DeKalb candidate forum went well

I moderated a panel of 11 DeKalb school board candidates last night, which had a full house.

It was at 6:o0 p.m. at Westwood College, near Northlake Mall. (Details of event are here.)

In the meantime, I have received several emails on how poorly DeKalb is informing laid-off employees that they no longer have jobs. Two weeks ago, the school board approved 412 layoffs of paraprofessionals, media clerks and specialists, interpreters, school resource officers, central office workers and bus monitors

The AJC is reporting that the DeKalb board meets today and the topic is reduction in staff.

Just heard from someone who wrote:

I was with a friend going to the county office to complete her retirement papers because her job has been cut. The office was crowded with people, many paraprofessionals and some media specialists, trying to find out whether or not they still have a job. The board/administration has not yet even sent out the letters informing those who are being terminated. My friend found out when another employee at her school happened to be out at the county office and was told to call her and tell her she no longer had a job.

This is a despicable way to notify employees,  some who have been valued employees for many years, that they no longer have a position. Will there never be responsible leadership in this county’s school system?

I am sending a note to Walter Woods to ask about this.

See you at the panel if you can make it.

–From Maureen Downey,  for the AJC Get Schooled blog

103 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

July 10th, 2012
2:46 pm

Maureen, I’ll be most anxious to hear your thoughts after the debate. I have to say I’m not sure any of the “new” BOE candidates are much better than those currently on the Board and that is a sobering and sad thought.

yes i am worried

July 10th, 2012
3:00 pm

Please, please ask the following question.

As a board member, will you be able to make decisions which may benefit the school system but may be viewed as negative changes by your own community? During the school closings, redistricting and consolidation discussions, we saw over and over again, that members of this board cannot put the needs of the whole above the needs of the parts.

Another question, will you take a pledge to avoid all back room deals, promising to hold discussions in the sunshine and not make horse trades for what you want?

Dunwoody Mom

July 10th, 2012
3:02 pm

“Would you be able to make decisions that are unpopular with your constinuency, i.e. school closings, consolidations, personnel decisions, but that are necessary to provide a comprehensive education for DCSD students”?

yes i am worried

July 10th, 2012
3:08 pm

Dunwoody Mom said it better than I did.

Maureen Downey

July 10th, 2012
3:09 pm

@Dunwoody, I may incorporate some of your version in my similar question:

Did the school board cave to public demand when it closed only eight schools — despite staff recommendation and compelling attendance projections justifying the closing of 14 schools?
How would you balance the demands of parents — who want to pay less taxes while pushing for more programs and smaller classes at their local schools — with the demands for balancing the budget and making sound fiscal decisions for the county as a whole?

bu2

July 10th, 2012
3:23 pm

How do you feel about stand alone magnet programs such as Kittredge ES, Wadsworth ES and Dekalb School for the Arts vs. incorporating those programs in existing schools?

Dunwoody Mom

July 10th, 2012
3:37 pm

Excellent, Maureen!!

Dekalb resident

July 10th, 2012
3:41 pm

How would you justify to the public the posting of almost 50 non-teaching positions, many of which have starting salaries over $50,000, while cutting teachers and increasing the millage rate.

If you can’t justify it to the public, what would you have done differently that you are willing to follow through on if I choose to elect you?

The Deal

July 10th, 2012
3:46 pm

“What are your specific plans to provide constant, accurate, and honest communication to your constituents and the district?”

“Are you willing to fight against established political, religious, or other entities to ensure DeKalb students are at the top of the priority list for all decisions?”

Old timer

July 10th, 2012
4:05 pm

I have heard the same comments about employees being let go…….very unprofessional…

My2Cents

July 10th, 2012
4:25 pm

Please explain if we will continue to have foreign teachers (on visa) in the classroom teaching core subjects when local resident teachers are being laid off.

tony

July 10th, 2012
4:34 pm

IF these board members truly care about the children of dekalb county then why do they continually run for reelection? they have failed this county !! they have not helped the failing schools and have destroyed the few schoos that were successful. if they really cared about the county every damn one of them would quit!!!

Tired

July 10th, 2012
4:35 pm

What is the PRIMARY role and intent of the Fernbank Science Center? Is it to provide a field trip destination for schools in the region? To develop curricula for DeKalb schools? To develop training for science teachers? No one seems to know.

Married with (School) Children

July 10th, 2012
4:36 pm

Maureen,

My spouse is a DPS Employee.

The first day of school is August 13 –only one month away from now– and the district is in complete disarray. All of DPS’s Service Center workers were let go, so there are no workers left to do the painting and other summer-time maintenance work that needs to be done in order to have the school buildings ready to go on August 13.

