Thursday, February 3, 2011

An open letter to board members (Re: SPLOST)

Now in the midst of major redistricting, a superintendent search, a SACS audit and the worst budget crisis to come along in years, I want to warn the board not to become lax in SPLOST III decisions. Between the padded construction budgets, canceled projects and a crash in the building market, DCSS finds it has extra SPLOST money to spend. It is a wonderful position to be in but it could backfire if priorities are not well defined and transparent.

First, SPLOSTSpecial Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (1 cent/dollar) is a contract between the voters of the county and the school system. The voters agreed to pay an extra one cent on the dollar for five years to fund projects the system proposes and contracts to implement. Funds may not be used for operating expenses. Changes in spending, if necessary, may be made by the board. The only effective means of contract enforcement, that I am aware of, is a citizen lawsuit against the county entity. SACS will not judge, neither will the state.

Historically the DCSS board has a poor track record in managing SPLOST funds.

SPLOST I provided much needed new schools in a burgeoning south DeKalb. Things went pretty smoothly during those first five years. SPLOST II was, in my opinion, a train wreck. In a competitive and adversarial way, the board voted to commit more funds than were forecast to be collected. The administration opted for a sleight of hand called “above & below the line” funding and the interesting concept of allocating maybe 80% of a schools needs assessment.

SPLOST II resulted in the tax payers paying for two audits, a confusion of who was getting what and a scatter-shot approach to capital improvements. There was never a reference to the legal contract nor was it ever used as a framework. Mismanagement has resulted in the DeKalb taxpayers holding a very expensive lottery ticket. We are still waiting for the Heery-Mitchell lawsuit to land on our number and produce a big pay-out. So far the balls are still spinning in air and the years are beginning to pass.

Most notably in SPLOST II, the administration failed to produce a vision of goals and priorities. . Elected official failed to provide effective oversight. (Many couldn’t/didn’t even read the spreadsheets) Millions were spend on Career Tech additions but the instructional pieces were ignored. Demographic reports were paid for and ignored. Pet projects & partisan politics seem to govern numerous allocations.

My personal last straw was when I asked for proof of how Columbia High School could possibly be slated for a $25M priority renovation-completion in SPLOST III because I could find no minutes showing a complete renovation had ever been approved in the first place. My requests for proof of the allocation were ignored by all. The board voted to approve the Capital Improvement Plan we know today. As it turns out the board-condoned “deferred-work” was a canary in the mine of alleged illegal activities uncovered last spring.

All this is history, but the discussion during a fall Called Board Meeting concerns me. The discussion of how best to allocate $30+ million in surplus SPLOST III funds was unfocused and lax in determining real needs. Thirty million may not go far in meeting the needs of our school system but I’ll be darned if I want it to go to pet projects, done deals or used to buy votes. We’ve been down that road.

There are new faces on the board. We need new actions when it comes to the very big pile of money we call SPLOST. Images are tarnished; trust is nonexistent, challenges abound and the board is over-worked but if you want a SPLOST IV then please, be very honest & transparent in dealing with the last of the SPLOST III funds. Please demonstrate priority need and an over-arching goal.

The last thing this school system needs is additional litigation.

Most respectfully,

Faye Andresen


Anonymous said... insightful piece but we would like to comment on this particular sentence you penned:

"We are still waiting for the Heery-Mitchell lawsuit to land on our number and produce a big pay-out."

Our concern is, even in the event DeKalb County et. al, should prevail in our lawsuit against Heery-Mitchell, there is no guarentee we would ever see a dime.

This case could be litigated from now until Splost "infinity" and the only parties benefiting would be the legal teams.

Even if HM chose not to appeal, more than one company has opted for bankruptcy and reorginization to escape the burden of monetary obligations.


Jim Bohica and Ben Dover

Cerebration said...

Jim, good observation, however, this was written by Faye Andresen and I think she meant that comment "tongue in cheek" - as in, we're counting on what basically amounts to a game of chance. It ain't gonna happen. I got in trouble for saying this once before, but the best outcome I think we can hope for in this Heery-Mitchell lawsuit is to be awarded enough to cover our attorney's fees.

Why oh why the board agreed to let Dr Lewis pay $3.6 million for a study to determine if to countersue the Heery-Mitchell claim (which is reported as having been between one-half and 1.5 million) is beyond me. Then, to continue to fund the legal case (with no trial date on the horizon) to the tune of a minimum of $15 million so far is simply outrageous.

