DeKalb school board: Save the governor the trouble and step down if you are part of the problem

Not sure anyone is surprised at the announcement today that DeKalb County Schools are on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

(Here is the full SACS report.)

I am a bit surprised at school board Chairman Gene Walker’s dismissal of Gov. Deal stepping in and removing board members — a power Deal now has under a sweeping school board reform law.

Here is a suggestion: Save the governor the trouble. Quit.

The DeKalb board members who are guilty of the mismanagement outlined by SACS — including missing money, school board nepotism and board influence on which schools students  — should resign and save the governor the need to formally oust them.

I don’t understand why elected officials who have failed at their jobs and left their constituents worse off don’t just do the right thing and go. If I served multiple terms on a school board and created more problems than I solved, I would let someone else try.

DeKalb has many elements in place to be a far more successful district than it has been, including taxpayers willing to take on new taxes for the sake of their schools.  Some of the blame for DeKalb’s current financial problems falls on the school board for its poor management.

At some point, fresh outlooks and new ideas are vital to an organization’s health and future. I think that time has come in DeKalb.

According to the AJC:

An accrediting agency is accusing the DeKalb County School District of a decade of “poor, ineffective governance,” announcing Monday that it’s placing the district on probation, leading to possible removal of the school board. After a six-month investigation, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools found evidence of missing money, school board nepotism and board member influence on which schools students, particularly athletes, attend.

Despite exerting influence in areas where they had no formal role, members of the school board failed to oversee their primary responsibility: the money. DeKalb is “perilously close” to running out of cash, said Mark Elgart, the president and chief executive officer of SACS parent company AdvancED. Despite annual revenues approaching $1 billion, some students don’t have textbooks and most have no access to computers or the Internet. This is because the school board, administrators and others in decision-making positions put the interests of adults before those of children, he said. Meanwhile, academic performance has been sliding.

The findings prompted SACS to bring the ultimate threat: loss of accreditation. It could happen a year from now. Until then, DeKalb is on probation, Elgart said. School officials have the interim to address the concerns. SACS will be sending teams to monitor the response in the spring and fall.

School board chairman Eugene Walker said he was disappointed by the decision. “Nobody wants to be on probation,” he said. He also said he understands why SACS reached its judgment. The school board will take the message seriously and respond to restore its accreditation, he said. “I’m also optimistic that we’re going to rise to the occasion.”

Walker said he’s not concerned that Gov. Nathan Deal will remove the school board, which is possible under a new state law that covers districts on probation. “We’ve not done anything egregious,” Walker said.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

74 comments Add your comment

Fed Up Mother

December 17th, 2012
1:15 pm

Maureen, will the findings or report be made public?

Maureen Downey

December 17th, 2012
1:27 pm

@Fed, Yes, but my understanding is that the report lacks details. Just asked the AJC ed editor if we can scan and post it. Will let you know if we get it online.
Maureen

Returning DCSS Parent

December 17th, 2012
1:32 pm

The main reason I took my son out of DCSS was because of the attitude of people like Eugene Walker. I enrolled my son in private school until he could get into Arabia Mountain HS. It was worth the time, money and miles in order to insure my son was receiving the best education we could afford for him. Not everyone can do what I did. With so much money available,it is not getting to the kids and in the classroom like it should. This foolishness has been going on for over a decade and I feel for Dr. Atkinson. However, she is now in a position to right the wrongs of the past. Get the school system together!!!! Our kids are the ones without internet access, qualified teachers, textbooks, etc. Yet, all the taxpayers are being asked to do is provide more money for the same nonsense that has been going on for 10 years. I say get rid of the board members that are not pulling their weight and doing what they were voted in to do. We need to hold these people accountable and vote their a***s out if they are not doing what they should do for the community and our children. It is about time SACS started listening to the complaints. If Governer Deal gets rid of the whole board, it is their own fault. I don’t believe DCSS will lose their accreditation but the threat should open their eyes to the facts and get things moving in the right direction quickly!!!!

chillywilly

December 17th, 2012
1:34 pm

Dekalb County Schools’ problems obviously started under former Supt. Crawford Lewis’ administration. However, I do think that Eugene Walker, Nancy Jester and a few other board members should resign immediately. Needless to say, many people don’t have a lot of confidence in Mark Elgart & SACS. APS is on record for having the most corrupt school system and biggest cheating scandal in history, yet SACS refused to pull their accreditation. So in my opinion, Elgart and his SACS don’t have any credibility at all. Gov. Nathan Deal is probably more corrupt than any person associated with Dekalb County or any other school system. So he’d be the last person that I would ask to remove anyone from Dekalb County’s School Board.