An assistant principal told me that principals are finding out that some of their staff (mostly Paraprofessionals, I think) have been fired only when the fired staff tell them they’ve been fired! Seriously! The principals only learn of these when their fired employees call and tell them that they received termination letters in the mail (Real classy, Superintendent Atkinson).

The Principals and Assistant Principals themselves have not been given their signed contracts, so they are not sure if they should even be in their school buildings right now. (A termination letter might be awaiting them in their home mailbox.)

Many of the principals do not even know who to report to since several Area Superintendents were demoted/replaced. Some (All?) of the principals have not yet been assigned to the new Area Superintendents The schools open one month from now and the basic chain-of-command is not yet in place!

Around the district, there are many vacancies for teachers, but nobody actually has the authority to fill those vacancies! This is absolutely insane – teachers come back to work on August 6, a mere three and a half weeks from now. My understanding is that there will be a job fair (for displaced teachers) later this week, but that just shows how screwed up things are – the district is holding a job fair just three weeks before the teachers need to be in place in the schools, ready to go!

The District also fired all of its translators yesterday – I wonder how much that move will cause the district, once the inevitable class action lawsuits get filed.

catlady

July 10th, 2012
4:57 pm

Sounds like it is a true mess. Suggest no one vote for incumbents.

bootney farnsworth

July 10th, 2012
4:58 pm

so very sorry to hear DCSS is laying off. I know from sad experience (GPC 282) it won’t be the bloated and redundant middle management, but the hardworking “expendables”

dekalbite

July 10th, 2012
4:59 pm

Since there are so many more admin and support positions than teaching positions, why is it that teaching positions, the personnel that ensure students master content (the only reason for the school system to exist and taxpayers to pay school taxes), are considered the LEAST needed and the MOST expendable? Teaching positions are the ones the DeKalb administration and the BOE have been eliminating for the last 4 years. We will be down around 1,000 teachers thanks to Lewis, Tyson and now Atkinson – of course with the support and approval of the BOE. The admin and support side has not lost 1,000 employees while the teaching side has been decimated. This is called “balancing the budget on the backs of the students”.

If they could figure out a way to RIF the students, the DeKalb BOE would be doing that as well.

bootney farnsworth

July 10th, 2012
5:00 pm

maureen,

if you can get the board to answer DeKalb resident’s question, please take your show on the road to GPC and ask it there.

dekalbite@Tired

July 10th, 2012
5:02 pm

Fernbank Science Center still gets $3,000,000 for personnel next year although bus transportation funding to and from the center has been eliminated. What’s up with that?

EduKtr

July 10th, 2012
5:02 pm

Not too far in the future school boards will have been made extinct (along with their outrageous failings) by parental choice and the free market.

Enjoy the comedy while you still can!

bootney farnsworth

July 10th, 2012
5:02 pm

@ catlady

+1. none of those bozos deserve another term.

bootney farnsworth

July 10th, 2012
5:04 pm

@ dekalbite

don’t give them any ideas.

Anon

July 10th, 2012
5:08 pm

Maureen,

I remember last year when you published a very insightful essay by a teacher in DeKalb, I think. He/she called us an “education ghetto.” Many students in classes all around DeKalb spent a lot of time reading and discussing this educator’s contribution. Maybe you should ask the candidates are we more or less of an “education ghetto” than we were last year?

dekalbite@Maureen

July 10th, 2012
5:09 pm

“How would you balance the demands of parents — who want to pay less taxes while pushing for more programs and smaller classes at their local schools — with the demands for balancing the budget and making sound fiscal decisions for the county as a whole?”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the state cap this property tax millage rate at 25 and we just went to 23.98? Another mill will bring in about $15,000,000 and then we will have no more increases per state law is the way I understand it. $15,000,000 will not solve DeKalb’s financial woes.

“The tax rate will rise to 23.98 mills. The extra mill will bring in an additional $14.8 million, but the average homeowner will still pay less to the school system than last year because of falling property values.”
http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/dekalb-school-board-approves-1475396.html

tony

July 10th, 2012
5:10 pm

there was a wonderful small elementary school in my childrens district, all it took to nearly destroy the school was ONE apartment complex in which some are government subsidized… apartment dwellers destroy schools and neigborhoods. they pay the least in property tax and do the most to destory the school and the area

I'd rather not say

July 10th, 2012
5:12 pm

Two questions for the candidates:

1. What do you think needs to be done to reduce the level of rancor that has been displayed by the current board members?

