Thursday, April 29, 2010

So...DeKalb will close 12 schools in 2 years

How's this for some hard-hitting news -- According to today's AJC,

By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DeKalb County remains committed to closing a dozen schools over the next two years, the school board chairman said Wednesday night.

Former DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis said two months ago that he planned to close as many as 10 to 12 schools. In the past few weeks, however, school board members have wavered on whether it is necessary to close schools.

On Wednesday, school board Chairman Tom Bowen confirmed that schools will be closed and the list is not isolated to the schools identified by the Citizens Planning Task Force.

We have 11,000 empty seats. We will have a total of 12 schools -- elementary, middle and high -- that will close,” Bowen said. “Just because your school was removed from the list doesn’t mean it won’t be closed.”

The proposed fiscal year 2011 budget includes closing four schools. The closings are needed to help with an expected shortfall of $115 million.

Bowen’s announcement alarmed some of the more than 300 parents, teachers and students who attended Wednesday’s budget hearing.

“The school closing process is just lost. You’ve opened yourself up to litigation,” said David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators. “I really believe the litigation is going to cost more than you save because of the way you handled this process.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Study says Ga. county has too many employees

Associated Press - April 27, 2010 7:24 AM ET

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) - A study conducted by Georgia State University says DeKalb County's government has too many managers and should lay off at least 909 employees.

The DeKalb County Commission arranged the study in December while it dealt with a budget shortfall that has reached $100 million.

Results released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday say extra layers of management add costs and make it unclear who's in charge and slow down routine actions.

DeKalb has about the same number of residents as Cobb and Gwinnett counties, but has twice as many workers.

Commissioner Lee May, who suggested the study, says it does not take into account that 582 workers are leaving next month under an early retirement program.

Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,


I'm just sharing this item because I think if a similar audit was done to DeKalb county schools, we would find similar bloat but to a lesser degree (at least the school system doesn't have twice as many employees as other school systems!) The worry is that the retirement pensions for all of these extra employees will literally break the backs of the taxpayers - as we now see happening in the city of Atlanta.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"I Apologize Unreservedly ..."

As tribute to a few of our bloggers who have recently exhibited extraordinary courtesy and modesty, I offer a silly clip via John Cleese below.

I  am indulging in a bit of frivolity here so please forgive me! I would like to compliment this blog, its contributors, and its commenters on the level of decorum maintained overall. While there have been a few "moderation" interventions necessary over the past year, on the whole this blog and its followers have maintained an extraordinary level of courtesy - this, especially, in light of the very emotional nature of our topics.

So, kudos to you all and please continue to share frank, even biting, commentary on this blog. You are all to be commended for staying inside the lines of civility because this is a rare feat in the blogosphere!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What are we looking for in a superintendent?

One of our regular participants at this blog, who goes by the moniker pscexb, brought up a good question.

"Should we consider hiring a 'corrective' superintendent, similar to what Clayton did with John Thompson? The idea would be a true outsider that has served as a superintendent of a large system before that would come in on a 18-24 month contract with the objective of getting through the financial challenges and streamlining the staff. Perhaps during their tenure, they could hire, train and groom their replacement. The idea behind this is that many unpopular decisions will need to be made in the short term. Would we want that all on a new superintendent or get a 'hatchet' person to help get our house in order first?"

I did a little Googling and found that John Thompson apparently didn't quite make it through his entire contract - and in fact the Clayton School Board mistakenly wrote up a contract that was legally too long-term for SACS to consider "corrective". So, if we do go that way, we need to ensure that we avoid these pitfalls.

Also, in my Googling, I found that a search firm by the name of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates placed Thompson in the job.

And then, I found a very interesting job description from a school system in Ohio that was advertising for a superintendent at "Education Week" online. Here are some of their requirements:

  • Shows evidence of demonstrated ability to collaborate with other school districts and/or agencies in planning and implementing programs for students
  • Is an accessible, good listener who functions as a team player and shares decision-making with staff when appropriate
  • Supports staff development and encourages professional growth
  • Effectively mediates and accommodates different perspectives
  • Creates an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect
  • Successfully manages media coverage
  • Closely supervises budget development and expenditures
  • Demonstrates expertise in curriculum and instruction
  • Willingly assumes a lead role in decision-making while keeping the Board informed
  • Relates well to a variety of community groups

Makes sense to me! What would you all like to have as qualifications for our next superintendent—and do you think we need a "corrective" super or should we just get someone to dive right in?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The April 21, 2010 ELPC Town Hall Meeting

Frank. Open. Knowledgeable. Articulate.

The Emory Lavista Parent Council hosted a town hall meeting this morning featuring our interim superintendent, Ramona Tyson. I thought of a flood of adjectives during the meeting to describe my impression of Tyson and the new direction and determination the school system seems to be exhibiting. Tyson and her staff are concerned. They are aware. They are working very hard. Really.

Sincere. Focused. Determined. Caring.

I think Tyson is an excellent choice for an interim leader. She is a mother of two young children in DeKalb schools—she wants them to succeed. She plans to ‘focus on the core business’ with a ‘laser light’ and work to restore trust and rebuild morale. I believed her.

These are some of the tough decisions on the plate:

Balancing the budget for FY 2011.

This must, by law, be done by June 30. We are certain to have an $88 million shortage, however she recommends that the board plan for $115 million. It is the board’s final decision, however, in the past, the board has chosen to accommodate the immediate shortage, and then consistently been hit with more reductions from the state over the summer. This requires emergency budget changes and Tyson wants to just go ahead and plan for that now. Smart.

School Consolidations.

We have 11,0000 empty seats in our system. The board discovered that three schools—Heritage ES, Briarcliff HS and Hooper Alexander—although they have been closed are still counted by the state as having “open seats”. The board plans to take these schools out of commission, which will take the seats off the list. This will reduce the 11,000 to around 9,000.

Next, we have several elementary schools operating at far below the magic number of 450, where state funding kicks in. Consolidating those schools will reduce the number of “open seats” another 2,000 to around 7,000.

We must recover as much as we can from the state. Property tax collections are down and can no longer fill the gap. The state has steadily decreased school funding to the point that funding has flip-flopped. The state used to pay 60% and the county covered 40%. Now, it’s exactly the opposite. We can’t afford the luxury of tiny schools funded entirely with local dollars. The money is just not there and Tyson, staff and the board have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of DeKalb.


The staff recommends implementing the full transportation savings plan, meaning eliminating all magnet and extra-curricular transportation. They are also looking into electric buses, which are manufactured by a company in China, as well as hybrid buses in order to save fuel costs.

Central Office.

Tyson gave us some numbers. We have 15,859 employees, 13,873 are full-time and 1,906 are part-time. Of these, 14,620 are school-based and 1,239 are central office staff. The current proposed budget cut eliminates 152 of these central office positions, but they will continue to evaluate and streamline the central office and other areas of administration.

Business-like. Engaging. Prepared. Capable.

