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.
Each year I would dread the board chair and vice chair elections. Board members would start calling you right after Christmas trying to line up votes to be the leader of the pack. It usually would involve a large amount of pressure as to why you should cast your vote for a certain person. Thankfully I will not have to deal with that this year. This year the chair-vice chair elections will go a long way to establishing credibility. The Board has one chance to get it right this year and earn some of that credibility.
Let’s look at what has transpired up to now. The street network tells me that Ms. Edler has been holding meetings with the new board members at her house trying to assure that Ms. Edler is chair and Marshall Orson vice chair. Dr. Walker has sent out an email saying that he would like support for returning as chair. I have heard rumblings that Mr. Cunningham is also going to throw his hat in the ring. If any of these folks become chair or vice chair it will be a disaster for the Board.
Let’s examine why. None of those previously mentioned have any credibility. Some because they have not been to the first meeting yet and some because they have little or no leadership ability and one because he has been significantly tainted by the SACS report. There are only two people that have any street credibility in the county. They would be Nancy Jester and Dr. Pam Speaks. Either would make a great chair or vice chair. Election of these two folks would send the first signal to the state and SACS that the Board is attempting to right the ship.
Now what do you think? Do you believe the Board can put down personal feelings and contribute to the greater good? My gut feeling is NO. The jockeying for power has started amongst the new board members and a coalition of the old some time ago. You see it is still about power and ego. Power and ego must be sacrificed for the good of the system. It will take a great deal of maturity to reach that decision.
SACS has already cited the new members as being in the schools using their elected positions to set their expectations. Beware of this kind of behavior. Of course they were doing all of this before they even take office. It is also very clear that one person is taking the lead on how the coalition thinks. I have already been copied on some emails that say I agree with what he/she said. One member has almost shown that they have no original thoughts only the thoughts of a compatriot.
If this Board has the guts to pick Ms. Jester and Dr. Speaks it will say a great deal about their dedication to fixing the problems of our school system. It would be a great present to the people of DeKalb County. It is not about race. It is about competence and leadership.
Coming soon. My thoughts on the SACS report.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.
Ladies and gentlemen. Tonight I would like to take a few minutes to comment on my four years on the DeKalb Board of Education. I would first like to sincerely thank the voters of District 2 for allowing me the honor of representing you for the last four years. It has been a challenging four years with very few dull moments.
I would also like to thank my colleagues for their contributions to my education about board service. I have truly learned something from each one of you, both past and present.
I have worked for three superintendents in 4 years. I have definitely been broken in properly. My experiences are probably more like having served multiple terms. I definitely know what change is about.
Please allow me to give a few thoughts on areas that we all need to work on. Let’s look at how this school system appears to define diversity. The dictionary defines diversity as having to do with variety. People and processes that are different from one another. I do not believe we understand that in our school system. Our student body is about 75% African American. Our work force is probably in excess of 80% African American. Our direction has been to increase those percentages and call it diversity. That definitely skirts the true meaning of the word. There definitely needs to be an increase in Asians, HIspanics, and Caucasians. Failing this, we will not have diversity of thought or action.
Let’s look at our future 7 districts and their interaction. Did you know that school board members are the only elected officials that are specifically held to voting on issues that affect the entire district? That means ignoring the very constituents that elected you on many issues. That is one reason why there is so great a misunderstanding amongst the public and the board. It puts terrible pressure on your board to accommodate the very people who put them in office.
Let’s expose the issue where this is most apparent to the Board of Education and those that elect them. How about redistricting? The main question I am always asked is “How can you send children from a school that passes state testing guidelines and send them to a school that does not pass? Last year this would be referring to AYP.
Ladies and gentlemen the BOE cannot build fences around the performing schools and exclude those from the poorer performing schools. There are those coming that want to cherry pick students for their neighborhood schools at the expense of other schools. Look at any redistricting plan DeKalb has done and you will see gerrymandering or social engineering. Remember every parent wants the best teachers, buildings , and leadership for their child no matter where they live. Just ask Cross Keys and their feeder schools.
Did we redistrict two years ago with catering to those who wanted SPLOST funds to build them a new school? How do you get on top of the list? Is it by political influence or need? Why do we continue to pour money into districts that continue to decline in enrollment and leave their schools open even when it is bad for ALL county taxpayers? Why did Ashford Park not get a new school? These are questions that deserve real answers that should factor out politics. The hardest decision for a school board member to make is… Will I vote against my district’s narrowed wishes if it has ultimate negative impact on the entire school system? It is hard to do that. Beware of those who only represent their own interests and pummel you with excess verbiage.
