Why isn’t superintendent handling school closings in DeKalb?

I had one question at the end of tonight’s nearly four hour Citizens Planning Task Force meeting on which under-capacity DeKalb schools to close: Why didn’t the DeKalb County schools superintendent make this tough decision?

More than 350 parents and children attended a meeting on possible school closings in DeKalb to show support for their schools. AJC/Hyosub Shin

More than 350 parents and children attended a meeting on possible school closings in DeKalb to show support for their schools. AJC/Hyosub Shin

Instead, a citizen task force is doing the hard, no-win job of paring down an original list of 83 schools to four for possible closing and consolidation. The task force will present its findings to the county school board in two weeks, and the board will make the actual decision of which schools to close after another round of public hearings.

Tonight, the dwindling list went from 14 to 10 with the elimination of Medlock, Briar Vista, Laurel Ridge and Avondale elementaries. The task force voted those schools off the list because the schools around them lacked the capacity to absorb the displaced students. (See the AJC story.)

Before the meeting started, someone pointed out to me that Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall would have made this decision on her own without a 20-member task force, six highly emotional public meetings and all this sturm and drang.  Attended by 350 parents and students, tonight’s meeting included entreaties and poetry by students, impassioned speeches by parents, suggestions of racially driven decision-making by a task  force members and plans for a possible second meeting this week.

Why go through such a public and protracted drama? Isn’t school leadership supposed to confront the hard choices?

The task force is making its decisions based on data supplied by the county. It is  supposed to come up with candidates for closure and consolidation based on quantifiable criteria.

The main considerations of the task force are factual, including which schools are under capacity, are unlikely to regain students and are close to schools with empty seats. To discern which schools best match that criteria, the task force is using information supplied by county staff.

So why couldn’t county staff use the same data to come up with four schools for the superintendent? It would have been quicker and easier.  Now, parents keep having to return to these task force meetings, waving the same “Save our school” signs and making the same pleas to spare their schools.

With a $115 million deficit, DeKalb has to close schools. Is it an abdication of duty to push this unpleasant, unpopular and  and time-consuming job onto a task force operating under incredible pressure and deadlines?

I believe the public has a right to be heard in this process, but I think they ought to be talking to the school board and superintendent and not 20 citizen volunteers.

What do you think?

125 comments Add your comment

Product of DCSS

March 31st, 2010
12:07 am

I’m not sure whether you’re referring to the superintendent who is currently under investigation or his protege. Either way, isn’t there a slight credibility issue there?

distractions

March 31st, 2010
12:10 am

It has allowed for distractions from other budgetary decisions, many if not most of which will directly impact the classrooms of all of the schools. It deflects responsibility and allows leadership to stand aside and say that the community had input. It divides communities and hinders the creation of commonalities which could turn the focus to other potential sources of revenue for review. HOWEVER, it also puts the responsibility of thinking through decisions in the hands of some community members, it encourages discussions and debates (often frustrating, frequently painful). It encourages parents to get involved in their schools, which often they have neglected. It has opened sources of data. I’m not sure what I would prefer. Reading comments from parents in other communities indicates that a closed door process is no less painful or suspect.

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me

March 31st, 2010
12:48 am

i am concerned about my husband’s pay getting cut by 6.25 percent.

JB

March 31st, 2010
12:55 am

Why can’t people get it through their thick skulls that unless they are willing to pay more taxes, services (like under-used schools) will have to be cut? And is it really a surprise that many of the schools being closed are in “predominantly African-American” neighborhoods? Isn’t that what Dekalb County primarily is made up of? Why does every single negative item have to be branded as “racist”? Isn’t it just possible that it is the reality of the times?

lee

March 31st, 2010
5:46 am

There is a great deal of mistrust in DCSS. In fact, “central office positions” under consideration for cuts includes special education teachers, social workers, psychologists, and others who have not gotten a contract yet. They were re-classified recently as central office positions….mistrust? Definitely!

drew (former teacher)

March 31st, 2010
5:58 am

“Isn’t school leadership supposed to confront the hard choices?”

The reason an administrative decision wasn’t made is exactly because it is a hard choice, and it’s a political lose/lose. And then, of course, the race card’s going to be played loud and often, as if these cuts are just another case of the “white man” sticking it to the (proud) “black man”.