Overall, the one take-away message stated by Tyson was, “We need to protect services that are closest to students.” She wants to do a forensic audit to take a hard look at the programs that are not working. She understands that the system is asking a lot of teachers and wants to offer things in return, such as eliminating some of their paperwork, creating a venue for communication and creating a classroom environment that allows teachers to do their job.

Overall, Tyson exhibited a deep understanding of the issues at the fore. She reads the news reports but warned us that she has made the decision not to comment to the media. She can’t control how what she says is reported, so she will choose not to comment. She was impressive in her commitment to take the very serious legal and other issues about to come to fruition and place them aside, with her focus remaining on the children.

She certainly didn’t sugar-coat the fact that the “train” is coming. We will be in for a world of bad press here very shortly. A board member even indicated that indictments will most likely be filed soon. This is not going to be pretty. But Tyson has steeled her team and they plan to put on their blinders, allowing all "that" to live on the sidelines, while they execute their “laser light focus” on the task of rebuilding our school system. She wants to “put the students in a cocoon and push through”.

And I believed her.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back to the "List of Distractions"

Hurrah! We checked a biggie off of our "list of distractions" preventing our board from focusing on educating our children!  Dr. Lewis is gone.

The AJC posted a good article in today's paper outlining some of the work yet to be done - all before we can focus on the classroom. One quote caught my eye:

Lewis, who appeared relieved to walk away after 33 years of working for DeKalb schools, said the district needs someone focused on the school system and not the ongoing criminal investigation.

“I believe the board needs a sitting superintendent that will be on site every day,” he said. “My attention is devoted to the other action going on with the district attorney’s office and of course, we are cooperating.”

Even without him at the helm, the results of the criminal investigation still could have a huge impact on the 101,000-student school system.

I have to ask, "Why - oh why - did it come down to Lewis basically excusing himself? Is our board so very weak that they could not come to this conclusion, dismiss him and make the above statement themselves? It is shocking to me that they allowed this situation to fester and stew until the very person causing the discordance basically was the one to say, "Gee guys, I'd better leave - you know, my being under a criminal investigation and on "paid leave" probably isn't the best thing for the system." My oh my - why didn't anyone on the board think of that?

Beyond that head-shaking disappointment, we now have to trust our board to turn their attention to the rest of the big items on their "to-do" list: budget cuts (at least $115 million in cuts!), the continuance of our major construction projects, the multi-million dollar lawsuit against Heery-Mitchell which continues to be delayed, the criminal investigation into Pat Pope, as well as the one into Dr. Lewis (which apparently taxpayers have already paid our limit of $100,000 for his defense!), and the statewide investigation into cheating.

Tom Bowen is quoted in the article as saying, "“We have some big issues out there with the DA’s investigation and the Heery litigation,” Bowen said. “As for day-to-day operations, we’ve done an excellent job and we want to continue that way.”"

I disagree with Tom. The board has done very little that would be deemed an "exellent job in day-to-day operations"—teachers, principals, bus drivers, librarians, custodians, cafeteria and other staff, working under incredible, unyielding stress and distraction are the ones struggling to maintain as normal environment as possible for our children—even as their own jobs hang in the balance. Tom should have given credit where credit was due.

We are really going to have to watch carefully in the next few months.

BTW - we do not have 101,000 students. 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. However, if we suddenly increased by 3042 students, and they are not aware of this at the state, we are losing some serious state funding.

Teachers! Your Opinions Please!

Our blog has seen a big spike in participation by teachers and we are so happy about this! Teachers are the front line, the backbone of our system and it is the teachers who really know what works and what doesn't with the children. Teachers know which programs are helpful and which are not. Teachers know that the availability of good technology—with good tech support—can make a difference in how lessons are learned and how data is recorded. And teachers know how a sick school building environment can put a damper on student's and teacher's health, effecting their abilities to teach and learn.

Teachers, we want your opinions. We believe in a bottom-up business model. In the past, programs have been purchased and enforced on teachers, without even asking for evaluation. Some of these programs have been helpful, however, some have only caused more busy-work and stress for teachers. Please let us know what you think is helpful, what you'd like to see dismantled and perhaps suggest new programs, ideas and tools you would find helpful to you in your mission of providing the best education possible to the children in your charge.

We will compile a list and forward it to the board.  Thank you for all you do!

The $$$ is There, but Who's Follows It? The Central Office, BOE and a Complete Lack of Checks & Balances

AJC Reports: DeKalb school exec Pope gave architecture firms the ax, AJC investigation: Changes allowed school official’s spouse to work on DeKalb projects.

SPLOST. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

DeKalb voters have passed three so far, raising hundreds of millions each time for school renovation and new school construction.

There are numerous schools still in need of major renovation (or even blowing them up and starting from scratch). Sequoyah Middle is in deplorable shape. High schools like Cross Keys, Lakeside, and Chamblee are in extremely poor condition, while the new Arabia Mountain High (alledgely built to relieve overcrwoding but the Lewis/Tyson administration pulled a bait and switch) and soon to be completed Tucker High are university quality buildings. Cross Keys, Lakeside, Chamblee and Sequoyah are falling apart while the bottom of the SPLOST project list Mountain Industrial mega-complex for Central Office administrators and the Sam Moss Building jumped to the top of the list with millions spent on them before actual schools. Without a peep from the BOE.

Voters have supported SPLOST because the need is there, and it goes without saying that we believed every penny would be spent efficiently with close oversight.

Stop right there. We should know better to assume. As the AJC article points out, millions of SPLOST dollars were controlled by one administrator. An administrator who can't even remember where and when she worked for an accurate resume. Crawford Lewis brought her to the school system as a consultant first, and then as his hand-picked Chief Operating Officer.

Every school system has some administrators who use questionable judgement with spending decisions. But not every school system has administrators who make questionable spending decisions that benefit a family member. (Speaking of family members, nepotism is still rampant at DCSS).

The major issue here is not the questionable decision making; the question here is how so many of these questionable decisions were allowed to happen without being caught or questioned by those signing the checks. How did CFO Marcus Turk, then head of Business and Administration Ramona Tyson, Supt. Crawford Lewis, and the Board of Education allow such malfeasance?? Even the Georgia Dept. of Education should have discovered some of this shadiness. See the timeline below from the AJC:


May 20, 2003 —The school district signs a $627,000 contract with architectural firm Brown Design Group to design a traditional school then identified as McNair Cluster Elementary School.

Dec. 14, 2005 — Pat Pope orders architectural firm Brown Design to stop working on the McNair project.

Jan. 17, 2006 —The school district informs Brown Design that it is terminating the contract, saying it is making changes to the school.

Feb. 3, 2006—The school district re-advertises for the McNair project.

April 25, 2006—C.D. Moody Construction Company signs $11.9 million contract to design and build the McNair school, now named Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy. Moody hired architect Tony Pope to work on the project.

Nov. 16, 2006 —School district authorizes paying an additional $15,000 to C.D. Moody to do a study about whether McNair should be a traditional or non-traditional school. The district eventually decides to build a traditional school.

