Vacations in Alaska and Supreme Court Justices

Hello everybody. My wife and I just returned from a great cruise to Alaska. We saw tons of wildlife foreign to city living – bears (brown, black , and Grizzly), bald eagles and more.  I thought our vacation would be free of any discussion about the politics in Georgia or DeKalb.  But then I didn’t expect to meet a judge at dinner.

It turns out that we shared a dinner table with a justice on the state supreme court of a northeastern state.  I was jolted out of the wilderness and back to DeKalb. I filled him in on the Georgia State Supreme Court’s recent hearing on the constitutionality of SB84 – the law invoked to remove 6 board members earlier this year. I tried to succinctly relay both sides of an issue to him.  He looked sort of stunned as I was describing the situation.  When I finished, he immediately jumped to the “due process” issue and asked where along the way, each individual was granted their due process rights.  I related to him that in my opinion that step somehow got skipped.  In fact, a judge at one point stated that the individual hearings constituted the necessary due process.  I’m not sure the judge read the statute completely because in these individual hearings the ONLY standard for their reinstatement is that they “are more likely than not” to help the district retain or re-attain accreditation.  In each of the individual hearings, the accreditor (SACS) said that they have no documentation of any wrong doing for any of the individual board members but their opinion was that these folks wouldn’t help in that regard.  The law, with its “more likely than not” language actually prohibits the application of due process because no facts or findings are required.  Here’s the recipe:

  1. District decides to be accredited even though there is no Georgia law that requires a district to do so.
  2. Accreditor writes a report based on “anonymous sources” with allegations that are not directed to any particular board member.
  3. Accreditor uses report to justify placing district on probation.
  4. Board is removed and replaced with appointees selected by the Governor pursuant to SB84.
  5. Board members can ask to be reinstated but the criteria for reinstatement in SB84 is that board member must be “more likely than not” to retain or re-attain accreditation.
  6. At individual hearings, accreditor just needs to give thumbs down on any given board members.  No facts, findings or substantial testimony needed.
  7. Repeat as necessary to get what you want.

I described the history and contents of SB 84 along with the relationships between SACS and our local legislators to my dinner partner.  He was amazed that elected officials could be removed without evidence or wrongdoing and further troubled by the criteria for reinstatement.  He didn’t see how accreditation could be used to remove someone from office.  He was adamant that some wrongdoing must be proved. He asked what had been proved in the state board of education hearing. I replied nothing. The agency placing the district on probation admitted it had no notes or actual proof of any wrongdoing. I told him that all they had to do was say these people on the Board were not doing their job collectively and “poof” they were all sent packing. OK, all were gone, except the inexplicable violation of SB84 that allowed three members to stay on the board.  SB84 just doesn’t provide an exception for any board member regardless of when they were elected.  The judge thought that this in itself was a technical defect that should cause the whole series of actions to be overruled.

I told the judge that we had a BOE that did not see eye to eye about many things.  But, a few people were removed from the Board who generally opposed many majority votes. They threw out the baby with the bath water.  In today’s AJC, an article about one of the recent hearings stated that,  “Bergman (the General Counsel for SACS) could produce no specific evidence of wrongdoing”……..”but SACS produced a report that alleged meddling and other misdeeds by unidentified board members.”  “They all are accountable for the actions of the entire board,” Bergman said. (emphasis added)  Let that be a lesson for you!  Think about the implications of that.  What if your child was held accountable for the misdeeds of other students in their school and punished thusly?  Do we remove all legislators because, as a whole, their legislative body produced a result we didn’t like?  Do we remove all the state supreme court justices because we do not like the decisions of the majority?  Who gets to trigger these events?  Who decides who is “more likely than not” to help any situation?  Should evidence that stands up to judiciary scrutiny be required or are anonymous allegations against unidentified people good enough?

In recent reports, Dr. Elgart has been going out of his way to criticize previous board members. He says he’s worried about the upcoming elections and supreme court case.  He’s holding accreditation hostage to his “concerns” and preferences.  I’ve heard a legislator express the same thing.  It looks like they are trying to influence the outcome of the pending case and the election.  Why do they feel it necessary to harm children and communities just to score points in their political battles?   I say, accreditors should worry about the credibility of their own product.  How many failing districts with “boards of distinction” do they accredit? (Hint: plenty!) Our legislators should worry about their own elections.  They might be surprised when someone runs against them.  No one can really control the electorate.  After the Civil War the Radical Republicans said they would control for a hundred years. It was pretty much over by 1876.

