Thursday, September 30, 2010

Justice Moves Slowly

Will the case against Dr. Lewis actually ever get to trial?

The AJC is reporting that the Judge who is presiding over the Dr. Lewis' trial is considering removing his attorney. The prosecutor has raised concerns because the firm of Lewis' attorney firm represents Parsons Construction Firm. Employees of Parsons, including Barbara Colman who is the school system's construction manager, are scheduled to testify at the trial.

"At the end of the day, Mr. Brown has to cross-examine one client in favor of the other,” Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney John Melvin told the judge Thursday. “Parsons is at the entire epicenter of this case and will talk about the inappropriate activity they inherited. ... It’s an inescapable, irreconcilable conflict.”

Read the entire article here:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The eduKALB forum at Dunwoody City Hall

Tonight's forum, hosted by eduKALB and moderated by Steen Miles was sparsely attended, but very interesting.

The only incumbent to show up was Zepora Roberts. Ms. Miles informed us that she and Zepora are active members of the same church, which was nice to know up front. The other participants were Nancy Jester and Bobbe Gillis (District 1), Dr. Kirk Nooks (District 5), Donna Edler, Willie Mosely and Zepora Roberts (District 7) and Ella Smith (District 9).

Basically, Nancy Jester and Dr. Kirk Nooks rocked! Donna Edler was a stand-out as well and Ella Smith did a terrific job of honestly answering all of Steen's questions, even after Steen nearly wrapped up the forum without addressing Ella at all. Ella made the point that she is a teacher and has always been in education, either as a student or teacher. She honestly spoke of her weakness in math, but stated that she would consult people with strong math skills to help her navigate the massive school budget (her husband, an Emory math major was one of her consultants). I know Ella as she has been a contributor to this blog since early on, researching DCSS spending with Kim Gokce (click here to read their report). Ella has a very good heart for children and a knowledge of what really works in the classroom. What she lacks in math skills, she more than makes up for in a good internal moral compass and an ability to make decisions using the criteria of what is best for children.

But Nancy! She showed up with laminated charts! She clued us in to the fact that since the inception of NCLB, we have 'risen' from 14% of schools not making AYP to 44% of schools not making AYP! (And to think that Dr. Lewis continued to give Ms. Audria Berry, the director of student improvement, substantial raises!) Nancy is a money whiz, having undergrad and graduate degrees in finance and she can drill down to the core basics with a laser-like focus. We really need a brain like Nancy's on the board, IMO.

That said, Bobbi Gillis is quite a nice lady, but she didn't have very detailed answers other than to say that we need to educate the children and run the school system like a corporation. I didn't get a sense that she had a well-formed platform yet. I would say the same for Willie Mosely. Very nice man, but not exactly what we need right now. He was very rigid about things like discipline (zero tolerance) and parental involvement in the classroom, but not very well-versed in school operations. He kept saying that students need to watch, listen and learn.

Zepora, in all of her denial of current events, rested on her past laurels, stating that she has been very involved in schools since the beginnings of desegregation and the Supreme Court ruling for DeKalb that hog-tied the system for over 25 years. She actually said we need to "keep the current proven leadership - experience does count!" I kid you not - she said that. I will grant her that perhaps her kind of leadership was valuable during the segregation days, but we are ten years into a new millennium and to refer to the current board as "effective leadership" is astoundingly disengaged.

But back to Dr. Nooks - impressive! District 5 voters are very lucky to have him running for their district seat. He was detailed, visionary, articulate and confident but grounded. He wanted to find out exactly how Cobb managed to spend $100 million more in the classroom than DeKalb, even though they have fewer students. He advocated for a transparent and inclusive search for a new superintendent, better communication with the community and better technology in the classroom. He wanted to look at charters to see what is working for them and how we might replicate those actions to begin removing barriers for regular public schools. He said we need to put the right people, in the right seats, on the right bus, at the right time, making the right decisions. I agree!

And Donna Edler embellished this idea by stating that DeKalb can serve as an example of how to turn around a failing urban school district. Edler was very poised, and came across as quite smart - a CPA, she is well-versed in finance. She made a very important point when asked about reducing the size of the board - she said that it doesn't matter how many members there are, as long as they have the proper tenor and bring a professional attitude. She reiterated that we have the opportunity to make a big change - voters, please do it!

I will close with a quote from one of our regular contributors:

Regardless if you support old blood or new on the board, to win a seat takes money. Candidates need to reach out and share their views with voters who actually show up at the polls (and may not be following this or any other school related blog).

It will be interesting to see the September 30 required Campaign Disclosure Reports. At this point neither the incumbents nor their challengers have received much funding. If you're serious about supporting the DeKalb County public school system, you need to step up soon with your checkbook.

Cynical? Yes!


To find out more on the candidates, click on the ballot box on the right side panel of the home page.

To read about the eduKALB forum hosted last week in South DeKalb, click here.

Monday, September 27, 2010


CBS Channel 46 is doing a report tonight at 11 called "Kids In Need" -- highlighting the needs now caused by the budget cuts in all school systems. It seems that Dresden is certainly not alone in the need for TP, soap and other basic supplies. Teachers from all metro areas have been going to "Kids in Need" (a division of Atlanta Food Bank) to get supplies.

Hanna Daniels is doing the the report at 11 tonight and needs parents to interview - she already has teachers who have spoken on camera from Atlanta schools and others. So PTA people - parents - concerned people who would like the taxpayers to hear your voice - please call Hannah ASAP and let her know the story of how the current budget cuts from the state of Georgia have effected the basics in your schoolhouse. 

Please don't think "someone else" will call her - YOU need to call her. She will only use a 10-15 second clip of what you have to say - now's your chance!!  Let our state leaders know how their cuts to education funding have hurt our  schools!

Call Hannah - at (404) 617-9277 ASAP!

Candidate Forums

Below is a listing of upcoming candidate forums - if anyone has a forum to add, please let us know!  The election is only 5 weeks away - so sit up and pay attention!  Plan to attend as many debates and forums as you can!

Tuesday, September 28 @ 6:30pm - 

Dunwoody City Hall, City Council Chambers
41 Perimeter Center East,
Dunwoody, GA 30346
Sponsor - eduKALB

Thursday, October 7 @ 6:30pm

Location - DeKalb Medical Center, Central Campus,
2701 North Decatur Road,
Decatur, GA 30033,
Hospital Theatre, Ground Floor, Main Building
Co-sponsors -
DeKalb County League of Women Voters,
The Champion & Free Press and eduKALB

Saturday, October 9 @ 11am
Location - St. Martin's Episcopal Church
Ashford Dunwoody Road
Candidates' Fair
hosted by -
Ashford Alliance Community Association

Thursday, October 21 @ 7pm
Location - Dresden Elementary School
Sponsored by -
The Dresden East Civic Association (DECA)

Tuesday, October 26 @ 7pm
Location - Dunwoody United Methodist Church
1538 Mount Vernon Road, Dunwoody, GA
Sponsored by -
The Dunwoody Homeowners Association

Thursday, October 28 @ 12pm (noon)
Location - Dunwoody branch of the DeKalb Public Library,
located 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road,
Dunwoody, GA 30338
Bring your lunch - beverages will be provided
Sponsored by -
The Dunwoody Chamblee Parents Council

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good schools should be a civil right

This is partially reprinted from the AJC opinion pages. Please click here to read the article in it's entirety.

By Graysen Walles
Monday, August 30, 2010

. . . We all know that the public school system as it is now designed cannot be the answer for the growing needs of our diverse community.

