Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fulton Audit Results in Swift Action

Can we imagine a day when DeKalb initiates these kinds of regular audits, and then takes swift action - regardless of the identity of the wrongdoer? Read the article below to learn of a recent event in Fulton, where an audit uncovered wrongdoing by a popular principal at a popular school that resulted in that principal's immediate resignation. We can only hope that our new leadership will watch over taxpayer dollars this religiously.

From the Neighborhood Newspapers

Riverwood HS principal resigns; interim in place
By Noreen Lewis Cochran

After eight years as assistant principal and 10 years as principal, Eddie Echols resigned from Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs on Sept. 16 during a meeting with Fulton County School System Chief Human Resources Officer Ronnie Wade.
“They talked about the findings in the audit,” system spokeswoman Samantha Evans said about an in-house procedure routinely conducted by the human resources department. “He resigned during the session.”
The 41-page audit report for the 2008-09 school year, randomly chosen by the audit department headed up by James M. Yerich, uncovered a pattern of irregularities, Evans said, related to protocol.
“Findings in the audit revealed there was a misuse of school funds,” she said. “We’re talking about the way you request funds. There’s a compilation of things. These were measured in the audit.”
Iris Moran, instructional area superintendent for the Riverwood cluster of schools, addressed parents and guardians with a Sept. 20 letter which was posted on the school website.
“I am sure this announcement comes rather suddenly, but let me assure you that it is not due to anything involving the well-being of students or staff nor the school’s performance under [Echols’] leadership,” she wrote. “I can tell you that a routine audit has revealed an inappropriate use of financial resources contrary to Fulton County policy. However, there is no evidence that there has been any loss of funds to the school.”
The interim principal is experienced pinch-hitter Dennis Kostulakos, most recently the head of alternative school for disruptive students Crossroads Second Chance North in Roswell .
“Kostulakos will work with the Riverwood community to ensure the students remain the primary focus,” Moran wrote. “Kostulakos will use his leadership skills to guide the direction of the school. [He] will continue to work with the strong leadership team.”
With a position available, Moran said normal selection procedures apply.
“The process will include opportunities for stakeholder involvement and input, including surveys and participation of parents, staff and community members on the screening committee,” she said.
Superintendent Robert Avossa, Ed.D., will review the finalists.
“The final recommendation will be made to the [school] board based upon the expertise and judgment of the superintendent,” Moran said.


Anonymous said...

DeKalb does do school audits and takes action if warranted. School level audits have nothing to do with catching what happened here.

By the way, the whitle blower hot line is up and running.

Anonymous said...

Maybe DeKalb could learn something from Georgia Tech, as they seem to be able to deal with P-Card problems in a swift and efficient manner. They don't waste any time prosecuting and firing those that do wrong. However, the big difference in DeKalb is that people in high places got everyone his/her job, and they are all in the same fraternity or sorority or they are related by birth, marriage or affair. Will be interesting to see how much control our new Superintendent really gets to exercise.

Anonymous said...

The shame of this whole thing is that this man was a great principal. He transformed Riverwood under his leadership. There are dozens of DeKalb families that pay or have paid tuition to send their kids out of county to high school there. Hundreds of families have pulled their kids out of private school to send them to Riverwood.

His efforts are worth emulating. It is a shame that his career is ending this way.

Atlanta Media Guy said...

I have a question, after the E&Y audit in 2004, which has since been lost by the former Supers and their staffs. That's right I said Super's, Clew and Tyson, they were in charge while that audit mysteriously disappeared. Tyson's staff did find a couple of boxes, but not the final draft of the audit.

Anyway, what did Clew do after the audit? He changed a lot of titles and designations and pay scales, gave out a few pay increases, but I don't recall them ever doing what the audit actually said they should do.

Dr. Atkinson should ask the BOE to approve a new audit and the check register placed online. It would give her a true baseline to work from and hopefully uncover any wrong doing that has been going on at the Palace!

Anonymous said...

Atl media guy, just so you know a RFP is being prepared for the audit
It should be released in October. Need one every 5 to 7 years-the "lost" one is out of date by now.

Anonymous said...

"Dekalb does do school audits and takes action if warranted."