As dinner was coming to a close, the state supreme court justice looked at me and said “I would like to take a trip to Georgia to see what is going on”. So here I was in Alaska and I was able to get an outsider’s take on some of the issues.  I will be the first to admit that there are tension and turmoil in DeKalb and, for many years, the board of education has reflected the civic reality present here.  The truth is the newly appointed board does too.  They’ve made some terrible decisions ($1 million for cars for administrators, etc.) and they’ve squabbled during meetings (see Dr. Moreley vs. Mr. Orson re: accreditation and legal fees).   We did have some people on the previous Board that represented the county well but were constantly outvoted.  History has proven the wisdom of their votes and warnings.  They have been punished for doing their job.  And, while I disagree with Dr. Walker on most issues, I do believe SB84 was used to violate his rights to individual due process. Remember your rights and mine may be next. We’ll want them intact when we need them, so we should tread lightly and not be so quick to dispose of them for people with whom we disagree.

PAM SPEAKS – WHIPPING POST FOR THE STATE AND ADVANCED ED

‘PAM SPEAKS – WHIPPING POST FOR THE STATE AND ADVANCED ED’
By: Don McChesney

I attended the state hearing for Dr. Pam Speaks as she asked for reinstatement to the DeKalb County Board of Education. It was a sobering affair. First the Administrative Law Judge did a wonderful job helping Dr. Speaks, who represented herself, navigate the legal process and rules governing the hearing. Judge Wood was professional and worked to make Dr. Speaks feel at ease. It is too bad the state witnesses did not possess the professionalism and integrity of Judge Wood.

The constitutionality of the state statute allowing removal of the DeKalb Board was recently argued before the Georgia Supreme Court. One of the State’s arguments rests solidly on the statute providing individual due process, albeit after the fact. So the hearing I attended is important if this argument is to be accepted. The hearing would need to be a fair environment, centered on the State having to prove that Dr. Speaks engaged in some personal wrongdoing. The problem is that the statute itself, says that the only standard for reinstatement is whether or not the board member would improve the district’s ability to retain or re-attain accreditation. To suggest that a hearing on that standard can constitute “due process” for any individual is preposterous. Many people are unaware that even if Judge Wood finds in favor of Dr. Speaks that the Governor can choose to ignore the judge’s ruling.

At her hearing, Dr. Speaks asked the State and SACS several times to tell her what specifically she had done wrong as an individual board member. During the entire hearing (10am-2pm) no one would answer her question. Once again, nothing specific was brought to the floor that even alluded to, let alone proved, that Dr. Speaks had engaged in any misconduct. The state’s case, with support from SACS, simply stressed that Dr. Speaks was a member of a bad board so she must be guilty by association. I worked with Dr. Speaks for four years. I can unequivocally say that if the DeKalb Board of Education had an exemplary member it was Dr. Speaks.

The state blamed her for bad budgets, questionable administrative actions, etc.

It’s absurd to attach board and administrative failures to Dr. Speaks, who often voted against the actions, budgets and expenditures (including the hiring of our last Superintendent) that were unwise. We are living in strange times when honest, hard-working people are punished for the sins of others.

I have read the SACS report. It contains not one reference to anything specific that Dr. Speaks did wrong. The report is full of allegations without documentation and no sources are identified. How is it possible to remove someone from office without a shred of confirmable proof? How do you defend yourself when you do not know what you have been charged with?

I am extremely disappointed in SACS. Today I heard Dr. Elgart deny he had ever told some other board members that Dr. Speaks should have been elected to the chairmanship of the BOE. I was one of the ones he said that to. I started out my service having a healthy respect for SACS and its director. Today I have the exact opposite opinion. Cobb’s board is starting to ask questions of their administration and vote in ways similar to DeKalb. SACS is keen on defending ALL superintendents and staff, whether right or wrong, against the questions and resistance of Boards. The media has done a good job making school boards look insane. I won’t defend all boards or even this one, but the story you get is one that is crafted to make you think that boards are the problem. Review the interventions SACS has made in districts and colleges throughout the country. I cannot find an example of where they did not intervene for the benefit of an administrator while punishing boards. SACS was a major defender of Beverly Hall. I witnessed Dr. Elgart praise Beverly Hall for her leadership. How does that look today? SACS wants boards of education to vanish. They protect the interests and jobs of administrators and superintendents at every turn. If SACS is successful at vilifying boards, they can install more bureaucrats and exercise unchecked control of the educational establishment for which you and I pay.