We have seen time and time again by means of reliable statistics and research that most of our public school systems are failing to prepare students for the 21st-century global community. These are facts, whether we want to face them or not.

The consistent message from families of all ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds in communities like Atlanta is that they want quality educational choice for their children.

In most cases, a traditional school system is not able to accommodate these choices as they are challenged with a myriad of complex issues, even much deeper that what can be seen with the naked eye. . . .

The charter school movement is an answer for many families around the country, as they provide what most traditional public schools cannot.
Quite honestly, at the current time, many of the students benefitting most from the charter movement are minority students and exceptional needs students.

That is why it is so difficult to digest the negative commentary that some civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, have purported about charter schools.

On the contrary, charter schools are an answer to the challenges of our special education communities and minority communities, as charters provide specificity, flexibility and a level of nurturing for our students that traditional public school have a difficult time mastering.

I was encouraged to read recently that the leader of the National Urban League has clarified its position on charter schools, noting that it “wholeheartedly supports high-quality charter schools and the outcomes they produce for our nation’s children.”

Indeed, if there were any organizations that would support the charter school movement, it is my belief that civil rights organizations would. I would encourage more leaders of these organizations to visit charter schools that have been successful in densely poor communities such as New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.

Undoubtedly, these school communities would definitely provide these leaders with a new perspective about charters and the need for charters as a viable educational reform tool.

Some of the best charters have clearly been documenting best practices and invaluable research that speaks to closing the achievement gap for at least a solid decade.

Charter schools have moved beyond test tube theories. They are now established, valued and successful.  . . .

Graysen Walles is the principal of Tech Charter High in Atlanta.

Weber pushes charter school charter school cluster concept

According to this week's Dunwoody Crier, State Sen. Dan Weber (R-Dunwoody) is pushing for the charter school charter school cluster concept for DeKalb county schools.

Weber pointed to a chart showing that the total education expenditures per pupil has doubled over the last 20 years, but achievement scores have remained flat.

“We’ve been researching for 20 years but haven’t found the magic bullet,” Weber told a meeting last week of the Ashford Alliance Community Association. The answer, said the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is returning to a system where local schools rather than the superintendent and the central office make the decisions that affect the learning in their schools.

The model, called The High School Charter Cluster, includes the local high school as well as the middle school and all the elementary school that feed into it. Weber envisions that each cluster would have a council that serves as its governing body made up of administrators and parents and probably the local school board representatives.

Federal and state mandates would still have to be followed, and the local board of education would still be responsible for things like transportation and food service. In exchange for having local control of the charter cluster, the cluster council would be accountable for achieving results. Weber is hopeful that school board members, who have to approve such a move, will be open to these changes that are gaining support among parents and schools.

Weber, who authored Georgia’s charter school act, said charter schools can be hampered by decisions still being overridden by the central office.

“Neighbors should have more control of neighborhood schools,” argued Weber, which is why the state law he authored requires that to become a charter cluster, 60 percent of current parents and administrators within the charter cluster must approve the change.

Weber thinks the charter cluster provides the model to implement “what we’ve already learned. We know that increased discipline, longer school days, and teacher accountability already work.”

To read the article in the Crier online, click here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

Finalist for DeKalb housing chief could have a conflict

By Jim Walls
For the AJC

The DeKalb County Housing Authority -- already beset with questions about gifts of money or services from vendors -- may be about to hire another vendor as its next executive director.

If Eugene P. "Pete" Walker Jr. becomes DeKalb's new public housing chief, he will oversee the job performance of his current employer, Mercy Housing Southeast, a nonprofit paid to manage several of the authority's properties. He's currently Mercy's president.

Walker, one of three finalists for the housing job, also runs Millennium Development Partners, a for-profit company that does financial and bond consulting for the housing authority.

Walker declined to talk last week about how he would manage any potential conflict of interest with either business, or whether he would even have one. So did Glenwood Ross, chairman of the authority's board, and board member George Maddox.

The two other finalists for the housing job, Robert Kenner and Art Milligan, have a combined 22 years' experience running housing authorities in Florida and North Carolina, while Walker has a degree in business administration and was once CFO of the Atlanta Development Authority. The board met Friday in closed session to talk about personnel but emerged without announcing a decision.
. . .
Maddox, a former state legislator, received $3,000 in campaign contributions from the authority's development partner in 2006 and 2008, and $500 more to help put a new roof on his church. Walker also gave him $1,000 in political contributions.

Walker has his own political connections in DeKalb. His father, Eugene Walker, is a former state senator and former member of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The elder Walker, because of his own actions, is also a former chairman of the DeKalb Development Authority. He had to step down last year following revelations that interests seeking a $45 million tax break from the authority had donated $20,000 to his campaign for a school board seat. Most of those donations went undisclosed until after the election.

DeKalb's housing authority has substantial issues to address -- not just nagging ethical questions, but money matters as well. HUD is wrapping up a forensic audit of the agency after finding $2.5 million intended for public housing recipients was spent instead on ineligible costs, including office supplies, rental cars and the like.


Click here to read the entire story at the AJC.

Report on the eduKAB forum from S DeKalb blog

Candidate forum was informative

Below are a few excerpts from S. DeKalb blog post - Click here to link to the entire post.

I had the opportunity to attend a forum for candidates running for open board of education seats. The first of three forums was held at the Delta Sigma Theta/Kappa Alpha Psi Community Action Center in South DeKalb, and sponsored by EduKALB. Here are some things I took away from the get together. 

First, only one incumbent showed up; Jay Cunningham from district 5.  . . . When asked his top priority for fixing the system, his reply was to work with the present members to fix the system then find a new superintendent. 

His opponents, Dr. Kirk Nooks and Jaques Hall did well though Hall’s inexperience showed. Hall made one comment that struck me as odd considering he is running for the school board. In his intro he commented that he was thankful he did not have any kids in the school system. . . .

All of the other candidates were impressive. Corey Wilson running in district 3 seemed passionate about being on the school board, and has young children attending DeKalb schools in his district. . . . 
The two most impressive candidates were Nancy Jester and Donna Edler. Both were passionate and very well informed. Edler wants to see more in depth reviews of policies such as ethics and nepotism. Jester wants to see the board and the system justify dollars spent every few years in an attempt to maintain better control of the systems budget. I had an opportunity to speak with Jester afterwards, and she is full of ideas, some of which should be put in place whether she wins or not. . . . She calls public schools a social gift and sees it as the one tool that can arrest the transmission of poverty. I do not know Jim Redovian, but if Jester gets enough exposure and her message reaches enough people she could make some noise. . . .

There are two more of these forums in the next few weeks. One is at Dunwoody city hall and the other is at DeKalb Medical’s auditorium on North Decatur Road.

Thanks so much for reporting on this event, South DeKalb!

UPDATE: We have learned that Ella Smith was also in attendance, however the blogger who wrote the report must have missed her portion.


Candidate Forums

All candidate forums will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and are open to all 15 announced candidates and incumbents seeking election to DeKalb School Board District Seats 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The forums are as follows:

Thursday, September 23 (past)
Location – Delta Sigma Theta/Kappa Alpha Psi Community Action Center, 4522 Flat Shoals Parkway, Decatur, GA
Co-sponsors – Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Alumnae and Kappa Alpha Psi Alumnae and eduKALB

Tuesday, September 28

Location – Dunwoody City Hall, City Council Chambers, 41 Perimeter Center East, Dunwoody, GA 30346

Sponsor – eduKALB

Thursday, October 7

Location – DeKalb Medical Center, Central Campus, 2701 North Decatur Road, Decatur, GA 30033, Hospital Theatre, Ground Floor, Main Building

Co-sponsors – DeKalb County League of Women Voters, The Champion & Free Press and eduKALB

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What about academics?