Hamilton

December 17th, 2012
1:50 pm

@chillywilly The problems started much earlier than Crawford Lewis and the problems aren’t confined to the DeKalb County School District. Take a look at DeKalb County government. You don’t have to look far to find the same kinds of problems that are so well observed in the school system.

D

December 17th, 2012
1:51 pm

Who doesn’t have textbooks?

Or a school computer lab?

The Deal

December 17th, 2012
1:51 pm

All board members need to go. I am a big fan of Nancy Jester, but this is not the time to pick and choose. Clean house, including the ones who are coming in in January. There have already been revelations about suspicious communications between one of the new board members and members of the administrative staff.

The new board then needs to fire the existing superintendent and find a new one who isn’t exchanging 12 central office jobs for someone dropping an open records requests for her text messages.

This is our one chance. If it doesn’t happen now, it’s never going to happen. Get rid of the entire board and the superintendent and start fresh. Do the right thing.

lori cobbs

December 17th, 2012
1:54 pm

i have been searching for the new statute which would enable the governor to remove the school board but have been unable to find it. can anyone post a link or a statute number? thanks!

DunMoody

December 17th, 2012
1:54 pm

@D: I can only speak to the Dunwoody cluster schools – at PCMS and Dunwoody High School, students have to share computer labs that are poorly connected and need major software and hardware updates. Thanks to Race to the Top, teachers are having to schedule multiple testing sessions in shared computer stations, with little to no technological support for RTTT. Before Dr. Atkinson distributes those laptops, she needs to make sure the wireless internet actually works in the schools (it doesn’t always).

Maureen: I doubt any of the school board culprits would see themselves as the problem. They are the kings and queens of denial.

DunMoody

December 17th, 2012
1:56 pm

Speaking to textbooks: one of the reasons DeKalb clings to the four by four block (semester schedule) is that there are not enough books for students if all are on a traditional schedule. Yet the school system doesn’t see the value in alternatives to textbooks.

Plus, the current math curriculum is poorly supported by available textbooks.

Dunwoody Mom

December 17th, 2012
1:57 pm

And to think that Eugene Walker made a scene after Citizen Comments at last Monday’s Board of Education meeting by saying that there was no financial mismanagement within DCSD. Walker should be the 1st person Governor Deal replaces.

chillywilly

December 17th, 2012
1:57 pm

@Hamilton – I also think some heads need to roll at Dekalb County Government, but I don’t think Gov. Nathan Deal needs to stick his nose in it. Gwinnett County Government is about as bad as Dekalb, if not worse.

Fred ™

December 17th, 2012
2:00 pm

Maureen: Are you SERIOUS? Have you lost your ever loving mind? You think these thieving no good soulless rat bastiches would EVER step down form their position and opportunity to steal, rule and ruin?

How about saving your righteous anger for the ignorant asses who re-elect these people? In MY district we got rid of the incumbent. Will this new person be better? I don;t know but they couldn’t be worse. The Dekalb citizens have gotten EXACTLY what they chose in their elections. The thieving Nathan Deal doesn’t need to take action, the CITIZENS do with recall elections.

DunMoody

December 17th, 2012
2:01 pm

@chillywilly – I have to disagree with your clean-slate approach. Nancy Jester is a voice of fiscal and ethical reality. She’s been a very effective gadfly and professional enough to stay within the bounds of her elected role. I hope that SACS has documented its findings BY NAME rather than provided a parenthetical “Board” to all charges.

