talley's army of instructional coaches/supervisors. It can't be all programs; some departments need to be scaled back dramatically with some services outsourced.

It is heartening to see that at least Womack and McChesney are talking "tough". These are serious times, and it is no longer acceptable for BOE members to allow perks like take home vehicles (which the school police dept. has taken full advantage of), hold onto their own pet projects (Zepora, Copelin-Wood), allow nepotism & cronyism, allow retired employees back in the system as consultants, or allow departments like MIS, school police and Athletics to go without forensic audits and personnel audits. Every DCSS department needs to have a forensic and personnel audit every 3 to 4 years. All fees, like Athletics, need to be studies and increased if appropriate.

Every penny spent from this point on needs to be accounted for in a transparent manner.

DeKalb County might have to close more than four schools this year, and as many as a dozen over the next two years if not sooner.

On Wednesday, the school board’s budget committee said the district must consider increasing the number of schools it shuts down at the end of this school year because of a rising budget deficit.

The school system shouldn’t delay those decisions and needs to look at the enrollments of all 147 schools now, board member Don McChesney said.

“If it’s obvious we have more than four that would be slam dunks next year, why not do it now? We just prolong our agony,” McChesney told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

DeKalb is facing an anticipated $88 million deficit, but that shortfall could rise to as much as $115 million, board members said. The district has 29 schools with low enrollments. Each closed school could save the district between $500,000 to $1 million.

“There were as many as 10, maybe 12, schools that we were looking at consolidating with others,” confirmed board member H. Paul Womack, chair of the board’s budget committee.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of parents filled a school cafeteria, upset over four proposed school closures made public. Many were angry the schools on the list were all in south DeKalb.

“We can not walk away from our responsibility no matter how distasteful it may be,” McChesney said. “We really need to get on it. It’s got to be done and it’s got to be done now.”

Members of the Citizens Planning Task Force, which is charged with making a school closure recommendation, said on Tuesday they didn't have enough time to make a decision. The 20-member task force, asked to finalize a plan by mid-April, said it might be better to hold off on the closures.

Board members didn’t like that suggestion. “If you all can’t do it, this committee will make the recommendation,” Womack said. “We’ve tried to be transparent by involving citizens of DeKalb County.”

Eleza Vaughn, who has children in kindergarten and fifth grade at Midway Elementary, said she understands that some schools must close to help meet the deficit. Her school is one of seven included in scenarios for possible closure. Vaughn, however, doesn't understand why the district plans to keep those vacant buildings. The district could profit by selling those properties, along with saving money on maintenance, she said.

“I understand we have to make sacrifices and I’m willing to close schools if they look at cutting everything,” she said. “I want to see them hurt as much as I’m sitting here suffering. I only see a budget that affects teachers and students.”

The schools will sit empty until the real estate market changes, Womack said.

With 101,000 students, DeKalb is the third-largest district in Georgia, but it has more buildings than any other school system. The district built dozens of schools in the 1950s based on neighborhood boundaries rather than on major thoroughfares, McChesney said.

“We were set up to cater to the local community, but we can no longer do that,” he said. “Our dilemma is the small schools are all located in one area. It’s not about north vs. south. You can’t deny the numbers.”

Many schools have well under the 450 students recommended by the state, which means less money from the state, McChesney said.

In addition to closing schools, board members are looking at slashing magnet and theme schools, along with other programs. Proposals also call for seven furlough days for teachers and staff, reducing 261 paraprofessionals and laying off 154 central office workers.

On Wednesday, 11th-grader Amber Worthy urged the board to spare the DeKalb Early College Academy from cutbacks. Through the Stone Mountain program, the 16-year-old said she is now attending classes at Georgia Perimeter College.

“If DECA is closed, my grades would be affected right now,” said Worthy, who has a 3.88 grade point average. “I don’t want it to mess up me being valedictorian or graduating with my class. I don’t want my peers to not finish my high school year together.”

Yet programs must be slashed to meet the deficit, McChesney said. The only other option is to raise property taxes.

“Coming from a day where there were no programs, I think we’ve gotten program-crazy,” said McChesney, a former teacher. “We think the program is the answer. But the answer is the teacher and the student. That’s what makes a good education.”

In addition to reducing Worthy’s program, the board is looking at cutting the magnet programs at Columbia Middle, Columbia High, Evansdale Elementary and Clifton Elementary.