So - moving on from the topic of the Bishop (that is going to be an on-going sideshow for a while) --

We really need to focus on the utter failure of our school system to get our schools into AYP passing zone. We are continuing to slip in the standings and continue to produce three times as many high schools that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (much less - substantial progress) as do, and we continue to only offer transfers to the few "passing schools" still available as a response to these school failures. To date, DeKalb County School System still has not met AYP as a system.

Check out this chart for 2009 available at DCSS's website entitled, DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOLS ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS 2003 - 2009. There, we see that the only high schools that made AYP through 2008 were Chamblee, Clarkston, DECA, DeKalb HS of Technology North, DSA, Druid Hills, Lakeside and Miller Grove. Since this report, the system consolidated the Tech North HS into Cross Keys and we added Arabia, which made AYP and Dunwoody and Tucker have returned to "passing" status. But sadly, Clarkston, Druid Hills and Miller Grove dropped off the list and did not make AYP last year according to the 2010 AYP report available by clicking here.

We are in a mess. Our math program is questionable, many of our schools have not made AYP, we have an interim superintendent, an interim head of SPLOST construction and an interim head of "teaching and learning". The board members continue to "make news", issue apologies and get scolded publicly. Our board cannot agree on an ethics policy for themselves. The Lewis and Pope trials are now scheduled for January, which will certainly bring about much more salacious gossip. Our legal fees are equal to the entire budgets of most school systems. The distractions are numerous and on-going.

I know this seems obvious to all of you but - although we need to be aware of the "outside issues", we need to focus on educating children. Please pressure your board rep to pressure Ms. Tyson to do so, even though her area of expertise is technology. She needs to take the bull by the horns and visit schools, talk with teachers and principals and roll up her sleeves working to improve performance. She needs to take a look at the virtual "army" of instructional leaders who are not working directly with students and place them into classroom or direct student support settings. She needs to toss every available resource into the schoolhouses so that our children do not suffer another year of "Inadequate" progress. If she does not possess the moxie to do this, then we need to push the board to find another interim who will.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Looks like the bishop is in trouble

Shocking lawsuits have accused a top church leader of sexual misconduct. Two separate lawsuits were filed late Tuesday against Bishop Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. . . .

Two lawsuits filed late Tuesday in DeKalb County accuse Bishop Long of inappropriate sexual relationships with two young men from his church.

Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg, both in their early 20's, claim in their lawsuits that, "Long utilized his spiritual authority to coerce certain young male members and employees of defendant New Birth into engaging in sexual acts and relationships."

The suit claims the congregation is likely unaware of the practices. But it also says church money was used to foster the relationships.

Robinson, in his suit contends Long used, "monetary funds from the accounts of defendant New Birth to entice the (young men) with cars, clothes, jewelry, and electronics.

Robinson, claimed his long time bishop, who cared for him as he was growing up in the church would use "the Holy Scripture to discuss and justify the intimate relationship."

New Birth is the location of the new 180 student DCSS Leadership Academy Charter school, which pays $122,000 annually to lease the space according to this letter from New Birth to Melvin Johnson, New Birth member, board member of LPA, board member of the private school inside New Birth and former DCSS administrator.

For more on the story, read this article at the AJC.

UPDATED REPORT - A third accuser has emerged --

And now a fourth...

Another update --

Now it's national news, with an article in USA today and a spot in Jimmy Fallon's monologue. And just dang is even Bill Maher didn't use this story to kick off his "New Rules" segment. If you can stand it, listen to B.J. Bernstein describe the sexual meetings in this CNN post.

Back to math...

Oh boy. Talk about having your eyes off the ball. It appears that perhaps our math program has fallen into crisis and that unless something is done to embellish or change the curriculum very soon, we could find ourselves in a heap of failure.

We're hearing from teachers and parents across the county regarding their concerns about the math program. Read on:

"I have continued to watch my child and others struggle with the new Math curriculum. Most recently the school sent a letter out concerning the new Math 3 support course which is sanctioned by the state as a "core" course to help support students in passing Math 3. This to me suggests that new Math is not working."

"My child is a 10th grader at Chamblee in the magnet program, taking accelerated Math 2. As I understand this is the first group to have all of middle and high in new Math. Last year's 10th graders at Chamblee were able to take Algebra I, II, etc."

"Dekalb County has continued to state that the state requires that the Math courses be taught just as they as teaching. I work in Fulton County. Last year, midyear we were told to pull out the old Math books, Algebra I, etc. This year, Math courses are being taught using the old books with the new curriculum as a resource. Fulton cited the plunging Iowa scores as the reason for the change. They never really adopted the new Math due to parent protests. I note that APS is providing extra funding for a school teaching the new Math. Forsyth and Gwinnett continue to teach the old Math."

"We need to set the goal of having our Math switch back to Algebra I, II, etc by the winter break. If Fulton can switch midyear, why can't we? I am not sure how to bring about the change back to the old curriculum, but would appreciate the input and expertise of the folks on this blog. I also think that we need to get the superintendent and board focused on education along with redistricting and construction. After all, isn't that why we are all here? I sometimes think we lose sight of what should be our real focus the education of our children."

"Clearly we are lagging behind the metro region in Math. Something needs to be done ASAP."

We would love to hear from teachers, parents and students about the math program. Was Shayna right in her assessment of the new math in her July, 2009 article entitled, "All About Math"? What can we do to make the necessary corrections to salvage our math student's GPAs?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Have we made school too emotional?

Today's AJC highlights an opinion piece by Mary Graber, a writer and college instructor who lives in DeKalb.

Below is a snippet - click here to read the entire article. It's interesting... are we working too hard to be everything to all children? Check out the data on how the number of school employees has increased exponentially over the years. Should we cut back on the support and return to simply "teaching" -- as in "imparting knowledge of a subject?" Food for thought.

Future teachers are taught that it is important for them to teach children how to learn, how to find information and collaborate, how to discuss feelings, and how to promote “social justice.” Teachers see their roles as going far beyond imparting a certain body of knowledge and set of skills. They see themselves alleviating the suffering children bring with them, shaping children into global citizens for a world free of conflict and hardship.

As a result, the most needy children today lack what I was the beneficiary of in the 1960s. They lack the challenge of clear expectations without regard to home life. They thus never learn how to leave problems behind for the task at hand.

They lack the order of a classroom of desks in straight rows. They lack the sense of responsibility that comes from being given chores, and assignments that carry the threat of failure. They lack the sense of accomplishment that comes from memorization, or writing a grammatically correct, logically argued essay. They lack the pleasure of reading and thinking on their own.

Instead, they wallow around in each other’s problems in “social and emotional learning” sessions, or in lessons that harp on “oppression.”

They work in noisy groups with expensive materials for “projects.” They sprawl out on the carpeted floors of their classrooms to “journal.” They are presented predigested math lessons in flashy programs that dazzle the eye, but ask little concentration.

Instead of teachers, they have “guides on the side” who have no clear answers and want to make the day “fun.” Instead of having the security of knowing that there is an adult in the front of the classroom who has knowledge and authority, they have someone who acts as entertainer, facilitator and emotional confidante.

