Sorry, but I think DeKalb school official Ralph Simpson needs to be fired for selling his autobiography to public schools under his supervision. If others in the chain of command that approved the purchases of Simpson’s book for DeKalb C0unty schools is found to have faked signatures or lied about the fact that a colleague authored the book, they should also be fired.
Such self-serving acts undermine DeKalb’s argument that it does not have money for basics because of state cuts and falling property tax collections. I understand the amount spent on Simpson’s book was small, $12,560, but the purchase of the books creates legitimate doubts that anyone is minding the store in DeKalb. Since federal dollars were used to buy the books, I hope the U.S. Department of Education also demands an inquiry.
Over my many years of writing about government, I have seen countless examples of government entities crying about their budget needs, yet allowing thousands of dollars to go out the window in sweetheart deals to enrich the commissioner or a department head or somebody’s cousin. It is amazing to me how often government officials will risk their reputation and the reputation of their agency for a few thousand dollars in personal gain.
The agencies counter that these dubious expenses are hardly sizable, but that is not the point. The point is that at a time when schools are pleading for more funds, they are allowing these sorts of insider deals. If taxpayers doubt that DeKalb leaders are good stewards of their money, then they will not believe any of the pleas for more money for schools. When you tell parents that you are thinking about closing their schools, as DeKalb has done, or that you don’t have enough money for field trips, you better not be wasting a single penny anywhere.
I have to credit DeKalb school leaders for acting on this conflict of interest once they discovered it, but I also have to ask how lax their ethics standards are that this sale was allowed to go through in the first place:
When DeKalb school official Ralph Simpson wrote a book about himself in 2007, he didn’t look far for a ready-made market to sell it.
He sold more than $12,560 worth of copies of the book — titled “From Remedial To Remarkable” — to five schools in the school district where he works, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned. Two of the schools were under his direct supervision.
In the 70-page paperback, printed in large font generally reserved for children’s books, Simpson writes about his evolution from a high school student in remedial classes to an assistant superintendent with a doctorate degree.
Now Simpson and at least three other school officials are under investigation by the school district, which also is asking the Georgia Professional Standards Commission to review the matter. The commission has the power to investigate and discipline educators.
Simpson sold 605 copies of the book to the high school where he had recently served as principal.
On Thursday, the school district announced that it demoted Selina Carol Thedford, the principal who made the purchases, and is transferring her to another school as an assistant principal. Thedford succeeded Simpson as principal of Miller Grove High School in Lithonia.
The same day, interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson sent a letter to the Professional Standards Commission, saying that Thedford and one of her assistant principals, Latasha Searcy, might have violated the code of ethics for educators through their actions in the purchases.
The district has not yet decided whether it will discipline Simpson or others involved in the book purchases, said district Chief of Staff Alice Thompson.
Tyson also will recommend that the DeKalb school board create a new ethics policy that would prohibit using public funds to buy goods or services from district employees, Thompson said.
Simpson, 46, who has been employed by the school district since 1991, declined to comment on the book sales when reached by phone recently.
Neither Thedford nor Searcy returned phone messages seeking comment.
School officials first suggested tightening ethics policies last month when the AJC reported that school board member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham had sold at least $22,655 worth of food to DeKalb schools from two Lithonia restaurants he owned.
The revelations about book and food sales come as the DeKalb school district is trying to recover from the recent indictments of former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, former Chief Operating Officer Pat Reid and two others in connection with a construction program scandal.
Simpson published the book in July 2007 through a Christian publishing company in Stone Mountain.
“I felt compelled to write this book because I would like to share my story with others about how I was able to go from taking remedial courses in high school and college to remarkably completing the highest educational degree,” Simpson wrote in the book’s introduction. “I truly believe that I am just an ordinary person who has always attempted to do extraordinary things.”
School officials provided the AJC with records that show the purchase of 635 books at $16 apiece. Thedford, at Miller Grove, bought $9,680 worth of copies for students “in order to instill the value of an education in the 21st century,” documents show.
In doing so, Thedford “may have failed to prevent the circumvention of a school district purchasing policy,” according to Tyson’s letter.
Meanwhile, Searcy, the assistant principal, “failed to ensure the legitimacy of signatures” on documents that led others to approve the purchases, the letter stated.
At Glen Haven Elementary School, Principal Beverly L. Jackson bought 30 books for $480, according to the school district.
She declined to comment through a school staffer.
On Thursday, Thompson said the school district discovered additional book purchases by Ronald E. McNair Middle School in Decatur and Avondale Middle School and Avondale High School, both in Avondale Estates.
She said McNair spent $2,400 on the books using a school district credit card, but she could not provide any other details about the sales or identify who authorized them.
The $10,160 in purchases appear to have not been immediately flagged for three reasons.
Because those books were purchased with federal grant money, the school district office in charge of federal funds had to approve the transactions. But officials from that office reported they were not informed that Simpson was the author of the book, Thompson said.
Simpson’s name also does not show up on any school district documents provided to the AJC that related to those purchases. Rather, the purchase documents list “Rem 2 Rem LLC” as the seller of the books — a corporation organized by Simpson and his attorney, according to Georgia Secretary of State documents.
Lastly, purchases with federal funds that are more than $5,000 would have attracted greater scrutiny. And the two largest purchases that accounted for most of the sales — both made by Thedford on the same day in November 2007 — were for $4,800 each, just under that barrier, according to documents obtained by the AJC.
Thedford took over Simpson’s principal position at Miller Grove in the summer 2007, school records show. She previously worked under him at the school as an assistant principal. Simpson had served as principal there since 2004 before being promoted to area assistant superintendent, the position he currently holds.
Simpson makes $115,000 a year supervising several DeKalb high schools, as well as the middle and elementary schools that feed into them, according to his personnel file.
In the book’s introduction, purchased by the AJC for $19.95 plus tax and fees, Simpson offers an explanation for its brevity. “This is the type of book for easy readers, a book that people can read within 24 hours,” he wrote.
The book includes 13 pages devoted to inspirational quotes from notable people such as President Bill Clinton and comedian Chris Rock.
“Only dumb people try to impress smart people,” Rock’s quote stated. “Smart people just do what they do.”
A sampling of some of the chapters in the book: “I Hate School” and “Failing 2 Prepare is Preparing 2 Fail.”
Simpson wrote about never finishing a book in high school and scoring 480 on the SAT, at a time when a perfect score was 1600 and students got 200 points just for taking the test.
“I hated everything about what school represented,” Simpson wrote. “What was best about being in high school was the GIRLS.”
At West Georgia College in Carrollton, Simpson spent his first year taking remedial classes. But he took full advantage of the social calendar. A self-described social butterfly, Simpson hosted large parties at the end of each semester to pay for his tuition and rent.
Simpson started out his career as a correctional officer nicknamed “College Boy” by the inmates. He wrote that seeing the large number of incarcerated black males prompted him to become a teacher.
“I wanted to become the role model that they would see every day,” he wrote.
While at the school district, Simpson earned a master’s degree from West Georgia despite being rejected admission into the program numerous times. He later earned a doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Sarasota.
“I take no credit for what I have done nor do I think that I am remarkable,” Simpson wrote in the book’s conclusion. “However, what is remarkable is what I have been able to achieve.”