DeKalb ought to ensure its accreditation response is done in full public view

UPDATE at 5 p.m.: I received a call from a concerned DeKalb parent saying that the AJC misrepresented what actually was decided at last night’s meeting about how the district should respond to a warning letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

So, I checked with the news reporter who covered the meeting and he told me that the entire board will not meet on this issue. Instead, a team is being formed.

AJC reporter Ty Tagami said: “The process is this: a team comprising the board chair, vice chair, Atkinson, senior staffers and at least one community representative will draft a response. They’ll run that draft by the board members, but not in a public meeting. Then, they’ll send it to SACS. None of that will happen in public.”

Members of the DeKalb school board often portray themselves as populists, but ducking behind closed doors to discuss the system’s accreditation is not the way to promote community trust.

Given the deepening level of public distrust, school chief Cheryl Atkinson and the board should never waffle on  transparency and open government. I would opt for opening the “process,” no matter how it is done, to the public.

I talked today to Dr. Atkinson and believe that she wants transparency and better communications. So, look for updates on this matter.

According to the AJC:

The DeKalb County school board approved a closed-door process Wednesday for responding to allegations of mismanagement.

The public will not get to see discussions about a letter last week from accrediting agency AdvancEd that accused members of the school board of overstepping their authority in some areas, such as hiring, while failing to exercise oversight over finances and other key responsibilities.

“The goal is to be as open and transparent as possible,” school board Chairman Eugene Walker said before leading the vote for a process that leaves the public outside the door.

Parent Michelle Penkava sat dumbfounded in the audience. “They just held a public meeting to say this is not going to be a public process,” she said.

Board members said they were merely acting out of respect for AdvancEd and its subsidiary, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. “I don’t think SACS wants this in the newspaper before it goes to SACS,” board member Paul Womack said.

But Mark Elgart, president and chief executive officer of AdvancEd, said in a telephone interview after the hastily called DeKalb meeting that “no such courtesy is necessary or required.” He said the process for responding was up to DeKalb.

System spokesman Jeff Dickerson defended the process, which was recommended by Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson. He said the school system effectively opened the process by holding Wednesday’s meeting in public. The board could have met in a private executive session or merely passed around drafts of their response among themselves, he said.

Georgia law allows few exceptions to the state Open Meetings Act. Officials can meet in executive session to discuss legal matters, land acquisitions and personnel matters. It’s unclear whether a letter containing allegations about mismanagement would fit any of those exclusions.

Parent Molly Bardsley said she was “frankly a little surprised that this is all going to go on behind closed doors, because part of the problem SACS is addressing is what goes on behind closed doors.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

198 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

September 6th, 2012
8:10 am

This is unbelievable and shame on the BOE and shame on Dr. Atkinson!!! My guess is that this could be challenged as a violation of the Open Meeting Laws??? There must be a lot this BOE doesn’t want made public…to no one’s surprise.

Tired

September 6th, 2012
8:22 am

I could support all these new little fiefdoms (Dunwoody, the ridiculous “city” of Brookhaven) if they were also going to secede from the school board. UGH.

Hamilton

September 6th, 2012
8:33 am

It would be outstanding if King & Spalding would do a little pro bono work for the citizens of DeKalb County by filing Open Meetings Act lawsuits against the DeKalb Board of Education. It would be a tremendous gesture, given the money they have been making off of the DeKalb taxpayers for years. Any of the other law firms could chip in too.

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR

September 6th, 2012
8:33 am

Another bloated school system not using money in the classrooom where it belongs. R.E.M said it best…”Its the end of the world as we know it”. Bring on the charter system!

[...] Downey has a post up on this travesty on her Get Schooled blog.   If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing [...]

SML

September 6th, 2012
8:40 am

OUTRAGEOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ENTIRE school board needs to be replaced IMMEDIATELY!

Pardon My Blog

September 6th, 2012
8:44 am

No open meeting about this? Really? They don’t want it in the newspapers? Afraid of the truth finally coming out about 10 years of corruption? Time for the State to step in and let the criminal investigations begin!