Cerebration said...

Faye was on the SPLOST 2 oversight committee and is an expert on the SPLOST budgets. Also as former president of the Emory-Lavista Parent Council, she has a long history of promoting what's good in DeKalb Schools.

The point of this piece is to warn the board to tread carefully when spending the remaining SPLOST 3 dollars. The big, exciting news is that due to cost savings, there will be a surplus of somewhere around $30 million in SPLOST 3. Already, our board members have been discussing how to spend this money. SPLOST 3 has a list of priorities, created from the Needs Assessments conducted a long time ago. Many schools have been waiting a very long time for their promised projects. I would hope the board would honor that list. However, we're hearing that certain promises may have been made to spend money on certain special projects that were never on the SPLOST priority list - or in fact, never even proposed to be. This is the warning Faye is sending. If the board goes outside of the public promises and spends the newfound extra funds on new projects—effectively skipping over those who have been waiting in line for a very long time, they could find themselves in yet another legal challenge.

Anonymous said...

Not sure who you are Faye, but PLEASE RUN FOR BOE!

Anonymous said...

Faye is a brilliant, prepared public school advocated who has worked tirelessly AND RESPECTFULLY to wrestle the BoE and administrators into following appropriate accounting and project approval procedures. For that, certain BoE members managed to dissolve the original SPLOST oversight committee and attempted to paint her as a nut job with a racial agenda. Faye knows more about the financials of this school district than the Comptroller. The sidelining of Faye and oversight committee was an early sign of the corruption that we have suffered since. But no one was paying attention. Go Faye. We are so grateful for your hard work.

Anonymous said...

"Why oh why the board agreed to let Dr Lewis pay $3.6 million for a study to determine if to countersue the Heery-Mitchell claim (which is reported as having been between one-half and 1.5 million) is beyond me. Then, to continue to fund the legal case (with no trial date on the horizon) to the tune of a minimum of $15 million so far is simply outrageous."

Cere my best guess is that CLewis and Pat Reid/Pope knew that if HM could blow the lid off of their scheming ways before CLewless stuck his foot in his mouth at the DA's office.

The BOE appeared to be intimidated by Pope and Lewis...I have been strong armed by theose two bullies before and you'll would be amazed at how unethical and unprofessional Pope and Lewis are when whistleblowers begin so speak. They make threats in the presence of the director of HR and other members of their corrupt cabinent...Now everyone is backpeddling trying to save their own hyde. They should all be made to stand trial for displaying character detremental to an educational system.
Some of these same BOE members allowed this to happen and I just don't understand how anyone could have re-elected them. Were there no other qualified/worthy opponents to run against them? For this reason alone SACS should hold their feet to the fire until their boots are smoking...taxpayers, parents and students in DCSS deserve so much better than they have received and so does an employee who shows up for work everyday to educate the future of this county, state and country..jmo

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the lottery and gambling, that is exactly what Crawford Lewis and gang did with our money. He was betting that the Heery-Mitchell case would settle (with a big multi-million dollar payout) before the Pat Reid/Pope debacle made the front page of the AJC. If "big" money was in the bank--he would have looked like a hero and could have worked on the side to get rid of Pat Reid/Pope and friends. The taxpayers are waiting on these trials to begin. It is time to cut our losses with the Heery-Mitchell group. We will never recoup the dollars already wasted. And, we continue to wait to see who gets thrown under the bus first when Crawford Lewis and Pat Reid/Pope go to trial. In the meantime, every dollar spent on lawyers is a dollar less for the classsroom and the students.

Anonymous said...

Off-Topic, but RELEVANT, please real DEKALB CHAMPION article FROM 1/28/11 "Financial Problems Plague School Board Member"

Julie said...

Does anyone know if Monday's board meeting will be televised?

Cerebration said...

Jay is a financial train wreck and his many lawsuits and financial woes put him at risk of being bribed or otherwise intimidated as a member of DeKalb school board. Not to mention, he is obviously totally incompetent with money (and an admitted thief), yet as a member of the board, he oversees a BILLION dollar a year budget!

