DeKalb lawsuit cost now at $37 million. Pass me the aspirin.

The ongoing tab for DeKalb's lawsuit against its construction management firm is now at $37 million. (AP Images)

The ongoing tab for DeKalb's lawsuit against its construction management firm is now at $37 million. (AP Images)

If I were a DeKalb schools taxpayer, this story would send me to bed with a sick headache: The 5-year-old legal battle between the DeKalb County School District and the Heery/Mitchell construction management company has cost the county’s taxpayers $37 million.

After reading the concerns of the grand jury over the school board’s actions in this suit, I have to wonder, as many of you already do, about the seeming reluctance of SACS to act on what seem like glaring “governance issues,” to use the accreditation agency’s lingo.

This is truly a “read it and weep story” from AJC.com and AJC ed reporter Ty Tagami:

A grand jury highlighted those numbers and other issues in criticizing the school board — and reiterating a call by a preceding grand jury for a broad investigation. The grand jury, like another in December, asked District Attorney Robert James to convene a special grand jury to investigate the board’s activities, and James said he would ask the superior court judges to consider it.

The legal bills come from a lawsuit with former construction manager Heery/Mitchell. DeKalb fired Heery/Mitchell in February 2007, complaining that the company, which oversaw $1 billion in sales tax funded school construction, had problems with costs and delays.

Heery/Mitchell sued later that month for $1.5 million in unpaid invoices and damages. DeKalb countersued, claiming the company mismanaged more than $100 million and defrauded the district.

DeKalb has paid law firm King & Spalding $18 million for its work on the case, and owes the firm another $19 million, according to a summary of a discussion Monday between the nine members of the school board and the DeKalb grand jury.

The grand jury routinely investigates government efficiency, and the meeting did not cover criminal matters, board chairman Eugene Walker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The meeting summary, released in the grand jury’s presentments Thursday, says jurors were critical of the school system’s fee arrangement in the lawsuit, which hasn’t even gone to trial.

A spokesman said DeKalb board members had not seen the grand jury report and would issue a response after reviewing it.

Walker told the jurors that the school board had a verbal agreement on a contingency payment structure, and that it would be renegotiated at the conclusion of the case.

This troubled the jurors, who wrote: “This comment left the grand jury puzzled by why it had not previously occurred to the board to enter into a written agreement memorializing this understanding (if there is in fact such an understanding) … .”

Jurors were also troubled by this: board vice chairman Tom Bowen told them the counter-suit was for $110 million, but board member Paul Womack, who chairs the board’s budget committee, told them the actual cost of of repairs and construction related to Heery/Mitchell’s management could be more like $180 million.

“The grand jury’s obvious concern is that the board was advised to file a counter suit to fund the repair and build projects but the board did not consider the totality of costs before agreeing to the claimed damages,” the presentment said.

The presentment said the grand jury “strenuously urges” James to convene a special grand jury.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

137 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

May 3rd, 2012
8:33 pm

How does this even happen? How does any entity, especially one that is charged with educating children, get involved in spending $37 million on a lawsuit?

Teacher Reader

May 3rd, 2012
8:43 pm

SACS is a worthless organization. When an organization that is in charge of accrediting schools allows schools to continue to lower the number of teachers in the district, while hardly touching those that do not teach (secretaries, administrators, etc), than I have no use for them and their organization is pointless. I have been left to wonder many times, who is paying off those in charge of SACS, as it seems to be the DeKalb way.

Former Teacher

May 3rd, 2012
8:56 pm

@Teacher Reader, you are SO right! Those are some of the reasons I left the profession. And SACS accreditation means NOTHING because they lower and lower the bar to keep schools ‘eligible’ cause they want the money! It’s all a sham!

Dekalb taxpayer

May 3rd, 2012
8:59 pm

Less than three months ago, the DA had his photo op with Bowen and Walker and said the board could police itself. So what has changed?

Ron F.

May 3rd, 2012
9:01 pm

So let’s see, we have a money-hungry BOE, evidently guilty of allllllll manner of nepotism suing a money-hungry construction company for basically stealing 100 million from them, and the BOE has now racked up 37 million in legal fees to the sharks at a law firm. Either the DA has his prints on the money too or he’s far too confused by it all to know where to begin. Who do you charge first? You’d need to empanel a grand jury and offer a retirement plan it’ll take so long to sort it all out!