SACS continues to state they have ample information regarding the DeKalb Board. Dr. Speaks asked to see what information they have that would show some wrongdoing on her part. SACS then says that they keep no business records of any kind so the ample information is not available. I wish the media would cover this.

Dr. Speaks, I say well done. You were professional and knowledgeable in the way you went about your duties. You were an asset to the students and taxpayers of DeKalb County. You asked questions that needed to be asked and endured “non-responsive” answers from a witness (according to Judge Wood) as well as the complete fabrications that I heard. You have served the county well. No one can take away what I know and observed. You are a true professional.

Browse here for the complete post and let me know your thoughts or questions. http://blog.donfordekalb.com/2013/06/17/231/

Thanks,
Don McChesney
DonForDeKalb@gmail.com

BUDGET REALITIES

It is time to look at the new DeKalb budget. The district has put the
timeline for FY2014′s budget on the website. There’s a public
budget hearing today at district office at 6pm. The second hearing will be
next Wednesday May 8th at 6pm. The final hearing will be on May 15th at
3pm.

All the metro school districts are in the middle of their budgeting season.
Gwinnett has published their FY2014 budget documents. They haven’t yet
indicated their millage rate yet. Cobb county is projecting shortfalls
similar to those of DeKalb’s over the past few years. Cobb is at a
crossroads in decision making. The board has already looked at a “cut list”
like DeKalb did in FY2013. Board members having line-item veto power in the
formulation of a budget isn’t healthy or looked upon kindly by SACS. If I
had their ear, I would tell them to look at the entire budget and find
essentials in the classroom and establish the untouchables before you
arbitrarily look at a “cut list”.

Last year the DeKalb budget was cut about $90 million. Cobb is looking at
similar numbers this year. It is an undeniable fact that you cannot
maintain the same level of services and cut that amount of money from the
budget. Sure, there is waste and redundancy to eliminate but that won’t get
you to $90 million. A typical school system has 90% of its budget tied up
in salaries and benefits. Most of these benefits come with price tags that
are set at the state level. Local systems do not control what they pay for
employee health and retirement benefits. With such a large percentage of
the budget spent on salaries, it is impossible to have cuts in the magnitude
of $90 million that do not affect staffing.

There are choices to make. Last year DeKalb could have saved almost $3
million by cutting magnet transportation. This is money being paid to move
students to their schools of choice. The district isn’t obligated to provide
transportation to schools of choice. Other districts have long ago
abandoned choice transportation or never provided it in the first place.
School systems no longer have the luxury of providing almost unlimited
transportation. From what I’ve read, Cobb has decided not to eliminate this
special transportation service because of the volume of complaints. That’s
what DeKalb did last year despite those of us who tried to reel in this
spending. Learn from our history. While we’re at it, ask yourself why we
employ SROs (our school police officers) for 12 months a year. Why don’t
we reduce their contract period to 10 months? That saves you about $1
million.

Millage rates – Last year DeKalb increased its millage rate from 22.98 to
23.98 over the objections of four board members. That puts the county 1.02
mills from its limit. Our rate is one of the highest in the state. I
predict that this year the BOE will increase the millage rate to the max.
That would probably bring in about $13 million. DeKalb will likely have a
deficit in the next fiscal year. It might be smaller if the economy slowly
improves and property values increase. Between the tax increases of the
DeKalb Commission and School Board combined with significantly higher water
rates, the DeKalb taxpayer has been hit enough. I still wonder why a
sanitation truck goes up and down my street four times a week. Folks, it
appears that we are paying for a jobs program.

So, what do you get for this? Did the teachers get a raise? Were there
fewer children in the classroom? With apologies to the “OneDeKalb”
propaganda – North DeKalb tends to pump in about 2/3rds of the tax revenue.
I don’t see any improvement in the next year. Barring manna from heaven,
the classes will not get smaller nor will there be any teacher raises.