Funny…taxpayers are all for “cutting waste and excess”, unless it’s THEIR waste and excess. The voters of Dekalb have spoken…if they are not willing to pony up additional school taxes, schools will be closed.

Maybe they need to look into that charter school in PA that doubles as a “club” at night. I bet that would get more parents more involved in their schools, eh?

LCD

March 31st, 2010
5:59 am

All praise the great B. Hall; she is the all powerful and knows all of what is going on in her own county. Mere mortals must tremible in her great awesomeness. She has made all of APS test scores rise (no im not kinding she really did with an eraser). Wait, maybe someone should pull back the curtain (OZ refernce here) and see that Bev is just full of ………………….. hot air?

Teach

March 31st, 2010
6:09 am

Maureen – I agree with you. There is a staff for just this type of information. I believe most if not all superintendents would use data from the staff to make a decision and present his/her recommendation to the Board for the final decision. The Board can then agree or make changes based on knowledge and their constituents.

Teach

March 31st, 2010
6:12 am

Maureen, will you question Herb Garrett, Executive Director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, about this topic?

say what?

March 31st, 2010
7:02 am

They school system did decide (remember the initial list). Because people complained that it was unfair to certain schools, the process was opened up to have community participation, and guess what? Some of the same schools are coming up on the list created by this committee that were on the school system’s staff list.

This will be a lesson for parents also, stop using theme and magnet schools outside of your area, stop using other people’s addresses to get your kids in a “better” school. Now your local home school may be closed for a lack of students.

Meadowview, Gresham Park, and Skyhaven can go to Clifton and the $17M McNair Learning Academy. Tough choices have to be made.

Glad that people are participating in the process, which is neeeded more often.

Write Your Board Members

March 31st, 2010
7:34 am

Say What is wrong. The original list wasn’t released until the first committee meeting. The Board and the Super (Dr. Lewis at the time) are using this committee to for cover. It appears that the Task Force will end up nearly exactly where they started, but at least the public has seen the process.

Dr. Lewis has a huge personality flaw for a leader. He can’t stand to be unloved. Ninety percent of the time, he makes decisions based on the easiest path.

When this Task Force was formed, there was no one foreseeing what happened with Dr. Lewis. Again, he avoids the heavy lifting.

Dunwoody Mom

March 31st, 2010
7:58 am

I don’t have a problem with this process. It does show a willingness to be open and allow public input and this is data-driven, so other than the continuing nonsense about north vs south, I think it’s a fair process. As someone pointed out, the school system came up with the original list so that the Task Force could have a starting point.

On the other end of the spectrum you have Gwinnett County. Alvin Wilbanks just decides which schools to close and that’s that. That way of doing things makes parents unhappy as well. So, what’s the answer?
Either parents want input or they dont.

Inquisitive Parent

March 31st, 2010
8:07 am

It’s easy to say that the school system has the data and that the Superintendent and BOE should make the decision alone. However, I found data for our school that was omitted. I understand that the choices that the CPTF and BOE are making are not going to make everyone happy. However, we do have the right as citizens and parents to see the data that is being used to make these decisions.

I should also point out that I made a request for information regarding our school under the Open Records Act thirteen days ago and received NO response. The law states such requests must be answered within three days. Maybe YOU should take a closer look at YOUR school’s information as well.

Dunwoody Mom

March 31st, 2010
8:18 am

Inquisitive Parent, what data did you request? Looking at the information that the CPTF has released, it seems pretty comprehensive to me.

The Cynical White Boy

March 31st, 2010
8:26 am

And…. the AJC headline screams: “Ten that remain are in primarily poor African-American neighborhoods.”

Well, until the editorial staff added that byline, I was afraid there would be an AJC lead article that didn’t claim racism. Okay, everuthing is normal at the AJC today.

Carry on.

Allen

March 31st, 2010
8:29 am

An inquiry on relatively recent past history: DCSS has closed schools in the past, of course. In what neighborhoods were those schools? Does the fact that these 10 schools are in S. DeKalb reflect a past history of schools in other parts of the county and not S. DeKalb being closed previously, or have school closings in the past also focused on S. DeKalb? I have no idea of this history and thought some of you might know.

lyncoln

March 31st, 2010
8:45 am

It seems the smarter move to just open up the meetings like this.

