BLOOD IN THE WATER

It appears the majority of people have gotten their wish. I heard and read numerous commentaries. Some of them were more informed than others, but that does not matter. The question now is “What happens next?” Let’s start by asking some questions.

1. Will the board sue as a board or individuals? Yes and Yes. The state board voted to retain the three new board members. That would be a violation of O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73 as I understand it. The law as it stands now says everyone goes. Does the State BOE have the right to amend law? Every mistake made in procedure or shooting from the hip will result in a legal challenge. Everyone loses here. Who loses the most? The students. The turmoil of litigation will slow the whole process to a crawl. The students and taxpayers need help now.

2. What will the Governor do? He has great public pressure on him. If he calls for their removal he may have to revisit his decision down the road. Politicians never like to have to take something back. Of course if he suspends he may be upheld. Or…….

3. Is the law constitutional. I think not, but I am just like everyone else with an opinion. Should this go to court, and I think it will, the state, Governor, and legislature may have to do a pull back down the road. Could it mean that all BOE members would be reinstated and made whole if they lose any pay? It could get really messy and expensive.

4. Can unelected officials have the power to remove elected boards of education? I have previously stated that I think only the voter can do that. You vote them out or you recall them. SACS made charges that they admitted they could not document or show to the state board of education. What did Ty Tagami say in his article. How do you fight smoke? Once again SACS has the power of God. Who are they accountable to? It is good if you get to be judge and jury.

5. What is the carnage? Pam Speaks and Nancy Jester. They are both solid people. They are not vicious politicians trying to get an edge. I like them both so I guess that makes me prejudiced. I was there with them, however ,when we were blown away in votes 6-3 numerous times. The Superintendent search was the beginning of the end. Very few people studied and had a real grasp of the issues at hand. Pam and Nancy knew the Board was blowing it, but could do nothing about it. Remember when the Board speaks you must support the vote. SACS will descend on you if you don”t.

6. What happens next week if the courts grant a trial on constitutional grounds? Will there be 15 board members?

My predictions. There will be suits. The DeKalb BOE will win on constitutional grounds. It will be long and laborious. I feel from what I have been reading today that everyone thinks that the DeKalb BOE is gone and everything is fixed. We are a long way from that.

Please do not misunderstand my points. I too think that most of this BOE is weak. There are some, in my opinion, who are not qualified. There are others that are purely political people that are there to have the limelight. They do not always prepare, but are quick to charge a TV camera or microphone. Voters could take care of this if they would. It is unfortunate that we seem to have two different electorates and they do not mix well. Too many people worried about one side of the county getting something the other side does not get whether real or imagined. It is not about “stuff”. It is about educating ALL the children.

What will be the outcome of all this posturing and opining? The voter will eventually get hyper focused on our legislature and their law making abilities. The Charter School law was overturned two years ago. Will this bill, that was run through our legislature to purposely get rid of the DeKalb Board, survive the courts? If not, we need to focus on those responsible. What about SACS? Will they have to be accountable to anyone. Right now they have unbelievable power and no restraints. Most everyone thinks they are an accrediting agency. Do they focus on academics? No. What is it they told Nancy Jester while at the GSBA convention? It is a process. By the academic record of DeKalb County they should have put us on probation years ago.

See you in court.

Don

HIDE THE CHILDREN, THE POLITICIANS ARE AT WORK

MY, MY, things are moving rapidly over at the ol’ school board. Walker is resigning from the chair. That is a good move. Now who will take over. There are only two people with any credibility on the board, Pam and Nancy. Of course that is like having the proverbial snow ball pass through hell. I do not believe it will happen. That leaves probably Melvin. I do not think any new BOE member should be chair or vice chair, but so many of the rest are unable. Of course what will change if Mr. Johnson becomes chair? He and Dr. Walker go way back.

What about the hiring of Thurbert Baker from McKenna, Long, and Aldridge? Let’s look at the connection here. Mr. Baker a former legislator; Mr. Thurmond former legislator and state labor commissioner. He worked closely with Dr. Walker, a former state legislator. The “DeKalb Friends Network” is intact and they are all on the payroll.