D

December 17th, 2012
2:01 pm

I’ve followed this fairly closely and this is the first I’ve heard that the system was under SACS review because of it’s computer labs and lack of textbooks

Maureen Downey

December 17th, 2012
2:04 pm

@lori:

Senate Bill 79

BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT
1 To amend Article 3 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated,
2 relating to local boards of education, so as to provide that members of local boards of
3 education shall serve terms of no less than four years in length; to provide for a phase-in
4 period; to provide for exceptions; to provide for certain requirements as to the composition
5 and election of county boards of education in counties in which there is a homestead option
6 sales and use tax and a county sales and use tax for educational purposes; to authorize the
7 Governor to remove members of a local board of education if the local school system has not
8 reattained full accreditation status within a certain amount of time; to provide for
9 applicability; to provide for submission of certain provisions of this Act for preclearance
10 under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended; to provide for related matters; to
11 provide for an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes

Dunwoody Mom

December 17th, 2012
2:04 pm

@D – it probably came to light when SACS was trying to find out where all the money the district claimed they spent went to.

Centrist

December 17th, 2012
2:09 pm

Ms Downey posted “Here is a suggestion: Save the governor the trouble. Quit.”

Nice planet of rainbows, unicorns, accountability, and morality where you live. For the rest of us, we await to see what the Governor will do.

teacherwantingachange

December 17th, 2012
2:10 pm

The forensic audit revealing millions wasted in positions never eliminated was released weeks ago. Isn’t Ramona Tyson still on the payroll? And only tomorrow will the board and super begin discussing this serious issue? And has anyone explained how we will pay for any other misspent Title 1 money?

Our “current superintendent” (the description on the school’s website) appears to have invested more time in visiting schools, paying consultants, and pushing a balanced calendar than sorting out finances or addressing the looming redistricting deadline.

This teacher will never understand how students attend larger classes and receive fewer course offerings because of budget constraints, but Dekalb can afford to use RTT funds and other grant monies to pay for more “educators” to earn Phds and laptops for students.

D

December 17th, 2012
2:11 pm

I don’t know but it doesn’t seem plausible that the super would be making these incredible investments in laptops if SACS felt that “some students don’t have textbooks” or that most schools “don’t have access to computers or the internet”.

fedup

December 17th, 2012
2:12 pm

@chillywilly, While I can understand your frustrations with Eugene Walker and most others on the board, can you explain why you think Nancy Jester should resign?

Maureen Downey

December 17th, 2012
2:14 pm

D:
From the school chief’s state of the system speech two weeks ago

For example, DeKalb County Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson announced this week that more than 8,200 students at seven middle schools will receive netbooks in the fall loaded with all their textbooks.

“And by August of 2o14, every student — all middle schools and all high schools — will have their own device,” she said. Every teacher will be getting a laptop.

Even better, all 138 DeKalb schools will be wireless by August, she said. Now, only 38 percent of the district is wireless.

“The fact is that our students are digital natives and active learners,” said Atkinson, speaking at a DeKalb Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “The fact is, they are not limited to the classroom. The fact is, they use the laptop and not the pencil. The fact is … they can’t wait for us to catch up to their style of learning, nor should they have to.”

Adult Educator

December 17th, 2012
2:17 pm

Step down if you’re part of the problem? Unfortunately, no one on the board thinks they’re part of the problem. The problem always rests with someone else. Ludicrous.

D

December 17th, 2012
2:18 pm

M:right, so why is SACS giving this as a reason for probation? I thought it had to do with the two law firms and the water bill?

Angela Palm

December 17th, 2012
2:18 pm

@DunMoody
The statute has been interpreted by the state (and the state’s intent was) that all the board members are removed or none are. Given the date and upcoming holidays, it seems that the board that could be recommended to be removed would include the newly elected members. The State Board has 10-30 days to hold the hearing and make a recommendation to the Governor, and there is no time limit on his decision.

@Lori
The code section is 20-2-73
§ 20-2-73. Suspension and removal of local school board members under certain circumstances

(a) (1) Notwithstanding Code Section 20-2-54.1 or any other provisions of law to the contrary, if a local school system or school is placed on the level of accreditation immediately preceding loss of accreditation for school board governance related reasons by one or more accrediting agencies included in subparagraph (A) of paragraph (6) of Code Section 20-3-519, the State Board of Education shall conduct a hearing in not less than ten days nor more than 30 days and recommend to the Governor whether to suspend all eligible members of the local board of education with pay. If the State Board of Education makes such recommendation, the Governor may, in his or her discretion, suspend all eligible members of the local board of education with pay and, in consultation with the State Board of Education, appoint temporary replacement members who shall be otherwise qualified to serve as members of such board.