If the superintendent and/or board had just come out one day with a statement of “Schools X, Y and Z will be closed and consolidated in the next school year”, the result would have been parents of all the schools swearing about wrong decisions and that school A should have been closed instead and why was their school picked? Not to mention the certain portion of people who would make statements about how ‘the government wasn’t transparent’ and ‘there was no public input’ and ‘I wish we could see what factors they weighed in making their decision’.

Using a multistep and very public forum they have the chance to show exactly what was considered to everyone. Everyone that wasn’t selected will be able to rationalize how the correct choice was made because they weren’t selected, and the minority who is selected will be able to argue, but with little support from others. Because everyone knows how the recommendations were decided people will rationalize why it was a good decision.

No matter how the decision is made someone will complain, but by letting people see every difficult step and decision made to reach the final choices you have a better chance of having less outrage and more acceptance of the final choice.

Better might have been a taskforce chaired by a member of the schoolboard or the superintendent with the same citizen volunteers, but then everyone would question how the volunteers were selected and swear that everyone on the taskforce is just a crony of the superintendent and they’re just going to rubber stamp whatever the central office tells them.

I agree that the multistep public meetings by a volunteer group are a painfully long way to reach the final decision, but this way helps the school system show how it really is trying to make the ‘best’ decision in a difficult situation.

Clarence

March 31st, 2010
8:48 am

There is no leadership in this state. Not in school districts, not in counties, and certainly not at the Capitol.

dee Bo

March 31st, 2010
8:50 am

In Replay to “i am concerned about my husband’s pay getting cut by 6.25 percent.” thats part of the problem, greed. They should cut everyone pay and save some of the needed jobs, lower the over paid people that happened with Johnny Brown came to Dekalb.

Keith

March 31st, 2010
9:06 am

I am so sick of hearing you thugs claim racism regarding this school closing thing. They are not looking at race, but whatever makes the most sense. Plus, black people don’t really go to school anyway so what is the problem? I think black parents don’t want their schools closed since they probably use the school as a babysitter. I find it so funny how it proves over and over how bad black leadership is. Look at Clayton County Schools, C-Tran, DeKalb County PD and schools, etc. Can you people do anything right besides cause crime? Amazing how you don’t see these problems in East Cobb, Alpharetta, Forsyth, etc.

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
9:11 am

No, there are areas of DeKalb that are not predominantly black. But, that is beside the point. The real issue rests with the mean income of those folks living in South Dekalb County. This is one of the most disenfranchised areas of Atlanta. I teach down here (albeit at the college level) and I see serious issues of neglect in regard to public services in this area. It’s the same story that I’ve seen in every place I’ve lived. There is always that invisible border (a highway, railway, interstate, etc.) that delineates a divide between the haves and have-nots. Drive down Candler sometime … pawn shops, check cashing/loan offices, title loan businesses, liquor stores, etc. No community centers. No parks. No intelligent development. These communities are thoroughfares for commuters. Nothing more. And they continued to be ignored by the wealthier side of town. What the folks in the more affluent areas of the county fail to realize is that, eventually, the problems that plague these areas – crime, unemployment, drug abuse, etc – will bleed over into their neighborhoods. You cannot expect to prosper as a whole if a part is falling. The people in the northern part of the county need to help their neighbors to the south and do their part to help build up South Dekalb County – to help improve the quality of life. If they don’t, if they continue to ignore these issues, the problems won’t just be problems “down there,” but will soon be in their own backyards. Maybe then they’ll get it, but by then it may be too late.

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
9:13 am

stuck in filter

A Different Opinion

March 31st, 2010
9:17 am

You know, Maureen, that’s a good point. And I’d like to answer that question with sort of an analogy…..the recent Healthcare Bill signed by Comrade Obama was passed by a partisan group of elected officials who ignored the collective will of the majority of the American People who did not approve of the bill passed……now, to the original question…..why didn’t the Superintendent make the decision?……in asking this question, aren’t you advocating the same thing that the elected officials did in passing the healthcare bill? The collective input of the taxpaying citizens of DeKalb County is more desirable than an Obama, Reed, Pelosi like ramrodding and I applaud the good people that stood against this type of rule.

Race Is Not ALWAYS An Issue

March 31st, 2010
9:17 am

If people in general will look at the big picture, school participation, etc., is the main reason for school closures. A lot of parents need to get off the butts if they are not working and participate at the school even as a volunteer & make sure their kids are going to school & doing their homework & school assignments. I work, but I take time off to participate for my granddaughter. I can tell a big difference in DeKalb County School System & Henry Co. School System. The parents in Henry are very good in participating at the school, I can hardly get a parking space when I get there, and that’s a good thing. I am a female that is Black. Let’s stop with the race thing in every issue & that goes for all races.