Let’s look at ethics for a moment. The school board has a very good ethics policy based on state guidelines. Ask your board to abide by those guidelines as they govern themselves. One of those areas is attendance and punctuality at meetings. I am proud to say I did not miss one board meeting in 4 years.
This board has had extreme pressure put on it from outside of their control. Remember some of the BOE’s major critics about the way we ethically approached things was the DeKalb delegation. It is interesting that those that charged the BOE with ethical questions refuse to have an ethical policy for themselves. They can look at my emails, but I cannot look at theirs.
In closing let me address one more issue. You have been told by someone that I have a bias for women. I would like to comment on that. On this Board I have two very close friends. They are both women. Dr. Pam Speaks and Nancy Jester. They have been wonderful to work with and have always shared their thoughts with me. They also have always had my back. They are great board members. They inquire, study, and know that it is about the students and not the adults. You should always seek people like them to represent you. I will let you ask them if I am gender biased.
The most important person in my life is also a woman. My wonderful wife Melinda. We have been married for forty one years. She is the greatest supporter anyone could have. She always stands with me, encourages me and accepts me for what I am. All that I may have accomplished over those 41 years is in great part owed to her. I wonder often how she could have lived with me all these years if I did not put women on an equal plane. Thank you dear for being the best. I chose well.
Finally, beware of those who only represent their own interests and the interests of a narrowed view. They will not help the school system return to greatness.
Remember two things. One is bumper sticker philosophy. It says Don’t believe everything you think. The second is that it is about the “kids” not the adults.
Thank you for letting me serve you.
I would like you to look at the following proposals given to the BOE on Tuesday Nov. 27, 2012. It includes a great deal of information about redistricting and school organization or reorganization. It includes things like a 6-12 school model. I would love to hear your comments on that. It also proposes the BOE voting on purchasing a bond(s) to accelerate the construction process. One bond would be in the $80 million range and a more aggressive bond for $130 million. Both would speed up the construction process by about 6 months. The money in interest and fees on the $80 million bond would be approximately $6 million. Please let me hear from you on this issue. Also let me know any thoughts you have on the original philosophy of pay as you go. That was the superintendent’s original idea. I do not know who changed the philosophy and when it occurred.
In our continuing effort to be transparent, we are making public the letter that is being sent to AdvancED in response to their inquiry. We are also making public our comments about the response.
From: Don McChesney
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Subject: My comments on the SACS response letter
I have been reading and rereading your response letter to SACS. My feeling is that we do not always directly address Dr. Elgart’s points. For example in bullet point 2 of Dr. Elgart’s letter it says…. The governing body operates responsibly and functions effectively. I believe that we get a grade of about 60 on that. I would prefer that we just say to SACS that we have issues within the entire system that need scrutiny. Please come in and help us fix the inefficiencies because we know they exist.
I believe that no matter what any letter says that Dr. Elgart is going to do an investigation. Let’s make sure we assist him rather than placing any obstacles in his way. I also am perplexed that you have been placed in the role of responding. These issues are clearly BOE issues that existed prior to you becoming superintendent. You have clearly implemented and tried many new things to upgrade our system. I am particularly enthused with our curriculum revamping and aligned common core standards. This goes to the heart of our real business.
I also believe that we do have issues in our finances. It appears that going back beyond when I came on the BOE that deficit spending was going on. In five years it appears that we have overspent about $50 million. If we had that money today our system would be solvent. I know that KPMG is doing an audit that I think will substantiate many of our suspicions and possible inefficiencies. I welcome this information. State auditors and past superintendents, it appears, have definitely not informed this board or some past boards on issues with our accounting procedures. I want to know why.
My suggestion is that we openly invite SACS in and ask them what we need to do to assist them in getting our system so that it eventually will function at its highest level. This is far better than the “death by a thousand paper cuts.” I am ready for progress and I know you are too.
I do appreciate the efforts you have made to make our school system a quality system. Let us all stay dedicated to this task.
We would like to take this opportunity to clarify recent board actions regarding the latest letter from AdvancED/SACS to the DeKalb County School District. The AJC’s initial report was not accurate and we want to communicate to you what actions were taken by the board at our meeting on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. The Board voted to formally acknowledge receipt of the letter. The Superintendent provided a memo to board members outlining a process to develop the District’s response. The Board voted to accept her process as well.