We are going to pay Baker $150,000 for governance training. This is incredible. As far back as two years ago I kept pointing out to my colleagues we could get this training from Sutherland, Asbill, and Brennan, who were the BOE’s attorneys, at no additional cost. That was not considered. Ask them why? We also could have had the GSBA do it at a much lower fee, or for nothing, depending on our arrangement with the GSBA. Why does the board need a high-priced legal firm with contacts to the “DeKalb Friends Network” for “governance” help when there are other closer and cheaper options?

It reminds me of when we were interviewing our legal firms about three years ago. Brock and Clay did a very capable presentation by a delightful Indian attorney. One of our board members asked if there was any “diversity” in her firm? When Sutherland made their presentation the same board member asked if there was anyone in their firm that had experience with African-Americans? The presenter was African-American. Some on our BOE clearly do not understand diversity.

I hope you are getting the picture.

It is good to see that three members of the BOE voted against hiring Mr. Baker. Thank you Pam, Donna, and Nancy for seeing the issue clearly.

Even Senator Millar has stated it is a waste of taxpayer money. Thank you for stating the obvious. Too bad Senator Millar did not step in sooner to try to help the voiceless on the DeKalb school board. He was chair of the education committee. Imagine the good he could have done in DeKalb and the state if he had authored legislation that reformed school district spending and actually held administrations and boards responsible for low student achievement scores. He could have proposed caps on central office expenditures at a percentage of total budget. I always got outvoted when trying to push more money to the classroom. I sure could have used state laws to help me force the district to change its spending ways. Instead, Sen. Millar was a supporter of the bill for getting rid of the BOE. I don’t like the board either but the law is seriously flawed. First, I know it’s unpopular to say, but it’s most likely unconstitutional. Call me sentimental but I like the constitution and believe it applies to the legislature. Let’s ask the Attorney General or the State Supreme Court to quickly hear this case so your time and money isn’t wasted. The law also doesn’t prevent anything. It’s only triggered with a SACS probation. Can’t our legislators come up with a system that prevents situations from getting to this point? They do this in other states. What’s wrong here?

Sen. Millar(R) and Rep. Oliver(D) were part of the downsizing movement of the board from 9 to 7. Many of us told them their plan would not work. Remember, both Millar and Oliver said the board would be reduced to seven at the last election? How did that work out? I and others often asked these legislators and others how it would work. We got blown off with official sounding commentary. In the case of MMO, I watched her literally run away from Pam Speaks at a luncheon at Warren Tech, when she tried to ask her how the downsizing of the board would work.

The DeKalb delegation was instrumental in redrawing the school districts for the last election. I personally appealed to one to see that a map be drawn that aligned neighborhoods that had like issues in common. The current map still keeps the Briarcliff corridor marginalized. This was all done to protect one particular area of the county. Tucker/Stone Mountain should have its rep as well. There really is a logical and legal way to draw these maps to align people. Instead we drew them to assure political autonomy. At a meeting at the capitol I heard one Rep. in the delegation say to Nancy Jester to fix the map so MMO would accept it. Do you see who is driving the bus?

There are two people on this BOE that continually fight for children and reason. They are never heard. It is a shame that they be asked to sacrifice their jobs when they are consistently outvoted on almost every issue.

Remember in 2009 when I challenged the hiring of a particular law firm because they were a duplication of services? That is when Dr. Walker replied to me with his famous “I see color” speech. In it he said he was not race neutral.

Remember this: Dr. Walker, Thurbert Baker, Michael Thurmond, MMO and her protector Speaker Ralston go back a long way.

The sad part about our BOE and county delegation is that maneuvering wins and principles lose.

Flash. This just in. The BOE is asking for an injunction on Thursday’s meeting with the state board. They are challenging the law on constitutional grounds. I think they will win this because the law is most certainly unconstitutional. Same legislators involved in this one. I believe the BOE would benefit with some change, but the law is poorly written. If the injunction fails they will play the race card. That is their only defense.

Don

DOES HE GET IT?

Will the DeKalb Board Of Eduction (BOE) be booted on Feb. 21st? If what I read in the paper is true, they will be history. The BOE is stacking their whole case on the back of new Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond.