Thomas Korne

March 31st, 2010
9:17 am

THE TRUTH HURTS
If you live in an ALL WHITE neighborhood if Dekalb. Your local school is full of blacks from the south side. Your only chose is now to send your kids to private or a magnet school. If I wanted my child to attend an all black school we would move to Lithonia. If the blacks would stay in their home schools The problem would be solved less private schools and full neighborhood public schools

Cammi317

March 31st, 2010
9:25 am

Laurel Ridge has been on and off the chopping block for the last several years, but they always seem to survive. I don’t think that they have ever had more than 300-330 students and McLendon is 3 minutes away. Interesting how that works. But then again, I hear that they have heavy parent participation and support which makes all of the difference in the world.

Allen

March 31st, 2010
9:25 am

Different Opinion–
Obama, Reid, Pelosi were all elected by majority vote (which, BTW, GW Bush initially was not) and implemented a policy they clearly said they would favor while running for election. Unless you want to substitute polls of a few thousand people for the electoral process involving all registered voters, this was an expression of the majority opinion, as procedurally outlined by the Constitution.

Keith–You are a parody of yourself. In sentence 1 you denouce the race card and by sentence 3 you put on a white hood.

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
9:26 am

Maureen, can you get me out of the filter?

A white person

March 31st, 2010
9:26 am

Kieth,

Your are rude.

Keith

March 31st, 2010
9:30 am

Why? Because I speak the TRUTH? What did I say that is not a fact? Don’t blame me for your problems.

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
9:36 am

@Keith – I see the same issues with poor whites. It’s an issue of income level and uneducated parents. However, I see more poor black parents taking an interest in their child’s education than I do poor whites. But, go on and let your ignorance shine, shine, shine.

I Figured As Much

March 31st, 2010
9:40 am

Maureen – why do you allow Keith’s comments through when they have nothing to do with the topic?? Monitor please!

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
9:41 am

and my earlier comment is still in the filter

Keith

March 31st, 2010
9:43 am

Ha ha ha. JacketFan are you that stupid? I thought Tech dorks were supposed to be smart? “More black parents take an interested in their child’s education then whites?” WHAT? Hmmmm. Why is it that all of the best schools in this state, and the country, are mostly white schools? Why do black schools have more crime and even have to walk through medal detectors? How pathetic. Why do you very rarely hear about issues or problems at mostly white schools? Why are there more blacks in jail then with a college degree? Yea, their parents care, good call. 30-24 by the way loser.

An advocate for public education change & choice

March 31st, 2010
9:48 am

The comments presented by distractions are dead on, in my opinion. I’m still wondering if there is a truly a 1 to 1 corallation between the State level cuts and these HUGE deficits all of sudden raining down out of the sky. This task force is being used as poltical cover for the the superintendent as well as the School Board in Dekalb. In the end they will all cry, “We only did what the citizens participating on the task force told us was the best thing to do”. When you’re $100+ in debt, what real difference is $4 million they will save from closing 4 schools really going to amount to anyway??

In closing, I will give credit to APS superintendent, Dr. Hall because she is capable of making executive descisions in situations like this dispite what you viewpoint concerns her descisions maybe. I’ll take a decisive executive leader over a wishy washy one any day.

An American

March 31st, 2010
9:50 am

From Dekalb’s school website:
Diversity:
Asian 4.40%; Black 71.30%; Hispanic 11.75%; White 10.70%;
Native American 0.25%%
Multiracial 1.60%
Student Count
49,142 elementary school students
22,647 middle school students
29,290 high school students

Given that 71% of the student population in Dekalb is black, it is more likely than not that the schools being closed would have a predominantly black population. This is not about race, but statistic probability.

An advocate for public education change & choice

March 31st, 2010
9:52 am

@Keith: There are issues of a simular stripe in East Cobb, you don’t hear about them because they are masked. As for North Fulton (aka Alpharhetta) they have successfully quarantined the schools that serve those neighborhoods off from the remainder of the system. Can’t speak to Forsyth but its interesting to see the stark difference between the school systems in the metro Atlanta area and those in other major population centers across the state.