Vacant Properties – I get quite a few questions about selling DCSS’s vacant
property. While I was on the board, there was little or no market for our
properties. The two most valuable properties DeKalb owns are Cross Keys and
the old Briarcliff High School. (Note: There was never any discussion about
selling Cross Keys. I’m simply talking about it because it is a valuable
piece of land.) Together they should be worth almost $100 million. You
probably could not get half that for both of them. If we sell those
properties at bargain basement prices, that would not show responsible
stewardship. Those two pieces of property could play a huge role in
DeKalb’s future. Some in the administration thought our most sellable
property was the old central offices off N. Decatur Rd. It was completely
wired for almost any kind of electronic needs a business could want.
Unfortunately if you drive there now you will see a blighted area that
businesses shy away from.

Reserve funds – Cobb is looking to use their surplus funds to make up the
shortfall. DeKalb did that. It is a mistake. It takes about $3 million a
day to run the DeKalb system. At a minimum, DeKalb should have $60 million
in reserves. Build and guard your surplus. It is really an emergency fund.
If you hit it for $20 million a year, as DeKalb was doing, it will soon be
gone. It takes a long time to build up reserves in today’s market. In DeKalb
we were using surplus funds to pay cost overruns for years. This was
skillfully hidden by our accounting system (cash) instead of a more accurate
system (accrual). Thank goodness DCSS is now using a modified accrual
method.

Class size increases – It is important to note that no one on the BOE, while
I was there , wanted to increase class sizes. Class size increases and
furlough days are the two variables that will balance your budget when you
have a large shortfall. The state DOE and legislature know this. That’s
why they approve class size waivers rather than hold districts to the state
class size “mandates”.

Pre-k – The popular lottery-funded pre-k program is not fully funded by the
state lottery. Most systems have gone away from offering pre-k within
their regular schools because their funding from the lottery didn’t cover
their costs. In addition, the number of students in pre-k can result in
fewer state dollars for the k-5 students in the building and decrease state
building funds too. This is because of the complicated QBE funding formula
and building utilization rules in order to qualify for state building money.
School systems are not required to maintain pre-K. Parents can access
lottery-funded pre-k through private providers that work with the state
agency Bright from the Start.

I’ve learned a few things over the years of watching and participating in
DCSS’s budgeting process: The budget situation isn’t going to get better
soon. Accept that tight budgets are the rule of the day. Find the waste.
Cut services that are not essential or mandated. Do not accept a tax
increase if the waste is not eliminated first. Short term decisions result
in long term failure.

MY THOUGHTS ON AJC DEKALB SCHOOLS ARTICLE OF APRIL 14, 2013

It was interesting to read the op-ed page of last Sunday’s AJC (4/14/13). Here’s some insight that I’d offer:

First Governor Deal writes in defense of his action to replace the board. The Governor says what every politician, everywhere, always says – “it is about the children”. He made his decisions based on political pressure coming from a few members of the DeKalb delegation. My hunch is that he was uncomfortable about making the decision because, as a former judge, he knows that SB84 (the law utilized to remove the board) may be found unconstitutional. Let’s juxtapose the DeKalb situation with how the Governor has refused to touch the indicted Sheriff of Clayton County despite the Georgia Sheriffs Association asking him to intervene based on a law about indicted officials.  Click here for a recap on that story.

What has happened here is politics and the politics of money, in particular. A few influential people on the delegation leaned on the Governor.  The Governor was also concerned about the economic interests of the Perimeter area.  Lots of sales tax revenue is generated there for the state.  If DeKalb suffered the fate of Clayton, the impact to state coffers would be a disaster.  That’s a legitimate concern but that’s not concern for “the children”.  I am sure some are still sweating the ultimate court decision.  Contrast the definitive action the Governor took in DeKalb with the lack of action taken regarding the Clayton Sheriff situation.  With one situation you had a report with no documented evidence and anonymous sources that did not testify before the state board.  The other situation had multiple sheriffs from around the state asking for an intervention to protect the safety for all the citizens, including the children.  It’s too bad that Clayton doesn’t generate enough sales tax revenue.  If it did, my money would be on the Governor stepping into that situation.

I respected SACS and liked Dr. Elgart personally. I think he is an intelligent man that wants the best for students. But his actions don’t match this.  I know he’s running a business but I trusted him to help the DeKalb school system more than he did.  Some of us on the board asked him to help us.  Unfortunately, the only voices he responded to were those of administrators – they came in when a former administrator asked them to.

I also take issue with the statement that “accreditation means quality”. DeKalb remained accredited during what Dr. Elgart described as ten years of decline.  If accreditation is a judgment on quality – why was there no intervention to arrest the decline?  At what absolute achievement value does an accreditor recognize that a system should not be accredited?  SACS has no such scale and any statement that “accreditation means quality” is a contrivance. Look across our nation and you will see how accreditors have grown while academic achievement has simultaneously faltered.  How can that be?

