Sunday, June 5, 2011

A True Kleptocracy: The Children Be Damned!

The letter below was sent to the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) Board of Education (BOE) members and Ramona Tyson – and unnamed others – on Thursday, June 2, 2011. The letter was a team effort by knowledgeable, regular editorial contributors to DeKalb School Watch.
  • This letter is pertinent on a number of levels – the most important being it is another documentation of DCSS’s wasteful, ineffective spending to support a friends-and-family jobs program with no discernible return on investment (ROI).
  • This letter about wasteful, ineffective spending is especially timely because the upcoming Monday, June 6, 2011 BOE meeting includes a vote on the SPLOST IV resolution.
  • This letter was sent with a clear subject line: Title I Funding and Non-performance Issues.
Yet the only BOE member who has opened the e-mail as of 3:30 PM today (Sunday, June 5, 2011) is Nancy Jester. Ms. Jester opened the e-mail on Thursday, June 2, 2011 – the same day it was sent. Ramona Tyson has not opened the e-mail, either.

We know this because this e-mail was sent to Tyson and the BOE members using ReadNotify – certified e-mail with delivery receipts. With ReadNotify, we know, among other things, when the e-mail was opened and for how long.

The determination to maintain status quo at all costs ... the repeated non-action in the face of well-documented and reasonable requests ... and Tyson's and the BOE's intentional disregard of communications from taxpayers clearly demonstrates that the DeKalb County School System is a true kleptocracy:government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed.” This word is from ancient Greek – κλέπτης (thief) and κράτος (rule) – and the definition is found online in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The Letter:

Members of the DeKalb County School System Board of Education and Ms. Tyson:
DeKalb County School System (DCSS) parents are demanding student achievement improvement. You can build new schools, close and consolidate schools and sign on to a plethora of "programs" all day long, but DCSS Title 1 students continue to lose ground when compared to their peers in the metro area.
Editorial contributors to the DeKalb School Watch Blog who have the knowledge and experience to research the topic of student improvement, have published the following on that blog:

DCSS received $128,000,000 in total federal funding last year (2009-2010).
This includes the stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), as well as some other federal funding. The lion's share of these dollars is distributed to and managed by the DCSS Office of School Improvement which serves Title 1 schools. Almost all federal funds are targeted to Title 1 schools. Even AYP student transfers (and thus NCLB sanctions/penalties) are only for Title 1 schools although non-Title 1 schools must be receiver schools to Title 1 school students who do not meet AYP. In other words, the transfers only work one way. The penalty is that you will lose federal funding if you don't offer transfers, tutoring, etc. to Title 1 school students who don't make AYP. The reason DCSS got $128,000,000 ($50,000,000+ in Title 1 funding and the rest in other federal funding - much of that being ARRA and the upcoming RTT) is that we have so many Title 1 schools. The decisions for spending that money are made by Audria Berry in the Office of School Improvement, creating a center of power and patronage. Many non-teaching highly paid and highly placed and connected teachers depend on Ms. Berry's decisions regarding their programs and their continued employment. The Office of School Improvement exists for the academic improvement of Title 1 schools and for the benefit of students in those schools. The few non-Title 1 schools in DCSS are served by the regular curriculum directors who report to Morcease Beasley. This is why the decisions on $128,000,000 made for Title 1 schools' academic improvement are so critical. This was an enormous part of the DCSS budget (14%) last year. Ms. Berry has held this position or that of Title 1 Director since Crawford Lewis came into office in 2004. Her decisions on the hundreds of millions of federal dollars have resulted in the DECLINE of DCSS Title 1 schools making AYP (lowest percentage in metro Atlanta). Ms. Berry has had SEVEN YEARS and HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of federal dollars in funds to improve the number of Title 1 schools making adequate yearly progress. DCSS Title 1 school students deserve better and they deserve a change in leadership. Sources:
Go to the state weblink below, drop down to choose DeKalb and then click the Revenue button:
DCSS Title I schools are not making adequate yearly progress at the rates of EVERY other metro school system. More importantly, the percent of Title I schools making adequate yearly progress (AYP) dropped from 80+% in 2008-2009 to only 50+% making adequate yearly progress in 2009-2010. For example, Clayton, Gwinnett, etc. had almost the same percent of Title I making adequate yearly progress in 2008-2009 (80+%) BEFORE and 2009-2010 (80+%) AFTER strict test monitoring. 100% of Clayton's schools are Title I. ALL of the metro area schools take the SAME tests and are under the SAME rules for Title I expenditure of funds. This is not a question of legality (although the precipitous drop in schools making AYP proved so in APS). This is a question of competence. Title I and federal funds allocated to personnel and programs should be moving Title I schools forward, not backwards, in making adequate yearly progress. When the DCSS Title I schools (BEFORE strict monitoring) were making adequate yearly progress, the Office of School Improvement was taking the credit. Now that we have strict test monitoring, and we can see in reality how many Title I schools are NOT making adequate yearly progress, the Office of School Improvement must take the blame and be held accountable for a lack of student progress that is commensurate with the other metro systems. There are many ways to meet Title 1 guidelines. Ms. Berry has chosen to meet the guidelines by filling the schools with highly paid non-teaching personnel and purchasing expensive learning programs. For example, she could use paraprofessionals or part-time retired teachers to staff the Parent Centers freeing up more money for direct instruction personnel. She could be allocating more staff development decisions to the local schools who could then contract with educational experts that customize staff development to each school's particular need(s). There are many ways to meet the guidelines. The ways Ms. Berry is choosing are NOT producing the results other systems are getting. Here are the links to see for yourselves what's happening in Title I schools. The superintendent and the BOE need to be take a serious look at this data: DCSS Title I 2008-2009 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status) BEFORE strict monitoring of tests: DCSS Title I 2009-2010 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)AFTER strict monitoring of tests: Clayton Schools Title I 2008-2009 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)BEFORE strict monitoring of tests: Clayton Schools Title I 2009-2010 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)AFTER strict monitoring of tests: Gwinnett Schools Title I 2009-2010 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)BEFORE strict monitoring of tests: Gwinnett Schools Title I 2010-2011 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)AFTER strict monitoring of tests: DCSS taxpayers want results, not excuses. Title I schools and their teachers and students deserve better.
Please take this information to heart and use it to RELEASE the leadership in the "Office of School Improvement", clearing the way for DCSS' new superintendent to create a stronger, more effective, more reliable pathway to student improvement.
Thank you for your time and attention to this critical matter affecting the futures of tens of thousands of children.