No Oversight

May 3rd, 2012
9:02 pm

It is unconscionable that this Board sent these millions of taxpayer dollars to any of these law firms without any scrutiny of the firms’ bills whatsoever. What client — particularly one charged with protecting the public purse that funds children’s education — doesn’t closely review law firm bills? It is jaw-droppingly unbelievable and an obvious measure of their collective incompetence. To say this Board is bush league is the understatement of this century as well as the last (the one where most of their thinking is still ensconced). I sincerely hope the Superior Court judges make the right call.

Newton County parent

May 3rd, 2012
9:21 pm

Melanie

May 3rd, 2012
9:26 pm

And TOM BOWEN wants to be our next County Commissioner. No Burrell Ellis, your neighbor and friend has destroyed and bankrupted the DeKalb County School System under your watch…AND you are suppose to be a Lawyer. Well, no more lawyers are needed!!!

Dr. John Trotter

May 3rd, 2012
9:51 pm

Re: SACS: “A sham and a farce.” — Norreese Haynes, February 15, 2008 in the AJC.

Why is anyone taking Mark Elgart and SACS seriously? Markie is the Wizard of SACS. He is a joke…a well-paid joke but a joke nevertheless.

had enough

May 3rd, 2012
9:59 pm

OK… Clayton County principals do not have the right to belittle teachers during faculty meetings because of his/her own ineptness. Childish tirades will have you on blast. Try it again and see.

Dekalb Voter@maureen

May 3rd, 2012
10:12 pm

Maureen,
It’s not like we can vote the BOE out.

Do you realize that the BOE and the DeKalb Delegation has not settled where the district lines are so there is no way a competitor can run against any of the 4 sitting members up for election? The BOE election is being held this summer on July 31st and competitors must register by May 23rd (in three weeks) or they can’t run. Of course they can’t register because the BOE members and the DeKalb delegates have not set the district lines.

In essence, the BOE and DeKalb delegates are ensuring voters have no one to vote for but incumbents. This disenfranchises every voter in DeKalb. Why has the state not moved to do something about the BOE vote being taken away from DeKalb citizens?

I have called my senator regarding this matter and spoke with his assistant. He has not responded.

This can’t be legal – to take our vote away. The governor and the legislature needs to realize there is a lot of business done in DeKalb – think the entire Perimeter Mall area, Emory, etc. that makes a significant contribution to the state’s overall economy. This school situation is negatively impacting the DeKalb County economy, and this can’t help but have grave ramifications for the state’s economy.

This is a story the AJC might be interested in. I can guarantee DeKalb voters are not in the mood to go to the polls and see only the incumbent’s name on the ballot. In my neighborhood, even the retirees are asking who is running against our BOE representative (Paul Womack).

Lee

May 3rd, 2012
10:38 pm

OMG, (lol)

Dekalb gets sued for $1.5 million. They probably could have settled for half that. Instead, they spend $37 million countersuing for $100 or $180 million, give or take a few million (a million here, a million there, and pretty soon your talking some real money…)

What do they have, every lawyer in the building billing to this fiasco? How in the hell do you rack up $37 million in legal fees?

Even if Dekalb wins judgement, good luck on collecting. Joint Ventures and LLC’s are common practice in the construction industry. They set these companies up for one purpose – to insulate the parent company. So, even if you win your lawsuit, the company folds up the JV/LLC and walks away. The taxpayers get stuck with the lawyers bill.

If Dekalb suspected fraud, they should have asked the GBI to get involved and investigate.
—————————

But this gem takes the cake:
“Walker told the jurors that the school board had a verbal agreement on a contingency payment structure, and that it would be renegotiated at the conclusion of the case.”

So, you’ve got a “verbal agreement” with a bunch of lawyers. What could possibly go wrong?????

My2Cents

May 3rd, 2012
11:02 pm

At what point did anyone here seriously expect and understand that the primary goals of the Dekalb BOE and DCSS are the education of children while ‘protecting’ the public purse? We’re going to be getting our property tax bills in the near future as a reality check. How is it that school systems all over the country can manage of less money per student? Why is it that the educators in the Atlanta area hang on for so long after they’ve been shown to be unethical – have they no shame? Why not just quit, admit responsibility and move on with some shred of self-respect?