A county school board member who was elected to oversee billion-dollar school budgets has been having problems minding his own business. According to court records, DeKalb County Board of Education member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham has at least 15 open court cases against him—most of which involve payroll garnishments to pay creditors. Of the cases, four were filed between 2002 and 2007, five in 2008, one in 2009 and fi ve last year. In addition, there are seven cases involving Cunningham that are listed as “closed.” The garnishments in the open cases exceed $173,000. Records show that his board member check has been garnished by Ford Motor Credit in seven of the open cases. As a board member, Cunningham is paid $23,400. Other organizations bringing garnishments against Cunningham last year include Delek US Holdings and Mapco Express. Delek is the parent company of Mapco Express, a convenience store. Money from these checks has gone to pay garnishments by Georgia Receivables, a collection agency attempting to settle a debt from Nice Cars
Inc. In March 2008, Stonecrest Promenade Shopping
Center in Lithonia went to state court to ask Cunningham’s business at the time, Zo’s Pizza, to leave. . . .

About a week before the election, it was reported that Cunningham was convicted in 1982 of stealing $12,500 in bank deposits from a Decatur McDonald’s fast food restaurant where he was a store manager.

Anonymous said...

And he is a bully --

Anyone wonder why Arabia Mountain isn't included in the redistricting and consolidation plan?

If Arabia Mt. isn't converted to a neighborhood school, additions that aren't really necessary to other schools will be required.

Anonymous said...

If the Board expects any taxpayer to vote for SPLOST IV they need to proceed with the utmost transparancy. Let's not have another debacle like the outrageous amounts of money to renovate/create the Palace. The SPLOST III list never clearly identified this project as building plush, new administrative offices. If I recall correctly there was money listed under the category of "high schools" but it was not obvious to the voters that this was not being spent on a traditional high school project.

And the administrative offices should have gotten in line behind the school construction; instead it jumped to the front.

Anonymous said...

I thought that at an earlier BOE meeting that Mr Redovian had gotten the BOE to agree to spend the $30 million, plus more,on the new Chamblee HS. Mr Turk threatened that if SPLOST IV was not passed to get the "more", that taxpayers would lose some type of a homeowners exemption, that I have not yet been able to find.

As of yesterday's ruling of the Federal District Court, the Heery/Mitchell case has been sent back to the State Court whose last ruling was that H/M had the right to sue 17 other (presently unnamed) individuals (probably associated with DCSS?). Look for DCSS to try to stall this off even further if any of they 17 are/were BOE members or are/were in the administration.
IMHO the move to transfer the case to the Federal Court was to try to protect the 17.

Mr Bowen mouths off "justice delayed is justice denied." But he caused the delay by trying to get the case transferred. I can hardly wait for the 17 to be identified. Look out for a DCSS cave-in settlement before H/M sues the 17? H/M has got good momentum going for it. DCSS should hire one of the firms that advertise on TV on a contingency basis.

Cerebration said...

Two resources to support your post -

First the AJC reported on the possibility of 17 people being sued -

On Tuesday, a federal judge granted the company’s request to send the case back to DeKalb County Superior Court, where it originated. In November, the school system had the case moved to federal court in an effort to circumvent DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger's decision to enable Heery/Mitchell to sue 17 individuals, in addition to the school system.

As it stands, the district will have to pay for its own legal bills and provide lawyers for those 17 individuals, including Lewis, former chief operating officer Patricia Reid and members of the 2006 school board.

The school system already has spent more than $15.5 million in trial preparation for the suit. The judge's decision could cost several more million dollars, board chairman Tom Bowen said.

And the construction money you speak of are from 2 different sources. SPLOST is a penny sales tax paid in DeKalb county specifically for school construction (can not be used for general operations) and second, the money that the board voted to spend on a new Chamblee HIgh school is an interest-free bond, offered by the federal government called QSCB - Qualified school Construction Bond – issued to 100 largest school districts in Nation; can be used for construction, rehabilitation, repair or to acquire new land... This is BORROWED money that must be repaid (but interest free).

DeKalb parent writes about this and the fall called meeting Faye speaks about here --

Wyndy Amerson said...

Faye is wonderful. She has done a great job in trying to hold the BOE's feet to the fire and get them to spend our money for the best outcome of our county. The BOE is short-sighted and hired the wrong people. They should listen to Faye. Maybe they will finally see the "history" of their past mistakes and realize that Faye is right and those on the board who tried to discredit her were wrong.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of Copelin-Woods, none of the current board was around when Heery Mitchell was employed.

Anonymous said...

