Sunday, October 30, 2011

PTA President Admits Prior Knowledge of Cell Tower Proposal

Lithonia, GA: Monday, Oct. 24, 2011:

Words were exchanged in anger, tempers flared and PTA President Evelyn Cunningham, wife of school board representative Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, admitted she had been aware of talks with the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) regarding the cell tower proposal for more than a year. She offered no explanation about why the subject was not announced to the parents or community until May, just a month before the school board was scheduled to vote.

Cunningham approached the group of approximately 12 - 14 people who had gathered outside the entrance to Martin Luther King, Jr. High School around 11 am. Monday, Oct 24, to inspect the location where they recently learned a T-mobile cell tower will reside for the next 30 years, thanks to the school board’s approval to lease its property, along with eight other school properties, in exchange for about $400 a month which will be deposited into the county’s general fund. The deal also includes a one-time payment of $25,000 that will also be deposited into the general fund, but those funds will be “directed” by the PTA or a School Booster Club that the school wishes to support.

While the group was assembled outside the school, a spokesperson for the local non-profit group “Get the Cell Out - Atlanta” was also being interviewed by a reporter from WXIA-TV for a story related to SPLOST IV. That story has not yet aired. As the group was disassembling and preparing to return to their vehicles or walk back to their nearby homes, Ms. Cunningham approached them and demanded to know their names and what had been reported to the news media. After several minutes, the group convinced the PTA officer to calm down and discuss her concerns rationally, which is when she admitted to having known about the cell towers for more than a year. When asked if she received the information from her husband, she replied that it was her understanding that lots of people in the PTA were aware of the proposal and it was not specific to anything her husband told her directly.

The DeKalb County Board of Education Administrative Rule O.C.G.A. 20-2-1160 requires: "… public forums from time to time, especially when dealing with controversial issues or matters of deep community concern, to receive input from citizens on policy issues, the educational program, and school administration."

The DCSS official position on the subject of public notification has been that public meetings were held at each of the schools once carrier T-mobile had been selected. Critics claim the flyer sent home with children was vague and did not convey the message that the meeting was to discuss the intent to place cell towers on the school property.

DeKalb County zoning laws specific to the permitting of cell towers has language that prohibit cell phone or cell tower companies from constructing towers, which emit low levels of RF radiation 24 hours a day, within close proximity of residential neighborhoods unless there are no other suitable alternatives. T-mobile representatives stated during the school meetings in May that the schools were selected because they were the “easiest” choice for them to pursue, not the last alternative as required by the county.

T-mobile also reported in the community meetings, according to one parent who attended the meeting at Brockett Elementary in Tucker, that they did not want to build their towers in neighborhoods where they are not wanted. The community members and neighborhood associations near Martin Luther King, Jr. High School have stated that they have been shut out of the process completely, only learning recently that a 150’ tower with a base size of 60’ x 60’ has been approved by the school board.”

At the July 11 board meeting, Jay Cunningham spoke out on the cell tower issue, stating that the community was in favor. In an interview with a reporter from the Crossroads newspaper in July, Cunningham said “Everybody has their view,” adding that he only had one call opposing the proposal. “Everybody had no problem with it. I didn’t hear anything negative from the community.” Read more: CrossRoadsNews - Cell Towers Going to Schools

“It is very disappointing and makes you wonder if you can trust anyone in this school system,” stated one of the people who witnessed the altercation between the PTA President and the community members who say they would like some answers.

“We have fought things like this before,” said one man from a neighborhood right next door to the school. “This is the first time something like this has happened where they plan to allow zoning for something and we do not hear about it until it is too late.”

Update: At a subsequent meeting held Oct. 25, Jay Cunningham admitted that the community surrounding MLK High School did not get adequate notice and agreed to take their concerns back to the other board members. After being well prepared and well armed with information and questions about the cell tower issue, the community was able to collectively prove their points and give Mr. Cunningham no choice but to back down from his earlier claims that the community was in favor of a tower. He said he would ask for a reconsideration of the vote in light of the new information. This meeting has gone the same route as the meeting between Paul Womack and Briarlake, and all involved are still hoping for a reconsideration. They must move quickly, however, as the 30 day period following the permit application has expired and they will now be working against the clock to stop any signs of construction. T-mobile should have the permits all in place no later than the end of January. And, their substandard towers can be built overnight and brought up to code later as a result of their claim to exemption from DeKalb County's zoning laws. This is one of the legal issues that might be contested.