Their parents have suffered in the form of higher taxes. Over the past 40 years, public school employment has risen 10 times faster than enrollment. Student population has risen by 9 percent, but we have twice as many school employees.

The cost of educating a student tripled between 1960 and 2000 (in inflation adjusted dollars). Then education spending grew by 32 percent between 1999 and 2009. Yet, we continue to slip farther and farther behind other nations in achievement. What our students are cheated of by our education system is initiative — initiative stolen by adults who see themselves as curers of social ills, rather than as people who have specific job descriptions.

This country was built on the initiative of those like Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass, men who strove to learn and overcome. Our current educational philosophy takes that away from students and impoverishes them far beyond the ways in which their circumstances do.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chamblee Charter High School: Survivor

DeKalb County School System has 26 secondary schools (including the DeKalb Alternative Night School, DOLA Annex at McNair and Gateway to College). All are listed by GaDOE on their AYP report for DCSS, but DCSS does not report AYP scores for DeKalb Alternative, DOLA or Gateway to College.

Of the 26 secondary schools, only 7 – that’s just 27% – made AYP last year. These schools included Chamblee Charter High School, Lakeside High School, DeKalb School of the Arts, Dunwoody High School, DeKalb Early College Academy, Tucker High School and Arabia Mountain High School. Of the recently announced statewide SAT ranking, Chamblee Charter High School was #1 in DCSS and #20 in the state. Only Chamblee and Lakeside were in the top 25 schools in the state – Lakeside was #25.

Why is it – with 67% of DCSS’s schools not making AYP and big problems countywide (including a superintendent and a COO indicted on RICO charges; and internal affairs, finance and human resources departments that should, themselves, be investigated) – some contributors to this blog feel compelled to advocate for shutting down Chamblee Charter High School? Chamblee Charter High School is one of the few high schools in all of DCSS that is working.

Isn’t there plenty of other critical work to do?
  • To right-size the DCSS central office;
  • To pay principals and teachers commensurate to their critical importance to our students;
  • To require reasonable accountability from our principals and teachers – yes – but also to give them the autonomy to lead and to teach; and
  • To rehabilitate schools not making AYP?
Why are some contributors to this blog following the DCSS model of tearing down a successful school instead of doing the hard work of building up struggling schools that are failing our children?

Even before the magnet program for high achievers came to Chamblee High School in 1991, the school – DeKalb County’s second-oldest high school -- did well both academically and athletically. However, as rumor after rumor suggested that CHS might be closed, enrollment of resident students began to drop. People moved or enrolled their children in solid, steady, stationary private schools that were not closing. Later on, school enrollment was negatively affected in the 1980s when teachers were reassigned, by lottery, to “balance” teaching experience across DCSS. Some very experienced, very popular, excellent teachers who embodied the meaning, spirit and reality of Chamblee High School were arbitrarily reassigned to south DeKalb schools. This further fueled the rumors of CHS’s imminent closing.

Fortunately for Chamblee High School, Dr. Martha Reichrath arrived as principal in 1989. In 1990, DCSS suddenly realized that students in the Kittredge Magnet Program for High Achievers were ready for high school but, typically, DCSS had no plan. Dr. Reichrath offered CHS because there was room and because the “resident” students at CHS already were a diverse group with a strong tradition of academic excellence who could hold their own as academic equals with this influx of students. The magnet program was about one-third of the total CHS student body.

It has been a slow, long haul to re-grow Chamblee Charter High School’s resident program student population. The resident program’s re-growth was aided when Chamblee High School was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U. S. Department of Education in 1996. Subsequently, CHS also was named one of America’s Best High Schools by various national magazines such as Redbook and Newsweek. Then Chamblee became a charter school – approved jointly by secret ballot by the magnet and the resident programs’ parents and teachers – in 2000.

In spite of the terrible condition of the CCHS building; the rats, roaches, rust and mold; the apparent complicity of the fire department and health department inspectors, the EPA and OSHA; the “bait-and-switch” with SPLOST after SPLOST after SPLOST; a very weak and inept principal who is on record as not liking charter schools; and an inattentive board of education member, Chamblee has managed to thrive. Chamblee Charter High School is one of the very few bright lights in DCSS.

But the rumors about closing Chamblee have flared up again. This time the Internet is fanning the flames. These rumors are fueled by this blog and they have gained widespread acceptance by readers of this blog. Even though the CCHS attendance area is growing with young families whose children will be ready for high school in just a few years, none of the advocates for closing Chamblee Charter High School seem able to look past the end of their noses. Talk about closing CCHS sends these families with rising high schoolers straight to solid, steady, stationary private schools where there is no talk of closing.

So, I ask again: Why is it – with 67% of DCSS’s schools not making AYP and big problems countywide (including a superintendent and a COO indicted on RICO charges; and internal affairs, finance and human resources departments that should, themselves, be investigated) – some contributors to this blog feel compelled to advocate for shutting down Chamblee Charter High School? Chamblee Charter High School is one of the few high schools in all of DCSS that is working.

Isn’t there plenty of other critical work to do:
  • To right-size the DCSS central office;
  • To pay principals and teachers commensurate to their critical importance to our students;
  • To require reasonable accountability from our principals and teachers – yes – but also give them the autonomy to lead and to teach; and
  • To rehabilitate schools not making AYP?
Why are some contributors to this blog following the DCSS model of tearing down a successful school instead of doing the hard work of building up struggling schools that are failing our children?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Comments on the response to SACS

The response to SACS inquiry is posted online at the DCSS website. Click here to view or download the files.

While I give them credit for posting it at all, I give them an "F" for making it accessible. The documents are scans of the original (not pdfs created from a word-processing program) so they are enormous file sizes and they are not searchable. If these had been pdfs created from say, a Word doc, they would be much smaller file sizes and searchable. (FWIW, the federal government was criticized for the same thing regarding the health care bill.)

Anyway, if you have a fast internet service, hard space for storage, and time to read the whole thing, (not search for topics), then click here to start downloading or to just view and read online. Read as much as you can and post comments below.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Where The High School Students Are

Some of you may be too young to remember Connie Francis singing this song but I thought about it as I reviewed the latest data posted by the DCSS Planning Department. A play on the name of this song, “Where the High School Students Are” is the latest informative report to help citizens understand student mobility in our high schools. Interesting things to note:

• Lithonia and ML King, Jr. send more students to other schools than Avondale and Chamblee each have in their attendance zones.
• Arabia Mountain is providing relief to Lithonia and ML King, Jr. but more could be done if it were made into a neighborhood school with an attendance zone. Perhaps that could also help save expansion costs at several schools.
• Lakeside sends more students to Chamblee than any other in the district.
• Other than schools with choice or magnet programs, Druid Hills is the only school with students from every neighborhood high school.

It would be interesting to know the grade level breakdown of the students at the receiving schools along with the type of transfer they are (Admin, AYP, Choice, other). It would also be nice if this type of data could be provide for the past 3-4 years to determine any trends (realistically this may be challenging to provide).

Several have discussed closing the Avondale and Chamblee clusters as neighborhood clusters, based on the initial data provided. Ironically, Chamblee was scheduled for closure in the early 1990’s until the magnet program arrived. This would allow the district to repurpose Avondale as a ‘magnet’ cluster in the middle of the county by relocating and housing all the high achievers programs with DESA and DSA. Perhaps the Chamblee/Cross Keys cluster could be housed at the Cross Keys site or build a new comprehensive high school for 2000-2200 students in either the Buford Highway or Peachtree corridor.