“What we’re talking about is painful to you, but it’s no less painful to us,” Womack said.

What's next:

The DeKalb School Board is scheduled to adopt a tentative budget April 12 with final approval scheduled for May 10.

The DeKalb Citizens Planning Task Force has called meetings for March 16 and April 13 to discuss school closures. Public hearings will be held May 6 and 11, and the school board will vote on closures on May 14.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

School Closings and Transparency

(Thank you to arroz for the valuable input)

School closings; always a traumatic issue, anywhere in the country. DCSS is facing its biggest budget gap ever, and school closings are rightfully on the table. Unfortunately, because of the weak leadership of the BOE, the South DeKalb vs. North DeKalb debate has again reared its ugly head. Our county commission (and Vernon Jones when CEO) also allowed all too often for many debates on budget to become more South DeKalb vs. North DeKalb nonsense.

Well, it's back.

What is incredibly aggravating is that members of the Citizens Planning Task Force, appointed by DCSS Board of Education members, have fanned the flames.

School closings are about cold hard data. That's it. It's not about "social justice". It's not about "breaking up a community". If the enrollment numbers just aren't there, we are no longer in the position to keep open a school because of politics.

One of the main reasons why schools like Sky Haven, Gresham Park, Kelley Lake, Toney, Meadowview, Midway and Peachcrest are being considered for closing is because they are in areas that have been decimated by the foreclosure crisis. If the students aren't there, they aren't there. Period. A school can be closed and rented out to a small business, and then re-opened later if the student population comes back.

Proposed school closures divide DeKalb

But listen to Citizens Planning Task Force members:
Task force member Bruce McMillian:
"I’m not going to let this panel be a scapegoat or whatever you want to call it for these tough decisions.
The pocket that has been targeted by the school system is an area that, I feel, is an area of least resistance. The affluent areas in the county, the ones with the higher tax base, none of those are being targeted.”

Task force member Darrell Jennings Sr.:
Said he plans to look at the enrollment of all 83 elementary schools before making any decision. The choice should be made based on how the closures will impact the community in terms of social justice, economic development and property values, he said.
“I just object to all these schools being closed in my backyard,” he said. “They gave us a list of 23 schools and 19 of those schools are in south DeKalb.”

Thank you Bruce McMillian and Darrell Jennings Sr. for miserably failing as task force members, and stooping to baseless allegations, instead of carefully and maturely focusing on the task at hand.

Luckily, we have some reason from Task Force member Tracie Scott:
“If we’re going to disrupt people’s communities, I think we need to be able to say this is going to be better for your child.”

Yes, there has to be a strong case made to the public to close any school, and the BOE and task force has to be very open with its reasoning. But...THIS IS NOT ABOUT GEOGRAPHY OR RACE, THIS IS NOT ABOUT SOUTH DEKALB VS. NORTH DEKALB. It's about an $88 million (or more) budget gap. As much as I advocate for massive cuts to the Central Office, MIS, instructional coaches, the school police department, contracting out services, selling surplus properties (if DCSS even has a list of all its properties), these cuts alone aren't going to get it done. The smallest schools need to be shuttered.

I am very, very curious to see if our Bord of Education members will be strong, or if they will cave into false emotion, especially Zepora Roberts, Gene Walker and Sarah Copelin-Wood. Let's hear your take on an issue that should be rational and objective, not emotional and subjective.

Charter Schools - Are they the wave of the future? Obama may like to think so.

Charter schools are on the rise and the Race To The Top may ensure their proliferation. Read the article we recently posted about the "RTTT Winners". Recently, representatives from the U.S. Department of Education made a visit to DeKalb and held a discussion about identifying turnaround schools, closing them and then reopening them possibly as charters. Go to Community Radar to download the Powerpoint used at the meeting to learn about Tier 1, 2 and 3 schools and how they are identified. For further explanation, and videos describing turnaround examples, visit this link at the U.S. DOE.

This is a new era - if you think No Child Left Behind was intense, stand-by for this initiative by Obama and Duncan - part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. They have no tolerance for severely under-performing schools and fully intend to shutter them and start them anew in one way or another. One way ensure your school system meets with Obama's approval is to allow flexibility in charter school creation. (Another is to tie teacher pay to student performance.)

If you're interested in charters, you will want to attend the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting next Wednesday.