Bobby

September 6th, 2012
8:45 am

As a Dekalb County taxpayer and resident since 1976 I smell a rat here. This is why voters are turning out incumbents right and left regardless of how well we think they did their jobs. Eugene Walker needs to take a leadership as the Chairman and open up the hearings. I’m not sure who is more dysfunctional – Dekalb Code Enforcement (which the Commissioners need to abolish the entire department) or the School board.

Pride and Joy

September 6th, 2012
8:45 am

Thank you, Get Schooled and thank you, Maureen! This is exactly the kind of news I want and expect from the media — being a watch dog on our elected governement officials. Super Cheryl has lost my confidence by pulling this outrageous stunt.
What particularly infuriates me is this “Board members said they were merely acting out of respect for AdvancEd and its subsidiary, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.”
What about the respect for tax payers and parents?
What about respect for the LAW?
This is clearly a duck and cover your A meeting. This is not what we need from our elected officials and it is a PERFECT example of why we can’t trust our elected boards to make sound decisions regarding charter schools.

Rickster

September 6th, 2012
8:46 am

Can anyone say “Death Knell?”

Big picture

September 6th, 2012
8:47 am

Let the spin begin.

Mike

September 6th, 2012
8:51 am

When can we get the state to take over…..this is a train wreck that everyone can see coming from a mile away. We shouldn’t need to wait and become the next Clayton County before action is taken. These people are idiots!

Tuckergirl

September 6th, 2012
8:57 am

“The goal is to be as open and transparent as possible,” school board Chairman Eugene Walker said before leading the vote for a process that leaves the public outside the door.

Read that paragraph again. Mr. Walker said they want to be transparent and then does completely opposite. And the Board wonders why parents have no faith in them. They wonder why SACS is concerned. What does the Board have to hide? As a parent of a new Dekalb kindergarten student, I watch this circus with disgust.

My disgust is not with my son’s school or its staff. For Dekalb, it is about as good as it gets. The principal, teachers and parents are very involved on every level. For the past four weeks, as I’ve volunteered there, I’ve been quite impressed and he is thriving despite the fact his class has 25 students and no parapro (not the school’s fault). But I am fully aware that’s not the case for many Dekalb public schools.

As for the Board and DCSS, my confidence has been going down the drain since we moved here. The Dekalb “Friends and Family” Program is one factor that has been part of the problem. When you continually hire your aunt, cousin, boyfriend, mother in law, neighbor, etc. because of your relationship to them and not their abilities, something is wrong. But once you are “in” (unless you are a teacher) the system, it is nearly impossible to be removed from it. Even when you do something illegal.

As a result, numerous conflicts of interest continue to crop up that have led to expensive law suits. So the Board hires TWO different law firms to handle it because they can’t agree on which one to hire. Does somebody have a cousin working for one firm and maybe a girlfriend for the other? I wouldn’t be surprised because this is how Dekalb operates. Your tax dollars at work.

Having seen the hell Clayton went through after its accreditation was removed, I don’t think anyone wants to see that nightmare repeated in Dekalb. We can hope that SACS’ concern will wake the Board up but as can be seen from their efforts to be “transparent” with the public, I remain doubtful and depressed that any positive changes are coming any time soon.

Tyronne

September 6th, 2012
8:59 am

The Dekalb County mafia strikes again.

Remember this when you go into the voting booth in November and see the wonderful variety of choices we will be presented with throughout our cozy little cleptocracy.

We will never get real change until we stand up for ourselves and demand a better product for our tax dollars.

Lynn

September 6th, 2012
9:00 am

First, now with a public outcry, the board and Dr. Atkinson will announce “opps” and make the process open. Mark my words, we will soon hear from Jeff Dickerson about a change of plans.

Second, the DeKalb School Board has long been the poster child for back room deals. You vote for this and I will support you on that is the norm. The inability of School Board members to not worry about their own reelection and therefore only their own communities is a large part of how the system got where it is today. I am certain they violate Open Meetings but DCSS lacks a whistleblower. That is a shame.

Roach

September 6th, 2012
9:06 am

Disastrous decision. Moreover, while this vote was in public, you know the proposal would not have been advanced unless its backers were already sure of support–which means that a vote on a board proposal was discussed outside of a public meeting, in itself a violation of state law.
Responding to SACS:
Step 1: Violate the law.
Step 2: Alienate the public.
Step 3: Do something else incredibly stupid which just makes matters worse.
Yep, that’s just what it says in the state school board association guidebook.