This would be just one piece of the complicated puzzle of school closure, consolidation, redistricting, and repurposing. The district also needs to look at all small elementary schools that are in close proximity to one another and determine if they can be consolidated into a larger facility ala McNair Discovery Academy. This could both reduce the number of building while providing newer facilities capable of handling today’s electrical and HVAC demands. Making them LEED certified should be a goal for all new buildings in the district.

Yes we are talking about buildings but at the end of the day, the focus should be on ensuring we provide safe and healthy learning environments for our students. All of this will be moot if we cannot improve student performance. Given the dwindling revenues from our tax base, suggestions like above can help us spend less on maintaining buildings and more on instruction.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wednesday's ELPC meeting notes

Wednesday, Emory Lavista Parent Council hosted their monthly meeting. The speaker was Ramona Tyson, our interim superintendent who gave the annual "State of the System" address. Below is a compilation of notes taken by two of our regular bloggers, Sagamore7 and fedupindcss.

There was a large crowd that filled entire cafeteria. Board members in attendance were McChesney, Redovian and Speaks (only Redovian spoke, briefly, towards the end). Huge crowd from CO, including Marcus Turk, Beasley, and the new auditor. Mary Margaret Oliver and Fran Millar was there as well, and Scott Holcomb (who will replace Kevin Levitas) and Nancy Jester.

Marshall said the next ELPC in October will be at Briarlake and will cover the process of redistricting (not what will actually be done, but how the process works).

Tyson was very professional, very well spoken, but made it clear that she is in crisis management mode and not happy about her lot in life. Key points on this:
  • The first 5 ½ months seems to her as it has been 5 ½ years.
  • She was naive about crisis management. She didn’t expect how much of her time it would consume.
  • She wants to be held accountable to the best of her ability.
  • She will always give the facts when asked and will not EVER hide the truth.
  • Against the wishes of her staff, she answers her own email.

Here is how the talk (one hour) broke down:

--Movement of data center: Before she got into the State of the System address, she wanted to address a situation that she has had to deal with this week. MIS Department move and the $5,000,000 costs.

Ms. Tyson stated that everyone was getting in an uproar over the project. What was published on the website was the wrong cost analysis. They aren’t going to spend all that money on renovating the building; they just need to move the data servers to a secure environment. [When available, we will publish the new, improved, correct projected line item estimate for the move.]

When the decision was made to move buildings A&B to Mtn. Industrial (which was purchased under SPLOST II), there was no money to do anything until SPLOST III and Mtn. Industrial sat empty for years. Tyson said when the renovation started, she told "people" that they also needed to make sure the data center was included in that move, but no one listened to her and so it was not included in the budget. The data center was thus left behind in the now abandoned A&B, and it holds all personnel records, student records, vendor payment info, and the entire telecom system for DCSS (she added that all DCSS phones from every school connect back to the data center, including 911 calls, so they all have to route through there!). Additionally, the entire fiber optic network for DCSS runs out of there (she was very proud that DCSS owns it, and does not lease it like other systems; she said for once "we have something Gwinnett wants"). So, if the Data center falls apart, the whole system crumbles, and this is a risk if it is left in a decommissioned building.

Tyson said there are no extras, that all they are doing in paying for moving the engineering of it all to Mtn. Ind. The plan that was out there and got to the blog was a "cadillac plan" that the board had put together. There will be no data center "wish list" items [editorial: why did they even propose one as a board request for funds?]. The money for it will not come out of the $40 million surplus, but out of 'contingency' [editorial: how is that not SPLOST money?], and they hope the sale of A&B will pay for it all (A&B are valued at $7.3 million, but don't expect to get that). [Note: previously, we reported that Marcus Turk informed us that the sale of buildings goes into the regular capital funds (not SPLOST construction funds) and can roll into general operations if needed.  So, using the proceeds from the sale to cover the cost is not possible, according to Turk.]

--SACS report: a huge staff worked on it 24/7 for 45 days, said she will not hide the truth, and will give all the facts. SACS said they will respond in 30 days, which she said will be around 10/10/10 [interesting date], and she is very anxious. Of the 243 DCSS policies and procedures that are in place, 4 of them occupied DCSS’s time and attention.

1. Ethics
2. Conflicts of Interest
3. Purchasing
4. Whistleblower

She said she read it 19 times and it went through multiple drafts. She also proudly admitted she withheld it from the AJC, because she wanted SACS to see it first. Tyson said she talked to Dr. Elgart regularly about the progress of the report [!], and gave her explanation for the quick turnaround of the posting of the 4 policy changes (whistleblower, nepotism, etc.). Her story is that normally they would give 30 days for comment, but that they wanted to get them approved and into the SACS report to show that they were making a good faith effort to move forward with revising the school policies (which have not been looked at since 2000).

--Culture of DCSS: (her term): the pattern of employee self-dealing shocked her. She couldn't talk too much about it because of hearings, privacy laws, etc., but they are making it clear what you can and cannot do if you draw a DCSS paycheck.

--Whistleblower rule: employees need to feel comfortable to talk about issues to the administration, but they also need to know that it isn't a free for all to get back at people (like your prinicpal) that you don't like.

--Superintendent search: Board voted to bid for search firm, and the bids were unsealed as she spoke. The vote will take place at the October board meeting.

--Budget: DCSS will get $18 million from the $400 million GA got for the Jobs Education Act (stimulus to cover salaries and benefits at the school level). It will come in two payments between now and the end of October. She is going to work the Turk (!) to bring relief to the schools. Possibilities include releasing furlough days, step increases, cost of living adjustments. The planning for FY 2012 has begun and we should expect more cuts. They built this year's cuts that they expect the state to announce mid year into their budget already, so they don't expect that they will have to do any adjustments in January.

--$40 million SPLOST III surplus: will be dedicated to school needs. We are also eligible for $58 million in school construction bonds to go with the $40 million, and the board will decide on whether to accept it. The Board will sit with the capital improvements people (unclear who they are) in county to decide who to spend it. The $58 million in QSCAB bonds that the federal government will issue to us at very low interest rates. (We have no money to pay them back currently.)

--Outsourcing: Turk (him again!) is working with Tyson to look at how to outsource CO duties (examples included maintenance, operations, transportation, food services). There are 3 or 4 firms in GA who do this, and they are researching them. One issue is that they know that people (who? Board member relatives?) are worried that this will displace a number of DCSS employees, but the word is that many of them get hired back by the outsourcer (after they pass a drug test and if they are found to be competent).

--Facilities & Operations: DCSS wants “Shared Leadership” in the months of September and October. “Shared Leadership is asking the community about redistricting and engaging us in solving the challenges about consolidation.” [Sounds like Jeff Dickerson might have helped write that one.]

In November DCSS will present to the BOE their “Shared” recommendations. That is when the BOE goes back to the community and presents the recommendations to the public and asks for further recommendations to go back to DCSS.

Then in February 2011, DCSS will make suggestions for redistricting and consolidation.

They are going to hire Dr. Humbolt and his company, who recently assisted St. Louis Missouri in redistricting and consolidation, to help in this process. [I haven’t googled him yet.] Along with Dr. Humbolt’s recommendations, DCSS will present their plan along with a STRONG marketing and PR plan. [I guess this is where Jeff Dickerson gets paid again.]

I don’t know if Dr. Humbolt’s company does this also, but Dr. Tyson stated that DCSS is going to hire a 3rd party company to analyze every school in the system. They will analyze the following for recommendations for SPLOST IV.
  • The existing school structure and buildings for age and future sustainability.
  • Buildings and Operations.
This will be part of DCSS’s “Local Facilities 2013-2017 plan.” Future renovations are based on a “Needs for proper learning environment basis.”