Seth

March 31st, 2010
9:54 am

how about the hard choice of not closing schools and cutting back on the bloated administrative positions in the school system. They even pointed out that they were overstaffed by their own point system.

An American

March 31st, 2010
9:54 am

@ keith – there are not more black men in prison than college – try watching the movie What Black Men Think (though I hardly think that you will).

Attentive Parent

March 31st, 2010
9:55 am

Inquisitive Parent and anyone else interested in the Georgia Open Records Act and Public School Records-

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation has prepared a green book that you may find helpful.

Here’s a link to the pdf. http://www.gfaf.org/resources/greenBook.pdf

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
9:56 am

@Keith – First, I was comparing poor blacks and poor whites. Your observation about the “best schools,” again, has to do with mean income, not race. Children of affluent blacks are in the same good schools that you are talking about.

Poverty is often linked to race, especially minorities. And, at first glance, the numbers suggest that minorities make up the majority of those living at or below poverty level. However, those numbers are misleading, as whites still hold a strong majority over any of the minority races overall and poor whites outnumber poor blacks nearly 3:1.. A look at welfare programs show that whites take more than 80%, on average, of government welfare.

Most poor whites live in rural areas and are spread out, while poor blacks are concentrated in urban areas. If you look at BOR statistics, the number of schools serving poor whites (mostly rural), and that are failing, far exceed the number of failing schools that serve primarily poor black communities. The metro area is not a microcosm for the statewide, or the nationwide, picture.

Those counties you are talking about happen to be among the richest counties in the state and, thanks to white flight, do serve a predominantly white, affluent population. But, again, these are outliers and not a model for the big picture.

PS – 4-2 … mutt

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
9:58 am

Maureen, can you PLEASE release my comments from the filter?

Keith

March 31st, 2010
9:58 am

A new study from the Justice Policy Institute (http://www.justicepolicy.org), a Washington, DC-based think-tank has found that there are more black men in jail or prison than in college. At the end of 2005, 791,600 black men were behind bars and 603,032 were enrolled in colleges or universities. By contrast, in 1980 — before the prison boom — black men in college outnumbered black men behind bars by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, the study found.

Dekalb mom

March 31st, 2010
10:13 am

what needs to be done along with clossing a few schools is a complete redistricting. The current lines are completely out of whack. This is the time for the board to step up and redraw attendance lines and consolidate schools to build better communities and fix the mess we currently have. An American–thank you for data. 71% African American in Dekalb County. Can we quit talking about race now?

JacketFan

March 31st, 2010
10:14 am

Maureen, what gives? Why am I still in the filter?

Allen

March 31st, 2010
10:18 am

Seth–
Hear, hear.
The small amount–$4 million is the highest I’ve heard–to be saved with these school closings can be easily identified in the HQ budget.

Kick Keith out

March 31st, 2010
10:27 am

Can someone escort Keith out of this blog?

Ann

March 31st, 2010
10:30 am

With respect to whether or not DeKalb even needs to close schools, the chair of the task force last night made a very good point. He said that ‘every dollar we spend on an empty seat is a dollar that could go to an actual child or teacher in the system.’ He and others also encouraged everyone to use the term “consolidate” instead of close. The task force is closing buildings, but they are consolidating schools. People, there are schools with 300+ empty seats. That just isn’t reasonable, especially when these schools are adjacent to other half-full buildings. While this process has been painful to schools on the list and the task force members, it is the only way to have this completely transparent. If this decision had been made behind closed doors, the board or central office would have been accused of not soliciting enough parent input. Parent input is always going to be painful. Once the task force has its recommendation, at least those being consolidated will know, 100%, why their schools were chosen.

Ann

March 31st, 2010
10:35 am

At last night’s task force meeting, the chair of the task force made a very good point. He said that ‘every dollar we spend on an empty seat is a dollar that could go to an actual child or teacher in the system.’ He and others also encouraged everyone to use the term “consolidate” instead of close. The task force is closing buildings, but they are consolidating schools. People, there are schools with 300+ empty seats. That just isn’t reasonable, especially when these schools are adjacent to other half-full buildings. While this process has been painful to schools on the list and the task force members, it is the only way to have this completely transparent. If this decision had been made behind closed doors, the board or central office would have been accused of not soliciting enough parent input. Parent input is always going to be painful. Once the task force has its recommendation, at least those being consolidated will know, 100%, why their schools were chosen.