State law only allows for meetings in executive session for a few, very specific reasons. The discussion of the letter from AdvancED/SACS is not a matter that can be discussed in executive session. Wednesday’s Board meeting was held in public and there will be no meeting of the Board regarding this matter in executive session.
After we receive the draft of the District’s response, we will request a Board meeting to hear from our fellow Board members and vote to accept/reject the draft response. This meeting will be public and all Board members will have the opportunity to discuss the District’s response letter.
Most importantly, we want to share with you that we welcome the scrutiny from AdvancED/SACS. The issues that were raised in their letter have been concerns that we have publicly discussed at Board meetings and shared with various officials. Indeed, we have been the whistle blowers regarding some of these issues. We also want to remind the public that SB84 provides for the Governor to intervene with a Board of Education without the District losing accreditation. This protects the children in our schools while providing a mechanism to correct problems within a school district.
We hope that our statement helps clarify recent events and reports. As always, let us know your thoughts and comments.
I would like to urge everyone to get out and vote on July 31. During the course of this campaign I have been able to share a large amount of quality time with many of our citizens. It has been a rewarding experience for me. Thank you!
I have spent great moments with many of our teachers and parents and heard their worries and concerns. Our teachers have sacrificed for years and all they want is our respect. They certainly have mine. Our parents want great schools that provide their children with the education they need to be successful in life. I share this vision and appreciate the commitment they make to our schools.
I would appreciate your vote on Tuesday.
I first would like to thank the DeKalb School Watch Two blog for their endorsement. Ironically it was the start of this blog that helped spur me on toward running for the school board three and a half years ago. I saw and heard some of the common sense and probing questions they asked about DeKalb County Schools. Thanks to these folks and two of my colleagues Nancy Jester and Pam Speaks we now have begun to unravel the enigma of how our school district operates. I know I started asking questions about Title I spending three years ago. I met some resistance in getting answers. I started asking questions about construction issues and I was often given misinformation that did not become apparent until months later. One experienced Dekalb official said to me “no one ever asked questions before you arrived”. Well now I have help. Nancy, Pam, and I have begun to see some cracks in the super structure. These colleagues have been instrumental in moving us toward the accountability that everyone wants in our school district. “Electricity Nancy” has shown how our utility bills have been deliberately under estimated for years. Pam has helped me with Title I compatibility issues. We are making a good team. I remember saying to the superintendent about two years ago, “You know the budget is not really the budget if you plan to cover everything with emergency spending for shortfalls.” I believe the budget will be far more orderly as we move forward.
Now let’s look at the future of the BOE. Many of the candidates running for the school board have spent a great deal of time focused on how they would build consensus among board members. They have said that they see the lack of consensus as the problem in DeKalb. I agree that consensus is an important part of board service. Indeed, the current board generally agrees on the need to improve our academic achievement measurements. The problem is when the agreed, consensus-driven goal meets the allocation of resources. When the board makes choices about how to implement their vision for academic success at every school, all of the various social conflicts that are an organic part of our society become observable. When resources are more plentiful, the social conflicts are not as apparent. Unfortunately, we are in a time of decreasing funding and this strains the social fabric of our communities. This, along with a history of hiring practices that favored “friends and family” provide the circumstances that we have inherited today. No one board member will change these facts or circumstances.
My opponent and some others have spent some time making remarks about current board members, specifically Ms. Jester and Dr. Speaks. Do my opponent and his supporters realize that the most important consensus he can build is with those two board members? My experience has led me to see my opponent as myopic. During redistricting, his position was tantamount to putting a fence around his neighborhood and protecting it like it was a private school. He never saw the larger public good that could be created by turning two schools into top performers. I seek balance, fairness and achievement for all of our students. My opponent has used charged terms like “social justice” without considering or admitting the effects of his own advocacy. His work has certainly been in opposition to his rhetoric. But, that’s what you might expect from a skilled politician like Mr. Orson. I’ve had the privilege to serve you on the board for four years and I am asking for your vote again. Before being a board member I was a classroom teacher for 34 years. As a board member, I’ve worked diligently to improve the educational lives of all DeKalb’s children.
As we approach the July 31st vote I want to sincerely thank THE DEKALB SCHOOL WATCH TWO blog for their endorsement. It has impact with me and helps my resolve as I move forward. Keep those questions coming. We will turn this school district around.