Dekalb Candidates Meet & Greet at Sprig in Oak Grove!

Date: Thursday 4/24
Time: 5:30pm – 8:30pm
Place: Sprig Restaurant and Bar – 2860 Lavista Rd., Decatur, Georgia 30033

The first bi-partisan Meet & Greet was so much fun we have decided to “put the band back together” and have another community-centric event for Dekalb County candidates. All announced candidates are welcome to attend and bring their campaign “swag” like signs, buttons, push cards, t shirts, etc…

Dekalb candidates for School Board, State Superintendent, and House and Senate districts will be at Sprig Restaurant this Thursday for a Happy Hour Meet & Greet! Please make plans to attend and meet the folks running to represent you from Dekalb County!

Candidates appearing include:
John Oselette for DeKalb BOE
Don McChesney for Dekalb BOE
Stan Jester for Dekalb BOE
Tamara Johnson for Senate 40
Jim Duffie for GA House 81
Greg Williams for GA Senate 42
Melody Maddox for Dekalb Sheriff
Ted Golden For Sheriff

Dekalb Candidates Meet & Greet at The Grove!

TheGrove
Dekalb candidates for School Board, State Superintendent, and House and Senate districts will be at The Grove this Thursday for a Happy Hour Meet & Greet from 5:30pm to 8pm! Please make plans to attend and meet the folks running to represent you from Dekalb County!

Candidates appearing include:
John Oselette for DeKalb Board of Education
Don McChesney for Dekalb BOE
Stan Jester for Dekalb BOE
Jim Duffie for GA House 81
Greg Williams for GA Senate 42

Thursday at 5:30pm – 8:30pm
Forecast · 66°F Clear

The Grove is located at:
2761 LaVista Rd
Decatur, Georgia 30033

THE BOARD RETREAT APRIL 4, 2014

The DeKalb BOE had a retreat last Friday. I decided to attend so I could share any interesting developments or discussion. It turns out that the retreat was informative and revealing on several levels.

The retreat was scheduled to start at noon. Unfortunately, the retreat could not begin timely as a quorum wasn’t present until 12:24PM. Board members missing in action for the entire meeting were Mr. Coleman, Mr. McMahan and Mr. Campbell.

The first item for discussion was the 2015 Legislative Positions led by Marshall Orson. The discussion was about the status of special education “diplomas” going forward. Mr. Orson was pushing that what had previously been more of an “attendance” certificate be moved toward a diploma. There was some pushback by a few members so they decided to table the issue to a later date.

The next item was upcoming testing and security issues for state testing (the CRCT). Jonathan Clark took everyone through some of their basic procedures. There will be testing teams and documentation for anyone who handles the tests. Teachers will not test their own students.

The third discussion item was “Addressing Required Actions and Directives to the BOARD from AdvancED“. This discussion was led by McKenna, Long, and Aldridge (MLA). I found this part of the meeting to be the most enlightening.

SACS is scheduled to visit the district on May 12 and 13. This visit was described as less formal and as a “check” to make sure work was continuing on the required actions list. This is where things got interesting. One board member stated that SACS does not always seem to understand the issues. WOW! Some previous boards came up with that a long time ago. I wish that they would also point out that SACS does not even measure student achievement. They have 8 “standards” and not one of them relates to any objective measurement of student achievement. Technically, we could have a 0% gradation rate and still be in compliance with all of the “standards”. Does that bother anybody? But I digress…

MLA agrees that you can’t have a rule for every possible interaction, event or detail. MLA indicated SACS’ directions would be difficult to follow but they suggested once SACS is satisfied overall, these difficulties could be overlooked. MLA and Board members seemed to be saying that SACS has many things wrong but the BOE must overlook that because of the power of SACS. There was a short discussion on abolishing committees. MLA thought that was not a good idea. The committees have already been abolished. That was a wish of SACS.

Thad Mayfield then said bad board behavior in the past was partly out of frustration with accomplishing goals. I don’t think I agree that anyone trying to hold the Superintendent and staff accountable engaged in “bad behavior”. That is what is Constitutionally required of a board member. But what I think Mr. Mayfield was really getting at, is correct. When board members tried to get information and hold the administration accountable, they were frequently ignored and thwarted by the very same administration. Marshall said that he believes SACS might be a little over demanding while he continued to bash the previous board. A board that he was part of for two months. It was that previous board that hired Mr. Thurmond and MLA on Mr. Orson’s recommendation. At least it wasn’t unanimous.