Newton County parent

May 3rd, 2012
11:08 pm

John Trotter needed at Alcovy High School. Teachers are under fire by a nepotism scandal:http://www.newtoncitizen.com/news/2012/apr/26/alcovy-principal-sues-over-website-comments/

Newton County parent

May 3rd, 2012
11:09 pm

How can the wife and husband (principal and overseer of HR) hugh conflict put this woman on admin leave over a personal civil suit? The teacher did not say the statement was false – huge bullying of teachers at this school.http://www.covnews.com/section/12/article/28763/

Newton County parent

May 3rd, 2012
11:14 pm

Dr. Trotter you would be sued by this principal for saying someone is a “joke” like you did about Mark. FREE SPEECH is under attack in Newton County’s Alcovy High School – HELP TEACHERS – http://www.covnews.com/section/12/article/28763/

Teacher Reader

May 3rd, 2012
11:23 pm

FREE SPEECH is under attack all over America. Speech is only free if those in charge agree with what you say.

Teacher Reader

May 3rd, 2012
11:38 pm

@ Former Teacher I teach no longer. I realized that I didn’t want my child educated in the system, and couldn’t be two faced. I will never go back to teaching and my child will never be educated in DCSS.

School Systems and education is all about money and not about educating the child and until that changes our children in public schools will never be offered a decent education. Even at those schools labeled “good” and “quality” they really are far from it and were much better many years ago. Our education system is slipping into a place where it may never be able to get out of without significant changes. Parents, tax payers, and concerned citizens need to wake up!!!!

Bootney farnsworth

May 3rd, 2012
11:59 pm

Saddest thing is once upon a very lOng time ago dcss was the gold standard in public ed

Bootney farnsworth

May 4th, 2012
12:03 am

Sacs is the good ole boy network of education. They’ll mOve heaven & earth to excuse & ignore problems

The Deal

May 4th, 2012
12:48 am

Is there no powerful entity out there that cares enough to do their job, step in, and save DeKalb’s sinking ship? Our problems are so far-reaching and varied that I don’t even know who could possibly oversee this disaster.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

May 4th, 2012
1:23 am

Board attorneys : Boards of Education :: leeches : their hosts

Praying To Jesus

May 4th, 2012
4:05 am

It Is Time For Prayer Everybody.. Dekalb County School System is truly being attacked by Satan and we are in a Bind. Where are the community leaders, the community, professional workers, businesses, teachers, and education organizations? Teachers are still being humiliated and abused by DCSS administrators who refuse to follow the board rules, and teachers are afraid to inform the higher level (corrupt) administrators.
Most of the administrators are really the idiots that the CLEW gang hired, they are deceivers and are corrupt to the core. Many Principals spend the money allocated for students on themselves. Teachers sacrifice their funds to purchase materials so they can help the children, and no one is monitoring the principals. They use the chairpersons to provide false information on teachers, their sick friends; they even use students and parents. Dr. A. needs to get rid of the rotten, infected idiots and start anew. DCSS pay a panel of people who retired for the school system, to serve as a panel for teacher non-renewal and they have no interest in hearing the truth. These are sick people y’all. It is all a game. These people are destroying good, intelligent people. IT IS TIME FOR AN IMMEDIATE CHANGE Y’ALL!!!

Dondee

May 4th, 2012
5:49 am

Bootney, I remember when DeKalb WAS the best in the state. That’s why he moved our family there when he was transferred here. That WAS a long time ago.

yes i am worried

May 4th, 2012
6:23 am

Maureen, can you find out if the 37 million includes the 3.5 million that Dr. Lewis spent for a firm to research how much to sue for? (Are we really at 40 million)

The reality is, if you talk to the members of the board of ed, and this includes the educated ones, they really have believed that this is a winnable lawsuit and that HM did great wrongs. There is probably some truth in this — HM took advantage of a school system who hired a former school administrator to run their construction program.

Dr. Walker will now try and get K and S to put this in writing and Mark Elgart from SACs will commend the school board for a job well done. As long as they don’t bicker in public, DeKalb can keep its accreditation. The Cobb board of ed has a public disagreement (albeit very nasty) and gets the same level of sanctions as DeKalb. Are you kidding me? Compare the two systems — which one functions better overall and which system has stronger student achievement.