Mountain Industrial Center

May 14, 2003 —The school district hires architectural firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates for the first phase of the Mountain Industrial Center project.

June 25, 2004 —Smallwood signs $735,000 contract to design the rest of the facility.

Jan. 12, 2006 —The school district informs Smallwood that it is terminating the contract, citing budgetary issues.

Sept. 6, 2007 —The school district begins advertising the Mountain Industrial Center project, which was broken up into two phases.

Jan. 12, 2008 —The first, and much smaller, phase is awarded to Hogan Construction Group.

Feb. 14, 2008 —The remaining portion of the project is advertised.

May 11, 2008 —The district signs a contract, now worth $21.3 million, with Nix-Fowler Constructors to design and build the rest of the project. Nix-Fowler hires Tony Pope to be its architect.

The common denominator here is when the original contracts were terminated, Vincent Pope suddenly became the new architect for the new contracts. But this goes beyond that. Thousands and thousands of dollars given to architects, and then, boom, a complete 90 degree turn and major project changes, and even more spending to a new architect and construction company.

At this time, Marcus Turk, Ramona Tyson and Crawford Lewis "signed the checks", with BOE approval. We are not talking about pennies here. We are talking about contracts in the millions.

How does such behavior that involves millions of dollars go unchecked? And the undeniable truth here is that Crawford Lewis only brought some of this to the attention of law enforcement when he was under investigation for his own actions. CYA not because of the questionable spending of taxpayer dollars. CYA because he was on the hot seat.

We can talk all we want about school closings, millions spent (and possibly wasted) on large purchases like eSIS and America's Choice, the massive bureaucratic build-up of the Central Office, MIS under Ramona Tyson, etc., etc. We will continue to have questionable spending of taxpayer dollars until there are checks and balances within DCSS and hammered home by the BOE. We will continue to have waste and bloat even under a new superintendent if the upper administration of the Central Office in place now isn't swept out. We will continue to waste precious taxpayer dollars meant for academics and needed programs if the Board of Education doesn't just say they value tax dollars, but puts in place procedures and policies that stop such silliness from repeating itself.

With an estimated $100 million plus budget hole, increased classroom sizes, and multiple school closings all a very real reality, we cannot tolerate one penny being wasted by the Central Office and BOE.

Not. One. Penny.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Crawford Lewis is out of DeKalb. Who is the next superintendent?

According to the AJC, at the Get Schooled blog, Crawford Lewis has been officially fired.

The AJC states, The DeKalb school board and Superintendent Crawford Lewis parted ways today after a stormy last few months marked by accusations of sweetheart car deals, questionable mileage receipts and, the most serious charge, a failure to lead the system through the worst budget crisis in its history with a clear course and decisive action.

The AJC has a new, more in-depth article on the subject available at this link.

And a new update here.

WSB also has a report.

Some highlights from the AJC:

Lewis agreed to walk away with four months of severance pay of about $85,000, as outlined in his contract. The agreement also allows Lewis, a DeKalb schools employee for 33 years, to retire, Bowen said. . . .

Under the agreement, which was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lewis has one week to return his Ford Five Hundred and gas credit card. . . .

Lewis’ total payout also includes an additional $5,000 that the board must place in the superintendent’s retirement account, along with providing him health benefits and protection against civil lawsuits.

However the district will no longer cover legal expenses for the ongoing criminal investigation. His contract capped those expenses at $100,000, which he has already spent, Bowen said. . . .

Lewis, who has remained quiet since the district attorney’s search, declined to talk about the investigation, other than saying he is cooperating and waiting for the outcome. . . .

WSB reported a few timeline dates: November, 2008 the school system conducted an internal probe into construction (mis)spending. February, 2009, the school system turned over information to the District Attorney. The DA conducted an armed raid on Lewis' home in February, 2010 (having previously raided Pope's office, her home, her husband's office and the offices of Moody Construction.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Many Thanks to the Task Force

The Citizen's Planning Task Force (for School Consolidation) did a fantastic job of creating data-filled documents and then posting them at this link for the public to review. There is a mountain of information to download there. Although they seem to have dissolved and could not in the end, make a recommendation as a group, these people worked very hard for all of us and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They reinforce my conviction that we really do have some wonderful people in DeKalb!

Citizen’s Planning Task Force Members

Task Force Member, Appointed By

Lynn Deutsch, Dunwoody Redovian, District 1
Shawn Jett, Atlanta Redovian, District 1
Faye Andresen, Atlanta McChesney, District 2
Don Broussard, Atlanta McChesney, District 2
George Maddox, Decatur Copelin-Wood, District 3
Darrell Jennings, Decatur Copelin-Wood, District 3
Bob Chambers, Atlanta Womack, District 4
Brian Dewey, Stone Mountain Womack, District 4
Charles Hill, Decatur Cunningham, District 5
Thad Mayfield, Lithonia Cunningham, District 5
Ann Maywether, Stone Mountain Bowen, District 6
Marcia Coward, Lithonia Bowen, District 6
Sam Tillman, Decatur Roberts, District 7
Sandy Purkett, Decatur Roberts, District 7
Frank Jackson, Lithonia Walker, District 8
Bruce McMillian, Decatur Walker, District 8
Tracie Scott, Stone Mountain Speaks, District 9
Stephanie Smith, Stone Mountain Speaks, District 9
Ernest Brown, Lithonia Dr Lewis, Superintendent
Mellie O'Keefe, Dunwoody Dr Lewis, Superintendent

Monday, April 12, 2010

The April 12th Board Meeting

Sigh. Something has to change—I'm totally running out of variations of "The Scream". No one liked the tantrum baby - how about Mr. Bill? 
Oh Nooooooo!

Tonight's board meeting was, in a word, disturbing. I am disturbed because this board, even though the budget has been the focus of so many discussions and news reports, almost neglected to pass the "tentative, non-binding budget" due to their inability to get past random minutia that apparently, until tonight's meeting, had gone undiscussed.

The AJC reported the other day that Zepora Roberts stated, “I am on vacation. I have thought nothing about it,” said Roberts, the board’s vice chair. “I just got back from out of the country and I have no thoughts [about the budget].”

She wasn't kidding. In fact, she actually seemed as if this meeting was the first time she had looked at the budget. She even stated, "I received my budget last evening and looked it over today."

What?!! That thing has been posted on this blog since March 26th!

Zepora continued to have one hissy fit after another for the rest of the evening covering topics such as her opinion that the budget cuts are too focused on South DeKalb or the very long debate over the agenda item discussing the committee recommendation to name the Mountain Industrial Center "The DeKalb Schools Administrative and Instructional Complex". She lamented and whined about the fact that she wanted to change the name to the The DeKalb Schools Administrative and McGregor Instructional Complex (after an African-American leader in DeKalb schools).