We may be happy that some folks on the board are now gone but no one who is intellectually honest can believe it has anything to do with the quality of education.  Are you aware that Dr. Elgart has advised the current school board to NOT interact with or engage the public? He has even suggested that they come up with a “script” or “canned” message for constituents. If you have a problem and alert your board member, he says it is unacceptable for them to relay your issue to the Superintendent.  Go to the staff yourself.  The same staff that would routinely give board members wrong or misleading answers to questions during board meetings.  In light of this, why do you need a school board member? They are only ceremonial in nature.  SACS really does not want the public to have any input. You just get to pay the bill.

As time goes by I think you will find out that the real trouble with DeKalb is the staff that has been acquired over the years. We have hired poorly for a decade. It is not so much family hiring. It is the hiring and promoting of friends. That is where the system broke down.

How is the DeKalb School Board Shaping Up?

I’M BACK

Sorry to disappoint you Maureen, but I plan on continuing to blog. I will stop when you do. Is it not conceivable that Ms. Jester and I might have insight into Board operations that you do not have? When I was on the board, I never suggested that you shouldn’t write about certain topics. Nor did I criticize you when your facts weren’t quite right. Commentary, criticism and opinion are part of the fabric of a free society. Maybe it’s just me, but I think giving the voters in DeKalb more information from more sources is quite healthy. I am glad you are out there talking about important issues in education. There’s room for us all. Now, on to business…

How are things shaping up in DeKalb with the appointed BOE?

I really enjoyed the Board meeting on April 1. Two things really struck me. One board member asked what “QBE” was. REALLY! The citizens of DeKalb need better than this. Ponder this with me: Do you think anyone could get elected if they stated in public they did not know what QBE was? Would you vote for someone who didn’t understand how our state funds education? In addition to not understanding QBE, one of the board members didn’t realize that a number of teachers and paras were RiF’d last year. Where have you been? Right now you have six appointed board members and three elected ones. That is quite a mix. You have one third of the population properly represented and two thirds unconstitutionally represented. Tell me that our legislature and the governor really thought through this one.

The second thing that struck me was the vote on the calendar. As I recall Ms. Jester and I voted against the balanced calendar. Of course we lost that vote. Now how should a responsible board have handled this issue at this point? I agree with everything Dr. Howe said about how the decision was made. It is interesting that they did not give such a forthright answer to me when I first heard the explanation. At this late date what should a board have done? In my opinion, we should have kept this calendar for one year and then returned to the traditional calendar if that is what teachers and parents preferred. By changing now you have messed up the folks who have already planned vacations, etc. around the announced calendar. Instead of messing up some of the people, you have now thrown a curve to everyone. One needed to bite the bullet on this one for just one year. You can go ahead and approve the traditional calendar for the following year.

Toxic bureaucracies

How about the Atlanta Public School System? They are in a world of hurt! In reading about how the APS hierarchy worked, I was reminded of DeKalb. When Dr. Atkinson started, communication to the BOE slowed to a crawl. Her top lieutenants were afraid to talk to board members. If they talked to us, they had to send an email to the Superintendent to explain. They were all under great stress. This would often show in Board meetings. I remember asking about Success For All (SFA). We asked if the teachers had proper input. Dr. Speaks specifically asked about the handling of the schoolhouse voting to approve the use of SFA. We were assured by a top member of the Atkinson team that teachers got to vote regarding the use of SFA in their schools. Based on what a staff member said Monday, the previous Board was clearly, purposefully given incorrect information. Why? If we know this, what other information provided by the administration is false? Could it be that information in the SACS report is suspect?

This is the same pressure that many in APS had to deal with. When your boss says “do this”, what are your options? What if you are a single parent with only your income and you are asked to fabricate answers by your superiors? That sure puts you in a bad position.   Some did things to protect their high salaries. Others did it because they saw no way out. Atkinson’s staff was the same way. It was her way or the highway. It is also not good to be a whistle blower. Look at Nancy Jester. She and I tried to shine light on some of the issues in DeKalb. Where did that get us? Many APS teachers were fired for speaking up about the cheating. There is danger in being a whistle blower. In our state, there’s no real protection.