2. What would you do to reduce the level of administrative, non-teaching staff to redirect much-needed resources to the schools?

redweather

July 10th, 2012
5:57 pm

2. What would you do to reduce the level of administrative, non-teaching staff to redirect much-needed resources to the schools?

Great question, but no matter what anyone says in response, it isn’t going to happen.

Ned

July 10th, 2012
6:01 pm

What will you do to make DCSS finances more transparent? [I think there's some speacial term people use for this but it escapes me]

bu2

July 10th, 2012
6:19 pm

@Ned
On-line checkbook.

Tired

July 10th, 2012
6:33 pm

DCSS is headed towards a Clayton-like threat of losing accreditation. What two steps would you recommend for immediate implementation to prevent that from happening?

dekalbdad

July 10th, 2012
6:45 pm

Start with Fernbank 3M cut 50%; then install year round school starrting 2013-2014 and beyond. Mandate parents to volunteer their time (24 hours/month) for copying, correcting papers. Input grades, hall, parking monators, etc. Have students do campus beautification day for community services.

catlady

July 10th, 2012
8:38 pm

I think the Board ought to commit to rethinking the whole school system. Figure out how many teachers are needed. Then, parapros for sped, prek, and wherever else needed. THEN, go to one principal per school, one AP per school, one secretary, one data person. DON’T PUT THE NEXT LAYER IN AT ALL! (The area snoopervisors (thanks, Dr. T).) Next, a minimal number in each CO section. Start at one per section. Add a few underlings, as needed. DO NOT ASSIGN NAMES TO ANY OF THE POSITIONS EXCEPT ATKINSON. Give everyone at the CO a T shirt that says, “Dekalb, doing more with less, all the way to the top.”

Stop thinking about cutting POSITIONS, and think instead about how many people are ACTUALLY NEEDED to support what the teachers are doing. (For example, everyone can type their own letters, and file their own memos) Then, fill half those positions.

Organizations are very resistant to cutting off their arms. So start with the basic body, and figure out a minimal number of positions, working as hard and as many hours as the teachers do, it will take to accomplish the job. No more long lunches, gettting together with girlfriends, etc. Focus on supporting the education of the students, with as few non-teachers as possible!

dekalbite@catlady

July 10th, 2012
9:08 pm

You are so right. DeKalb needs to adequately fund the classroom and then use what is left over to fund the admin and support. If you do not have the money, do not fund the admin and support position or buy that learning program.

Instead, DeKalb has been trying to figure out how to save the structure that has been created over the last decade with an emphasis on preserving jobs. When teachers left the system, their positions were not filled, other teachers absorbed their students (aka – increasing class sizes), and the money saved was used to preserve the admin and support positions.

MB

July 10th, 2012
9:09 pm

Agree with much you say catlady, especially about Central Office. They are SO sure to not give schools more teachers than they earn. How about cutting back CO staff to what is earned there? See the System Allotment here: http://app3.doe.k12.ga.us/ows-bin/owa/qbe_reports.public_menu?p_fy=2000 DeKalb earns, for central administration: 1 superintendent, 6 asst superintendents, 1 secretary, 1 accountant, and some VT/SW, psych and SpEd folks. Everybody else (not Fed funded) can go home.

However, does EVERY school need an assistant principal? Every school certainly doesn’t EARN an assistant principal.(The system earns state funds for 133 principals and 155 assistant principals.) Can one principal and assistant principal handle 995 kids but one principal can’t manage 350? Does every school NEED a FT data clerk? If one can manage a school of 2000 students, why can’t one split days between 2 schools under 500?

Even though DeKalb EARNS state funding for 169 media positions, they want to ask Dr. Barge for a waiver on minimum staffing. Do they plan to refuse the state funds that would follow those media specialists they are RIFing? If they RIF all of their media clerks and only have media specialists part-time at some schools, guess they need to return the state money for folks they’re not placing!
http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/school-media-centers-to-1476000.html

As has been noted here before (ad nauseum), WHY are all of the politically-placed central administration staffers KEEPING their jobs, while teachers, media specialists, and parapros, who interact with children in the schools throughout the day every day, being removed from the employ of DCSD?

sara

July 10th, 2012
9:20 pm

Please start a discussion about the way people are being informed about their terminations. Also, staff members are not allowed to contact any member of the superintendent’s cabinet or BOE members. For those of us living in the county, that does not make sense. We can vote for these people, but we cannot speak to them. There are no discussions, No phone calls, We get e-mails that tell us what we are supposed to do. There is no organizational chart. Try calling HR. No one answers. Try to send an email. No one answers. None of the 12 month people that are working each day have a contract or have been told how much they will be paid. No one knows the days that staff reports. AP’s and Counselors are not at school now. The schedule has been done. Now that people are finding out that they do not have jobs, someone will have to redo the schedules. People are warned not to say anything. How are we ever going to attract high quality staff members. The friends, sorority and family network is sill in place.