Who takes the action? Ramsey? Hah!

I think we've got a school plant on here.

Anonymous said...

DeKalb does take action when warranted. What everyone seems to forget is that the proceedings of personnel actions are confidential and protected by the privacy act. It is strange the public nature of resignation of the Riverwood principal. Normally you don't hear or read about actions like this in the media.

What happened with the Ernst & Young report has been talked about at length during the spring. It is surprising that while many accuse the school district of hiding the final report, no one is really asking why Ernst & Young did not keep an electronic copy for their records. Maybe because there was not a final report?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Atkins needs to check to see if students are being serviced by the school counselors and them not just putting things on paper. Why principals questioning teacher about their religion beliefs when they request religion time. Can we say CODE of Ethics...

Anonymous said...

Dr. Atkins need to ask each teacher how they feel about the instructional plan and administration for their school. And make sure she do it anonymous by creating a link for the teachers and parents to be able to give her a true assessment on each school in Dekalb County.

Ella Smith said...

Eddie Echols is an excellent principal. I worked under him as a teacher. He did nothing new other than what our ex-school superintendent here in DeKalb did while a school superintendent did while others in the county office turned an eye. He justed used credit cards of the school a few times and then paid back the money. It was not according to school policy but he is not a thief. Eddie is a good man.

DeKalb would be doing good to pick him up at the county office. He turned Riverwood into one of the top academic schools in the state and definitely the metro area.

I am not saying he may have not made mistakes. However, I am saying he is a jewell in the rough of great administrators regarding school achievement.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 5:15 PM

Ernst & Young Salary Study Report

Who says there was not a final Ernst & Young report?

The Open Records Act cannot be used to request the final report directly from E & Y. Only Lewis or Tyson could make such a request of E & Y. Tyson was asked and essentially refused to request the final report from E & Y.

And, E & Y is certainly not stepping forward and volunteering to provide the final report which is most likely residing within their electronic files.

You are correct. The E & Y report is old news now. But, it wasn't when it was first requested. Lewis and then Tyson managed to stonewall and give the DCSS insiders 6 or 7 years more of an undeserved and inappropriate salary while cutting teacher retirement funds and significantly raising class sizes. For those insiders with 6-figure salaries, that is close to or more than a million dollars each for that time period.

Tyson, like Lewis, definitely deserves jail time for the active role she has played in the fraud that defines DCSS.

Cerebration said...

Apparently, there was a final report. Two reasons point to this: One: the bill was paid in full: The funds for the study were approved in September, 2003, according to board meeting minutes: "Authorized the firm of Ernst and Young to conduct a single salary compensation study for the DeKalb County School System at a cost of $341,000." Please reference BOE meeting 9/8/03 Item number 03.14:
"(the BOE)Authorized the firm of Ernst and Young to conduct a single salary compensation study for the DeKalb County School System at a cost of $341,000."

And Two:

The minutes from the April 1, 2004 BOE meeting in which Jim Landry, the independent auditor from Ernst and Young, presented his findings are not posted on the DCSS BOE website. Indeed, there is no record of this meeting on the DCSS BOE website. We know the April 1, BOE meeting took place because it is referenced in a later BOE meeting and because the AJC reporter Jen Sansbury reported on the meeting the next day April 2, 2004 (see AJC archives). Why would there be no meeting or minute notes on the DCSS BOE website when such large sums of county money were being discussed?

For more on the mysterious 2004 Salary Audit, read these posts - or enter "2004 Audit" in the blog search bar on the right side panel of the home page.

It's time for that salary audit

May 9, Part 2: Ramona Tyson's report on the 2004 Ernst & Young audit and plans for a new audit

Back to the topic of the Ernst & Young 2004 audit

Cerebration said...

Don't believe us? Check out this report on the subject at "Atlanta Unfiltered"

DeKalb school audit found bloated salaries — then what?

Cerebration said...

BTW - please clue us in as to the protocol for using the newly installed Whistleblower Hotline! We'd love to know...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Cerebration said...

Wonderful! This is great news! Thanks for sharing - we'll post a special link on the side panel.

Anonymous said...

