Let’s look further at the SACS AdvancED Special Visit Report. Specifically, I’d like to tackle the issue of the Coralwood shuttle. I’ve reviewed my emails on this subject and it’s clear to me that SACS must have missed something. Let me set the stage: After previously giving parents a route number and time to meet their bus, the district sent an email to parents at 6pm the night before school began, alerting them to the cancellation of their bus service from this location. The parents began inquiring about why this was done. They were eventually told they could pay for a shuttle service from their location and were given a host of different prices. Or, they could meet their route at the Henderson MS pick-up point. They requested that the administration reconsider originating the bus from the Coralwood location. They never received a response from the chain of command.
I specifically asked for the Superintendent to look into the matter. I was clear this was an administrative decision and, while she didn’t need to agree with my thoughts, she should give the parents an answer. Here’s the email where I asked her to do just that:
|Thursday, September 20, 2012 3:15 PM -0400|
Cheryl L.H. Atkinson
I would ask that you please give the Coralwood shuttle people some kind of answer. You already know that I think our actions have not dealt with them fairly. My request is simple. Please give them an answer in a timely fashion. This has gone on far beyond a reasonable timeline. Please contact [name redacted] with your decision.
At an earlier meeting where discussion of this shuttle came up, the Superintendent had to tell staff to “just tell the truth”. After that interaction, I thanked the Superintendent for directing her staff to give the board honest information. Here is that email:
|Tuesday, October 2, 2012 12:04 PM -0400|
Cheryl L.H. Atkinson
NANCY JESTER PAM SPEAKS H PAUL_WOMACK
I would like to thank you for your response during last night’s debate on the shuttle. Your call for a direct answer was a breath of fresh air. The “skirt around the issue” answers I have received over the last 4 years have become tiresome. You saw it happening again last night. I will tell you this. One of the interested parties emailed me this morning and said “….he was not telling the truth regarding notification”. I have seen this before from this person. I want to know that when staff gives me information that I can count on it. Some staff cannot separate policy, job , and politics. They must stay out of the political part.
I appreciate your response last night during the dialogue. I hope this does not come down to a complaint about money. We could have saved $1.8 million in transportation had we done something about Magnet transportation. Now we are going to quibble about pocket change over 30 students.
Keep in mind the majority of people who would be served by this bus were in District 4 and not District 1 (Jester) or District 2 (McChesney). It appears we were fighting for equality across the system and not our districts.
Unexpectedly, the Superintendent placed the matter of this shuttle on the Board’s agenda for a vote. Why would she do that? Why wouldn’t she just make the call, up or down, on the idea of originating the shuttle from HMS or Coralwood? During the board meeting, staff members presented the issue as it were an additional bus with all the cost associated with that. In fact, it was simply asking for the route origination to start from another location. I had to ask probing questions to bring this to light. Did I seem distrustful? You bet I did and with good reason. It was near impossible to get direct answers.
STATE BOARD HEARING JANUARY 17, 2013
Now let’s look at the upcoming suspension hearing by the State Board of Education.
The relevant facts are that the twenty page SACS report is filled with non specific charges. Only the board chair was singled out. It is akin to punishing the whole class for the indiscretions of a few. Members of the BOE are “ordered to be there and…. “file a witness list”… “The parties are further directed to exchange copies of documents…”
OK. How do you file documents of defense when you do not know what you have been specifically charged with? Some of the things in the SACS report I have no specific knowledge of.
I understand this BOE has been a pain to deal with. I have experienced this first hand. Unfortunately, it is hard to answer inferences on generalities with which you are not familiar. It sounds like a Soviet court. We say you are guilty of something, but I won’t tell you what it is. Now prove your innocence.
What will be the ultimate outcome? First, This legislation will not stand up to a court test. How can one group of elected officials have power not prescribed in the state constitution over another group of elected officials? It appears to me there are two ways you can remove board members: 1. Vote for someone else or; 2. Recall them. Lawyers all over the state are salivating to take on any board of education’s case on this issue. It will be costly to the taxpayer. I also believe the state board must give the local board a chance to rectify the charges of substance. I am no lawyer, but I believe this is poorly written legislation. It was run, by the way, through our legislature to purely punish DeKalb County. It was just like reducing the size of the board. I kept telling our delegation that competence of the board had nothing to do with the number on the board. It is not how many, but WHO.
In summing up, It is important to know that I interpret SACS as saying “support the educrats at all times. They know best, they are professionals, you should follow their lead. Don’t ask too many questions,especially penetrating and difficult ones. If you are being mislead, do not probe any further because your decorum will not be acceptable. We do not want you to represent a constituency even though they put you in office.” Representing a constituency does not mean that you do what they command, but evaluate their concerns and probe valid issues. It is OK for board members to have opinions about issues and offer staff their advice. That is why there is a board.
Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for. I’m going to tell you the politically incorrect story behind the AdvancED/SACS Special Review Report. Please note that I am going to use the pronoun “I” even though, AdvancED/SACS has some sort of prohibition on its use.
Today’s post is going to cover two issues raised in the report – (1) The Coralwood Shuttle and (2) the textbook line of credit.
The Coralwood shuttle issue is a classic DeKalb tale of politics, poor planning by staff and terrible communications. Make no mistake, the report is talking about me and Nancy Jester but they really mess up the circumstances and facts. How could SACS get their facts so wrong? Here’s the scoop: Despite Ms. Jester and me voting to eliminate ALL magnet transportation, the perk was maintained in this year’s budget. I liken it to going to the poor-house in your fur coat. One of the magnet shuttles to Chamblee Middle School (CMS) originated at Coralwood. The weekend before school started, CMS parents were told their route number and pick-up times for the Coralwood Shuttle. Inexplicably, on the evening before the first day of school, parents were abruptly told that there would be no shuttle from this location and they’d have to pick up the shuttle at Henderson Middle School (HMS). This was all done under the guise of being consistent with “the transportation efficiency plan”. If you are familiar with the traffic around HMS, you have to wonder why anyone would think this was an efficient location for a hub. When this route was changed at the last minute, parents contacted the administration. They went through the “chain of command” but never got responses from the Superintendent, so they subsequently contacted board members. I asked the Superintendent about the issue. I didn’t get a response. Eventually the administration took up the matter. Eventually the parents contacted me again. They included the entire chain of emails from the school system that showed the administration had fumbled the ball. I kept trying to get a response from the Superintendent but to no avail. Eventually I was in a meeting with the Superintendent and I brought up the subject. In the presence of two other board members, I said (paraphrasing), “You do not need to give them, or me, the answer that I want, but you need to give these people an answer.” The Superintendent told us the Coralwood people were being treated differently than others had been so she felt that one bus should be moved to Coralwood from HMS. Again, this was just changing the location of a bus, not adding a service. That’s important because staff members in the chain of command seemed confused about this fact. Perhaps it was because some staff members were playing politics with this one route. (I have another blog about misleading information from staff.) The superintendent then said she’d put this on the October agenda. I was adamant this was an administrative decision and did not need board approval. The Superintendent put this item on the agenda anyway rather than making decisions like we pay her to do.
Note to SACS: Ask the Superintendent why she isn’t living up to her administrative responsibilities. I believe she didn’t want to look as if she were benefiting the north side of the county thus losing face with some from the south side of the county. Why do we pay Superintendents such large salaries if they are uncomfortable making the tough calls?
SACS also said the board members that questioned the staff, “displayed a suspicion and lack of trust for any information provided by the staff.” SACS, do you know how many times the BOE has received misinformation, incomplete information, or down right falsehoods? I have cast votes based on information from staff that proved to be wrong and would later cost the taxpayer money. I pointed out to the superintendent later that that she might want to look at the political motivations of some of her staff but she didn’t take my advice.
SACS, you got this one wrong because you did not know the whole story. Alas, you weren’t really interested in the facts. You were interested in protecting the educrats.
Onto the textbook line of credit. When this line of credit was brought to us (2009) we were told this would help smooth out cash flow. Every five years or so, the district would have a major expenditure on textbooks. The textbook lease was supposedly going to help spread out the costs over several years. It seemed reasonable at the time. I had yet to have evidence that I was routinely being misled, so I voted to approve this. Looking back, I should have asked if they were going to use this money for something other than textbooks but that would look like I was suspicious of staff. The BOE, to my knowledge, never approved this fund to be used for anything else. Based on the KPMG audit, it appears that staff regularly would make spending decisions outside of Board approval. SACS, this one is on the administration not the Board.
It is clear to me that SACS holds the BOE responsible for following policy, but gives a wink and a nod if the staff chooses not to follow policy. Protect those educrats at all cost!
SACS clearly does not police accreditation until someone forces them to. DCSD has been a failing system for more than a decade. This is referenced in their report. We have gone through reviews and kept our accreditation when we should have been sanctioned for substantial and relavant matters, like the quality of the educational product. DCSD isn’t alone in this either. Many systems around our state and nation are failing our students. It is clear that academics do not matter until someone complains. That is not my idea of what an accrediting group is supposed to represent. SACS also is not able to distinguish the difference between micromanaging and advocacy.
The two issues I have discussed are clearly administrative errors and worse. These matters are not board failures. I have a friend I often have breakfast with. He has become my breakfast psychoanalyst.. He said to me today…”You know it seems as if your school system staff suffers from ADR.” “What’s that mean?” I say. “Ain’t doin’ right”. I couldn’t agree more.
More to come in the future.