In the AJC Mr. Thurmond said “the board has voted and decided that I will be the spokesperson. I will make the case on behalf of the DeKalb school district…”

Being a former board member, I find this somewhat curious. First of all, I do not recall a public vote on this issue. If there was no public vote,  Mr. Thurmond has revealed executive session discussion. When I was on the BOE, we took no official votes in executive session. Any course of action discussed in executive session that was going to be moved on had to occur in a public vote. Usually you tried to see what the consensus was so you did not have an embarrassment in your public vote. Of course that happened Monday night when Ms. Edler had to change her vote. Obviously two of her “friends” voted differently, or should I say politically, to make themselves look good to the public.

Mr. Thurmond has his target audience all wrong. It is not the state legislature, it is the state BOE. If the DeKalb BOE is depending on Mr. Thurmond, he better be the tooth fairy. Public sentiment clearly wants the BOE in DeKalb out based on the state law, O.C.G.A § 20-2-73.  Suspension and removal of local school board members under certain circumstances. Of course, I believe the state law is unconstitutional. The DeKalb board’s only real way of attacking the issue is to attack it on constitutional grounds.

Didn’t they just hire Bob Wilson a couple of weeks ago? I thought he was hired to represent them against the state BOE and the Governor if it looked like the board would be removed. If Mr. Wilson files an injunction and it is granted, the BOE hearing will not take place.

As much as the BOE would benefit from a few strategic changes, the law says everybody goes (or does it)? Check out HB 115 in the state Senate for reading right now. This appears to be a highly partisan bill presented to protect our three new board members. Why would Ed Lindsey sign on to this? I believe there is influence going on from part of the DeKalb Board through some DeKalb legislators that have conveniently gotten some others to put their names on the bill. Can you say Druid Hills?

What will be the outcome? If Mr. Thurmond is the plan – bye bye board. If Mr. Wilson is the plan – BOE eventually wins in the Georgia Supreme Court. I believe the Governor would like this to go to the courts. Why? He avoids getting involved in the DeKalb mess and won’t be embarrassed when the law is ruled unconstitutional.

What do you think?

Don

THE SHAKEDOWN

It appears my worst fears have come true. I really do not understand the severance, but I am sure the lawyers have crafted each word with Teflon. As I have previously stated, DeKalb schools are broke. Where will the severance money come from? Almost $23,000 a month. WOW. I do not know the inner details, but there is one thing I am sure of… it’s a shakedown. From downtown Decatur to Mountain Industrial Blvd., the taxpayer is fleeced. There seems to be no responsible way to stop this runaway train. I wonder where Mr. Perrone will find the money?

Of course, this can of worms leads directly to the next can of worms. With such nice terms for Dr. Atkinson, what should we expect for Mr. Thurmond? First, his salary should be minimal. His experience is minimal. In fact he has no experience in the formal educational field. If they pay him $275,000+, I think I will lose my mind.

One would think the executive session would have been an arduous meeting about his contract. Did they just fold or will there be some real limitations on the new superintendent? We already have a car for the super. In fact we just bought it. That was when we surplused a vehicle that was still worth $15,000 even though our policy states it has to be $5,000 or less. We should not buy the super a new car nor should they give an allowance because we already have the car. If they give an allowance then what do we do with the car? Read the contract carefully. See what the out clauses are and how much they will cost you. What does it take to dismiss for convenience? How many votes does it take. This is where the taxpayer gets fleeced. What does it cost you when it is time to go?

Judging by my past experience with most of this group, they will sign away the farm. I would expect Pam and Nancy to object, but they will most likely be outvoted in the final analysis. If Mr. Thurmond demands the farm let him go. His resume in this field is devoid of experience. Speaking of resume, has anyone seen Mr. Thurmond’s resume? Do you think you will see one before the crowning?

We are making a bad choice here. Our students are the victims of adult ego games. We will soon be Kansas City. They went from a system about the size of DeKalb to 15,000 students in a very short time.

The vote on this contract is critical. Watch carefully how your board member votes. It is the difference between sanity and insanity.

I thought the TITANIC could only sink once, but it appears I am wrong.

WHAT WILL THEY DO NEXT? PROGRESS OR THE ABYSS?