Anonymous said...

Cereb Another great effort that is factually supported. That only Nancy has opened the e-mail does not surprise me. Do you really think that Ramona cares?

I suggest that when you send e-mails like that to Ramona and/or the BOE that you also send copies to the AJC reporters that cover DCSS. Show it on the email to the BOE. This might better get the attention of Ramona and the BOE members to think that a reporter might be asking them questions on the subject.

Megan Matteuci, who did really great work, no longer seems to be with AJC. I think that there are two reporters currently assigned to DCSS. These are April Hunt and Jaime SERRIO (sp?), Try and j (correct spelling)

Jo Newman Russler said...

Sandy - as usual, your research is thorough and on-point. As a lot of this money that is being misspent, if not downright stolen, is federal money, is it time to try once again to get the US Attorney's Office involved. One can hardly call this "chumpchange." It far surpasses the per pupil funding embezzlement issues we have raised before. Also, does anyone know what has become of the AJC reporter, Jeff Eberly, that seemed so interested in our DCSS tales of woe?

Cerebration said...

I think you mean Tim Eberly and I think he went back to his Gwinnett beat (he was borrowed for a while...) I have a feeling he'll be back if and when these trials begin.

I do find it interesting that Tyson and the board seem so hyper-focused on buildings and rearranging "seats" yet they will not hold the people responsible for the poor performing schools feet to the fire. Tyson hasn't cleaned house of one soul.

Jo Newman Russler said...

Yes, I did mean "Tim." Thanks. My question about trying the US Attorney's Office remains. The fact that the 2 consistently highest performing schools (Lakeside and Chamblee Charter) had the lowest scores on the facilities assessments (22 and 33 points, respectively) proves that DCSS' policy of throwing money at schools that do not produce good, let alone excellent, outcomes is a failed policy. Why is DCSS so vested in not demanding any return on investment? If we can't measure return on investment by the number of kids that can read and write at grade level, how else should we measure it? How much longer will taxpayers allow this travesty to continue?

Sandy Spruill said...