The way we're going it will be time for the Governor to step in and that notion scares the heck out of me.

Anonymous said...

please write to the governor and state school sperintendant if you're interested in them taking over the system... don't just assume they know how you feel... see the blog post on how to take action.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 1:54 - The new building for Chamblee Charter High School will be paid for by $11 million in SPLOST 3 funds and approximately $58 million in federal Quality School Construction Bonds.

The SPLOST 3 money was originally for a Career Tech addition at CCHS. When the architects did a preliminary review of the facility as part of that project they concluded that the building condition was so bad that it needed to be replaced.

Chamblee Charter High School is not in line for the $30 million in surplus SPLOST 3 funds.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what the vote count was in the last SPLOST election? I feel the voters are facing a stacked deck with a solo election. The election can be easily swayed by a block vote of DCSS employees who will benefit from any fiscal improvements. The playing field would be equal if it was held in a general election in Novemeber.

Ella Smith said...

The voters are going to be more careful and they are watching what is happening now. I could not agree more. SPLOST IV will have a harder time being past that the SPLOST penny sale tax in the past.

Great job Faye!

Anonymous said...

Too bad we can't just"pick up Arabic Mountain Environmental School" and drop it off in North Dekalb next to Chamblee, Lakeside or Dunwoody. Bet you would be able to hear a pin drop on the floor.

Anonymous said...

If you are a property owner it is better to pass splost than loose the property tax discount provided when splost is in place.

Anonymous said...

$30 million left over when some of the projects under SPLOST III were incomplete, shoddily done, and money left on the table. And principals intimidated into not complaining about this.
I'd like the money spent to finish projects in the way they needed to be done. I.E. Avondale High School and DSA. I'm sure there are others.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for the Cobb County Schools and they have an excellent SPLOST process and very equitable way of making sure all schools get their fair due! I suggest DeKalb take a look at their model if we do get another SPLOST.

Anonymous said...

Except for the whole laptop thing. Or is the process what Cobb put in place afterward.

DaeQuan said...

I for one, do not trust the school board to do the right thing. Some of us in District 5 did not vote for Jay. $30 million will go "poof", just watch.

Paula Caldarella said...

We've heard "rumblings" that the $30 million is headed for Coralwood.

However, if one looks at the list of constructions "priorities" that DCSS has on file with the GADOE, Coralwood is $122 indicating an amount of $461,010 in Local Construction funds and $0 for Renovations and Modification. If I recall Lynn Jackson's presentation correctly, any changes to this list have to be approved by the BOE and then submitted to GADOE. Now, do changes mean an "upgrade" in Priorities and Needs?

The list of DCSS Construction Priorities can be found starting on page 10 of this link:

Cerebration said...

Good resource, DM. Coralwood also only serves 3-5 year olds. As far as I know only kindergartners receive FTE credit from the state - the rest are totally locally funded. As I understand it, if you have FTE (students who count for funding) in a building, then the available seats in that building count against you. However, if you make it a "center" or a "Pre-K Academy" the available seats don't harm the count for the rest of the county.

Additionally, about $13 million would complete a renovation at Henderson Middle which currently has 1476 students and is projected to have at least that many in 2011 – pending redistricting. I concur Coralwood is a great school but it has received $2.7 million in renovations already in SPLOST II in 2004, it serves 209 three – five year olds (not the age a typical school system is even charged with serving) and only 90 of those are special needs – the rest are 3-5 yr. olds- regular ed selected in a lottery… $15 million for 209 students?? when other schools don’t have the basics…and the elementary schools and middle schools those special needs kids go to – like Henderson – won’t have the basic ADA features to serve them when they get there? That's not logical.

Anonymous said...

So what is the source of Coralwood's power? Anyone know?

Paula Caldarella said...

Henderson MS has just be forgotten for some reason. It is the largest MS in DCSS and being a former High School, I can only imagine the work it needs.

Yes, I would hope some of that $30 million goes to HMS.

Anonymous said...

Dunwoody mom

It looks good on paper but priorities are changed in the back room executive session deals.

Anonymous said...

Coralwood to receive 12M?

Coralwood does wonderful work and has an active and sucessful foundation - the type of fund raising any local school could envy.

It has appeared several times in discussion, e-mails and printed materials as getting a 12M addition. At least the following gives a strong appearance of expectation:

- August 27th called mtg:
Paul Womack inquires about funds available to expand Coralwood and Don McChesney supports any way funds could be identified to support an addition.