"You are correct. The E & Y report is old news now. But, it wasn't when it was first requested. Lewis and then Tyson managed to stonewall and give the DCSS insiders 6 or 7 years more of an undeserved and inappropriate salary while cutting teacher retirement funds and significantly raising class sizes. For those insiders with 6-figure salaries, that is close to or more than a million dollars each for that time period. "

At $15,000,000 a year in non-teaching position compensation (Ernst and Young's summary report to the BOE - BEFORE Lewis added many more non-teaching positions), that comes to $105,000,000 a year in overpayments by 2011.

Savings such as this are never out of date.

"Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
April 2, 2004
Section:: Metro News
Edition:: Home; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Page:: D3
Study: DeKalb schools overpay workers

The DeKalb County School System overpays more than 2,500 nonteaching employees to the tune of $14.8 million, but officials said the district may not be able to address the issue in time to affect next school year's budget.

Ernst & Young consultant Jim Landry told school board members Thursday that some positions are "overvalued" and carry "inflated titles." He did not cite specific examples and took care to say the firm's findings are not intended to criticize the individuals in those jobs.

Landry emphasized that the figures are not final, but characterized the analysis as an "alarming" starting point.

The firm is conducting a comprehensive salary study and presented its analysis on the heels of a two-hour budget work session that focused on next year's pay raises.

About 35 percent of 7,355 full-time employees who are not in the classrooms appear to be paid above the maximum recommended pay range for their jobs. Only 233 employees are paid below appropriate pay ranges, which would cost about $325,000 to fix, he said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Bebe Joyner said the nearly $15 million figure is "kind of a shocker." "We've been accused of having way too many people in central office and paying way too much for a long time,
and it validates that," Joyner said. However, equalizing pay will be a slow process, she said.

The 98,000-student district also employs about 7,000 teachers. Landry said DeKalb's teacher pay scale is lower than some other metro Atlanta systems, but higher than the national market. It is not likely to need much adjustment, he said.

When a new structure is adopted, the district's 1,680 job titles will be cut in half, said Reanee Ivey, DeKalb's assistant director for affirmative development. Ernst & Young has been comparing job descriptions and actual duties based on questionnaires completed by thousands of employees.

"There have been elevations of people into jobs that really the overall market [indicates] what you should be paying is considerably less" than they are currently earning.

Employees will be able to appeal their new job classifications.

Board member Chip Franzoni, who chairs the budget committee, asked whether there would be
recommendations the board could adopt before it sets next year's property tax rate in January........
......The administration is proposing an early retirement incentive for up to 178 longtime employees in district-level jobs that would not have to be filled. About 140 have expressed interest, which could save the district $1 million to $3 million.

Photo: Board Vice Chairwoman Bebe Joyner says the nearly $15 million estimate is "a shocker."

See DeKalb School Watch:

Anonymous said...

Sorry, should have read:
At $15,000,000 a year in non-teaching position compensation (Ernst and Young's summary report to the BOE - BEFORE Lewis added many more non-teaching positions), that comes to $105,000,000 total by 2011.

How upsetting is that for taxpayers. Delay, delay, delay - this the tactic that works.

Anonymous said...

Let's make sure the next one is online. Transparency!

Ella Smith said...

I need to clarify that I am supportive of the audits in Fulton County. I also am supportive of following county procedures. I think so many administrators in so many places are adjusted to not following protocol or procedures and apparently Fulton is acting on not following these procedures.

I am not in opposition. I just hate a good administrator was caught in the crossfire. I do believe behavior like this happens around in counties. I do not approve of not following procedures. We know it happened know in DeKalb and Fulton because it has been in the news. There does need to be more audits and more enforcement. This is definitely the point here.

Anonymous said...