Gene Wise

May 4th, 2012
6:39 am

I don’t know who is trying to gore who’s Ox, but there is not a single Board Member or, to the best my knowledge, executive level employee that was involved in any way with SPLOST I – ALL the evidence was, long ago, introduced, and our tax money is being sucked away by the Judicial system. Getting to trial is the only way to stop the bleeding for legal costs and the Board has been trying to do that for two years. Somebody HELP them get there.

Pardon My Blog

May 4th, 2012
6:45 am

As a taxpayer and a parent of students in the system, this just makes me sick especially when another article in the AJC mentions that property assessments are down and therefore revenues will be down and the mention of another tax increase is made.

The incompetence of individuals running or employed by DCSS is just amazing. The BoE is a joke and I bet the folks in Clayton County are getting a great laugh out of all of this. I say let’s just fire them all.

Pardon My Blog

May 4th, 2012
6:47 am

@DeKalb Voter – if our choice is not on the ballot, let’s get representation with a write in campaign.

yes i am worried

May 4th, 2012
6:59 am

By the way, the maps are out. The election is July 31st.

A duplicate copy of the School District’s submission is available for public inspection at the School District’s administrative offices, which are located at 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083.

DeKalb voter@Pardon My blog

May 4th, 2012
8:03 am

A write in campaign is not a solution. Why should it take a write in campaign to be able to vote for another candidate during an official election?

Clayton

May 4th, 2012
8:07 am

Thank you DeKalb for taking the spot light away from Clayton County for a few days.

DeKalb voter@yes i am woried

May 4th, 2012
8:07 am

I called the Voter Registration & Election last Friday and they said they could only go with the old maps and had NO new district maps and had no idea when they would get them.
http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/Voter/PressReleases.html

Voter Registration
4380 Memorial Drive
Suite 300
Decatur, GA 30032
Phone: 404-298-4020

Teacher Reader

May 4th, 2012
8:09 am

@ Pardon My Blog Those running the district need to stop raising taxes and begin to make the needed cuts. DCSS is not an employment agency. There are plenty of places for cuts to be made. Do we need a secretary and clerk in our elementary schools? Could we do with one person doing these jobs or split one of them up between schools? Are all of the people really needed in the palace? Do school counselors really need secretaries in middle school? The list could do go on.

Wonder if the board realizes their decision to create the Palace and revamp the Bryant Center were wants and not necessarily needs yet? Millions spent on adults that should have went to the kids.

Raising taxes is not going to help the district. There comes a time when you can no longer raise taxes, as their is a limit. What happens then? Precautions should be made now. There are big bills coming – paying teachers back their retirement contributions most likely with interest comes first to mind.

Until, I see the school board use its money in a prudent fashion that is both thoughtful and focused solely on providing a quality education, I do not support any tax increases until that time happens.

DeKalb voter@yes i am woried

May 4th, 2012
8:17 am

Below is a link to the maps the voter registration site has. This is the site that registers candidates. You can see that there are still 7 districts and 2 super districts. I was told by this group that registers candidates (see phone number above) that they could only go off the old maps until they were handed a new one.

http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/Voter/maps.html#

DeKalb voter@yes i am woried

May 4th, 2012
8:21 am

Stuck in the filter.

Below is the webpage for the BOE District maps. This is the site that registers candidates. There are still 7 districts and 2 super districts. I was told by the group when I questioned them (see phone number above) that they have no new maps and candidates can only register on the basis of the old maps. And candidates only have until May 23rd to register.

http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/Voter/maps.html#

Does someone else want to call?
Voter Registration
4380 Memorial Drive
Suite 300
Decatur, GA 30032
Phone: 404-298-4020

skipper

May 4th, 2012
8:24 am

One of the most usless group of people in modern civilization. No wonder the entire education system there is in shambles. Incompetant people elected by voters who themselves are too uneducated to have the knowledge to vote for a prepared and competant person. Look at this board/education system 10 years from now. Crusaders, rant and rave but it will still be terrible 10 years from now. You CANNOT fix stupid.

Pardon My Blog

May 4th, 2012
8:31 am

@Teacher Reader – I agree, as most of us on the North side are being taxed out of our homes as we are footing most of the bill. In no way am I proposing that taxes be raised. You give this group more money and they will find a way to waste even more (friends and family want that plasma TV).