CTPAT

September 6th, 2012
9:07 am

Outrageous? Yes. Unexpected? No.
I suspect that if they were interested in truthfully responding to the allegations, they’d have to admit to engaging in unlawful conduct; hence, it’s totally legit to be behind unclosed doors. Unfortunately, I also suspect that they’ll craft some sort of cover-up behind those closed doors too.

DagnyT

September 6th, 2012
9:08 am

Maureen, what, if anything, is preventing the city of Dunwoody and the future city of Brookhaven from forming their own school districts? The loss of accreditation depreciated homes in Clayton county by as much as 70%. I doubt the people of Dunwoody would stand for that. Those in Birmingham, AL split off into smaller cities and formed their own school districts resulting in increased property values and acclaimed schools. Personally, we left Dekalb because the schools were headed south and our taxes kept increasing. I would move back if Dunwoody or Brookhaven had a city school system.

DeKalb Teacher

September 6th, 2012
9:09 am

Whoooooaaaaa … there are a lot of generalizations and accusations without specifics flying around here.

1. Specifically what law are they breaking?
2. How are they breaking it?

Let’s not get our panties in a wad until we know what is going on.

Fred ™

September 6th, 2012
9:11 am

Maureen? How many of these yahoos were voted out? When do the new folks come in? Is this a case of the idiots that got booted having a last hurrah at the check book before they leave? I know Our SB member, Womack got the boot. How many others did?

Oh and shame on all of you who didn’t vote your incumbent out this past July/August. See what you foisted on the rest of us?

Steve from Tucker

September 6th, 2012
9:13 am

God bless you, AJC. God bless you, Maureen Downey. Where would we be without you guys to shine the light on the corruption we elect to represent us? Is there not a single true public servant left in DeKalb County?

LOGIC

September 6th, 2012
9:15 am

SACS is not innocent in all of this, folks. If the State were to actually do something, I hope it would fine SACS for negligence because none of these allegations are new. Ty points out in the article that the letter is to Dr. Atkinson. I believe that the Board is her boss and not vice versa. How does this work? SACS needs to have a process to determine how to oust the Board members if they are negligent. Impacting change from the bottom up does not work. What can Atkinson do other than make it a bigger circus – which is what she did yesterday?

SACS needs to escalate to Barge and Co. immediately to save us from losing accreditation. The children and the taxpayers should not be punished for the negligence/corruption of the Board, the Superintendent (current and former) and the governing/review agencies.

Can we save DeKalb???

Big picture

September 6th, 2012
9:16 am

@lynn, don’t think they’ll open the doors of this meeting. Not this time. Spin is too essential. They have cut the school house resources to nothing and the super continues to travel and push for a balanced calendar. She is the one who made the suggestion, according to the article, that discussions be held in closed session. She is the one who develops the budget that they vote on. She is the one who puts information forward that they must use in decision making. She is the one who wants a closed session. Really, has any information been forthcoming since she has been in charge? I cannot find posted minutes of recent board meetings (if they are there, I cannot find them), and by recent, I mean any 2012 minutes. It is my understanding that the board cannot interfere with daily operations in running the district. The problem is, the district isn’t running, but parents and good teachers ARE running, AWAY, that is. It is not in the supererintendant’s best interest to hold open meetings. Nor is it in the best interest of many members of the board….they don’t think there’s a problem. They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. Guess they think overspending by millions of dollars is not an issue, not as long as they keep the CO covered, which they can do by cutting school level resources. Oops. I rant.