I thought it was most interesting when MLA suggested that the culture of the school system is NOT the same as the BOE. This makes goals difficult to achieve throughout the system. This is news? More than a few people have said this for years. The staff is the major impediment to improving DeKalb. They protect their turf and are the ones in control. MLA seems to recognize this fact. I wonder if MLA will tell elected officials about SACS. I wonder if they’ll tell SACS that the real problem lies in the staff and not the board.

The retreat did confirm my observations about how various board members approach their service.

Thad Mayfield is an outstanding board member. He was totally prepared for the meeting. His questions were always on target. He had notes and took notes. Mr. Mayfield wanted a mechanism to intervene with SACS before they make their recommendations. Mr. Mayfield also wanted to bring Parent Councils back to a more prominent role.

Dr. Morley tends to bring every discussion back to supporting the superintendent.

MLA spent too much time acting as a cheerleader for Thurmond and the Board. I guess that comes along with getting $50,000 every month from the Board and the Superintendent.

Mr. Thurmond did not arrive until about 2:20 PM. Most of the SACS discussion was led by Ramona Tyson and MLA.

At 2:35 PM Dr. Morley left and they no longer had a quorum. The meeting adjourned at 2:38 PM. There was no discussion on a superintendent search. I guess that was good considering Coleman and McMahan were missing and they are part of the three person team assigned by the board chair to begin the study for a new Superintendent. If this Board makes the decision on a new superintendent do you think it might be to just say they can’t find anyone any better than Michael Thurmond? If he leaves early you have to pay him through June 2015. If you bring in someone before then you could be paying two superintendents. In other words, DeKalb as usual.

Thanks,
Don

4/2 – MEET THE CANDIDATES

COME MEET THE CANDIDATES

Please join Don McChesney candidate for District 2 DeKalb Board of Education and John Oselette candidate for District 4 DeKalb Board of Education on April 2 from 10 AM until 11:30 AM at Einsteins’s Bagels located at 2870 N. Druid HIlls Rd. Atlanta. It is located right at the intersection of N. Druid Hills Rd. and LaVista Rd. across the street from Toco Hills.

Come have coffee with the candidates and ask them questions about the upcoming races. We look forward to seeing everyone.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 2, 10 AM UNTIL 11:30 AM

Thank you,
Don McChesney

It’s official! I am running!

It’s official!  I am running for the DeKalb Board of Education for District 2.  Right now all of our district does not have a voice at the table.  I’m running to represent what’s in the best interests for all of DeKalb’s children.  My concern for District 2, and the entire county, goes far past one high school cluster.  I intend to bring that vision to the board.

I will work to make sure all of our decisions are based on sound academic and financial principles.  We must get serious about improving student achievement.

It is absolutely imperative that we find a new, professional superintendent.  The search should have already begun.  Sadly it hasn’t.  I will lead the charge to find a superintendent with a record of improving academic achievement in urban school districts.   Solid and stable leadership is long overdue in DeKalb.

Our teachers deserve more respect from the central office.  Hollow praise needs to be replaced by solid improvements in their working conditions and compensation.  It is unacceptable for DeKalb to have such well-paid and underachieving administrators while our teachers toil away with little improvement.

As a board member, I will hold the administration accountable for delivering on the dual accreditation promised last year.

I will put kids and taxpayers at the front of the line when we approve SPLOST expenses.  While renovation budgets were cut, the district 2 incumbent approved the purchase of cars for administrators.

Most importantly, I will show up to do the job you elect me to do.  In one year, the current representative has missed more board meetings than I did in four years.  His absence came even after the number of board meetings was cut in half.  He missed a crucial vote to approve the FY14 budget.  Your voice is only heard when your board member shows up.

I will need your help if my campaign is to be successful.  If you have a group you would like me to speak to, please call or email me.  I’ll need your help to schedule Meet-and-Greets so that I can share my vision with you, your neighbors, and friends.  So, let me hear from you.  Let’s build a team together!