THANKS for reminding the blogosphere that yes, there was a final E&Y Audit report that was presented to the public, broadcast in the media, then shelved by the school system. Love the posters who say "maybe there wasn't a final report!" as if E&Y got busy with other stuff and, golly gee, we were so slammed, we didn't finish it and then we forgot where we put it. E&Y delivered the audit as promised and I remember the shocking headlines that had many of us high-fiving because we thought finally overblown administrative salaries might be re-directed to the classroom. The case of the Fulton school principal's resignation is germane because FCSS took swift action - no matter that he was well-liked. Sadly, his actions were inappropropriate. Like Ralph Simpson's books, Clew's P-Card escapades (that involved an employee still at the helm of her department) and the thousand of dollars in pizza that Jesse Cunningham sold to Dekalb schools. Fulton GETS conflict of interest and crossing ethical lines. Dekalb, sadly, does not.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the E&Y audit from 2004,
Crawford Lewis has a "Let's change everyone's job title" party and gives subsequent pay raises the following year on top of promoting from within the "Friends and Family" program and continually giving annual central office raises while the teachers pay has been cut and reduced by furloughs and no contributions to their retirement.

You think $15,000,000 in overpayments was bad in 2004?

What do you think the results are 7 years later?

Much worse.

Anonymous said...

I watched a replay of the last BOE meeting. Marcus T, the financial guru, was explaining with Power Point Precision in his measured tutorial tones an on-line system for making payments for lunches and the like.

He said that the system would help cut out "fraud and abuse". I have not heard anything about that from our "supreme auditor" Mr Babst. Was Marcus just doing a selling job or is there fraud and abuse? Please let us know Mr Babst.

Anonymous said...

Every new precaution you take helps cut fraud and abuse. The greatest potential for fraud and abuse is always with the handling of cash at the school house level. As we move to online payment and credit cards there will be different opportunities. Because there are some many small transactions at the school house level there are many more potential opportunities and to wit the state ethics policy underscores this potential problem. Having said that-it is only the opportunities you are reducing and that is not to say it there are widespread occurances. Usually, school house level fraud or theft amounts to low dollars amounts but they still have a problematic impact on the school and its community. Large scale wrong doing usually costs more and almost always is caught. Punishment may however depend on a rather slow legal process. I won't cite any examples since we can think of at least one. The bottom line is there must be rigid procedures and consequences for those who do not follow them even if there is no theft.

Anonymous said...

Audits are performed annually for all government entities. There are people among us who attempt to convert money or services intended for use by government entities into their own pockets. Many get caught but there are some who don't. Is there any surprise to this?

Yes, DeKalb has multiple audits performed in different areas of the school system annually. The presentation given by Dr. Berry earlier this month was a good one as it outlined multiple audits being performed at the Federal, State, and local levels on Title 1 money. If fraud is happening in that department, they are doing a good job of it when you consider the amount of scrutiny they get.

Anonymous said...

If there really was a final E&Y report, then the Board members at that time should be able to produce a copy of it. After all, as elected officials, they ultimately had the responsibility in approving payments to E&Y for this report. If they did not hold their agent (Dr. Lewis) accountable for providing what they approved payment for (compensation audit and report), they have some explaining to do to taxpayers since it was our money that funded this.

I bet there was a scope change and the final report was never completed. Board members at that time should know if that happened otherwise they can be held liable for misuse of taxpayer dollars. Asking one of them is the easy way to get to the bottom of this.

Anonymous said...

Below was transcribed from the Monday, May 9 Board Business meeting and appears in an earlier blog.

"It is worth noting that Jim Landry, who was heading up the project for E&Y is quoting (sic) as describing the estimate as incorrect and very misleading because it was too early and preliminary to give an accurate report. In addition, the DCSS staff (unintelligible) stated that the estimate was a scattershot, and that it was not uncommon for the estimates to be revised more than a dozen times during the course of study such as the one undertaken by E&Y. This preliminary estimate appears to have been the source of most of the speculation in the press that E&Y made a final report showing the difference between the district’s actual compensation and what E&Y recommended that compensation should be. The preliminary report estimated that the district was paying some of its staff in excess of E&Y’s proposed salary ranges, but it also estimated that the district was paying others below the proposed ranges. Albeit not to the same extent. E&Y made several refinements to this cost estimate, but as I’ll discuss, it appears that no final cost and analysis was ever completed."