Maureen Downey

September 6th, 2012
9:16 am

@DeKalb teacher:

Here is a clear summary of the open meetings law

Here are the situations where a board can elect to go into closed session and ban the public:
The general rule is that all meetings of governing bodies of agencies must be open to the public. A governing body may exclude the public from a portion of a meeting known as a “closed session” if it identifies a specific statutory exemption. Under Georgia Open Meetings Act, a governing body may hold a closed session when it is dealing with one of nine subject-area exemptions found in Ga. Code § 50-14-3. The nine exemptions are:

staff meetings held for investigative purposes under duties or responsibilities imposed by law;
deliberations and voting of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles;
meetings of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or any other law enforcement agency in the state, including grand jury meetings;
meetings when any agency is discussing the future acquisition of real estate;
meetings of the governing authority of a public hospital or any committee thereof when discussing the granting, restriction, or revocation of staff privileges or the granting of abortions under state or federal law;
meetings when discussing or deliberating upon the appointment, employment, compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal, or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee;
adoptions and proceedings related thereto;
meetings of the board of trustees or the investment committee of any public retirement system when such board or committee is discussing matters pertaining to investment securities trading or investment portfolio positions and composition; and
meetings when discussing any records that are exempt from public inspection or disclosure pursuant to paragraph (15) of subsection (a) of Code Section 50-18-72, when discussing any information a record of which would be exempt from public inspection or disclosure under said paragraph, or when reviewing or discussing any security plan under consideration pursuant to paragraph (10) of subsection (a) of Code Section 15-16-10.

Big picture

September 6th, 2012
9:17 am

Maureen, Did any board members voted Against the closed meeting approach?

Baby

September 6th, 2012
9:18 am

The board and their ringleader are the poster children for incompetence, thievery and corruption. They care nothing about children, and only about their own self-important positions. The only way they can continue to hold onto those, are by hiding their deceitful misdeeds, which are probably much worse than we already know about.

Head on over to Dekalb School Watch and look at the budgets. They claim they need to cut teachers, while rising the school board members’ budgets and central staff offices budgets by millions.

Someone should sue to make this transparent, I mean, what’s another million in legal fees when you’ve run up as much as these scoundrels have…

Lynn

September 6th, 2012
9:18 am

GA Law (Open Records/Open Meetings) errs on the side of transparency. Because Dr. Atkinson and the Board apparently don’t want the public to see the response to the SACS complaint before SACs does, they will write the letter, share it individually with each board member and then send it off. The reality is this could be viewed as a move to avoid complying with open meetings. The board asked if they could discuss it in Executive Session, the answer was no, so this is the strategy they are going with.
The moment the letter is sent to a board member, it becomes subject to open records law. It is silly for the board to think that they can hide this from the media, and therefore, the public.

Ernest

September 6th, 2012
9:24 am

This is strange and very concerning. Though Jeff indicated it was recommended by Dr. Atkinson, the BOE could have consulted the legal staff before voting to go into executive session. For the sake of transparency, they could have rejected the recommendation. Does anyone know how the vote went for going into executive session?

Dunwoody Mom

September 6th, 2012
9:28 am

I am just stunned. An open, transparent discussion of the issues SACS raised would have gone a long way toward supporting the promise of an “open and transparent” school district. Now, we just see that DCSD is “business as usual” despite promises that we would see “A New Day in DeKalb Schools”.

Devildog

September 6th, 2012
9:30 am

Looks like their trying to become Clayton II.

BB

September 6th, 2012
9:30 am

I grew up in DeKalb County years ago. Then it was considered a wonderful place to live, work, and go to school. I’m so sorry I can’t say that about the county anymore.

AnonMom

September 6th, 2012
9:36 am

I’m not sure I see which exception to the open meetings statute cited above applies to this situation…. any guesses? I wish the FBI would start looking at things.

Mitch

September 6th, 2012
9:36 am

And these are the people Maureen wants to give exclusive control over approving charter schools. No thanks. This what you get from “local control.”

Maureen Downey

September 6th, 2012
9:37 am

@Dagny, I am unsure of the law governing the creation of new school districts. However, the challenge would be persuading voters to take on the higher costs that smaller districts bring. (Decatur has the state’s highest property taxes as a result of its small school system.) A theme in the campaigns for cityhood in various DeKalb communities has been that taxes would not rise. So, voters, most of whom have no kids in schools, would likely resist a deannexation from the county schools if it meant higher taxes.
But the law may not allow it or make it difficult. Tennessee had to change its law last year to allow suburban towns to break from the county schools, and that law is facing a constitutional court challenge.
Maureen

Maureen Downey

September 6th, 2012
9:42 am

@To all, Some weird antics with posts this morning, including my own, which disappeared twice already. If your stuff does not appear, repost. And if your comment appears six times, as one post just did, I will delete the repeats.
Maureen

Mikedawg

September 6th, 2012
9:44 am

Aren’t you glad you recently voted to continue the penny sales tax for school improvements? Now the BOE has even more money and “influence” to play around with.