Old timer

July 10th, 2012
9:23 pm

Ok..I Would vote against any incumbent..

Criminal Minds

July 10th, 2012
9:47 pm

Dekalb sounds like APS. Employees whose jobs were abolished were not told anything just left to their own decision making regarding their lives going forward. They weren’t told anything or provided any written documentation and all types of legal recourse is in process as it should be. I hope the districts have to pay out so much money that they shut down and never forget what has been so unjustly done to children and the taxpayors.

Fred in DeKalb

July 10th, 2012
10:10 pm

Dekalbite my friend, this structure you are referring to was created during at the end of Freeman’s superintendency. He expanded the central office when he created the regions, each with an instructional team. Hallford could have sent those people back to the schools when everyone realized this was not wise but he did not. Brown came in and began making changes to the Central office however he also questioned several sacred cows that some in the community wanted protected. As a result, citizens conspired with the Board and some in the Central office to get rid of him. Lewis was selected as the super and he grew the Central office also.

Unfortunately this is the kind of insight that those that run DSW don’t want anymore. Dekalbite, you should ask why this type of clarification is being censored. Doesn’t it help when you understand the history of how we got to where we are today?

Anon

July 10th, 2012
10:42 pm

Fred,

I must say that you are nothing if not a diligent apologist. Who cares about the past when it is so apparent what could — and should — be done to begin at least to right the capsized ship? The bottom line is the central office is not being cut down to the bone the way it needs to be while, as usual, the classrooms are bearing the brunt of the ongoing crisis.

I have a suggestion. Give us our own system in north DeKalb and see how less bloated it will be than its counterpart in south DeKalb. One should educate all students, regardless of demographics. At the same time, however, one should not ignore the fact that corruption in local government seems to mushroom out of control when a certain demographic gets unchecked control. Unfortunately, it is the minority kids who suffer by far and away the most.

P.S. I have to assume that you know or at least know of the regional superintendents (and their secretaries, and their coordinators, and their executive assistants, and thieir supervisors….). The fact that you would blithely use the past to suggest that their continued existence is somehow justifiable makes you a hypocritical apologist. And then, of course, there is Tyson’s continued employment. But I guess since Freeman and Hallford aka “the man” did something similar it’s all good.

Fred in DeKalb

July 10th, 2012
11:00 pm

Anon, take a look at Dekalbite’s post at 9:08 pm. I merely expounded upon their comment about the past by putting it in proper context. Fact of the matter is that Brown was the superintendent 10 years ago (DeKalbite mentioned the structure created over the last decade) and he was reducing the size of the central office.

Brown also raised questions about why small schools were allowed to exist when the state funding did not provide support for the staffing DeKalb choose to do. There were citizens that were protective of their small schools and saw Brown as the person that might end them. This situation DeKalb finds itself in is not all on the past Boards but citizens also who wanted some things to remain status quo. There is enough blame to go around.

By the way, the Central Office has been significantly reduced. As I’ve pointed out many times, unless an employee is attached to a school, they are considered part of the Central office. Dr. Atkinson re-coded many of the employees in the central office to the schools they actually work in. This was part of the reason the Central office looked much larger. That includes employees at the Sam Moss Center.

I’ll share this link once again that those at DSW don’t want many to know about regarding the Central Office reorganization. You’ll notice they staffing size of the Central Office has been reduced by over 3,000 employee, mostly due to employees being reassigned to schools.

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/budget/presentation.pdf

Pardon My Blog

July 11th, 2012
6:56 am

If the primary function of a school system is to provide the best education possible for the students, then should that not be the top budgetary item? to provide competitive salaries to attract the best teachers and to provide the funds necessary for materials to teach? I think that the priorities of the system need to be revisited. There are too many items left in the operating budget that could be trimmed to get the system back on target. There are too many salaries (non-teaching, non-education related) that are way out of line for the position starting with the Superintendent on down(and remember when you look at salaries, the whole compensation package must be considered such as travel, insurance, housing, etc.). Perhaps if the system were run like a private business and had to provide a desirable product in order to stay in business, we would not be having this discussion at all!

Anonymous

July 11th, 2012
7:26 am

Maureen, could you provide a summary of last night/s forum? I would love to hear what the candidates actually said and also your impressions.