–Don
d_mcches@bellsouth.net
(404)725-8265

The Trouble With Maps – 2014 Redux

I have been following, with interest, the ongoing saga of electing a new school board in May. I thought this would be a no brainer. The BOE was downsized by the state legislature, with Republicans in the DeKalb delegation in the lead. The BOE went from nine districts to seven, eliminating the two super districts. Maps were drawn for seven districts with only one district being appreciably changed. Now we find out that no one can register to run for the BOE because the elections office does not know what the district lines will be for the school board. What? The map was drawn in 2012. Here it is. Please tell me what the controversy is.

March 2012 DeKalb Delegation Final Map.

You want to know what I think happened? This is my blog so I’m going to tell you. The majority Democrat DeKalb delegation wants to keep the old 9 districts. I do not think that is possible based on the fact that the 7 district change was a product of state legislation rather than just local legislation. Why do they want to keep it at 9 districts? First of all a 9 member board probably makes it easier to continue running the jobs program without too much of a challenge. Also, Eugene Walker and Jay Cunningham are practically neighbors and are in the same district. Without a super district, only one could be elected. From the “friends and family” file, one member of the DeKalb Legislative Delegation dates the sister of a former board member. And from the “old school politics” file, he also owes political favors to another former board member.

You see, back in 2012, the map was basically drawn by two Democratic legislators in the delegation. One is still there and the other is not. Two currently serving school board members worked very closely with these legislators on this project. Three of the four map designers live in the Druid Hills area. During the reapportionment time, I attended some of the DeKalb Delegation meetings so I observed much of this firsthand. Clearly the interests of some individuals was put above what was a reasonable map based on communities of interest. Ah, politics! What I never understood was why our Republican members of the delegation didn’t go over their heads to the full House and Senate. Reapportionment is very important as it forms the governing bodies for 10 years. Sadly, I got to witness the full spectacle of wheeling, dealing, and equivocating, the likes of which would make Rep. Noah “Soggy” Sweat proud.

At the same time as the legislature was creating maps, several other reasonable maps were also submitted. In fact, one map that received support from 7 of 9 board members was given to the delegation. For old time’s sake, here’s a look again:

DeKalb Board of Education 2012 proposed map. It had the support from 7 of 9 board members.

Where does this leave us? Rep. Mike Jacobs recently stated, “I cannot explain why seven seat DeKalb BOE districts have not been adopted for candidate qualifying, which is two weeks away. This should be a function of local legislation. But today the House Governmental Affairs Committee passed HB 979 to preserve existing seven single member districts and strip off the two super districts. Something needs to be done to avoid confusion at qualifying.”

Well Mr. Jacobs you voted on the districts last year. You were part of the process. Have you forgotten? If anyone should not be confused it should be a legislator in the DeKalb delegation. Why was this not done correctly in the first place?

What is the impact of all this? Well, here’s the map the DeKalb delegation passed today:

Current district lines and the latest proposal passed by the DeKalb Delegation on Thursday.

When people ask why we can’t get “good people” to run for the board in DeKalb, this is why. Now we are witnessing political payback. The removal of the board didn’t sit well with most people in south DeKalb and their representatives. For every action, there is a reaction. This is the reaction. It may be wrong but I understand it.

Now add to this that Michael Thurmond is an old hand at reapportionment. He and Gene Walker famously worked together on this when they were both in the legislature together. These maneuvers have his fingerprints all over them too. Remember Thurmond wants a board that will not question him so he can eventually land his dream job at McKenna, Long, and Aldridge. That rumor about him running for state school superintendent – he will never do that. Not enough money in that and he can’t win. Plus, just think of the power he can wield having infiltrated MLA.

As Dekalb turns…..

What’s behind the call for a pause?

Recently, the AJC published this story about “pausing” the approval process for new cities in DeKalb.  I am sharing with you the letter I wrote to the AJC in response to that story.
From: Don McChesney
Sent: Friday, January 10, 2014 1:01 PM
To: April Hunt
Subject: Proposed DeKalb Cities

Ms. Hunt,

I read with interest your article this morning. It would be interesting if someone would investigate all the political hijinks involved in the DeKalb city movement.