Bottomline, DeKalb as a whole is a huge mess, from an incompetent and dysfunctional county government to a totally train wreck of a school system. Time that taxpayer’s fire them all.

DeKalbite@yes i am worried

May 4th, 2012
8:35 am

The maps the department for registering BOE candidates is online and they are for 7 districts and 2 super districts. That is what they are using.
http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/Voter/maps.html#

Voter Registration
4380 Memorial Drive
Suite 300
Decatur, GA 30032
Phone: 404-298-4020
Fax: 404-298-4038
Email:
Voterreg@dekalbcountyga.gov

SE Davis

May 4th, 2012
8:40 am

Its Democrat failure! DeKalb County is irreversibly infected with ideologically blinded politicians masquerading as board members and administrators. They have constantly proven themselves as inept and incompetent partisans. “It’s never about the children”.

$37 million in Attorney’s fees over 5 years is $600,000 a month for a case that has not even gone to trial. That is the approximate amount of salary for 150 teachers. These teachers have suffered salary reductions and furloughs for four straight years. See a connection?

I attended a middle school football game last year at Halford Stadium. In the south end zone is a mini-jumbo tron marquee that was constantly flashing the photos, names and “their own catch phrases” of the BOE throughout the whole game. Those catch phrases were quoted in African-themed slang dialect. That display was completely disgusting.

There was nothing on the marquee about the children and nothing about the teachers.

I went to school in the Dekalb County School system 35 years ago when it was rated #1 in the State and in the top ten in the nation. Democrat partisans have run it completely into the ground.

carlosgvv

May 4th, 2012
8:55 am

Why should the board worry about this? They will continue to collect their incredibly inflated salries, give jobs to their relatives and just increase property taxes to cover these legal costs.

Angela

May 4th, 2012
9:21 am

And, the DCSS DRAMA continues!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A Conservative Voice

May 4th, 2012
9:23 am

We need a “Community Organizer” :) to organize “24/7 Demonstrations” in front of that “funny colored” building they call the “Palace”. Someone with experience organizing please step forward and help before the DCSS makes our county completely unliveable. These people are complete idiots and have taken a once “Fine, Fine School System” and made a shambles of it……everyone needs to be fired and made to “re-apply” for their positions. CA, do something to show you’re really serious, OK?

NBCT

May 4th, 2012
9:27 am

Wow – Think what DeKalb could have done with that money,…

skipper

May 4th, 2012
9:31 am

I defer to my last comment……you cannot fix stupid.

PapaSmurf

May 4th, 2012
9:35 am

And this is why we have cityhood petitions popping up all over Northern Dekalb – next up – “Brookhaven”. Who wants to be associated with the clowns running Dekalb County?

V for Vendetta

May 4th, 2012
9:38 am

bootney,

You’re right. They were the best. Wonder what happened…?

I often bemoan the race baiting and stereotyping that sometimes takes place on this blog, but a quick ten seconds of research on King and Spalding led me to two interesting factoids: First, the law firm is an enormous international entity with billing charges that no doubt reflect that stature. So why would a local school board, even one in a major metro county, spend that kind of money on such a prestigious and expensive firm? Oh, wait, the second factoid: they were named one of the most diverse law firms in America by Multicultural Law magazine.

Sigh.

concerned

May 4th, 2012
9:44 am

Maureen, Please shed some light on the situation at Alcovy High in Newton County. Teachers are being placed on leave and there is money missing– people outside of the county need to know!!

Inman Park Boy

May 4th, 2012
9:53 am

Sorry, but the people of DeKalb County are responsible for this. They keep re-electing these idiots.

Dr. John Trotter

May 4th, 2012
10:01 am

Can’t the AJC just blame all of the mess in DeKalb County on me? Ha! I will be the scapegoat! The AJC tried to do this with with me in Clayton County. Ha! But, that didn’t work. Heck, I haven’t lived in Clayco for years, and it’s still nuts!

Seriously, the DeKalb County Schools, the Fulton County Schools, the Atlanta Public Schools, and the Clayton County Schools are all crazy school systems. What do they have in common? The Brock Clay Law Firm of Marietta! Ha!

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

May 4th, 2012
10:05 am

$37M for the ATL shysters. And I thought Richmond and Columbia county taxpayers were being fleeced when the two counties’ boards of education paid a local shyster $809K in one year.