Based on the AJC article I saw the BOE is definitely in the hunt for a new super. MIchael Thurmond appears to be the candidate of favor. While I am sure that Mr. Thurmond is a delightful person, I must ask ….. what are his qualifications to supervise a school system?

If this selection does occur, he would merely be a figurehead or political window dressing for a struggling board trying to desperately appear responsible and progressive. Looking at his history, it would appear that he and Gene Walker are old friends. Now let’s see…. that would give Dr. Walker control of the top two jobs in the DeKalb school system. He would be the chair of the BOE and he would have direct access to the superintendents chair. Does anyone remember Huey Long? Even FDR was afraid of Huey Long and he was the President.

Now what about a contract? How much would you pay? Should it be more than the previous super. or should it be less? How could you pay him more or even the same as the previous super?

Let’s face it. The workload on the staff will become enormous. Mr. Thurmond would be a media darling. He will be moving around the system, pressing the flesh, talking to the DeKalb Chamber, and collecting accolades wherever he can go. What educational work will he do? What educational work can he do? Now this is not his fault. Remember a couple of days ago he is walking around town without a job and now someone invites him to please come fix something he has no experience in. It does not matter. Work for us. We will give you bags of money. How could you blame anyone in their right mind for not accepting this offer?

Now what about the “former” superintendent. Is there a severance package? She had a very cushy contract. It was one I opposed during its creation. I knew that honeymoons do not last forever. I also remember one of our current board members proposing that it take a three fourths vote to dismiss her for convenience.  I thought that was a bad idea at the time. If she just left or resigned why would you pay her anything? I wonder if the finance department has any extra cash laying around to pay for a severance package? I do remember when I left the BOE after December 2012 that we were pretty much broke.

My goodness folks. We seem to be in a time warp. Watch how your representative votes. It will clearly delineate the responsible from the irresponsible.

Now all this is purely speculation. Let’s see if any of it becomes reality.

Don

I TOLD YOU SO. Saga of the Last Superintendent Search.

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” As speculation mounts that we’ll soon be in need of a new superintendent, it’s a good time to tell you the saga of the last superintendent search. It’s a cautionary tale.

The superintendent search was the most arduous and difficult task I dealt with while on the Board. I almost resigned a couple of times due to the ensuing train wreck I was powerless to stop. I always thought reasoned argument amongst board members would win out in the end. I thought facts mattered. Alas, how naive I was.

Let’s start with our search firm Ray and Associates. Some of our board will tell you Ray and Associates did a poor job. I thought they were quite professional and delivered quality candidates that met our requirements. As the BOE reviewed candidates, some of my fellow Board members ruled out candidates that had top-notch credentials and solid records that clearly met the requirements we designed. With each ridiculous objection, the selection criteria morphed into something else. Ray and Associates grew very frustrated because the BOE had them chasing their tail. In our original criteria we wanted a superintendent with communication and media skills, success in a challenged school system, ability to raise student achievement, and capable of removing the bloat from the central office . I was looking for a clean break and preferred that we not choose anyone with ties to DeKalb County.

The day we started the process I was full of anticipation. I had the opportunity to help make a choice that could fix our faltering district. At this point I was unaware of the hidden criteria for picking a superintendent.

We met to study resumes. We spent hours reviewing stacks of applications and resumes. I learned a great deal about my colleagues’ study capabilities. We all isolated ourselves around the room and began to read. We did not have discussions with each other during the entire period. Representatives from Ray and Associates were in the room to answer any questions. I took notes on each candidate. Some Board members seemed to have difficulty staying on task. Attention spans were all over the place. Those who did not take notes had a very difficult time at the end of the process remembering who was who. That is when one of our members asked if we could have pictures of the candidates. I knew then we had a real problem. Ray and Associates provided an “easy” matrix system evaluation so we could see where all our candidates stood as we ranked them in several categories. Two of our members never could really do the matrix system. The consulting firm had to show them how to add their numbers. I think the highest number we had to deal with was seven. You would assume that after awhile everyone would figure it out. These two never did. We probably did these rankings about four times.

After the ranking we came up with six candidates for the top of the list. This would be the group we interviewed. I did not like the list but my top two made the cut. Pam Speaks, Nancy Jester, and I talked after the meeting. We had each ranked the same candidate #1. We found out later that one other member also had this person first on their list. I was feeling optimistic.