To read our post on a similar meeting held at Briarlake ES, with board rep Paul Womack, click here.


Paula Caldarella said...

Has anyone forwarded this to Advanced Ed (SACS)? They an add this to their list of unethical behaviors by our school board.

Anonymous said...

People need to pay attention to the presentation given in the post under the topic about the solicitation for the audit. Something about reforms in DCSS and their context. All of this corruption is driving some really serious changes in politics. My friends and I do not support a lot of what the Republicans say. But we will never vote again for Democrats. We must protect out property values and our children.

Atlanta Media Guy said...

Is anyone surprised this involved the outstanding Jay Cunningham family? This is so shameful, she should resign her post as PTA President immediately.

I'm with D'wdy Mom, SACS should know this. I'm sure Jay will be the first one to tell you this situation might be unethical but it's certainly not illegal. How does this guy get re-elected?

Anonymous said...

Do you really think that SACS will do anything with the information. They have given so many passes to the behavior of the board that I personally see SACS as a lost cause and a waste of tax payers dollars.

Anonymous said...

Soon, we will all be under the free will-melting powers of the death rays emanating from the satannic cell towers. Prepare, ye, for the dominion of Lucifer, unless Get the Cell Out shall part the waters and lead us to salvation.

Anonymous said...

Parents with children in the Tucker Tucks gymnastics program alleged that Evelyn Cunningham, while serving as an officer of the booster club, moved significant funds to private accounts - monies that were not recovered.
She refused to hold board meetings as stipulated by the bylaws, and was eventually removed from her position by force when parents organized and threatened legal action. Moreover, the booster club ordered literally thousands of dollars in overpriced pizza that the booster club paid for - for gymnastic meets at Tucker Rec. They always ordered from one particular vendor. Care to guess who? The pizzas often went uneaten, so certain booster club officers then took them home. Nice to see Evelyn got another paying gig at MLK High.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:51 - this ain't about cell towers. It's about process, procedure and fairness. Perhaps different communities would have wanted the cell towers. We'll never know because it is clear that we were not allowed to weigh in on the issue. We were misled. The involvement of the wife of a board member - who had prior knowledge a year ahead of the rest of the community - should scare you to death. Does she also know which schools will close next? Does she get to decide how to spend the "windfall" the cell tower leases create? This post has less to do with cell phone tower radiation or lack thereof, than it has to do with corruption and the very real issue that certain UNqualified, UNeducated crooks are making UNinformed decisions about everything from cell tower leases to school district lines to SPLOST expenditures. Laugh all you want at those concerned about the safety of cell tower emissions. But this is a SYMPTOM deep corruption.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:09pm,

The only way she would get PAID being the PTA President is if she STOLE funds from the PTA.

This is a volunteer position, not a paid position.

If she did steal, she would be held PERSONALLY liable and our tax dollars would not be spent defending her like they are with the DCSS lawsuits!

I would like to make a suggestion for next year's DCSS Board of Education elections.

Everyone on the ballot has to pass a credit check and a criminal background check! And have NO collections, liens or criminal record!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Anon 3:09pm,

I meant to address my paying remark to Anon 3:01pm.

Anonymous said...

Here is clarification on this post:

Ms. Cunningham was not last year's PTSA president, nor was she an officer. Regarding the recent meeting on the towers at the school, Mr. Cunningham stated that he did not commit to bring this decision up for reversal at the Nov. 7th school board meeting.

Anonymous said...

Another clarification:

This statement is incorrect and is not true:

He also asked that the press release regarding his wife's reaction to seeing Get the Cell Out outside the school be taken off the group's website, which it was although all parties have stated the information in that press release is accurate.

This article needs to be removed immediately because it contains some serious misinformation and allegations.

Anonymous said...

In fairness, there are several schools where the PTA presidents were aware of the proposal and did little to inform their communities. This is not isolated to this one school.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 6:06
"Ms. Cunningham was not last year's PTSA president, nor was she an officer."