Thanks, JoAnn! I would love to take credit for this ... but it truly was a joint effort. There are several people who worked together on this.

I just wrote the intro for the DeKalb School Watch article. The article came from me because I originally sent out the e-mail using ReadNotify so we could track and report on the response -- or lack thereof.

SHS said...

@ dundevil 8:44 PM

You are welcome to send any article that is published on the DeKalb School Watch blog to any news reporter.

I no longer have any news media on my mailing list. There have been too many disappointing experiences with the Atlanta metro area news media over the years. For the most part, Jeff Dickerson is telling the major news outlets what they will and won't investigate with regard to DeKalb County.

The last straw was when the formerly professional, reliable and trustworthy Maureen Downey sided with shopworn Richard Belcher after he derailed the DCSS superintendent search. Belcher, who often seems to be in the pocket of DCSS, completely missed the real story: that a DCSS BOE member illegally broke the confidentiality of personnel negotiations with the finalist for superintendent.

The metro Atlanta news media is a sick joke.

Atlanta Media Guy said...

Sandy, the Atlanta Media are letting our kids down. I don't understand since several print and TV reporters have their kids attending DeKalb Schools. You'd think a true journalist would love to uncover what is really happening at DCSS.

It's amazing to me this Crawford Lewis bunch, who still have their jobs, have the local media so wrapped around their fingers. The only thing I have noticed that our media has done lately is derail contract negotiations with a possible new Super.

I look forward to hear when the other BOE members actually read a letter from a concerned taxpayer. Sandy, please let us know when Ramona opens her email.

Passionate... said...

Great job Cerebration. I agree with Atlanta Media Guy. The press should be reporting what is happening in DCSS. Please let us know when Ms. Tyson reads email.

Anon said...

From tonight's agenda, this item:

As stipulated in Board policy, Employment Approval Policy, Descriptor Code: GA, “An annual written report of the Superintendent’s recommendation for written contract renewals for current employees shall be provided to the Board of Education no less than three (3) business days prior to the meeting of the Board of Education at which contracts are considered and presented for action.” The report include the category of assignment, which will reflect any changes in status. This report will be provided in addition to the personnel information routinely provided by the Superintendent.

So the report is being presented tonight, to be voted on next week.

Does this just include school based employees or is it central office employees as well?

Anyone know?

Anonymous said...

First, I have to commend you for the time and effort--and accuracy in putting all of this together.As a teacher--who is frustrated and feeling pretty helpless right now--it's some small consolation to know that someone is trying to set things right.

Here is just a wild idea, but you never know. Has anyone tried sending something off to the Wall Street Journal or New York Times? You just never know--this situation is nothing short of bizarre. Both have been known to report on regional educaton, and with DCSS being such a large system affecting a huge portion of Atlanta, the scope is pretty wide.

If embezzlement from corporations is national news, embezzlement (because that is how I characterize it--diverting funds for one's own interests) from a school system is.

If the local media continue to let us down, maybe, just maybe, someone with no stake in the game will find this newsworthy. Just a thought. You have everything laid out so nicely--easy enough to find the right name and send it along. It might just pique someone's interest.

Cerebration said...

@ Anon 7:08 AM - the last time they approved the contract renewals for employees, HR handed them one enormous document with all of the positions as a package deal. The board had to either approve them all or not approve any, making their endorsement a formality. I would guess it will be handled in the same way this evening.

DCSS Teacher said...

I'd like to second your comments. It is a frustrating time to teach in DCSS, and ironically, despite their difficult behavior, it's not the kids' faults. Most teachers cite the lack of administrative support and lack of respect shown by administration (read: "deciding" to restore furlough paycuts after summer break has begun, when there won't be a backlash) as the biggest obstacles to doing our jobs as well as we'd like.

I'm not from Atlanta, and the "niceness" of the AJC struck me right away afer moving here. The Detroit News does a better job of investigative journalism! If the purpose of a newspaper is to communicate information about community events, weird and gruesome crimes, and lost puppies, the AJC does a great job. If, however, the paper strives to uncover truth as only good journalism can do, then they "rhymes-with-luck". Great idea about directly contacting the Times, WSJ etc. Anyone can do this! Just email one of the reporters who covers education, and you'll most likely get some kind of response. All of the reporters' email addresses are on the papers' websites.