I see that the DeKalb Delegation is recommending a hold on the establishment of further cities. The political commentary on this is quite interesting. Have you figured out that the entire influence behind this is Mary Margaret Oliver? When the latest city movement started only Lakeside got in the hunt following all the rules and raising their money for the Univ. of Georgia study. All the others came afterward and were somewhat rushed through a study by influence from Mary Margaret Oliver. This is the same MMO that last year, in the 2013 legislative session, proposed in the opening weeks no further cities in DeKalb. In the last week she proposed the city of Briarcliff. How do you hold these two positions simultaneously? I am aware of the political answer to that question. It has also been suggested that she used her considerable influence for Tucker and rammed that study through Ga. State University. This is a classic example of divide and conquer. The waters are so muddied that she has the citizens totally confused.

Now we have the DeKalb delegation asking to back off of the city movement. How convenient.

Enter Dennis Ralston, Speaker of the House and a Republican. Did you know he and MMO are close friends going back to the days when she ran for Lt. Governor and lost. She and Ralston forged a close friendship. Now Ralston says …”I don’t know that the state needs to be telling DeKalb County what to do”…Well it has not bothered the Republicans from doing that before. What about getting rid of the DeKalb School Board. That was ripped out of the hands of the DeKalb delegation. SB 84. The delegation did not support that bill. It was taken to the entire legislature.

What about Rep. Mike Jacobs and Senator Fran Millar? Jacobs has been overheard saying that he is ok with a delay for additional new cities in DeKalb as long as it does not last too long. How do you think he would have felt about that idea when he was fighting for Brookhaven?

What about Sen. Millar? He sponsored the Lakeside city bill. Where is his indignation? He appears to have become wishy-washy about his support because he now realizes that he has voters that could support him as a part of all three DeKalb city movements. If he does things like he has in the past he will take the issue to the entire Senate. Of course he will not do that. He will not break with Ralston nor will he stand up to MMO. She holds the DeKalb delegation captive because Ralston has her back. Millar also lives in the city of Dunwoody. Is this irony or politics?

The city movement has evolved because of deep corruption and incompetence in DeKalb. Should it be delayed any longer?

Thank you,
Don McChesney

LAWYERS, LEMMINGS, AND LEGAL FEES

For quite a while, I’ve wanted to write a blog about the district’s legal issues, specifically the Heery case. I have not previously written anything because I did not want to damage the court case for DeKalb taxpayers.  I’ve heard recent speculation that the Heery case is going to be settled soon.  No one would be happier about that than I, provided the settlement is good for the taxpayers of DeKalb. This case has been conflated with the mess regarding a former superintendent and COO.  That’s unfortunate as the cases are two different things.  The Heery case is also complicated and not easily distilled into sound bites.

When I joined the board in 2009, the Heery case was already underway.  The District parted ways with Heery because of concerns about their management and billing for various construction projects.  Heery sued the district for terminating their contract.  The suit the District brought is a counter-suit for improper, overbilling.  Over the years I was presented with evidence documenting Heery’s overbilling practices.  It looked like the taxpayer got a raw deal and as their representative I was obligated to try and recover this loss. Inevitably lawyers for Heery want to link their case with the proceedings against the former superintendent and COO.  These are separate issues but it makes for good political theater to comingle these matters.  Then there were the all the delays despite the district asking to proceed to trial.

Now we may be on the eve of settling this case.  If the taxpayers will be recouping a good portion of what they were over-charged, I say good.  Unfortunately, I’m hearing that the settlement amount might be less than $10 million.  That amount does not make the district whole or address the overbilling.  Just this year, at the request of the court, a “special master” was brought in to review the claims brought by Heery and DeKalb.  On April 2nd, the special master, Judge Stanley Birch, eliminated the majority of Heery’s claim against the district and dismissed the idea that the Heery case was related to the pending matters of Dr. Lewis and Ms. Reid.  Judge Birch later reduced DeKalb’s claims to $33.5 million.  The district still has a substantial amount to gain but Heery’s claims were gutted.  Heery cannot afford to lose a court case because that affects their ability to do more business with public entities.  That is important leverage for the district.  The district should get more than a $5-$10 million settlement given Judge Birch’s findings.