Emory Lavista Parent Council

Join us at 9:15 am

(refreshments begin at 8:45 am)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fernbank Elementary School

157 Heaton Park Drive, NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30307

Charter Schools

Everything you Want and Need to Know

Guest Speakers

Phil Andrews, former executive director of the Georgia Charter School Association, moderator

Gigi Connor, co-founder of Neighborhood Charter School and Atlanta Charter Middle School

Nina Gilbert, founder of Ivy Prep Academy, a GA Commission Charter School

Nicole Knighten, DeKalb County Schools legislative affairs

Final Meeting: April 21st at Coralwood Elementary: State of the System Revisited

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Parents, Vets, Others to Speak Out Against Abusive Military Recruiting at Hearing Wednesday

For those of you who do not want your children recruited by the military while at school, there is new legislation currently under consideration in the Georgia Legislature to place safeguards against questionable recruiting tactics.

Tim Franzen, of the American Friends Service Committee, sent out the following information regarding a gathering at the Capitol on Wednesday to support the resolution.

Parents, veterans and others plan to tell their stories of abusive military recruiting in Georgia high schools at a hearing of the Georgia Senate Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee at 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 10 in room 310, Coverdell Legislative Office Building, 18 Capitol Square SW.

The committee is considering
Senate Resolution 955, which urges the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia school systems to:
  • cease all programs and activities designed to recruit children under the age of 17, as required by U.S. ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Rights of the Child in 2002;
  • require written parental consent for participation of children 17 and older in military-related programs and activities; and
  • provide students and parents with exemption forms which would prevent schools from disclosing students’ records to recruiters, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Christopher Raissi is a former Marine recruiter. “Recruiters are trained to work everyone in a high school, from freshmen to seniors,” he plans to tell the senators. “The schools don’t give any notification to the parents about dissemination of students’ personal information to recruiters. If parents ignore their phone calls, recruiters are trained to track down every kid on the list, either at school or at home. I think this resolution is very reasonable.”

Susan Keith of Decatur will tell the committee how her son Martin, when he was a 10th grader at Decatur High School, was deluged with glossy brochures from recruiters. “They were offering him free sunglasses, duffel bags, T-shirts – all paid for with taxpayer money, of course.”

“These stories are just the tip of a very large iceberg,” says Tim Franzen of the American Friends Service Committee. “Increased pressure to recruit during wartime has pushed recruiters to use deceptive and aggressive tactics with vulnerable children who see few prospects in this bleak economy. These resolutions attempt to ensure that parents’ and students’ rights are respected.”

A companion resolution, H.R.1219, has been introduced in the Georgia House.


Many of you may recall that DeKalb County School System attempted to start a dedicated military academy. Due to a poor choice of location, along with a lack of organization and community outcry, the military decided not to act on the plan.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Are the proposed DCSS budget cuts going to harm the classroom while leaving expensive, special programs intact?

We have had much discussion here lately about the proposed budget cuts. Many bloggers have made reasonable requests, backed up with data, asking for reductions to central office staff, special and magnet programs and departments such as maintenance, security (we could quite possibly have too many police officers on staff), health and wellness, MIS, and instructional and graduation coaches. As one person shared, Ms. Tyson is not even considering putting the 80 Instructional Coaches ($7,5000000), 13 literacy coaches ($835,000), and 48 graduation coaches ($3,500,000) back into the classroom. That's 141 teachers who don't ever teach children, and they represent almost $12,000,000 in salary and benefit cost to DCSS.

The consensus among parents, teachers and community members who have posted comments here has been - cut everything else to the bone before you start hacking away at classrooms!

Our alarm bells were first set by learning that a proposal has been floated to increase class sizes as well as demand that high school teachers on the 7-period day teach 6 of 7 periods, rather than 5. (For an in-depth discussion on this, visit this link.) Beyond that, cuts have been proposed to parapros, who help teachers tremendously in the classroom as well as media specialists - a vital member of a teacher's support team.

We've had several discussions on the costs of the magnet programs. One more interesting topic to visit is the fiscal ROI of the Fernbank Science Center. Here are some interesting numbers regarding the Center, which some feel should be privatized. One of our regular contributors compiled the following research to share with readers. Give us your thoughts. Where can we best cut in order to save the classroom teacher?
All of Ms. Tyson's proposals include a decrease in Fernbank Science Center Funding of only $104,000. That is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the center.

Only 45% of Fernbank Science Center personnel teach while 55% of Fernbank Science personnel are support and admin.