In the coming weeks I plan on reporting to you about our Grand Jury interview and the Heery Mitchell case. This is where the media really led many astray. Also what about the Charter Cluster idea? That is going to be interesting.

Thanks for the support and encouragement. I have heard from so many of you who want to know more about my time on the board. It’s nice to hear from others who also want to fix this system. I do too.

Don

ALL IS WELL. THE HATED BOE IS GONE. OR IS IT?

Judge Story’s ruling seems to have many in DeKalb rather giddy. Many think prosperity is just around the corner. It is my hope that this will come to pass, but I doubt it. Let’s look at where we are right now.

You have three board members that have no experience, but large egos. You have a superintendent that probably means well, but sounds more like an evangelist to me. Did I mention that he had no experience in professional education? Of course that could turn out to be an asset. Unfortunately, someone up there charting a course must know something about education on more than a theoretical level. You have legislators who are charting your course for you. They too have large egos but little expertise in education. I know some senators and a few representatives that feel like those that yell the loudest are the winners in any debate. That was just like one of our former board members that always felt like if you got the last word you “won”.

Now who will the new people be? Will the Republicans stack the deck in the appointments or will they really try to find reasonable people that are not owned by a community, study and be willing to chart a course that will be lasting? Being a good board member is hard work. It takes study and preparation on a continuing basis. You can’t just be involved in your personal political gems. You must buy dust mops and replace grease traps. Will you study the bid sheets on these less than appealing items?

How will you replace the two highest functioning board members? Nancy Jester and Dr. Pam Speaks helped expose much of what they apparently have been jettisoned for. It is hard to imagine finding two more dedicated servants than these two. Did I mention that they had experience and have had all the tricks played on them? Without these two there, I am worried about what the budget will look like.

Ladies and gentlemen we are looking at a process that will not be quick. The public wants progress yesterday. This will probably be a slow journey to fruition. Do we have the patience?

We have many things to fix. The hated BOE is gone. What about leadership in the system? The Palace is full of dead weight and highly competent people. Who decides who goes and stays? What will be the criteria? Our building leaders have the same issues. We have many poor principals as well as many good ones. How do we fix that? Our classrooms suffer from the same issues. We have many weak teachers right along side of the outstanding ones. With tenure laws how do you clean house quickly? With all their armchair quarterbacking, why hasn’t the legislature passed useful laws that protect children rather than jobs?

Also you still have the constitutional question left. I am only a high school history teacher that tried to teach some of the basics of the constitution. Judge Story has totally mystified me. I agree the educational needs of the district’s children are the priority, but where in the Constitution does it reconcile that with due process? Don’t get me wrong, there were people on the board who had no business being there from a qualifications standpoint. But their district elected them and it should be difficult to thwart the will of the electorate without documented proof of their specific wrongdoing. I still believe the Georgia Supreme Court may strike down the removal law now that Judge Story has punted to them. I liken the Board’s situation to that of a coworker going to your boss and telling them that you are an evil person and should be replaced. On that basis your boss fires you. You think that is unfair so you want to question that person and see what “facts” they have submitted that would cause you to lose your job. You are told that you cannot question your accuser, the boss doesn’t have any documentation of your misdeeds and the matter is closed. How would you feel about that? That is what SACS did. That is what the GBOE and Governor did.They even admitted that they did not have corroborating evidence. Under oath, Dr. Elgart stated that his company does not keep any records regarding the review. In fact, during the hearing the whole textbook charge was completely blown out of the water by facts presented in testimony. It was a major piece of SACS allegations. Remember the Constitution exists for the just and the unjust. I would like to keep it around. We all might need it someday, including those due process rights. I do not want Big Brother to replace that document.

While we’re on the subject of Big Brother, did you catch who has been appointed as a co-liaison between the Governor’s Office and the DeKalb Board? R.L. Brown. You’re probably asking yourself, “Where have I heard that name before?” Most recently, you’ve heard it in the AJC in connection with the investigation into the DeKalb CEO. You may also remember him as the Chair of the Grady Hospital Board before it almost went bankrupt. Here’s a sampling of articles on that matter:

http://clatl.com/atlanta/was-walker-the-tip-of-gradys-iceberg/Content?oid=1254113
http://www.crimemagazine.com/emory-university-whistle-blower
http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2000/10/16/editorial7.html?page=all

So, who’s advising the Governor on the selection of liaisons? Are they these the people we want picking a new board? Are things likely to get better or simply quiet under their care?

Don

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.