--2020 master facilities plan: it is now on the website. Another third party company will come in to look at every school to see needs from an engineering POV, and this will be the road map for (wait for it...) SPLOST IV!! [Sounds like they are creating a "wish list" for various constituencies to make them think they will get something].

--Remaining focus for her tenure: the new Super will need 3-5 years to fix all this. What she wants to focus on is the following:
  • Crisis management
  • New culture of DCSS, giving more power back to principals.
  • School consolidation/redistricting (she said it will happen, and she won't wait to do it).
  • Comprehensive policy revisions.
  • Budget
  • Teacher support and effectiveness
She stated that she wants to create a sense of “Principal Empowerment”. The majority of all principals have 5 or less years experience at that level.

At this point she introduced Gary Babst, the new internal auditor, and touted his experience with GM.

[I will add, in an entire hour of talking, she did not once mention academics, curriculum, or how to improve student achievement.]


Here is the Q&A:

Faye Andresen did not ask a question, but instead spoke to the importance of getting county business and political leaders together to counter a possible negative SACS report. She pointed out that we do not want to become another Clayton County, and we do not want our high school students to suffer the consequences.

A woman who identified herself as an Oak Grove/HMS parent said that parents want to know what they can do to help DCSS with their facility issues. Tyson responded that she will have DCSS work with every principal to set up meetings at the schools to present and discuss facilities issues (this sounds a lot like the old Need Assessment committees).

A high school student was there; it was difficult to hear him, but he had a specific personal question, and then he asked about why the Chamblee AYP transfers were put in the annex instead of at Chamblee proper. He also asked why the schools that were heavily renovated or built new did not make AYP, while the schools that made AYP are old and unrenovated (ah, the guilelessness of youth). On the latter, Tyson said that there is no correlation, that schools were renovated or built based solely on safety issues (!), and it was just ironic that it worked out the way it did. There is, she said, no relationship between physical plant and AYP. As to the Chamblee Annex issue, when she found out that over 200 students had chosen it as their first choice, she looked at the logistics and decided that it would be unsafe for the students. While the fire marshal approved the extra students, she said that it would be too difficult and unsafe to do class changes, get to lunch, and get to lockers with the extra bodies. She took full, personal responsibility for making this decision.

Shayna Steinfeld asked her to unbury the 2002 salary audit done by Dr. Brown's administration. It had been paid for but was never used. Tyson said she plans to look hard at CO salaries, and there will need to be a bridge between the '02 audit and a newer audit. She admitted the audit got buried, and said one should have been done every five years (meaning there should have been one in 2007).

Finally, someone asked her to please speak about academics, and how she intends to address student achievement. Tyson passed this question off to Morcease Beasley, head of instruction. He said there is a 7 step process on teaching and engaging. However, since it was not exactly clear what they were you will unfortunately not read about them here. The word "rigor" was used, though. Beasley said he would work with principals to ensure that teachers are ready to move students to "higher order" thinking skills in preparation for the coming national standards.

The last question was about why school starts to early in August, given that we are in financial straits and must spend a lot of money on A/C, expensive August gas, etc. Tyson said that this is an "age old" problem [editorial comment: an age in this case is about 10 years]. Savannah tried to do start after Labor Day for two years, and had to throw in the towel because the state would give no latitude in its testing window to accommodate them. So the metro calendars are held hostage to state testing windows, and it is up to the state (DOE? Legislature?) to change this.

Tyson wrapped up by admitting that communication between DCSS and parents is not good, and she said that once they get that fixed it will help with parent involvement. She admitted that they had offered the PR job to some people who turned it down because the salary was too low, so they are pursuing outsourcing that, instead.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Business leaders wary of DeKalb school troubles

Yesterday's AJC tells us that the business community is getting very nervous about DeKalb school system's tribulations.

With foreclosures and business closures already a problem for DeKalb County, threats to the school system’s accreditation are worrying business leaders and prompting them to get more involved.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is reviewing 2,500 pages of documents to address allegations of nepotism, conflict of interest, a questionable procurement process and shaky leadership in the school system.
On Monday, DeKalb County schools’ interim superintendent, Ramona Tyson, told about 120 business leaders that she is confident the district has addressed those concerns. But she was unable to reassure them that accreditation will remain intact for the state’s third-largest school district.
Tyson acknowledged that the school system -- one of the county's top three largest employers -- is struggling to meet federal academic standards, balance budget cuts and respond to ethics questions. That’s one of the reasons she changed the school system’s logo to no longer call the school system premier.
“We got work to do. The district’s premier logo was a beautiful logo, very uniquely designed, very colorful, looks good on paper,” she told the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce on Monday. “But we got to have the backup to be able to carry the name and we got work to do.”

Click here to read the article.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A bungle to Chamblee's charter?

Re: Thursday 8/19/2010, at Chamblee Charter High School's Curriculum Night and PTSA meeting

Robert Moseley of DCSS announced that of the 212 students scheduled to be placed at CCHS on Aug. 30, 2010, 108 were confirmed and would be sent to the Chamblee Charter High School Annex to be opened at the former Elizabeth Andrews High School, which also served as the Open School Campus on Mtn. Ind. Pkwy. These students will have an assistant principal who will report to CCHS principal, Rochelle Lowery, and a staff of teachers. They are to be assigned eight currently empty classrooms. They will have the option to receive transportation to CCHS main campus for extra-curricular activites in the afternoons. They are to be considered de facto CCHS students, taught by CCHS teachers.

CCHS is a charter school. Its charter establishes qualifying factors to allow for a student to attend CCHS. Resident high school students living in the CCHS school district may attend CCHS. To attend the DCSS Magnet Program for High Achievers consisting of Kittredge, Chamblee Middle School and CCHS, students are subject to qualifying GPAs, must submit applications on a timely basis as required by DCSS, and are then drawn from a lottery, which is held annually.

There is also a waiting list for seats distributed by this lottery. Students interested in attending the CCHS Magnet School for High Achievers who are not selected in lottery, must reapply annually. The CCHS Charter requires students who are DeKalb County residents and wish to attend CCHS to also be drawn by an annual lottery for any available spots.

The 212 students slated to be placed at CCHS's newly-formed Annex are not CCHS school district residents, are not Magnet school lottery participants, and have not been chosen in the CCHS lottery for DCSS wishing to attend CCHS.

One unfortunate effect of this decision by DCSS officials is that this is in direct violation of CCHS's Charter, and as such, may serve to disqualify CCHS's ability to qualify for grant money as a charter school. In addition, by not following the charter as approved by the State Board of Education, DCSS is, in effect, forcing CCHS to violate the terms of its charter.


Sent to the blog by Anonymous

A way to ‘Enspire’ better results on the SAT/ACT?

A play on words, Enspire is a non profit, student run organization that is seeking to eradicate poor performance on standardized test by offering FREE online test preparation services. Enspire is based in Atlanta with majority of the students in this organization attending Emory University. The group hopes to craft services that will outperform the costly programs of Kaplan and the like and help bright students without the financial resources demonstrate their true ability on the all-important SAT. The long term goal is to provide access for everyone. I understand outreach has been made to several DeKalb high schools to partner with this group for the beta program.

Enspire is working to secure funding to underwrite development costs through grants. One grant of $50,000 is offered by Pepsi Cola (hard to believe they would go to Pepsi given Emory is a Coca Cola school). The Pepsi Refresh Project provides money to fund great ideas. All it takes is for you to vote, indicating you think this is a good idea.