I am aware that the public’s patience for this case has grown thin.  Mine has too.  As this BOE is negotiating a settlement, keep in mind that one current board member has received contributions from a partner at the law firm that represents Heery.  The board member also sits on a community advisory board with a vice-president of Heery International.  I am concerned about the conflict of interests these relationships bring to the discussion.  I want this case to settle in the best interests of the taxpayer and we need to demand that our interests are the ones being considered, not those of friends and contributors.

DEKALB HAD A CHANCE AND THEY BLEW IT

The Druid Hills Charter Cluster has been passed over by the school board. It is truly a shame. The central office staff wins and the children lose. The vote turned out just about the way I had predicted in previous blogs. You could see this one coming.

We can speculate on why it failed but I think we all know. Superintendent Thurmond was directly behind its failure. He surely instructed his staff to come up with any conceivable negative they could. He did not want $29 million of the budget going into the hands of private individuals that would use it for children. He still has friends he must get hired at executive salaries, if possible. Watch for him to talk about a charter system that will benefit all of DeKalb County students not just a few. It will be a paper tiger that will not improve the performance of our students at all, nor will it give any real control and authority to the school house.

Did the DHCC folks make some errors? Sure they did. Their voting method was a weakness, but that was prescribed in the law. The way they would choose their board was a weakness, but I am absolutely convinced that the product they produced would be superior to that of the current way the school system provides education.

Where do we go from here?

The board needs to get busy finding a tough-nosed, highly competent superintendent. What are the chances of that happening? It will go just like the last superintendent vote and the charter cluster vote. The south side majority will hold sway. It is all about control.  It is noteworthy that the biggest proponent of the charter cluster, Mr. Orson, was the board member who claimed credit for getting Mr. Thurmond to serve as superintendent. This is the same Mr. Thurmond who, at Monday’s meeting, told Mr. Orson that he was argumentative and acting like he didn’t trust staff.

Where are our consensus makers Marshall, Jim and Thad? They all promised you harmony and consensus. In fact, what they found out was the same thing Pam, Nancy, and I found out. They have no power and they lack a board that produces well reasoned votes that do not just think about maintaining the power structure. There is no quid pro quo in DeKalb. If it is a vote that has meaning the north side will pay the taxes and the south side will reap the benefits. It is a split system as it exists right now only it is NOT improving. It must change for us to move forward. The tragedy is that south DeKalb would have potentially benefited from the charter cluster in the future.

Are the Governor and SACS going to remove this board because they can’t get along. The 5-4 vote last night and turbulent discussion, is surely a sign of the overused word, “dysfunctional”.  Pam, Nancy and I have warned you before:  no matter who you place on the board, it is the administration that is the real problem.  DeKalb citizens your BOE is being used as a rubber stamp. The only thing board members can do is to ask hard questions and expect answers. The last time I looked, Dr. Elgart of SACS, frowned on any vigorous board discussions, especially those that didn’t back the staff. Folks, what you are looking at here is the failure of SACS to be honest with you and a failure of our government to deal with school district staffs gone wild.  The accreditation obsession with “governance” fails us here.  SACS and our State could do us all a favor if they would admit that they should measure administrative competence and results and issue reports and recommendations about that.  ANY board that is seated in DeKalb, appointed or elected, will only make the necessary changes to the hired staff, if they are forced to do so by an outside source.

Start thinking about the May board elections and get your questions and ideas about solutions. We need to start looking now.. Watch for the independent school district vote in the upcoming legislature. That may be the last hope.

Thanks,
Don

DEKALB ODDS AND ENDS. EDUCATION AND CITY-HOOD.

Hello all. There are many items being bantered around DeKalb County that could directly effect your life and voting choices in the future. I attended Nancy Jester’s Coffee Talk on October 1 and a host of issues were discussed. It was a great forum and many individuals and groups presented their ideas on various issues influencing DeKalb. Let’s look at just a few.