Zepora went on to admonish the entire board and specifically the committee working on the ethics policy, led by Dr. Speaks, in her childish, tantrum-like complaint that "no one is listening to me!" She then listed her "issues" with 6 different line items on the proposed ethics policy, ranging from her desire for board members to be somehow be allowed to be involved in relatives getting "heard" by the superintendent in the event that they get in trouble. Then she demanded that the language of accepting gifts or gratuities over $50 be changed to include "knowingly", citing the example that if someone delivers flowers to her, she doesn't want to have to ask their worth. (The board actually decided to raise the amount to $100.)

And my favorite—she wanted to continue the practice she says is current board policy, of accepting up to $100 for a speaking engagement or serving on a panel in another district or city as a representative of the DeKalb school board. Paul Womack rightly pointed out that they already get $450 per month for such expenses, however, Zepora droned on about getting paid for her "service" to others. She won that one, but I kept wondering why the rest of the board continues to entertain her in discussion at all. We've all dealt with two year olds—the best way to handle a tantrum is to ignore it.

But beyond the basic premises of these ridiculous debates was the disturbance in my gut. These people argued, fussed and fumed over such deep issues as "define a reasonable person" or taking McGregor "off the shelf" or who exactly can benefit from the summer intern program (which in my opinion is a luxury giveaway program and should be cut). They had an extended debate as to the cost of a meal nowadays relative to the ethics policy discussion, culminating in Dr. Walker mocking Mr. Womack for thinking that $50 was plenty. ("Well, back in the day when you entertained for business, you could probably get a meal for $10—I'm glad you're not entertaining me!") Meow!

Worse, after initially not passing the "tentative, non-binding budget", (containing school closures and no tax increase) Ms. Tyson pointed out in no uncertain terms that the law states that they must operate under a balanced budget and that they are required to approve one by June 30 that can be operating by July 1. Further, the law states that the board must present the tentative budget at least twice for public review before final passage. This is serious. Luckily, they heard what Tyson said and changed their votes to approve the "tentative, non-binding budget".

There is a meeting scheduled this Friday to hash over the details and hopefully remove items like the one discussed on this blog and requested to be removed from the budget cuts by Paul Womack—the demand to reduce planning time for teachers on the 7 period day to only one period.

After fumbling around with her budget, obviously unprepared and uninformed, Zepora promised that she would "have it together by Friday".

Lord, I hope so.

For more: Check out the AJC's report on tonight's meeting.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How Much Have Non-Teaching Salary Overpayments Cost DeKalb Schools Taxpayers in the last 5 years? $9,000,000 or $70,000,000

One of our incredibly smart bloggers, known as DeKalb Parent, has taken a considerable amount of time to conduct an investigation into the compensation and classification schedule of the school system. Read on for a fascinating and enlightening history of the possible waste perpetrated by Dr. Lewis and the board.


According to DeKalb Board of Education meeting minutes, a $341,000 Compensation and Classification Study begun at the behest of Dr. Johnny Brown in 2003 and conducted by Ernst and Young during Crawford Lewis’s administration from 2004-2005 revealed millions of dollars of overpayments to non-teaching personnel. The Board of Education ignored any financial benefits to DCSS and accepted Dr Lewis's recommendation to simply rename these employees positions by giving them different titles.

Dr. Johnny Brown, DCSS’s Superintendent from 2002 to 2004, had begun the process of looking at the compensation and classification categories of DCSS personnel to ensure DCSS personnel were properly classified by job functions and pay. In September, 2003 Dr. Brown asked to the DeKalb Board of Education to approve $341,000 in consulting fees for Ernst and Young to do a Compensation and Classification Study audit.

September, 2003 BOE Meeting Minutes:
"Authorized the firm of Ernst and Young to conduct a single salary compensation study for the DeKalb County School System at a cost of $341,000."

Dr. Brown was using this study to look at reducing 1400 different salary categories to a manageable number while standardizing compensation for personnel who did the same functions and had the same amount of experience. Of particular interest was standardizing the compensation of non-teaching personnel to reflect market value for their skills.

November, 2003, The DeKalb Dispatch, Dr. Brown’s internal newsletter:
“The DeKalb County School System expects to develop an objective, appropriate classification structure and a market-competitive compensation system. This structure will reflect fewer salary schedules; less distinct job titles; and job titles that comport with current industry nomenclature."

During 2004, the first year of Dr. Lewis’s tenure, as part of the contracted Compensation and Classification Study, over 15,000 employees completed surveys that required them to answer a detailed questionnaire regarding their job duties and the daily percentage of time spent on each duty.

After four Board Meetings regarding Ernst and Young’s Compensation and Classification Study from January through September, 2005, Lewis presented the Board of Education with a document named the Compensation and Classification Position Titling Convention and Position Specifications. This document simply renamed positions by giving them different titles, but didn’t address the job functions or overpayment or underpayment of any non-teaching personnel. The financial impact to DCSS was listed as none.

In December, 2005 responding to a news story which reported that the Ernst and Young study results showed $14,000,000 in yearly salary overpayments, Dr. Lewis stated to the BOE that the DCSS overpayment in non-teaching salaries was $1.8 million, but he was not going to adjust them. $1.8 million overpayment of non-teaching salaries over 5 years is a $9,000,000 cost to DCSS taxpayers for no additional value in personnel performance.

BOE minutes 12/5/2005:
"Regarding the compensation portion, he (Lewis) referred to the inaccurate news story that reported an overpayment in salaries in the amount of $14 million and clarified that the figure was totally erroneous and the actual amount was $1.8 million. He stated that at the beginning of the study, 15,000 employees were told that they would not lose salary as a result of the study and he plans to stay true to his word.” . . . Dr. Lewis stated, “Once an associate superintendent has been named to Human Resources, he will work closely with the individual to identify creative ways to address the compensation portion of the study and will bring his recommendations back to the Board. "

Two months later in February, 2006, Lewis hired Darren Ware, a convicted felon, as Human Resources director. Mr. Ware cut the pay of ten DCSS non-teaching employees. One of them sued because it seemed totally arbitrary (and it was). 28% of the non-teaching employees were over the market value (i.e. over 2,000 employees), yet Ware cut the pay of only 10 employees. Perhaps this is what Lewis considered “…will work closely with the individual to identify creative ways to address the compensation portion of the study.”

BOE meeting minutes 12/5/2006:
"Of the salaries that are over the market value, 28% are employees in non-teaching positions”

It's this kind of thinking - that almost $2,000,000 in annual salary over payments to non-teaching personnel is not important that helped bring DCSS to this financial crisis.

In addition, there is no way of knowing if the overpayment was really $2,000,000 as Dr. Lewis says or $14,000,000 like the news reported.

If the $14,000,000 figure the news reported was correct, the financial impact would total $70,000,000 in over payments over a 5 year period until 2010. Only the Ernst and Young completed Compensation and Classification Study audit to DCSS could tell us if the $1.8 million in annual over payments or the $14 million in annual over payments was correct. The original Compensation and Classification audit attachment is missing from the DCSS Board of Education meeting website. If taxpayers had this audit they paid for, they could analyze it the way the new reporters did. It should be made available on the BOE website.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

If You Give A Teacher a Voice...

She or he will improve our school system. For too long, I've listened to the hushed voices of teachers in my kids' schools. The despair is heartbreaking. They have been figuratively muzzled by a hierarchy as archaic as the feudal system. As I've read the anonymous posts of teachers on this blog, I've been impressed by the energy, promise and joy our teachers have for their profession and for our students.

I am so disappointed that DCSS has not included teachers in the most basic of decisions -- like curriculum choices, class scheduling (block/7 period), discipline, increased class size, etc. It's time to give our teachers a voice -- even if it has to be anonymous (for now).

I hope all our fine teachers will use this thread to post their best thoughts about what DCSS needs to do to return to its glory. Let this thread be your "virtual" task force or advisory council. This thread can consolidate all the wonderful things you have said (and will say) into one place. So, on the chance that a DCSS official reads it, internalizes it, agrees with it and has the guts to push some of your ideas forward, you may help better our system.

I'm not saying if you're a teacher, you shouldn't post comments on all the threads, but use this one for those thoughts that could solve a problem. Much like the letter posted from LHS, if we stick to well-thought-out suggestions (supported by data, etc.) and avoid finger-pointing or personnel suggestions (stick to titles or job functions, not names) this thread could make a difference. And then, one day hopefully in the near future, you can proudly use your real name and get credit for solving a problem or saving a lot of money for the system. Until then, let's tell them what you think, what you know works and doesn't work, and serve up solutions on a silver platter.

We're behind you teachers. We know the best solutions come from the trenches. Let 'em rip!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Letter from the Lakeside School Council to the Board

Given the current economic situation and the need for a DCSS system-wide budget reduction, the Lakeside School Council implores you to preserve the integrity of the learning experience for each DeKalb County student. We call your attention to line item number 19 in the budget adopted by the Finance Committee Friday which directly impacts academic achievement. It requires teachers in schools on a current seven-period day to teach six classes with one 50-minute planning period. For the five schools this affects, we believe the impact on instruction and the schoolhouse will be significant.


  • Currently, Lakeside teachers teach five classes and have two 50-minute planning periods. They serve 100 to 170 students daily.
  • The proposed budget increases class size, adding two to three additional students to each of the current five classes.
  • If the six-class proposal is implemented, teachers will teach up to 220 students and have one 50-minute planning period. For some, this will double their current workload; for others, it will increase dramatically.
  • These numbers will mean up to 120 more papers, projects, and tests to grade for each assignment given. If a teacher spends only ten minutes assessing each one, his or her workload increases by 20 hours for each assignment!
  • It means these assignments will not receive a thorough assessment, feedback will be limited, and the students’ learning opportunities will be diminished.
  • It means student assignments will be simplified, again limiting learning potential. 
  • It means up to 120 more parents per teacher will demand prompt and thorough communications.
  • It means up to 120 more students who may need extra help but teacher time constraints will limit individual attention.
  • It means up to 120 more daily attendance and grade entries on an already excessively time-consuming eSIS system.
  • The increased load of IEP, 504, and SST meetings for a given teacher (required by law with mandatory attendance for teachers) will require additional conference time which translates to additional compensation for these teachers as less planning time will be available for conferences during the day – another expense.
  • Often one of the two planning periods is used to cover school needs such as lunch duty or coverage for an absent teacher. This flexibility will cease to be possible and will require additional substitute teachers, an increased cost to the school system.
  • Lakeside does not have the space for each staff member to have his or her own classroom. During planning periods, many staff members relinquish their classroom so another teacher can use it to teach a different class and do their planning elsewhere such as in the Media Center. Given capacity limitations in trailers, staff is already required to move often or work off carts. Teaching six classes each will require additional trailers – another expense.
  • Under the proposed budget, teachers could have up to six Preps requiring that they create lesson plans for six different classes (for example: biology, AP biology, gifted, general education, etc). Time for thoughtful preparation will be severely decreased, again at the student’s expense.
  • The burden of instruction will fall more on students as peer editing and group work become necessary, diminishing access to the expertise of the teacher.
  • Teachers will have less time to mentor students and teachers, offer tutorials, attend school activities, respond to parents, sponsor clubs, coach sports, and assist with planning enrichment events like Black History Month, International Day and Career Day.
  • Students will have fewer extra-curricular enrichment opportunities from which to choose because teachers will no longer have time to organize and supervise them.
  • Many of our teachers spend their own money for supplies for students (sometimes as much as $1500 - $2000!) to supplement the limited per pupil money our school receives (We are not a Title 1 school). They will no longer be able to afford those “extras” with additional students. Students will then be the ones to suffer.
  • Substitute teachers, whose pay will also decrease in this proposed budget, will opt to work in high schools where they only have to teach three classes daily.
  • This cost-saving idea will be detrimental to staff morale which ultimately, dangerously impacts instruction.
  • In addition to the impact on academic achievement, the proposed 6-1 system creates a disparity in workload between schools on a seven-period day and those on a block schedule.
  • Block schedule teachers teach three classes and have a 90-minute planning period while serving 75 - 102 students, less than half the workload!

Lakeside and other schools on a seven-period schedule have demonstrated high academic achievement. This schedule has also provided the opportunity for more students to enjoy vocational and fine arts classes. For that reason, teachers, parents and students chose to keep the seven period schedule. It has proven to be academically sound. The Board’s proposed cost-saving solution is punitive to these high-achieving schools which rise to the top each year in state and national rankings.

If the Board of Education is not asking every DeKalb high school to make this sacrifice, we strongly feel it is patently unfair of the Board to ask four or five high schools to shoulder a 2.4 million dollar burden for the rest of the County. We await your thoughtful response to our position.

Note: There have been comments comparing student performance on the 7 period day vs the block. There may be research showing the different results for each - if anyone has it, please share. However, we DO have research proving how income relates to math performance, as shown in this chart:
Click chart for a larger view.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Another Open Letter to the Board

A letter from Shayna

Please allow me to share my thoughts. In June of 2008, I decided to run for a position on the DeKalb County School Board. I made this decision because I cared about kids and about the education of all 100,00 children in Dekalb County. I naively believed that the School System was about educating these children. I think that I now understand that the System's priorities are more about maintaining jobs and programs and that education is a by-product. I believe this and share this with you because I am frustrated about the decisions being made at the local level.

My research shows that if you were to compare the size of the System now to when Dr. Brown left, you will find that the number of children enrolled in the System had been increasing and showed a bump in 2005 due to Katrina. If you look at the size of the System when Dr. Lewis took over and now, enrollment has steadily decreased to an October, 2009 FTE count of 97,958 to our current reported enrollment at the state's DOE website of 97,907.*

However, you look at past and present organization charts (if you can find them) you would find that the central office has grown tremendously since Dr. Brown's departure. Maureen Downey at the AJC reported that DeKalb has the highest number of employees per student by far of any metro school system. At 157 employees per 1,000 students, DeKalb is wildly ahead of Cobb (144/1000), Gwinnett (113/1000) and even Atlanta Public Schools (115/1000)**. Further, the salaries of many of the employees in the central office over just the past few years has increased significantly. The ratio of central office staff to teachers, with staff currently outnumbering teachers by over a 1,000 is appalling -- and your proposed budget cuts will increase that disparity even more. Furthermore, just between 2007 and 2008, “General Administration” nearly doubled from $10.6 million to $20 million and “Improvement of Instructional Services” grew from $53.4 million to $56.9 million but “Instruction” itself barely increased from $631.4 million to $639.2 million.***

I campaigned on an issue that bothered me deeply: I have a problem with former principals, without a business background, in charge of pure business functions. I believe that it isn't a wise use of tax payer money. I believe this is simply a reward system offering an increase in salaries for former principals, without consideration as to how those principals would best serve our system as a whole. This leads me to conclude that the System’s priority has not been about educating kids -- because while this has been going on in the central office, the class size in the school house is increasing, buildings are not being maintained, the teachers are having their retirements cut or eliminated (possibly incurring liability for a law suit based on a failure to alternatively fund social security from a prior program worked out between the County and the teachers), they are experiencing furlough days and other situations of massive stress exist. This certainly has a negative effect on the children.

The priority must be on the children. The children only have one chance at a childhood and one chance at their eduation. Many of our kids don't have adults in their lives who are responsible beyond their teachers for role models. Many of the kids will hit a point where they will make a choice to either get their education or to take some alternative and, for many, that alternative will ultimately lead to gangs and jail. There are already gangs in many of our Middle and High Schools. This results in criminal behavior. That crime may be against you, me, your child, my child, your friends, my friends, our neighbors, etc. The unproductive citizens that these uneducated children become cost society in terms of welfare, unemployment and other benefits that come out of pocket because you have made the decision to not take their education seriously and more importantly than the jobs of those in the central office.

The budget must focus on eliminating every unnecessary job and program, including America's Choice and similar programs. The very last place the cuts need to happen is in the school house and to the teachers who impact these children. They are your first and foremost responsibility -- they have this one chance and depend on you for their future. It may be that 30 years ago 38 of them could sit in a classroom all day. That is no longer the case. Have you seen a Lakeside classroom of 35? They can not move. You can't fit between the desks. The teachers can't hear themselves think. Kids figure out how to distract the teacher. The teachers have the kids grade each other's papers. The kids can't learn what they need to learn. They wind up failing a large number of their freshman class. Mr. Reed reported in his State of Lakeside address that 34.4% of freshmen received an "F" last semester. The classes are not homogenous. The teachers must differentiate the lessons. The teachers must comply with No Child Left Behind. They are supposed to meet AYP and pass the CRCT (at the younger ages). And now, they will have to teach more students with less planning time. None of this is as it was when the classrooms were stuffed to the gills in the 1970s and 1980s.

These kids are entitled to an education and a chance at a future. Don't leave them behind to protect adults who can ultimately get other jobs or return to the classroom to teach. Furthermore, the tax increase idea doesn't really work: there are too many foreclosures and equalization is still out there. More cuts need to be made to the central office and other areas outside the classroom. The budget cuts proposed by the committee hit teachers and students much harder than others. That is not only unfair, it is counterproductive to what should be the primary goal: educating each and every student to the best of your ability.

Thank you.





Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Funny or Die - Education Cuts

If you are not familiar with the "Funny or Die" web site, it is a social media site dedicated to helping us all laugh. Today, a DCSS teacher shared with me the following video on the site. I can't decide if it is funny or sad. I suppose it is a good piece of satire but I am equally sure it is not funny in the end.

Of all audiences, I thought our blog's would appreciate it:

Levitas Bill Looked At Employees, New State Law Doesn’t

By Tom Doolittle

There are many differences between the DeKalb school board ethics legislation proposed by Northlake/Tucker State Representative Kevin Levitas and statewide SB 84, which passed in the General Assembly on March 8. In fact, a detailed review evinces action that is nearly “apples and oranges”. The statewide bill is for standardizing school board “governance”, essentially regulating behavior and roles. Although conflicts of interest are prohibited, they are broadly defined. However, what might interest most DeKalb citizens that have followed media reports is that the bill says nothing about school system employees, such as superintendents. The state bill also does not mandate county-specific ethics commissions, as Levitas does for DeKalb.

Generally, the state bill specifies additional qualifications and training for school board members, clarification of their roles and responsibilities, a statewide conflicts-of-interest policy, and allowing the state to temporarily intervene when a system is failing.

Levitas’ proposal is a “transparency” bill, not broad rules defining the role of school board members. Starkly different from the state bill, Levitas bill emphasizes disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, emphasizes publication and comment periods, but allows the school board to decide whether they should be disallowed where regulating high-level employees. However, like the state act, school board member (in contrast to complaints about employed officials) would the province of a new ethics board.

Levitas, reflecting on the fate of DCSS ethics, commented, “I am optimistic that it will work in DeKalb, but I remain concerned that any non-criminal ethics violations can only be addressed by Board itself, rather than by an independent body… school employees should be covered as well…”

The Levitas proposal, which would have had to be signed by a majority of the DeKalb legislative delegation before moving to a General Assembly vote, is being given no further consideration this year. Before the statewide bill was passed, State Representative Mike Jacobs said that the statewide bill included many of Levitas’ provisions and he was concerned about “singling out DeKalb”. Fran Millar said he would vote “yes” for both of the bills—“I’ll sign (to move the local bill to a vote in the full legislature) it anyway—everybody should have a code of ethics for God’s sake.” Both Millar and Jacobs thought regulating school system employees would be a good idea, but did not seem to consider it a deal breaker if not included in the statewide bill.

Although the Levitas bill is entitled “The DeKalb School Board Transparency Act”, the language states that it “provide(s) for sanctions on appointed officers and employees of the school system for violations.” The sanctions would be meted out by the school board, not an ethics commission. The ethics commission is only charged with regulating school board members. “If the commission determines from clear and convincing evidence presented during the hearing that the accused board member committed the offense of which he or she is accused, the commission shall issue written findings and shall censure or reprimand the board member or order the removal of the board member from office.”

The substantive differences between the statewide and Levitas’ bill include:
(1) Does not establish county school system ethics commissions;
(2) Requires local ethics codes be established and provides minimum standards for codes;
(3) Makes allowance for and determines conditions for intervention by the Governor’s office;
(4) Is not as specific with respect to conflicts of interest;
(5) Is not primarily disclosure and transparency legislation with respect to conflicts of interest.

Regarding the effect that his legislation would have on employees in a position to hire relatives and steer contracts to friends or misdirect funds, Levitas said, “it is premature to comment on the situations involving Ms. Pope or Dr. Lewis, but should the evidence prove the existence of criminal and/or ethical lapses, it would, in my opinion, strengthen the argument that ethics laws and boards should reach employees as well as elected officials.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Keeping Tabs on Crawford Lewis

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Time is marching on and the suspense is palpable. According to the AJC today, the board is negotiating a separation with Dr. Lewis. And ironically, it's the very contract containing the highly criticized raise given to Lewis by the board that actually may contain the biggest surprise—a new clause capping his severance payout at four months worth of salary.

DeKalb County school superintendent Crawford Lewis will take at least $85,000 in cash with him if he accepts the school board's invitation to quit.

That's what Lewis' contract calls for in severance -- four months of his $255,000 annual salary -- plus benefits.

But pushing Lewis out the door will be a bargain compared to how much the school system paid to jettison its last superintendent. Johnny Brown walked out with a $410,000 payout in 2004 after just two years on the job. At the time, the board said the payout was part of a mutual agreement "to move in different directions."

Evidently the school system has learned to move in different directions a little more cheaply since then. The current board modified Lewis' contract in January, granting him a $15,000-a-year raise but also capping any severance payout at four months of annual salary. That cap, which was not in Lewis' prior contract, was designed to prevent a large payout like the one that went to Brown, said school board chairman Tom Bowen said.

We'll monitor the situation and update this post as news becomes available.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Could it be? The money is really there... at least the amount needed to educate children

Let's back up.  Instead of arguing like people in third world countries over bags of rice, let's see if there aren't some areas that, if cut, would nearly put our budget back in balance, and allow the task of educating children (the entire purpose of the school system) to go on unharmed.

Although there are many people who feel strongly that magnet, choice, theme and other programs are using more dollars per student than "regular" schools, we don't have all of the data on the subject yet. We also doubt that the board has all of the data either. But logic tells us that there are areas here that have some wiggle room for budget cuts - another day - when we have a board and administration who we can trust will make fair decisions using solid data.

HOWEVER - most of us agree that the task before us must not BEGIN with the classroom - any classroom. No one (and I think I can safely say no one) currently trusts that the board is dealing with true, fair data. The first task - and the task that will serve as an olive branch extending trust - is to make the heaviest - hardest cuts to the administration and central office. And by that I mean anyone who does not directly have an effect on learning in the classroom.

We have gathered so much evidence and published it here showing that there is no excuse for our board to avoid the task of cutting admin staff first - and deepest. When push comes to shove, honestly, our students and teachers can get through the day without many of these people. But taking away teachers, crowding classrooms and shuttering programs haphazardly will not fly. Check out the link to the right (under Pages) titled, "Facts & Sources" for a compilation of verified information we have acquired.

Roll up those sleeves board. Dig for some good, reliable data. We'd like to see researched, quantifiable reasons for the decisions being made.

To quote one of our astute bloggers:
There is enough money in the budget to provide education to students. There is not enough money in the budget to employ THOUSANDS of individuals who have jobs that other counties do without. THOUSANDS. This is the ONLY thing you should be focused on.

#1 - What is the job of a school system?
To educate kids. Nothing more, nothing less.

#2 - What jobs do we eliminate?
See question #1 to determine if a job is truly needed.



DCSS spends $19,000,000 in salary and benefits for their technology group (MIS) for 99,000 students. Gwinnett Schools spends $22,500,000 in salary and benefits for their technology group for 150,000 students. So DCSS has 30% less students and infinitely less equipment to maintain, but only spends 15% less than Gwinnett, and doesn’t provide anywhere the service of Gwinnett’s technology group.

Even a great sounding idea like security personnel has morphed into DeKalb spending $12,500,000 a year for 217 personnel – a figure so out of line it’s laughable – Gwinnett which has 150,000 students compared to DCSS 100,0000 students spends $2,500,000 on security. No other county even comes close to DCSS’s expenditure on Security.

Then there are ineffective scripted learning programs like America’s Choice ($8,000,000) and Springboard ($1,400,000) which the teachers dislike intensely and don’t support. And the 80+ Instructional Coaches ($8,000,000) who do not teach students, but were hired to support America’s Choice and Springboard.

We have spent at least $14 million on lawsuits. Some say that number is closer to $20 million. Who endorses this? Why are these lawsuits not questioned? What budget does this money actually come from?

Central Office can stand some cuts (223 people account for $25,000,000 in salaries without even considering benefits), but obviously it will also take collapsing and combining and outsourcing lower level administrative jobs as well.


Charles Hill, a member of the school closings task force, suggested that DCSS needs a task force of citizens to look into overall expenses rather than shuttering 4 schools for a savings of $2,000,000. I think he’s absolutely right.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The issue of cohesion - Let's seek to support every student and mend inequities

Kim Gokce's comments about Cross Keys (in the Fernbank letter post) just about brought me to tears. Nicely said and so true. We are in such a mess and all of his key points are spot on. Where and how do we begin to dismantle this mess and then put it back together? We simply cannot slash $100 million randomly here and there–we must take this opportunity to make wholesale change in the way we "do" education in DeKalb. I think this is what Marshall and the Fernbank School Council meant in their letter but people only focused and grabbed on to the Fernbank issue (scarcity mentality).

Marshall's points were basically these:
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.

And then to bullet point his letter he defends -

-Library clerks
-Pre-K parapros
-Good quality high achiever programs
-Consolidating school buildings
-Sunsetting any new revenue (temp tax increase)
-Giving more responsibility to schools
-Seizing the opportunity to "reimagine" the system
-A long-term point of view

Not a bad agenda when you bullet point it.

He further says,
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.

But even Marshall cannot truly speak for or understand the depths of needs and feelings of inequity that identify Cross Keys. Kim lives, eats and breathes for those students and teachers. He fights hard for them, yet he is swinging at windmills. It must be so frustrating - no one is listening. Yes, Cross Keys has seen a bit of construction lately - hurrah! But check out that piece of land. This property could be as gorgeous a facility as Arabia (yet, unlike Arabia, accessible to everyone via Marta) - but it is still basically blighted.

If you are not effected by Kim's stories of success in the face of adversity described below, then you are not human. As always, no one can really paint a picture better than Kim.

If there is an attendance area that faces a combination of all the problems we highlight on this blog, it is Cross Keys' area - old buildings, issues with parental involvement, crowding, lack of amenities, lack of business community support, readiness of incoming students, America's Choice (CKHS is one using this program) and the list goes on ...

In this environment this year, our high school has produced the County Champion Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl team, the overall Grand Prize winner, and the 1st and 2nd place Biology category Science Fair winners (both go to State this month and one goes to San Jose, CA for Int'l competition in May), a robotics team that is going to compete in World Championships in Dallas, TX, and we're graduating the top award-winning, incoming freshman at Georgia Tech (President's Scholarship - 1 out of 6900 competitive applications).

In the case of the Grand Prize winner of the science fair, she is a product of Woodward ES, Sequoyah MS, and Cross Keys HS and from immigrant family from Mexico that has made DeKalb their home 15+ years.

These accomplishments occur in what few argue are the worst facilities in DeKalb County. Surely these individual kids were destined to succeed because their parents are well-off and educated themselves, right?

Wrong on both counts - these young people are supported by working class and poor households with none of the common indicators for academic "success." They are all non-white. They are all "dreaded" apartment dwellers, too.

Ah, but I've got on my high horse again ... let me climb down. My point is that we are making the job of public education much too complicated in DeKalb because of the politics of the past. While everyone snarls and barks over their little slice of shrinking, stinking corpse of the budget, our area kids put left foot, then right foot out and keep moving forward with the help of a loving and competent faculty.

Right on, Kim. I implore our board, our readers and fellow bloggers to heed these words. Please - look at the system overall and seek to fix the inequity. Demand that the toughest cuts are made outside the classroom. Protect our children and their teachers. Fight for a better system. Fight for every child in DeKalb Schools.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sarah Copelin-Wood: Look at her as why the system is the way it is

Unprofessional. Unprepared at meetings. Constantly using race to divide. Nonsensical, random comments at meetings. Meddling into day to day system affairs. Divide instead of unite. A big fan of cronyism and nepotism. And she forgets the last time schools were closed they were in the northern section of the county.

If Sarah Copelin-Wood isn't the worst and most embarassing board of education elected official in the state, lord help the person who is. Copelin-Wood is Example No. 1 on why there should be term limits for board of ed members, not just in DeKalb, but state-wide. If we're going to elect her to multiple times on the board that supervises education for our children and votes on a billion dollar entity, maybe we deserve what we get.

The DeKalb County school closings process was derailed by a board member telling task force members how to vote, pitting schools against each other and charging racism is a factor, one task force member said.

Citizens Planning Task Force member Marcia Coward said she is filing a complaint against board member Sarah Copelin-Wood with the board and the superintendent.

“I know that Sarah Wood made phone calls and pitted one school against the other in her own district. I think that’s very wrong,” Coward said Saturday. “She’s supposed to represent all of the schools in her district.”

Coward’s complaint is the latest drama in the state’s third-largest school district, which also is facing a $115 million budget shortfall, a superintendent under criminal investigation and a standardized test cheating scandal.

The board assembled the 20-member task force and charged the group with recommending four elementary schools to close at the end of this school year. But after weeks of reviewing data, the task force voted on Thursday to not close any schools, leaving the decision up to the school board.

The nine-member board will have to do that without the leadership of Superintendent Crawford Lewis, a DeKalb educator for 33 years. The board is in the midst of negotiating a “mutual separation” agreement with Lewis, one of several people under investigation by the district attorney’s office for possible wrongdoing involving the district’s multimillion-dollar school construction program.

Coward said the task force would have been able to move forward with its decision on school closures if Copelin-Wood had not intervened in numerous task force meetings.

Reached at her home on Saturday, Copelin-Wood denied the allegations and refused to answer some questions.

“This is a lie,” said Copelin-Wood, who represents District 3. “The person who would do that [made the allegations] was mad they didn’t get their way. I don’t have to answer to them.”

Chairman Tom Bowen said the school board will review the complaint, but he said no board members were supposed to be involved in the task force.

“The public task force was instituted by the board to get independent, direct feedback from the public on the issue of school closings,” he said on Saturday. “The board will have the final say on any school closings. So there should be absolutely no board influence on that process.”

Coward left Thursday’s task force meeting early to attend a DeKalb Council of PTAs meeting, where she was elected president. She did not participate in the final vote when the task force chose not to close any schools, but said she would have voted on four closures.

“In my opinion, we had all of the data relative in making that decision, but we were not able to because of all of the turmoil,” she said. “We felt pressure because Sarah passed notes back and forth to the people [task force members] that she knew she could influence. That kept the confusion going and made it an unfair process.”

Copelin-Wood said it was a public meeting and she had the right to distribute information. “I had things I wanted people to consider,” she said.

Each of the nine board members, along with Lewis, appointed two residents to the task force. At the first meeting, Copelin-Wood did not appoint any residents to serve and said she wanted to be the representative for her district. After task force members made complaints about her behavior to the board, Copelin-Wood appointed two citizens.

However, she attended all of the other meetings and sat in the front, passing out fliers and encouraging parents to speak during the public comment session.

“As a board member, she [Copelin-Wood] has the responsibility to stay neutral and not make this a racial issue because it was not a racial issue,” Coward said. “But she kept making comments about black and white task force members.”

Copelin-Wood declined to talk about allegations of racism on Saturday or say if she wanted schools to close. However, she said she is angry that all of the schools on the closure list are in south DeKalb. The 10 schools on the possible closure list -- eight of which are in Copelin-Wood’s district -- are primarily in African-American neighborhoods.

“What I wanted is none of anybody’s business,” Copelin-Wood said. “If she [Coward] wants to ask me something, I think she will be a big enough woman to ask me.”

Copelin-Wood has served on the DeKalb County Board of Education since 1998 and is up for re-election later this year.

Vice Chair Zepora Roberts was the only other board member to attend any of the task force meetings, but she made no statements.

The board is slated to vote April 12 on $115 million in budget cuts, including closing four schools to save $2.35 million.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Yeah Task Force!!!

You go Task Force!  I couldn't be more proud of this group!  As citizens, they agreed to dig deeply into an assignment that is not for the faint of heart–recommending which schools to close.  Apparently they realized that they had volunteered to do the dirty work of the board and Crawford Lewis (well, now Ms. Tyson).  And in the end, they basically said, "Do this yourselves."

The AJC is reporting that "After four hours of arguing, accusations of racism and one member storming out, the Citizens Planning Task Force voted Thursday night that no school should close."

The DeKalb school board appointed the task force to review data and recommend the closure of four elementary schools at the end of the school year. The closings, which had to be approved by the board, were needed to help offset an anticipated $115 million deficit, board members said.

Instead, the task force took several votes Thursday night and decided to give the job to the school board.

“We’re considering closing schools in areas that involve very high-risk students, students from high-risk situations, single parents, some living with grandparents and a lot on free lunch programs,” task force member Charles Hill said. “I don’t feel right. I’m not comfortable with that. It just don’t feel right in my heart.”

While the majority of the 20 task force members said they wanted no schools closed, they also decided to send the board the list of 10 schools that were under consideration.

“If any board member has forced any citizen to do their work in hurting our children and to hide behind our task force, that person is unfit to serve on our school board,” task force member Bruce McMillian said. “Here board, you decide which four schools should close.”

There's more:

Last month, board member H. Paul Womack said as many as a dozen schools need to be closed over the next two years to save money and get rid of empty seats. State funding formulas favor schools with at least 450 students.

“If you all can’t do it, this committee will make the recommendation,” Womack said to the task force last month. “We’ve tried to be transparent by involving citizens of DeKalb County.”

Task force member Don Broussard agreed. He and one or two other members spent Thursday night encouraging the task force to close the four schools. At one point, he stormed off.

“I want to thank the task force for making the last two months a colossal waste of time,” he said after the vote.

Fun? Not.


For More: Maureen Downey at the AJC Get Schooled blog has an excellent blog post on the subject.