Are people now saying that Jim Landry of E&Y was lying when he said the prelimnary version was incorrect and very misleading? Are people also saying Ramona Tyson lied when she said it appears that no final cost and analysis was ever completed? At the time the audit was commissioned, she worked for Dr. Bouie in MIS. Why are some people insisting that an final report was done when Board members nor employees every indicated one exists? Why are some people also using data that E&Y acknowledged was incorrect as proof of overpayments since the preliminary report?

We need to let this go and insist that a comprehensive compensation and classification audit be done, plain and simple. Bringing this up only causes confusion and takes focus off what everyone should be paying attention to, the education of children.

Anonymous said...

Not a lot of opportunity for fraud and abuse when kids just swipe their free and reduced lunch card.

Anonymous said...

It irks me to read comments defending the current audit procedures in DCSS and defending county allocation of Title I money, I know that at the local school level, at least one high school misallocated Title I monies to the point that the school was "seriously delinquent" on vendors' accounts, that travel money had been allocated that was later not available to reimburse travel, and that America's Choice went on a spending spree with Title I money with very little accountability (I'm sure some vague spending categories were created by the County that met the bare minimal fed standards, but allowed for personally allocating the large amounts in those categories.)

I read federal regs, and I know the lax enforcement mechanisms therein, and I know that the Bush administration utterly ransacked the enforcement mechanisms in the regs during his disastrous 8 year term.

There is a web of corruption in DCSS, some of it involves federal money, some state, some county, but all of it taxpayer's money.

It's a house of cards, folks...

Cerebration said...

Please report this to the new Whistleblower Hotline. Then, let us know how it goes. We'd love to follow along and track the process. It would be all confidential of course. We have no way of identifying anyone on this blog. Not even in the stats.

Anonymous said...

Obviously there is something going on at Riverwood. There is an article in the Saturday paper the mentions the Athletic Director was relieved of their duties along with parent complaints against the competitive cheerleading coach.

Riverwood International Charter School athletic director under investigation

Anonymous said...

Would Internal Affairs, i.e. Ronald Ramsey, get the first crack at the messages or info called in on the Hotline?

I'd like to know. I wouldn't like to be the subject of an investigation into my identity as a whistle-blower (which I know Ramsey would do).

I'd rather provoke a thorough investigation within the ranks, but who would do that, or who would direct it? Would it all come back to Ramsey?

This may be the real catch-22 with the hotline. And it may be set up now just, and only, so SACS (impotent enforcer though it be) can say DCSS went through the hoops.

You know that by now there's no presumption of trust in anything the County does, even with a new Superintendent.

I wonder how up to speed Dr. Atkinson is by now on all the Dekalb shenanigans?

By the way, notice the deafening silence in the press? No newsworthy items about the major decisions (?) she's made since she's been there?

And those of you who say, "Give her time!", we can't really afford the time.

Anonymous said...


This is Anon 10:06 a.m.

Your comment that I should report this is problematic in that the nature of my information would identify me as the source. I personally was a victim of this misallocation.

The Principal involved has been given a juicy promotion, and as far as I know, the bookeeper (who prior to her hire had no experience as a bookeeper), who has a high-placed relative in the County Office, is still busily bookkeeping.

Both principal and bookeeper were frighteningly incompetent and allowed and encouraged these things to happen.

It was an embarrassment to our school, and the County had to have been aware of everything. The bookeeper's office was routinely audited when I was there, and I'm aware of no negative reports or sanctions. In fact the principal has since been rewarded!

No audit has discovered this, and no one has been held accountable.

I'm sure there are teachers and conscientious administrators who have either witnessed or been a victim of this systemic corruption.

I personally do not trust the Hotline. I'm afraid that there will be retaliation, both subtle and ham-fisted.

Cerebration said...

I understand. This is why we have to wonder about the "whisleblower hotline" too.

Anonymous said...

Does any one know if there was something done against the man who put the article in the newspaper? I have seen Ramsey and his thugs tear people up for much less than that. Was he protected by all of the attention?

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 2:57

"The preliminary report estimated that the district was paying some of its staff in excess of E&Y’s proposed salary ranges, but it also estimated that the district was paying others below the proposed ranges. "

Mr. Landry of Ernst and Young was very specific in his summary. This does not sound like a lot of non-teaching personnel were being underpaid.