- Oct 6th summary notes:
Womack –put in a plug for providing Coralwood with the additional money they need because they are a great program. McChesney – also supported Coralwood
In fact most board members expressed support for Coralwood funding

- Coralwood Foundation includes in its Master Plan:
Working with DeKalb county and the selected architectural firm to complete architectural drawings for the new building

-And....from SCORe e-mail-- please allow for misinformation & misunderstanding:
"In terms of space at Coralwood, it might be tricky, but there might be away even for next year. And, as soon as the Coralwood addition is done ($12Million of SPLOST 3 leftover funds have been awarded to Coralwood for addition)"

-Again, from the Foundation's web-site
Currently, we are partnering with the DeKalb County School System and R.L. Brown & Associates in the design phase of the new building which will include, among other things, expanded therapy space, an enhanced media center and computer lab, additional classrooms and bathrooms and a larger clinic.

DeKalb School System should be saluted for its support of such a wonderful and renown center. It is a center offering an opportunity for Special-ed pre-schoolers to learn alongside typical children. Presently over half of the 290 children have special needs.

A woderful program ...
BUT -- what's going on here? This has a very STALE odor. New board, old ways?

Paula Caldarella said...

You're right - the Coralwood issue does not pass the "smell test".

Where was it discussed that Coralwood would receive this money? I have yet to see this appears on any BOE agenda? Did I miss something? The entire board doesn't have to vote on this in a Open Meeting?

Anonymous said...

"Currently, we are partnering with the DeKalb County School System and R.L. Brown & Associates in the design phase of the new building which will include, among other things, expanded therapy space, an enhanced media center and computer lab, additional classrooms and bathrooms and a larger clinic."

Robert L. Brown, former chair of the Grady Hospital Board when it almost went bankrupt, is a Director Emiritus of the DeKalb County Public Schools Foundation.

Conflict of interest? Inside dealings?

Robert Brown was also the architect of the SW DeKalb High addition that started out at $9 million and ended up costing taxpayers $21 million.

Robert Brown is a major DeKalb insider who generates business not because of his firm's qualifications, but because of his political connections.

It's the same old, same old with the Bowen/Tyson crowd as it was with Crawford Lewis and Pat Pope.

Anonymous said...

Robert Brown is also in tight with the Leadership DeKalb crwod.

Anonymous said...

I have figured out why HMS has not received any renovations in the last forty years. The county is holding them back. They score just the same or higher on the CRCT than Chamblee. Isn't Chamblee the "magnet" school that everyone holds higher anyone else?

Think about how much HMS would improve with a real science lab, or updated computers for students. How about a real library for the students Also, TV's that could actually be used in the classroom. They have the biggest fine arts department in the whole county. INCLUDING high schools. Could you imagine what the chorus, orchestra, and band
would sound like if they had an actual room to rehearse in? Proper sound equipment to record and play back what the students sound like.

The county is holding HMS back for a reason. They do not want them to leave the rest of the county back in their dust.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Faye, you rock.

My son was at Coralwood for two years, pre-K and K back in 2000 or so. Right after the former principal, Mrs. Rice, left, is about when the foundation was formed, Driver's Ed. was moved from the campus, and the renovations/additions started. It looks great now compared to when we were there. Why do they need 15 or 30 million more??

As far as the county holding Henderson Middle back, I'd say the same thing regarding Lakeside.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 5:18pm

I agree. Coralwood is in very good shape.

Anonymous said...

Hey citizen school leaders out there (The Marshall Orson's, the Faye Andresen's, the Amy Powers', the Kom Gokce's, the Ernest Brown's, etc.):

We all need to DEMAND that the BOE posts meeting minutes online again. They did so through July 2010, and just stopped. This is blatantly unethical, if not possibly illegal.

The Ramona Tyson-led Central Office is intentionally or unintentionally stonewalling parents and taxpayers by failing to post the meeting minutes of every BOE meeting.

C'mon Jeff Dickerson and Walter Woods, how come y'all are suppressing information instead of releasing it?

Ella, since you're such a big supporter of Tom Bowen, how 'bout calling him and asking him why, as leader of the Board of Education, he is allowing the Tyson Central Office to hide important information from the public.

We should have to ask the DeKalb Delgation to help us with this, but we are.

This has to stop, right now.