UPDATED Wednesday morning: As promised, Dr. Atkinson has posted the audit. Go here to read it.
UPDATE at 3:30: I just spoke to DeKalb Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson who says she plans to release the forensic audit on the district website within the next 24 hours or sooner. She explained that the audit is only a draft and subject to change. She said she is overriding the attorney’s view that the document is privileged in its draft form since it already has been leaked to the media.
Atkinson said her goal was never to keep the audit from the public. She is sending the draft audit to board members now and then will post. She wants parents to understand that this is only a draft from the auditors and changes may be made.
Parents in DeKalb County Schools are among the most dissatisfied in metro Atlanta, in large part because of a string of ineffective leaders, one of whom ended up in indicted.
New school chief Cheryl Atkinson arrived a year ago and cast herself as a change agent. She pledged a new era of openness, but the failure of her administration to release a much anticipated forensic audit undermines all her promises of transparency.
I am not sure why public officials continue to evade the state’s open records law, as they usually lose when challenges are mounted.
I also noted that the county is losing its law firm. AJC reporter Ty Tagami reports: The DeKalb County school board voted Monday to hunt for a new lawyer after learning that general counsel Sutherland Asbill & Brennan had resigned.
I would suggest DeKalb look for a lawyer who knows and understands the open record laws. I would also suggest that DeKalb Schools release the audit to its taxpayers or expect increasing suspicions and an even greater lack of confidence in Atkinson and her administration.
A long-awaited forensic audit has been delivered to the DeKalb County school system, and it may help explain why officials there have had to cut so deeply in the classroom.
Some of the central office staff eliminations the school board ordered in 2010 were not carried out, the audit says. For that and other reasons, the system wound up paying $20 million more than budgeted for central office salaries in fiscal year 2010 and $29 million more the next year, according to the audit, which was obtained by Channel 2 Action News.
District officials refused to release the document, which is labeled as a draft addressed to Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, Thursday. System spokesman Jeff Dickerson refused to comment, saying the audit was exempt from public disclosure under a part of the law that holds accountants’ work as “privileged.”
An expert on Georgia’s open-records law, however, said DeKalb has no legal right to keep the audit from the public.
“The code section pertaining to an accountant’s notes does not trump the state open-records act,” said Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “In this case, the audit given to the client — a public school system — should be disclosed.”
The audit, which was produced by the firm KPMG and leaked to Channel 2 Action News, says the board ordered the elimination of 150 central office positions in May 2010 for an expected savings of $11.5 million. Records from the school system’s finance and human resources departments differ about how many of those jobs were actually cut. Of 109 people listed by human resources as laid off, 56 remained on the payroll in different jobs, either because they were rehired or reassigned, the audit says.
The 31-page document notes plenty of other issues, including excessive fees for a line of credit, the way money was transferred between accounts and how retirees got watches and who paid for them.
Amy Trocci, a mother from Tucker with three children in the system, said she has suspected for years that mandatory central office cuts weren’t happening. Instead, she said, officials have cut teachers. “I don’t think there’s a school in the county that isn’t feeling the pain now,” she said. She said she wants ongoing oversight of spending rather than an occasional audit.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog