Sunday, April 18, 2010

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.


Anonymous said...

More fn:
Distractions still plague DeKalb schools

Stability definitely would be welcome, said Ernest Brown, a father of three, but he doubts the school system will see it any time soon.

“We just need to get through these next few months,” said Brown, a member of the Citizens Planning Task Force, which was charged with naming schools to close. “I’m glad the parties came to some resolution so we can move forward with some of the other issues pressing the system, mainly the budget and improving academic achievements.”

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.

The district attorney is investigating allegations of wrongdoing involving the school system’s multi-million-dollar construction program. The district’s former chief operating officer Patricia “Pat” Pope is accused of altering construction contracts to benefit her then-husband, architect Tony Pope, along with his friends. Pat Pope has been reassigned, but still works at the school system.

In February, the investigation expanded to Lewis when investigators served search warrants at his Stone Mountain home and school offices. According to the search warrants, investigators were looking for documents and computer files in connection with 10 different potential criminal charges, ranging from theft of federal funds and mail fraud, to bid-rigging and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, according to the search warrants.

A spokesman for the district attorney said that investigation should be completed by the end of May. By then, the school system must finalize a budget with at least $115 million in cuts and tell parents which schools are closing.

The system also must be ready for a $100 million lawsuit against construction manager Heery International, which is scheduled to go to trial this summer.

Anonymous said...

“The interim superintendent has been a key staff member on most of the large initiatives in the district over the last few years,” Bowen said. “She is clearly qualified to maintain the day-to-day operations of the district, as well as to complete the major initiatives like the budget and redistricting.”

Umm, Tom Bowen, guess you have no problem how MIS became a massive bloated dept. with poor customer service while under Tyson? Hey, I guess adding scores of employees and millions to the budget without any proof of productivity is no big deal to the BOE Chair.

Anonymous said...

As long as someone like the incredibly divisive and uninformed Sarah Copelin-Wood is on the Board of Ed without any term limits, things ain't going to change one bit.

Anonymous said...

We need a whistle blower inside the Central Office. Pat Pope, former? Hey isn't she still on the payroll while the investigation continues? Fire her!

There is too much cronyism, malfeasance, nepotism and for that matter adultery inside the Central Office. It is disgusting to think the money spent on new offices for them when our kids are ill due to the numerous sick buildings.

Someone in the central office could be a hero to our kids if they went to a trusted media source and blew the whistle.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:56--there is a whistleblower...that's how this all got started. Its the Contracts Compliance Officer that worked under Pope for less than a year in 2008. She's an attorney--use to present to the BOE--then fell off face of the Earth in late 2008. Its a not so well kept secret at Sam Moss Center. BOE announced in Jan or Feb of 2010 that she was loaned to DA to assist in the investigation. She should be publicly praised for what she has done (though I am sure the BOE will never do this).

Anonymous said...

Again I thought we finally were getting someplace when I saw the CNN headline this morning which read "Pope expresses shame and sorrow [to] victims" then I realized they were referring to Benedict and not Pat.

Cynical? Yes!

Anonymous said...

Let's see what the DA finds in late May. Right now, if I worked at the Central Office I would register at and start looking for a new line of work.

It's time to take OUR school system back.

By the way, the AJC Blog, Get Schooled has been hijacked by racists both Black and White. I hope Maureen Downey starts to ban some the comments that are getting out to the public. Very nasty stuff and it makes me fear for OUR county.

Anonymous said...

My theory on the racial comments on Maureen Downey's Get Schooled is that it's a DCSS insider signing in with different names to distract ordinary posters. If I'm right, he/she has certainly done a good job of distracting everyone from a serious conversation. Doesn't she moderate her blog?

Anonymous said...

Pat and vincent both should go to jail. He had the run of the building and everyone was afraid to say anything. But then someone did get her and that person should be given a large star. Thank you so much. I hope pat, vincent, quienta moody,tiffany her admin assistants also because they knew what she was doing they handle all her paper work. Dekalb needs to hire a firm and look at all the friends and family who have jobs
making large salaries and questionable positions with the system. A large number of these people serve no purpose. Until the system change and start hireing people who are qualified for jobs our children lose. Dekalb has become a place for anyone in someone family need a job this where they go. Let's clean house and get by to the education of our children like it used to be.

Be very careful about the people in the central office because they are going to try and keep that over staff of friends and family.
Make sure that we as parents watch the board because we must remember they have let all this happen and these are the people we elected to do what was best for our children and right now they have not did there jobs. The last board meeting was a joke, woods, roberts, walker, cunningham need to be gone
and the citizens planning task force could stand some changes on the ones that were picked by the above.

Again Thanks To The Person That Turn Pat Pope In.

Anonymous said...

This is for Pat Pope remember January 8, 2009 when you call each one into your office and told us that as of June 30, 2009 we no longer had jobs. You never looked up from your paper, there was no i am sorry and you people have did a good job nothing. I didn't think that it would come back so soon. Read your bible psalms 37 FRET NOT THYSELF BECAUSE OF EVILDOERS NEITHER BE THOU ENVIOUS AGAINST THE WORKERS OF INIQUITY. FOR THEY SHALL BE CUT DOWN LIKE THE GREEN HERB. smile

Anonymous said...

Have any of you heard of a 'wrongful termination' lawsuit? That is what DCSS would be hit with if they fired Pat Pope at this time. Unless someone out there is aware of something she has been officially charged with, firing her would not be the right thing to do. Has the DA charged her with anything after all these months of investigation?

Didn't someone on this blog indicate the Mountain Industrial Project changed because Gates money was tied to DECA being completed by a certain time which resulted in a project change request? Didn't they also indicate the Pat Pope does not make the final approvals but it goes through a systematic process that includes review by lawyers, the superintendent, then Board?

In this country, EVERYONE is still innocent until PROVEN guilty. The AJC printing allegations does make make it true or gives the readers all the information. You've only heard ONE side of the story thus far.

Anonymous said...

That is true , so we will wait and see what Ms. Keys comes up with. Someone in the system is wrong and that is why Lewis is no longer with dekalb. But her husband should not been making money off the system after he and she were told that once he finish with columbia that he no longer could work for the system. At any rate time will tell and who ever took money from our children needs to go to jail and that is what this is all about.

Anonymous said...

Son of awcomeonnow has a dream....
I dream that someone starts a hotline for fraud, bid rigging ,
cronyism, nepotism regarding the DCSS.
I dream that the investigations
go back prior to Pope and Lewis.
I dream that someone in the know blabs about what happened under Pritchett's watch, ie
the possibility that school sites were chosen for timber contracts, and the monies went to the "right people" instead of back into the general fund.
I dream that they look into title one fraud, hidden transactions through book purchases
(remember the freebie McGraw-Hill books a few years ago? Did it occur to anyone else to question what was done with the money that
WASN'T spent on the books?)
I dream that someone looks into the real possibility that kickbacks occurred in contracts such as school trailer rentals or purchases, school bus purchases,
monitoring equipment purchases for the school buses. The same possibility might exist for technology purchases. You name it, there's very likely a scam involved at some level in the selection and purchasing process.
Finally, I have a dream that many of the offenses discovered are
under federal law. I have very little faith in Georgia indicting and convicting their friends.
The best dream ever? If somehow it comes out that their is indeed a link between the DCSS and the county comission.
I know all of this is probably a pipe dream, but who'd have thought Lewis would be gone a few weeks ago?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:41:
First, sounds like you are upset that some people in the system got along with each other and you have no one to blame but the accused. Remember, Pat took her marching orders from ABOVE. Maybe, just maybe, somebody named CLEW created the list of folks to be terminated and she had to implement the plan. Maybe she was too disappointed to look into your eyes to express the stupid nature of the request. Then again, based upon the great intelligence you have provided this blog, you are simply a HATER!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered that the AJC data is simply flawed and incorrectly reported? Where is the written documentation that stated vince had to stop work after columbia? That came from CLEW, the gas man. The AJC reports are flawed with incorrect data. All of the firms under question made money from DCSS. None of them are non-profits. The question should be, Did They Make More Than Others? Wake up! You are being handed some BS from the AJC. Get all worked up from some ex-dcss employees. Now we have an employee gone rogue and helping the DA. Have you looked into that person's history? What makes that person qualified or did they make a deal with the DA and DCSS in order to hide their own dirt.

Your 115 Million is tied up in legal fees for a $400k case. You just spent that holding onto Pat and Lewis.

This is nothing more than a good old fashion internet lynching being lead by Tim Eberly of the AJC.

Cerebration said...

You do have to wonder why the DA keeps storming people's homes and offices - guns drawn - and then requesting more time to investigate. The longer this goes on - the worse it is for the reputation of our school system and the more it endangers our accreditation - which if lost, would ONLY harm the students and the property owners in DeKalb.

I was raised Catholic and now I understand Purgatory. We're there and it's an inferno. No charges have been filed. No court date has been set. Just dysfunction all around as far as you can see. It's so sad for us ordinary folks.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:10 very interesting comment regarding the portable classrooms: "I dream that someone looks into the real possibility that kickbacks occurred in contracts such as school trailer rentals or purchases..."

I recall several times a board member questioned why renewal of these contracts didn't go to bid. The response from the district was that it would cost too much to replace them since it would be a start-over-and redo situation, "just flat out cheaper to keep with the current vendor". The board member suggested that a new company might offer a loss-leader bid to win the contract in the long run. This suggestion was put down by the administration as something that their experience suggested would never happen. The board voted (twice?) to no-bid these contract continuations.

If this one is crooked too, OMG!

Anonymous said...

Then there were xerox machines that cost mega dollars in ink and couldn't be stocked with paper.... anyone with real information needs to contact the fbi fraud unit. The more calls they get, the more likely they are to, just maybe, start looking into all of this.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:43:

You are on to something. DCSS knew they had to reduce the number of employees on the payroll to help with the budget. They first eliminated all unfilled positions. Next they offered early retirement. Lastly they made staff reductions by request of CLew and the Board.

Is anyone on this blog surprised by reductions occurring at the Sam Moss Center? Isn't that an area most say contains a lot of fat? As the COO and essentially over the Sam Moss Center, Pope was supposed to informed those that would be let go. Who else would you expect to do that?

Who ultimately approved the reductions?

Anonymous said...

Then what are they going to do about the rest of the waste at the sam moss center. County trucks parked at eating center for more than a hour and the over staff people in the offices out there. Try calling out there if you have a
problem in the schools, no body knows who does what.

I worked in a school and the trailers are nasty, mold and mildrew, no heat or a/c, roof leaks, broken windows, railings broken, mud that we have to walk in when it rains, roaches, rats, snakes and please try geting someone out for this. Maybe the people in charge should be out making sure these things are taken care of.

I am not trying to make anybody loose there job but the kids parents pay taxes and this is a no, no.

My point is that every body needs to spend more time doing there jobs and less time at the coffee machine.

Also what ever happen with pope
and lewis the bottom line is somebody made a mess with the splost money and who ever it is they need to pay. This was tax payer money and it belong to the students in dekalb. The money was not to make he/she rich. Every one that ok all this need to pay. If the people that ok the checks did not do there job they to must go.

The board spends too much time thinking about there own pockets and not about our students. Dekalb needs to clean house and i hope out next super is from another state and he/she will not owe in favors. This is one of the problems we have had in the past.

Anonymous said...

I spoke with Derwin Brown
informally when he was running for
Sheriff. The topic was concerning
some of the fraudulent shenanigans
I and others had witnessed from the county level: especially bond financed ones.
He informed me that was NOTHING compared to what investigations he'd done tied to the school system. What he spoke about at the time was concerning
60,000 worth of glass purchased for the buildings, and why it didn't pass the smell test.
Another acquaintance that worked at the North Decatur offices told me about hiring practices before and during Hallford's time: " Gnerally, two persons were hired for any job description- a white one and a black one." I also heard about boxes upon boxes of computers that had been purchased and sat rotting in a warehous somewhere in Dekalb.
I wonder now if the computers were Title 1 purchases.
Basically, this school system has been corrupt for decades.
Anybody else got some good stories about the DCSS and it's practices? Nows the time, with Lewis under investigation. Once the more intimidating get out of the way, it's suprising what comes out.
I was really suprised a few years back after Manuel Maloof died. I had older county residents coming up to me on a regular basis with tales that would curl your hair.

Anonymous said...

If people had access to the Internet in the good old days, our eyes would be opened to corruption that has been going on for years, both in county government and the school system.

I spoke to a school system watcher that has been around for years. They acknowledged that under the Freeman administration, the Central office was fairly lean. There were two area superintendents, Hallford for the North and Melvin Johnson for the South.

During the Hallford administration, the Central office grew exponentially. They went from two areas to nine and each area duplicated functions of the Central office under them. By the time everyone realized this was a mistake, Hallford ran into problems sending those recently promoted staffers back to the school house. As a result, many stayed in newly created positions.

Under the Brown administration, there was an attempt to clean this up and reduce the size of the Central office. He was succeeding but obviously began recommending several 'family and friends of former supers, current and former Board members, and current staffers' be let go or reassigned to the school house. Remember that Brown did not allow many people to have superintendent in their title. What were area supers became Executive Directors.

When Lewis came on board, it was clear that the good times were rolling again regarding the central office. Accountability seemed to go out the door in some cases. The number of people with superintendent in their title also increased along with salaries (which impacts retirement payouts).

If there are any teachers/employees that have been around since the Freeman administration, please add to this. Reducing the size of the central office is only part of the puzzle but it could go a long ways toward increasing confidence from both employees and citizens.

Everyone should also be mindful that if you reduce positions, you do not eliminate the work. Will there be enough people left to effectively handle the work?

Cerebration said...

Does anyone know exactly what Lewis is suspected of that required the DA storming his home with guns drawn?

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 11:38 PM 4/19/2010

"I spoke with Derwin Brown
informally when he was running for

I can tell you exactly where all of those computers were -- and they were stacked high to the ceiling. They were at the Montreal Road Service Center. I saw them many times when I was at the service center warehouse (at the back of the service center, behind where the buses get gas and are washed.) They were behind a wall made of chain link fencing-type material and were locked up. I believe they were Compaq desktop computers, but I cannot remember for sure. That would have been around 1996 or 1997.

A man named Rodney (I think) was in charge of the warehouse. I asked him about the computers and was told, "Don't ask."

Anonymous said...

"We see the opportunity, and we take it". The quote is from Plunkett of Tammany Hall. The book is an interview with a Tammany Hall politician circa 1890-1900. The fraudulent practices he talks about are still being practiced. (Oh, and you can still find copies of it at used book stores, such as the Book Nook. It's only 96 pages long)
Anyway, here's some of the opportunities I've seen that the school officials might have seen and taken since SPLOST 1
Contracts for school additions.
( At the time, many schools set nearby, effectively mothballed and/
or under student capacity).

Trailer contracts. See above. If schools would have been at least partially re-utilized, then we could have rented or purchased at least 100 fewer contracts.

Bus contracts. No M-To-M after
1997-2000, fewer buses required. Reverse the lower need by
1. Theme school construction
(feeder school pattern, requiring additional bus purchases)
2. Middle school construction
(Not as many buses needed when schools were pre K-7, high schools
were 8-12)
3. Locating new schools AWAY
from housing/ sidewalks (Avondale MS, MLK HS, Bethune MS, Columbia MS, Stone Mtn MS, Miller Grove HS, etc).

Instructional materials contracts. Mc Graw Hill, which was literally up the street from Sam Moss building GAVE a substantial number of books to DCSS. What wasn't discussed was if there were
monies listed for book purchases that were left on the books as such. In other words, did the school budget of that year list
monetary outlays for book purchases, when in actuality some of said books were received free of charge?

Title one purchases. Cross Keys is, was, and will continue to be Title 1. So is Seqouyah MS, Indian Creek elementary, etc.
Under Title 1, these schools are supposed to be continually receiving new equipment for the students. The pictures I've seen posted for Cross Keys looks like all the computers are one step removed from DOS systems. I strongly suspect that were the feds to audit Cross Keys, Indian Creek, they would find that the numbers are there for the Title one equipment, but it's gone elsewhere. They would very likely find the same problem in the most impoverished schools south of 1-20.
If this has occurred ( and I'd bet on it), why? Because no one knows that they are eligible for the equipment. Either the parents don't speak English, or they're
undereducated on what the laws entitle them to. Dishonest persons would see the opportunity and take advantage of it. They also might store some computers in a warehouse, then bill the feds the next year for them ( kind of like the book purchases).

The list could include HVAC
(most likely overpriced, the skimming would occur with improper installation and maintenance),
ESIS (spend vast sums, hire vast amount of "friends"
America's Choice (another excuse to start a jobs program to implement)
Anyone else see any "opportunites" that might have been "taken"? Lets get a list going. Try to include where you think an opening would occur for the more ethically and morally challenged to make a quick buck.
If WE see the opportunity
(to expose possible fraud), then maybe some else can take it ( to begin investigations, indictments).

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the number of portable classrooms currently being used? The county no longer lists "permits" in the legal notices sections of The Champion.
They used to do so in the old
Dekalb News-Era (former legal organ). Periodically, you'd see addresses that would have 10,12, 15 permits issued to them. Those addresses were Dekalb County Schools.
I was considering starting a small private school for our neighborhood in a rental classroom, so I called up the county and asked them how much they were charging for the permits.
The answer was $375, yearly. I asked the person at the other end of the line if this was what the county charged the DCSS, and they said yes.
I thought that sounded rather high, so I called up Cobb County to see how much their permits cost.
I was informed that it was illegal by state law for a city or county to charge a school system for permits, inspections, or utility hook up fees. At the time of the call we had roughly 600 trailer classrooms . 600x 225=
$225,000 annually in illegal fees.
Kathy Cox's office did a minor investigation, in a profoundly stupid manner. They asked the DCSS if they were paying permit fees point blank. Of course, as usual they lied.

Anonymous said...

We need a fact check here.

"How did CFO Marcus Turk, then head of Business and Administration Ramona Tyson, Supt. Crawford Lewis, and the Board of Education allow such malfeasance??"

Wasn't Ramona head of MIS until sometime in 2009? When did she get promoted and move to Building A?

rumors and preverifcations said...

DCSS does not pay for permits, where did you get your information from?

Anonymous said...

If I remember correct she got the job sometime last of may or first of june.

Powerless cog in the DCSS meat grinder said...

How difficult would it be to find out if some schools in DCSS have been told to limit classes to 30, while others have been told to limit classes to 34? I have heard that some of the politically favored schools have been asked to build smaller classes to protect their points, while less politically favored schools will lose points because the bigger classes will mean fewer need for teachers. Some of the schools championed on this blog have been dealt a severe body blow with this directive. It also sounds discriminatory.

Anonymous said...

Actually what I heard is that for now k-8 schools have been told to continue using this year's class size limits to build classes for next year. I believe this is because so many teachers returned contracts that there are far to many contracted teachers for the schools to lose so many points, at least at the elementary and middle levels.

I understand that the same decision has not yet been made for high schools.

I think the system is just working up to the high schools. Unless our high schools have seen tremendous attrition, that is.