Total cost of salaries for employees directly assigned to Fernbank: $3,941,401 (approximately $4,000,000 annually)
Total cost salaries and benefits (25% assumed) for employees directly assigned to Fernbank: $4,926751 (approximately $5,000,000 annually)

Extra cost to run FSC (above the $5,000,000 annually)

1. 33 part time teachers (these teachers are regular ed teachers who work on a part time basis for Fernbank teaching classes on the weekends and summers)
2. Physical Plant - year round heat and air, air, lights, electricity for equipment, science equipment purchase, installs and repair, animal supplies, plants and greenhouse materials, office supplies, computer replacement parts, general building maintenance, etc.
3. Transportation - Bus transportation for the students who come to Fernbank - transportation costs are huge. The costs for bus drivers and gasoline may run into the millions. Fernbank trips are probably the single highest contributor to bus driver extra pay cost.
Interesting fact about the 33 part time teachers. 13 of the part time teachers are from McNair Elementary. FSC is a McNair ES partner. No doubt this has been a good partnership for both Fernbank Science Center and McNair ES.

Fernbank Science Center probably costs at least $7,000,000 to $8,000,000 a year. It may very well cost considerably more when all transportation costs are figured into the total.

An interesting note on the salary schedule is that the Director of the Fernbank is paid $12 more than his highest paid employee who is paid $98,556 . My understanding is that SACS only requires this pay variance or "bump" to happen within schools. Please note the heading of the DeKalb County School System Consolidated School Improvement Plan 2006-2007 states that "Fernbank Science Center does not function as a school and is not required to complete all sections of the DCSS Consolidated School Improvement Plan." So apparently the DCSS does use the SACS rule of supervisors making more than their highest paid employee even outside of the schools. This seems a luxury we can no longer afford and obviously could not all along.
$7,000,000 (an extremely modest estimate of running FSC) would furnish our classrooms with 123 Science teachers with Masters degrees and 3 years of experience (Assuming $45,456 for a Masters Level science teacher with 3 years of experience - plus 25% benefits for total of $56,820). 123 superbly qualified science teachers would go a long way towards helping our students increase their achievement in the area of science.

Consider these DCSS science achievement facts Fall, 2009:
Number tested: 3,161
Pass rate: 52% (Georgia 64%)

Physical Science:
Number tested: 2,536
Pass rate: 63% (Georgia 71%)

DeKalb Schools can no longer afford to support Fernbank Science Center. The budget situation is going to last a very long time, and it won't allow for the extras that Fernbank provides even if they are great extras. The pupil to teacher ratio in the regular science classroom is very dire and getting worse.

Science teachers in DeKalb County are under the gun to produce results on the EOCT and the GHSGT. The science classrooms are strapped for funds and facing enormous class sizes. It’s extremely difficult to get a science teacher for the high schools since the colleges just don’t produce them. We certainly won’t get them if we give them class sizes that make experiments unsafe to conduct. Consider this recommendation by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA):

"Science classes should have no more than 24 students even if the occupancy load limit might accommodate more. (NSTA 2004) Research data shows that accidents rise dramatically as class enrollments exceed this level. (West 2001) Teachers should not be faced with a Hobson's choice—teach in an unsafe environment or sacrifice the quality of teaching by not doing labs."

Perhaps the safety issue is why DeKalb Schools has said that science teachers are under no obligation to conduct science experiments. Science teachers are allowed to have alternative learning experiences. Most parents and all students and scientists would say that conducting experiments is the heart of science proficiency so our teachers are already facing that Hobson's choice.

The funds spent on Fernbank Science Center should be redirected back to science teachers in the science classrooms in DeKalb. This is the most efficient way to make the most DeKalb students proficient in the subject of science. Day after day after day of consistent science instruction for thousands of students is the only way our students can get a basic understanding of science, let alone make AYP, the only measure that the state of Georgia uses to assess a school. If we cannot afford the basics, then how can we afford the extras?

Although I do believe Fernbank Science does not belong in the public school realm, I would not like to see Fernbank Science Center closed. It is a wonderful community resource. I do believe it should be seeking other funding, perhaps grants and/or combining with the Fernbank Natural History Center.

The time is now - the board and Ms. Tyson need to take a scalpel to the budget and fine tune the cuts - deleting first those line items that do not directly effect the classroom. After all, without a classroom full of children, there is simply no need for a school at all.