I agree with Dunwoody Mom that the info some of the candidates have posted about how they would go about things gives me no hope. They sound very similar to what we have now though of course they don’t see it that way.

Thank you.

cgregister

July 11th, 2012
7:41 am

I think one of the questions that needs to be asked of all who are running – can you/will you think of Dekalb has a whole county, not north/south, and treat everyone equally? As a voice for your community, you need to apply that voice as 1 part of the whole county.
I worked in DCSS for over 30 years and really didn’t want to retire, but we are continually going backwards in salary, losing good, hard working employees and all those buffoons on the board can do is blow hot air. They knew several years ago that things were not right and they are just now demanding an audit? Why was this not done about eight years ago? I am ASHAMED to say that I worked for this school system.

Dekalb Resident

July 11th, 2012
8:34 am

The reorganization for MIS is an absolute joke. Not one BIG salary employee was touched. I followed the link above listed by Fred In Dekalb and it shows staffing for MIS going from 190 to 164.

Please know those impacted were only the CTSSs that were housed in the local school house. The CTSS is the lowest paid employee in MIS. They are also the individuals on the front lines making sure the antiquated equipment is working for the teachers and students. In addition, those CTSSs that were assigned to elementary schools were all removed from these schools and those teachers will have to wait for someone to be dispatched to their school to fix their problems.

I just don’t get it DCSD!!

Miss Management

July 11th, 2012
8:47 am

“I am sending a note to Walter Woods to ask about this.”

Um, I heard Walter was Riffed too.

Dekalbite

July 11th, 2012
8:57 am

Enter your comments here

LOGIC

July 11th, 2012
9:25 am

@Fred

Do you really think that a 6% cut is “drastic?” The movement of positions to the schoolhouse is just a shell game. Atkinson and Co. need to cut 30% and show us the numbers. We are now spending another $330K in interest to borrow money to keep this sad ship going. Hopefully Perrone knows how to calculate interest unlike our last CFO.

Atkinson is being very sloppy with every aspect of DSCD and even her highly paid inner circle confidantes with their upcoming raises are not making it any better. The layoffs, the budget, the calendar, etc. She has only been here a year.

The state needs to take this over. Even at the candidate forum last night, very few people inspired a big change. A quick google of the District 6 candidates shows that we have more of the same coming our way.

Married with (School) Children

July 11th, 2012
9:32 am

More Layoffs! The following Item D.1 on the agenda of the School Board’s Called Meeting for today (7/11/2012) at 12:30 PM:

Requested Action

Pursuant to Board of Education Policy GBKA (Personnel Lay-Off), it is requested that the Board of Education approve a Reduction in Force Plan to not exceed 120 paraprofessional positions and 250 teacher positions as a result of the FY2013 approved Budget. This action is necessary due to a 2 student increase in class sizes and the restructuring of the Pre-Kindergarten program.

Anon

July 11th, 2012
9:33 am

Fred,

Did you work as a spinner for big tobacco, pharma, health insurance companies, BP?

It’s pathetic. It really is.

Outside auditors recommended slashing over 130 AP’s. What happened there? Show me a DCSD AP and 5 will get you 25 that what you have is a barely literate individual who got a job because of who they know, not what we know. So what if CO jobs have “reverted” to the schoolhouses? What about all of the unnecessary, high-paid positions that remain, such as the area supers (a complete waste of money — what, exactly do they do? have you ever dealt with one — they’re embarrassing) and the auxiliary positions that go with them? What about Atkinson’s “chief of staff” and “cabinet”? What about the ridiculous curriculum coordinators, the “coaches,” now probably renamed something else in conjunction with the next canned fiasco — “Success for All”? The list is endless — see the comments above about MIS.. Why is Ramona still drawing a paycheck and for what, exactly?

Roberts, the ex-board member with the two daughters in high-paying jobs, did warn at a meeting that, if they weren’t careful, they’d wind up with a “white person.”

My neighbors and I and many others we know no longer want to pay for this never-ending train wreck. Go run your own schools as you see fit. Leave ours alone.

May God grant us the ability to change the Constitution so that we can save our children.

Yes. The South has a bad history and mistreated blacks. No. This history does not justify the continual use of “racism” to ignore deep corruption in a community that is now dragiing the whole county down.

Married with (School) Children

July 11th, 2012
9:35 am

Here’s the link to the posted Meeting Agenda I quoted above:

https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=4054&MID=26285

Click on the horizontal “AGENDA” on the left side of the page, then click on item “D.1 Approval of Reduction in Force Plan”. That will get you to the text that I quoted above.