Take a look at the following websites about Enspire’s mission and the Pepsi Refresh Project. If you feel ‘enspired’ from what you read, consider voting for this project and passing the word along:

Information about Enspire:

Vote for Enspire:

You can vote everyday for this project!

Keeping tabs on the MIS move

I wanted to keep this information in its own post. Therefore, I've created a home for the input below from Sagamore7, posted in the commentary of the original article on the subject, called, The TRUE COST of moving the MIS data center.


This is what I have found out from McChesney today via phone and email conversations.

You have to go to the DCSS eboard to get the additional information that they have provided.

Click here for the link to the website for the meeting.

When you go to the webpage, scroll down the left hand side to G-17.
William Bradley Bryant Center Renovation. Once there go to the bottom of the page to supporting documents and you will see the excel spreadsheet for "WBBC Budget Reallocation".

This is where McChesney stated that the funds were already allocated for a WBBC renovation. [Editor: Total costs are $4,500,000 -- $1,000,000 was already allocated and the department asked for $3,500,000 more, from "Program Contingency"]. He was adamant about saying that these funds are not new funds be were already allocated to the renovation of WBBC. The board is not using new funds, but old funds.

That's what he said.

He did not understand my concern regarding the following requests for explanations for some of the line item expenditures regarding the proposed costs associated with the project. He just said the costs are normal and "Standard operating costs" with this kind of project.

I could tell that he was not too concerned with the same scrutiny that I seemed to give the project. I looked at the PDFs that are also on the supporting documents section of the renovation.

Here are a few of my concerns:

First of all the total cost of the project on the PDF is $5,090,870.
He said the cost projections that were given to him were not that high.
Well Don, this is what is published on the website for the public to scrutinize! Shouldn't this be the one that we are all using?

The current proposed increase of $3,500,000 plus the already allocated $1,000,000 would only bring the funding to $4,500,000. Still $590,870 short of what is projected. And they approved this?

Here comes the "Fine tooth comb" line item audit from the 2nd PDF of supporting documents, WBBC Presentation to BFFC. Pay attention as I go through the PDF.

Page 1. August 19th BOE Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee.

The move will include 10 staff members. Let me state this again, a TOTAL of 10 staff members. $5,090,870.

Page 4.

#1 Remove, store and return existing furn & furnishings. $40,000.
Refer back to here after reading item #12.

#2 Site Work $550,000 for 220 parking spaces with curbs and proper drainage? For 10 employees?

#3 Bldg and Site Concrete $5,000 for concrete curbs in parking lot. Didn't we just allocate $550,000 for parking spots with curbs?

#6 Rough and finish carpentry $50,000. Wood blocking, temporary doors/frames/hardware, countertops and wood trims.
It sounds reasonable.

#8 Doors/Frames/Hardware $31,192.
Doors, frames and hardware? Didn't we just allocate $50,000 for this? Or is temporary carpentry more expensive than the permanent carpentry? The answer was "SOP", standard operating procedure.

#9 Finishes $503,760. Includes drywall partitions, acoustic ceilings, carpet, VCT and rubber base, painting, cleaning and refinishing of Terrazzo walls.

I thought this was the specialty products for the data storage, climate controlled room where the computer servers are kept. WRONG! This is for the 10 employees! The data storage room is in addition to this $503,760.

Does anyone have acoustic ceilings or carpet in there school except for the library or music room?

Here is the fun part.

#10 Specialties $22,000. Like the $503,760 isn't special enough we include an additional $22,000 on window treatments, fire extinguishers and TOILET ACCESSORIES!!!!! What the hell is going on? These fire extinguishers are not for the data servers, that comes later, nor is it part of the fire safety sprinkler system that's been there since 1960, this is again for the 10 employees!!!!
Window treatments and TOILET ACCESSORIES???????? Wait until you see how much they allocated to upgrade the bathrooms!

#11 Appliances $2,500. Doesn't seem like a big number, but this is where parents and taxpayers feel the pain the most.

$2,500 for 1 refrigerator, 1 microwave oven and 1 water cooler for 10 employees. What are they thinking? If they don't already have one at the N. Decatur MIS department that they can bring with them then buy these for less than $600, not $2,500!!!!

#12 Furnishings $125,940. Where do they come up with this number?
41,980 square feet at $3 per square foot? That's where! Remember #1, $40,000 for remove, store and return existing furnishings? Why are we buying new furnishings is we are paying to remove, store and return existing furnishings? Why are we storing and returning existing furnishings if we are buying new furnishings?
For 10 employees?

#13 and #15 are for the actual data storage room. $62,970 each for a raised floor and a cooling unit for climate controls. Even the dry sprinkler for $41,000 if a fire breaks out in the data storage room. Didn't we allocate $22,000 earlier for fire extinguishers along with toilet accessories?

Speaking of toilet accessories, another item #15 that tried to sneak in.

#15 Plumbing $34,000 for bathroom upgrades. Now there are already 4 bathrooms, 18 toilets, 11 urinals, 14 sinks and 3 wheelchair accessible stalls. My elementary school is 50 years old this year and we are jumping for joy because we are actually getting new bathroom fixtures for the KIDS for the first time in 50 YEARS!!!! And they have budgeted $34,000 for bathroom upgrades for 10 employees?

That is just the "Fine tooth comb" small items. The rest of the budget is for the "Big Ticket" items that really cost some $$$$.
  • Just budgeted cost overruns and design and engineering fees are an additional $806,134.
  • Isn't this an existing building that we are moving to because it fits our needs? Why are they spending $544,978 on design and engineering fees?
  • That doesn't include the $450,000 in new equipment that is budgeted. What happened to the old equipment that we bought and are currently using at N. Decatur?
  • One last item that struck me was the $251,880 ($6 x 41,980 sq. ft.) for exterior windows and including demolition of existing.
  • What do interior square feet have to do with exterior windows? The only room that needs protection is the data storage room and that has NO windows!

What drives me crazy is this whole line item, cost estimate is total nonsense. I work in the finance industry, specifically financing for construction projects. There is not one single bank in America that would approve this type of projected costs. But our school board just did. This is a small construction project compared in scope to the larger projects. What do you think is happening on those projects? I, for one would like to see some accountability and transparency! If anyone wants me to look at anymore construction estimates, Cere knows where to find me.

Good night and may we find a solution soon. November 2!

Sagamore 7


We will be following the progress of this expenditure as well as others.

The TRUE COST of moving the MIS data center

Click on the images above to see or print a larger view.

We received this document showing the true cost of the proposed move of the MIS data center that the board is voting on today. When all is said and done, the cost of the move and required renovations alone is closer to $5 million.

Page one of the proposal to the board says,

"The Data Center is the last department to relocate from 3770 North Decatur Road. This group will move to the William Bradley Bryant Center with the rest of the Management Information System Department.

The move will include the following:
  • Ten staff members
  • Core telephone switch supporting telecom district wide
  • Two AS400's including all associated disk space, tape drives, printers, etc.
  • Multiple critical servers that support district wide applications such as PATS, Voicemail, etc.
  • Fiber infrastructure required to maintain the core backbone that supports 150 DeKalb County School system locations.
The functions supported from this location include, but not limited to, the following:
  • Payroll
  • Telecom
  • Student Information Systems
  • Accounts Payables, Accounts Receivables, Purchasing and other financial applications
  • Human Resource applications 
  • Warehouse applications supporting reordering for all school locations
  • Etc.
The renovation of the William Bradley Bryant center is required to provide adequate power, cooling and security. In addition, the fiber optic cable will be relocated to the Administrative and Instructional Complex (AIC) to maintain the redundancy and reliability of the wide area network.