THE DRUID HILLS CHARTER CLUSTER PROPOSAL

Mr. Lewis from the Georgia Charter Schools Association was present and he gave his hopes and evaluations of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster Movement. He definitely thought it was an improvement for the students of the cluster and hoped that it would be approved by the BOE. Mr. Lewis recognizes the long term impact this could have. If the Charter Cluster passes it will probably start an avalanche of requests from other parts of DeKalb and also other places in the state. In effect, local school boards would be ceding much of their current authority to cluster governing boards. That terrifies many on our current board in DeKalb. They could be voting to make themselves somewhat irrelevant. I think this cluster idea has an uphill fight in the county. I see a 6-3 or at best 5-4 vote against the cluster. Remember the interim super. does not really favor charters, and South DeKalb generally sees charter clusters as an attempt to hijack part of the school system from DeKalb to form a potential separate school system. Of course that is currently not possible in Georgia based on the law. Their main fear is losing control over the money that runs the school district and can be used to generate more jobs. School districts 1,2, and 4 account for about two thirds of the school tax base. That is a significant number. Charter Clusters that control funding for the students will leave fewer resources under the control of the central office. This means they’d have less money to fund central office positions.

What may happen? I believe the interim super. will push for the entire system to become a charter system. Of course this will not really have much impact on the children or learning. If this decision is made for the betterment of the children in the cluster then the board will vote to approve the charter cluster. It will be an interesting November or December vote.

COMMON CORE

A representative from Concerned Women for America of Georgia was there to speak in opposition to the common core standards. The original idea of Common Core standards was to create a set of curriculum standards that could be used across the country. It was supposed to be developed by the states cooperating with each other to produce a national curriculum that would benefit students in our mobile society. I believe as of now 45 states have signed on. It was a great idea until the whole process got hijacked by the federal government and the states playing this game to get money. This is how Race to the Top was born. The Gates Foundation was also a large contributor to Common Core. Georgia agreed to jump right in for Race to the Top money. When we did that we ceded our individual authority over our state curriculum to the FEDS. Georgia’s take in the money dept. was about $100 million over four years. All this was done when school systems were losing millions of dollars from the state and local tax incomes. We were so desperate for money we gave our authority to someone else. What have we ended up with? A program that was not piloted and tested. We just bought it. Our legislature, state dept. of education, and the Governor were all for it. Now that the mommies and daddies have started examining the issue some back tracking is evident. Is it too late?

I always used to tell my students when they would say….”the government ought to do something”, that they were ceding their individual rights to make their own decisions. Is this what we really want? If we adopt Common Core we have effectively given control to Washington D.C. At the moment I am not very happy with their decision making process.

INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT

I see our BOE is ready to extend the contract of our Interim super. What happened to all that talk about a national search to find a permanent super? There has been no search nor any attempt at a search. The BOE has been disingenuous about this from the beginning. I personally have not been impressed with our interim. I have been to several meetings where the info. he imparts is just not factual. Did you know that he has now hired a couple of his potential critics? What is that about keeping your enemies closer to you than your friends? I do not believe he has found any money. The previous CFO was so uncomfortable with the budget that he quit and drove back to his home in another state on the same day. Before I left the BOE we were instituting going from a cash accounting system to an accrual system. This will make your budget more realistic at almost all times. When you use the cash system you can keep putting the same pot of money under a different thimble every month. This makes you look good but it is long term suicide.

I am sure he will be awarded a new contract. The max legal contract for a county school superintendent is three years by Georgia law. How long will he get? Will they give him a raise? Of course this BOE has already voted to buy cars for administrators who make over $100k a year. I am sure the teachers are really happy with that.

CITY-HOOD MOVEMENTS

I have been intrigued by the various city formation movements. With such poor county government it is no secret why they have occurred. They have also arisen because many hope that independent school districts will eventually come to fruition. Representative Tom Taylor of Dunwoody has introduced such a bill, HB 486, into the legislature. It will be a long uphill battle but hopefully it will become a reality in the near future.

It is also intriguing how some of our elected officials vote. The Druid Hills representative Mary Margaret Oliver in the last session of the legislature introduced a bill to stop the formation of future DeKalb cities. In the same legislative session she introduced the bill for the formation of the City of Briarcliff. I say that it is impossible to maintain these two positions simultaneously. Along the same lines, Marshall Orson, District 2 representative to the school board, stood against the state charter school amendment but is for the Druid Hills Charter Cluster movement. Once again how do you maintain opposing opinions on the same issue simultaneously?

Thanks again to Nancy Jester for bringing together these various groups to discuss and examine issues that impact us all.

Don