What is your point?

Evelyn Cunnngham is listed on the MLK website as the President of the PTA ( go to the web address below and click on PTSA on the left hand menu bar):

Anonymous said...

The current year PTA officers officially take office after the last day of the school year. It doesn't say she was the President when she heard about it, just that she admits prior knowledge. And, there were apparantly multiple witnesses so the claim sounds legit.

LaLaMeeka Chadwalli said...

Wonder if Maureen and the do nothing AJC will write about this?? They probably already knew from their "unnamed source". Nope, they'll just trot out the head dude for another commercial.

Anonymous said...

To me, this is a dead issue. As I recall, there was knowledge of the cell tower deal for about a month prior to the meeting of the BOE at which the towers were approved. There was much discussion of this on this very blog.

The PTAs or some other organizations of three schools organized and presented their case against the towers at the BOE meeting. Those three schools were exempted and towers will not be built there.

The other eight or nine schools must've been asleep. Also, I distinctly recall Dr. Walker saying at the meeting that his constituents, which cover half the County, wanted the towers. Ms Edler was trying to present some sort of a resolution that all of the other school should have the opportunity to opt out. Dr. Walker really confused her or sent her the message that she should back off. She did.

So let's quit wasting time on this. There was ample notice. The door cannot be held open forever when there is such a compelling need for additional funds to be spent on worthy projects for the benefit of the children.

Haven't you heard? A new day has dawned at DCSD (new name). Sort of reminds me of the car bumper sticker I once saw, SSDD ( Same S***, Different Day)

Cerebration said...

FWIW, this press release was sent by someone who witnessed and recorded the meeting.

Also, I give Donna Edler a lot of credit. I think she hit the nail on the head in her CrossRoads interview:

This week, Edler said it didn’t make sense to remove some schools and leave the others.

“If it isn’t good for Meadowview or Brockett, why is it good for MLK or Flat Rock Elementary?” she said. “We shouldn’t be making decisions based on who speaks the loudest. If it’s bad for those who speak loudest, it should be bad for the ones we don’t hear a lot from as well.”

Read more: CrossRoadsNews - Cell Towers Going to Schools

And an aside, the school system's legal name is DeKalb County School District (DCSD) and is always referred to as such in legal documents.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:13 There has been little over sight to many of the foundations that are "for" schools and I know of several foundations with missing money. These foundations need to be closely monitored and looked after, as they can be a windfall for those running them.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:06

Interesting - you know of several foundation missing money? Do be more specific... just the facts please.

Kim Gokce said...

"The other eight or nine schools must've been asleep"

Perhaps. Perhaps they were busy educating their children instead of focusing on being courtiers at the palace.

This cell tower thing did not sit well with me from the first hint because it represents all that is wrong in DCSS(D) land - not because it is apocalyptic.

The proposition that fair and ethical decisions are meted out only when someone is watching is not trivial stuff, folks. We should expect slightly more high standards from our system leaders.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:42 as a former teacher in DCSS of schools with foundations, all one has to do is ask who is over seeing the money. Who has the responsibility to make sure that foundation is spending the money on the school? Both schools that I worked at had foundations with fuzzy math and missing money. These foundations and the missing money are things that are kept quiet to keep schools and DCSS out of the news. Who is auditing these foundations? Are their books public, and are schools involved with the running of them?

Really, I beg someone to really look into these foundations and see how they are run. Maybe a few are on the up and up, but from a teacher's point of view, I wouldn't give any of them a penny or any support unless I knew that the money was indeed going to the children and not to line the pockets of those running these foundations "for the kids."

Like so much in DCSS, things aren't always what they seem and most often are worse than you could imagine. I am sure that a few foundations are on the up and up, but my experience has been that this isn't the case for many.

I keep praying for audits on PTAs and foundations. Books and audits need to be across the board with DCSS. There is just too much corruption and mismanagement to go around that is often over looked, and hidden.