Consolidation of Management Information System staff to one location will allow for improved manageability of all systems as well as improved efficiency and redundancy among staff.

The cost breakdown on page 3 states that $3 million goes to building improvements and $1.5 million to MIS (the additional $329,000 is proposed for exterior repair, painting and window glazing. There is apparently a current budget allocation of $1 million and the department is asking for the remaining $3.5 million from SPLOST "Program Contingency" funds now totaling between $35-40 million due to cost savings on SPLOST 3 projects.

Friday, September 10, 2010

DeKalb Watch Needs Assessment List

Here we go.  This post is only here to collect a laundry list of the needs we have in our children's schools.  Feel free to list your school's name and the need for maintenance, construction or technology that you have had for a long time.  Has anything been promised to your school? If so, has any part of that promise been delivered?

Let's hear it.

The mad dash for the SPLOST cash

Check out item F-17 on the agenda for the board's business meeting this Monday evening, September 13:

17. William Bradley Bryant Center (WBBC) Renovation Approval
Presented by: Ms. Barbara M. Colman, Interim CIP Operations Officer

Exactly what is going on here? This is a newly listed project slated to be completed using some of the "savings" from SPLOST 3 projects that Ms. Colman refers to as "contingency" funds. This is a pet project of Ms. Tyson's. She is quoted as saying that she has been trying to get this project done for years, having done "cartwheels" and "backflips" to no avail. But now - she is in charge and her favorite project has cut to the front of the line. This project was never, ever mentioned or listed anywhere on any SPLOST budget or promotional brochure before voting. I am under the impression that the school board, by law, must use the sales tax dollars as promised - am I wrong? Who keeps changing the rules?

Ms. Tyson stated at the Dunwoody-Chamblee Parent Council meeting that the newly "found" $40 million in cost savings from under-budget SPLOST 3 programs will be allocated for projects by "her and the board". After that, she joked that "the hands went up!" What?! This is not a free for all. And this is certainly no joke. We've had a lengthy list of "needs" for a very VERY long time. This is not random money suddenly available to be used for those in power's favorite projects! This money should be put back into the till to address the very next SCHOOL project waiting patiently in this very long line. Students and their teachers should remain first and foremost on the priority list when identifying how to spend this money.

Ms. Tyson actually went on to state that she hoped everyone would vote for a SPLOST 4 because we still have so much need. She reiterated that in 2006, we identified almost $2 Billion of need in our school buildings - which we have collected $533 million of SPLOST 3 dollars for thus far to add to SPLOSTs 1&2. She even ticked off a laundry list of "needs" like roofs, HVAC, paint, carpeting, computers, windows and other major areas of deterioration. Then, I must ask, how can she disengage from the fact that she is cutting in line for this money—money that voters taxed on themselves for promised school renovations—in order to fund her own special, long-desired project at her own WBBC? I hope she will at least go around to the schools with the leaking roofs, mold, mildew, broken toilets and stairs and personally explain to them how she came to decide that the money their community paid in taxes to fix their buildings is now instead, going to fund some big data storage facility - because she wanted it!

If SPLOST proves such a temptation that even Ramona Tyson has fallen victim to wielding her power in order to grab her own personal handful of cash for her own department (that she is supposed to return to after her stint as interim super) then perhaps SPLOST has been the nail in our coffin. This school board has taken an initiative that could have profoundly impacted our children and brought magnificent change to our facilities and instead, so far, they have squandered much of it, and used it to sink us faster and deeper to the bottom. This board cannot be trusted with anymore SPLOST funds and I will personally not be supporting a SPLOST 4 in the future.

Color me disappointed, but SPLOST clearly represents the "love of money" and provides an irresistible temptation to hoard, squander, misuse, and abuse the hard-earned tax dollars of the everyday, trusting people of DeKalb. We have two top dogs under indictment proving so - costing taxpayers dearly in legal fees - both at the school level and the county level.

No more SPLOST.


UPDATE: Ok, so I went to the trouble of reviewing the board meeting online. Here's what I found out -

The "move" of the data storage from building A to the WBBC will cost $3.5 million.

We have NO IDEA why this was not moved waaaay back when the rest of building A was moved. (I will assume here that this is how they were able to spend SO much money on the new digs at Mtn Industrial - they didn't spend any money to move the entire data dept.)

So, with apologies to Ms Tyson, I get what she said now - which she couched as "saying as delicately as possible". She pleaded with everyone when the original move was done to include moving the data system - and she was completely ignored. (That would be by Dr Lewis, Pat Pope and the Board of Education I assume.)

So now, instead of having responsibly spent their allotment for moving building A by moving ALL of building A (and instead moving their own offices to plush new digs complete with $2,000 chairs), we have no choice but to go back and spend an additional $3.5 million to complete the move that should have been completed when the rest of the building was moved. (The data department is the only department left in the building.)

And yes, this money is coming out of SPLOST 3 funds -- funds that voters approved to be used as promoted very hard before the vote -- to upgrade our school buildings, HVAC, roofs, etc, as listed. As these projects have come in under budget due to lower construction costs, the unspent money goes into a large fund called "Program Contingency" (as opposed to 'project contingencies' which exist for unexpected cost overruns on each project).

The board is supposed to go on a retreat to decide how to spend this "Program Contingency" fund of $35-40 million or more. I would sincerely hope that they take the original list of promises along and fulfill as many of those as possible first and foremost.  Amid this money grab, the Chamblee High School community is reeling from the news that their project has been put 'on hold' and that 'if' there is a SPLOST 4, they may see construction in 2015. Is that fair?

I don't think it's fair that this WBBC project was allowed to dip into the Project Contingency funds when no one else could - they all have to wait until the board decides at the retreat. (I would have encouraged the board at this retreat to consider outsourcing all of the data storage.) I would have hoped that this data department move to the WBBC should have at least been part of those retreat discussions and competed for placement right alongside the list of projects like unfinished roofs, HVAC, classroom technology, renovation and restroom projects in our many needy school buildings.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

DeKalb County School Closures and Redistricting are coming and listen to Board Member Sarah Copelin-Wood argue at the inequities.

Last week Ms. Ramona Tyson, Interim Superintendent of the DeKalb County School System informed those attending the Dunwoody Chamblee Parents Council that a number of schools in the central and south parts of DeKalb County are severely underpopulated, which means the district is spending more money to keep them up and running. Due to this and over population in the northern part of the county, Ms. Tyson said that redistricting and consolidation is a must for the entire district. She stated that numerous community meetings on the subject are in our future.

I was provided a DVD of the BOE meeting of August 27th and after viewing I decided to highlight Board Member, Ms. Sarah Copelin-Woods closing comments berating the data being used for future consolidation, the staff member providing it, as well as the process in moving forward. In my opinion, Ms. Woods seems a little out of touch in this 20 minute tirade (broken into two parts) where she not only publicly berates a single staffer, she openly states that she is willing to provide tit for tat on wasting our tax money as long as she gets hers. The comments in video 1 at 8:58, when she states "Fellow Board Members, I always voted for your schools, whatever it is. If you wanted a Taj Mahal out there with parking decks ..." is clearly a disgrace.

We deserve better.

Video of first half of comments.

2nd half with Ramona Tyson response.