The Board’s short list for interviews included Lillie Cox as number one. She was not my first pick, but she was on my list. While she was definitely smart and understood instruction, she seemed too reserved in her first interview. I thought the media and parents would eat her alive. After the interview rounds, she was chosen as one of our final three that would participate in a public forum. I thought she would fail this test. I was totally wrong. She met the parents and media and hit a home run in my estimation. She began to grow on me. I thought another candidate not in the final three was better, but I could go with Dr. Cox. She showed poise and knowledge. She clearly understood education and showed more savvy than I anticipated.

Note that the person four Board members ranked number one was not in the final three.

In a fascinating set of events, the Board offered Dr. Cox a contract. One member sat in stunned silence with head in hands – speechless. The board had six or seven members in favor of offering the contract. I was surprised because, while Dr. Cox wasn’t my first pick, she was a solid professional. Ultimately I was happy the process had worked. In hindsight, I should have known better.

Within the majority that supported Dr. Cox at this point, was a member using their vote to express their anger at another board member. Yes, there are Board members who use their vote in punitive ways or in exchange for something else, rather than what is good for children. It happens all the time. If you watch some of our members during votes, you can see they are making a decision based on how others vote. As the Board was in negotiations with Dr. Cox, leaks hit the media. The two or three “no” votes had their victory. They obstructed the majority of the Board from carrying out its will.

The remaining candidates were not viable to me. Four of us pressured to bring back the candidate that we had ranked number one. It was a hard fight. Two of our board members were vehemently against my number one . At a previous interview, one of these board members sat near the candidate and fell asleep during the questions. This candidate had the best interview I have ever seen. Members that opposed this candidate either purposefully tried to twist the candidate’s record or they weren’t capable of understanding the facts. Either way, the interests of children were not served well. This candidate had a solid record of achievement in the specific areas that have plagued DeKalb for many years.

At this time, you probably recall, Pam, Nancy, and I wrote a letter to express our frustration with the process. Our voices were being diminished by all means available to those on the board that wanted to further their hidden agenda. Nancy and I were summoned to SACS headquarters. We were told it wasn’t good form to announce one’s vote in advance of a meeting. We maintained that it was corrosive and hostile to leak information to thwart the will of the board until some hidden agenda is realized. At that meeting, I felt we were being nudged to “go along to get along”. Nancy and I held our ground because we felt that it was the ethical thing to do. It didn’t occur to me at the time but, the person, three of us viewed as the most qualified, came from a state that accredits its own schools rather than hand over that responsibility to SACS.

This is when Cheryl Atkinson entered the discussion. The entire board had previously reviewed her resume and took a pass. Come to find out Dr. Atkinson served on SACS committees before. I also sensed that SACS turned a fourth board member who had always agreed with me on the ranking of candidates. Soon, this board member began to speak out in favor of hiring Dr. Atkinson.

It is here that I had to acknowledge the hidden agenda in this whole process. The superintendent had to be African-American. Anything that interfered with this agenda was irrelevant. The majority had completely lost focus on the students.

Dr. Atkinson was now rammed through the process and totally faulty arguments were used to dismiss the candidate that four of us had originally chosen as number one. Aspirin became my best friend.

The BOE did not pick the most qualified candidate. I did not say that Dr. Atkinson was unqualified. She simply was not the best candidate we had before us. I talked with some people from Loraine including a board member. The things I was alerted to became a reality: micromanaging, lack of information, and traveling with an entourage and driver.

Even though two of my colleagues supported my thoughts on this opinion we were steamrolled in the vote. We never had a chance. We were pressured by everyone to make the vote unanimous. I could not in good conscience do that. When I was reading my factual comparison on Dr. Atkinson and comparing her record to the one we had rejected three of my colleagues got up and walked out. My commentary was made before the official board vote on confirmation.

We are not in a diverse system. We are in an African-American system in DeKalb. If you are not African-American the welcome sign is not out. The best person must be hired no matter the race. My number one choice was not white.

The stories you have all heard about the five member block vote is true. You cannot turn around a block vote with a single vote.

So I say go ask the six who hired this lady to defend their position. I bet you will be met with silence.

I TOLD YOU SO.

Don