Anonymous said...

dundevil - you are referring to knowledge within the school system. There were no efforts made to inform the community surrounding the schools that will be adversely affected by the towers. Many are still unaware that they have a cell tower coming to their backyard courtesy of DCSS. It is disturbing to think there were PTA officers aware of the issue who did not inform the membership and the community as this is a primary purpose behind the PTA in the first place - not to further the objectives of the school board. Many parents likely felt that if there was a big issue they needed to know about, the PTA would inform them. How is it that they knew but decided not to take a side and didn't even show up themselves for the meetings?

Anonymous said...

I can verify Anon 3:01's post. It was swept under the rug by county officials. She should have been arrested, and would have, if she wasn't Jay's wife.

"Parents with children in the Tucker Tucks gymnastics program alleged that Evelyn Cunningham, while serving as an officer of the booster club, moved significant funds to private accounts - monies that were not recovered.
She refused to hold board meetings as stipulated by the bylaws, and was eventually removed from her position by force when parents organized and threatened legal action. Moreover, the booster club ordered literally thousands of dollars in overpriced pizza that the booster club paid for - for gymnastic meets at Tucker Rec. They always ordered from one particular vendor. Care to guess who? The pizzas often went uneaten, so certain booster club officers then took them home. Nice to see Evelyn got another paying gig at MLK High."

Anonymous said...

One thing that is clear, both Cunningham and Womack stated that the request for cell towers started with Lakeside (and possibly Briarlake) - the only two schools Donna Edler did NOT try to take off the list with her failed ammendment. The other school were apparantly volunteered as canidates likely because they were thought to be the easy targets where a large number of the children do not live in the area and therefore the flyers would not make it to the homes of people who care about the property values. Or, the low income locations that are least likely to be in the PTA, have access to the Internet in order to research theh subject matter or traditionally are less likely to speak up or know that they have the right to do so.

To the people who do not think this topic is relevent because it has not happened at their school, yet, think about this: If the PTA or other members of the school (PTA or not) were informed a year before the rest of the schools learned about the leasing of school property for commerial profit and kickbacks, then what does your PTA know right now that they are not telling you? If there was a proposal consideration time frame that ended just before summer, what could be in the works for 12 more schools before THIS summer? Once a precedent is set and money is funnelled in, that's a pretty tempting avenue for this board to go down again and again. Just like the demolition and constrution rut we are stuck in right now. And what does any of this do for the children to help them learn and succeed? What does this do for our state ranking of 49 out of 50 states when it comes to education? Nothing.

Anonymous said...

It's very possible that it all started at Lakeside -- Lakeside's renovation has happened in a very odd way -- they are fundraising for projects that have been provided at other schools and "they" (some folkss) really believe that they need lots of money to complete the projects that really should be coming out of SPLOST funding so "started at Lakeside" and wtih Womack is very believable. I'm pretty sure Briarlake had nothing to do with it -- Briarlake is on a much smaller lot and involves much smaller bodies and has no incentives to 'go there.' Womack may have needed a certain number of schools for T-mobile to have it work though.

Anonymous said...

Briarlake was definitely not involved from the beginning. Briarlake's PTA has taken the official stance to oppose the towers.

Anonymous said...

MAn that guy just talks and talks and talks but he doesn't listen to anyone. Every time someone tries to talk he talks over them.

Anonymous said...

Why was Briarlake considered a "definitely wants it" school during the vote? They and Lakeside were the only ones that Edler did not try to remove in her ammendment after consulting with Pam Speaks and the other board members about which ones she was trying to remove. She named all schools except the 3 already removed by McChestney's ammendment (that passed) and except Lakeside and Briarlake. Would Womack put Brairlake on the "wants it" list without any feedback to warrant that claim?

Victoria Webb said...

I don't have children, but putting cell towers on school property - or anywhere near someone's home is being fought all over the country, not just in Dekalb county.

Neighborhoods could get together to appeal this if they seriously oppose it. Another example of unregulated corporate power. Talk to your local representatives.

Anonymous said...

I still say, we need to have a county wide election of our board members. No more of this direct representative crap. These board members are making decisions for your child's education, with our tax dollars, yet we have absolutely no recourse. They continue to get reelected because their constituents likes them.
They are certainly not informed, nor will they ever be cuz these voters have been brainwashed.
And most don't care and the others don't vote.