Morovia

September 6th, 2012
9:54 am

Crooks running your schools—meeting in private to discuss fraud, mismanagement, failing schools, loss of accreditation, hiding from the public—-congrats Atlanta—you voted for them!

Hamilton

September 6th, 2012
9:57 am

For those that asked why smaller school districts can’t be created, the State Constitution prohibits the creation of any more school districts. The constitution would have to be amended to permit the creation of new, smaller school districts like you see in other States. That’s the simple explanation, perhaps someone else can provide more detail.

Really?

September 6th, 2012
10:01 am

I am relocating my children to Gwinnett County. I have two ninth graders and I don’t like when I start hearing about accrediation. DeKalb schools are a joke!

Lulu

September 6th, 2012
10:04 am

If there is not a law already we need one that allows taxpayers to sue such officials who break the open session law without involving the city, county, whatever government. As it is they do as they wish with no personal responsibility because apparently law suits punish the government involved and not the officials. Government in this part of the state becomes more laughable every day!

williebkind

September 6th, 2012
10:04 am

Be gentle people these are college educated minds at work with high pay and benefits.

Van Jones

September 6th, 2012
10:06 am

Dekalb, the “new” Clayton county.

Concerned Parent

September 6th, 2012
10:18 am

And they wonder why enrollment in this county is declining….HELLO!

Triple D

September 6th, 2012
10:25 am

This is a sad day.

Ernest

September 6th, 2012
10:25 am

I spoke to someone that explained they did not go into executive session during this meeting but only discussed making the process closed. That said, it looks like no laws have been broken at this time. Given the concerns expressed about making the process of formulating and reviewing the response to SACS closed, hopefully there will be a reconsideration.

Is my understanding correct?

Paul

September 6th, 2012
10:33 am

Since the schools are solid in Dunwoody, Chamblee and Brookhaven, these cities should form their own district and start a process to marginalize any dependance with DeKalb government services. Sanitation and fire are great and reliable, but beyond that there is no reason to keep any association with that collection of clowns at the county.

Tag

September 6th, 2012
10:40 am

Who trusts government any more, be it republican or democratic?

Constitution

September 6th, 2012
10:40 am

The Georgia Constitution (Article XIII) prevents any new school districts, so absent an amendment, Dunwoody, Brookhaven et al cannot form their own school district. Maybe folks should explore what it takes to amend the GA Constitution.

Its says, FYI, as follows. I beleive the last line is the issue. Existing city schools (i.e Atlanta, Decatur etc) were grandfathered.

SECTION V.

LOCAL SCHOOL SYSTEMS

Paragraph I. School systems continued; consolidation of school systems authorized; new independent school systems prohibited. Authority is granted to county and area boards of education to establish and maintain public schools within their limits. Existing county and independent school systems shall be continued, except that the General Assembly may provide by law for the consolidation of two or more county school systems, independent school systems, portions thereof, or any combination thereof into a single county or area school system under the control and management of a county or area board of education, under such terms and conditions as the General Assembly may prescribe; but no such consolidation shall become effective until approved by a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon in each separate school system proposed to be consolidated. No independent school system shall hereafter be established

bu2

September 6th, 2012
10:41 am

While Atkinson was blamed for suggesting it, I wonder if she was told to suggest it by one of the board members to be cover for them.

The only board members quoted in the article are Womack and Walker, who are probably the two with the most to be embarrassed about. They are the ones people complain most about getting involved in personnel issues.

Where are Jester and Elder? I hear no complaints about the secrecy from them and they are the newer members who should have the least to be embarrassed about.

Orson, McMahan and Johnson don’t come on board until January. McChesney, Womack and Bowen are still on the board until then.
I would like to see the new members ask for more transparency.

Robin

September 6th, 2012
10:49 am

It’s sad that other districts’ boards apparently learned absolutely nothing from Clayton County’s ordeal with accreditation.