"About 35 percent of 7,355 full-time employees who are not in the classrooms appear to be paid above the maximum recommended pay range for their jobs. Only 233 employees are paid below appropriate pay ranges, which would cost about $325,000 to fix, he said."

35% of 7,355 full-time employees who are not in the classroom is 2,574 that Ernst and Young pegged as overpaid while 233 full-time employees who are not in the classroom were underpaid. That's over ten times the number of overpaid non-teaching employees as contrasted to underpaid non-teaching employees.

At least 2 BOE members should have received copies of the study and one is still on the Board.

"DeKalb Board of Education
Human Resources Committee Meeting


The Human Resources Committee of the Board of Education held a Committee Meeting on Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 10:00am at the DeKalb County Freeman Administrative Center, Building A Conference Room, located at 3770 North Decatur Road.....

.....Chair Zepora Roberts called the meeting to order at 10:04am. Committee members Thomas Bowen and Sarah Copelin-Wood were present. Other staff members present were Dr. Jamie Wilson, Director of Staff Services; Ms. Val Head, Human Resources Technology Manager and Dr. Felicia Mitchell, Assistant to the Superintendent. Ms. Roberts stated that Superintendent Crawford Lewis had a conflict and would be absent.
Ms. Roberts also asked committee members to bring all correspondence they receive from prospective applicants indicating difficulty to the next meeting. She also asked that a copy of the Comp & Class Study and the Lantas Group Study be provided to committee members."

According to the BOE minutes, Ms. Roberts requested that she and Tom Bowen receive a copy of the Compensation and Classification Study in July, 2007 along with the other committee members.

Anonymous said...

@Cerebration, the last paragraph in your post in probably the most important. Though the BOE minutes indicated the study was requested, minutes don't exist tht indicate it was received and reviewed. Otherwise, everyone involved could be charged with a cover up.

I don't believe a final report was ever delivered to DCSS. Those who were Board members at the time know that because there was a scope change.

Cerebration said...

I've personally asked several of them. They don't seem to remember anything relevant. No one really recalls what happened to the study. One of them did say that Ernst & Young had some "issues" at the time.

A small group of us actually looked through the seven boxes of papers created by this project. We published the list that was generated by E&Y of exactly who was deemed as overpaid compared to market rates (no teachers were overpaid - they have set salary schedules). I posted that list. You can read it here:

Back to the topic of the Ernst & Young 2004 audit

Anonymous said...

@Cerebration, I believe your response validates my point. I believe research and analysis was done. It was paid for. You saw it in the boxes. I question whether a final report with data, conclusion and a recommendation was produced and delivered. If so, Ernst & Young would be able to provide a backup copy if DCSS lost their copies. All reputable firms keep backup copies of what they delivered to their client.

As I stated earlier, everyone needs to let this go and focus on getting a new study done. After all, it would be more relevant than one done 7-8 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:42! Letting this missing E&Y audit go is just what the enriched hope will happen. Hopefully the statute of limitations has not expired on the matters that have brought past employees up on RICO charges. If friends and family were unjustly overpaid in a manner consistent with criminal intent, then these records are in fact vital and are the business of the county citizens whose trust was put in the leadership!

Sure, you let it go and history will continue to repeat, repeat and repeat.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 11:09, if what you said has truth to it, then the guilty ones would be Dr. Hallford and possibly Dr. Freeman. Why? They were the superintendents when most of the overpaid people were hired and put into those positions. The study was commissioned before Dr. Brown left as a part of his restructuring directive from the Board at that time. I say the time spent trying to find out why the people were overpaid could be directed to a new study.

I do recall that sometime in 2007 or 2008, the Board got estimates for a new study and voted not to move forward due to the cost. In hindsight, the should have moved forward with that.

Anonymous said...

I would like someone to demystify the lottery system. The DeKalb County SS website is a confusing behemoth that leaves me more confused than I was before I visited. I have been passively trying to understand how this works since my child was born and now that kindergarten is imminent in 2012 I really need to figure this out sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

BTW I think I posted my last comment on the wrong post. It was supposed to be on the "suggestion box" page. Sorry!