(2) Notwithstanding Code Section 20-2-54.1 or any other provisions of law to the contrary, if a local school system or school has been placed on, as of April 20, 2011, the level of accreditation immediately preceding loss of accreditation for school board governance related reasons by one or more accrediting agencies included in subparagraph (A) of paragraph (6) of Code Section 20-3-519 and does not reattain full accreditation status by July 1, 2011, the State Board of Education shall conduct a hearing in not less than ten days nor more than 30 days and recommend to the Governor whether to suspend all members of the local board of education with pay. If the State Board of Education makes such recommendation, the Governor may, in his or her discretion, suspend all members of the local board of education with pay and, in consultation with the State Board of Education, appoint temporary replacement members who shall be otherwise qualified to serve as members of such board.

(b) Any local board of education member suspended under this Code section may petition the Governor for reinstatement no earlier than 30 days following suspension and no later than 60 days following suspension. In the event that a suspended member does not petition for reinstatement within the allotted time period, his or her suspension shall be converted into permanent removal, and the temporary replacement member shall become a permanent member and serve out the remainder of the term of the removed member.

(c) Upon petition for reinstatement by a suspended local board of education member, the Governor or his or her designated agent shall conduct a hearing for the purpose of receiving evidence relative to whether the local board of education member’s continued service on the local board of education is more likely than not to improve the ability of the local school system or school to retain or reattain its accreditation. The appealing member shall be given at least 30 days’ notice prior to such hearing. Such hearing shall be held not later than 90 days after the petition is filed and in accordance with Chapter 13 of Title 50, the “Georgia Administrative Procedure Act,” except that the individual conducting the hearing shall have the power to call witnesses and request documents on his or her own initiative. For purposes of said chapter and any hearing conducted pursuant to this Code section, the Governor shall be considered the agency, and the Attorney General or his or her designee shall represent the interests of the Governor in the hearing. If it is determined that it is more likely than not that the local board of education member’s continued service on the local board of education improves the ability of the local school system or school to retain or reattain its accreditation, the member shall be immediately reinstated; otherwise, the member shall be permanently removed, and the temporary replacement member shall become a permanent member and serve out the remainder of the term of the removed member or until the next general election which is at least six months after the member was permanently removed, whichever is sooner. Judicial review of any such decision shall be in accordance with Chapter 13 of Title 50.

(d) Paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of this Code section shall apply to a local school system or school which is placed on the level of accreditation immediately preceding loss of accreditation on or after April 20, 2011.

(e) This Code section shall apply to all local board of education members, regardless of when they were elected or appointed.

CJae of EAV

December 17th, 2012
2:20 pm

Its laughable to see a bill to set term limits for local school boards members but no such bill exists for the legislature itself (which has its own fair share of cronism) ? Seriously??

This whole senerio would be funny if it wasn’t happening in real life.

Concerned Lakeside Mom

December 17th, 2012
2:24 pm

Well said, Maureen. Enough already. Time to campaign to Gov Deal to fire the entire BOEl. Our kids have suffered enough.

fedup

December 17th, 2012
2:25 pm

@D – you are so right.

FORMER DEKALB PARENT

December 17th, 2012
2:26 pm

Again,, SOOOOO GLAD we left last year!! short sold the house and was GONE!!!!!! The school board needs to go ASAP!!! remember people,, there are NO do overs when it comes to your children.. Its a one time shot and no house or school is worth that… WAKE UP!!

Melanie

December 17th, 2012
2:29 pm

Seems like the Board hired the wrong Supt. and she has brought in all her friends and family and threw the Board a bunch of bones. Textbooks on line when schools are not equiped to handle it. It is time for the Board to take charge and do the job they were elected to do.Nancy Jester asks the right questions but get no answers from the Supt. We can’t hold the Supt accountable but we can hold the ELECTED BOARD accountable for not holding Supt accountable. This is too bad, our school system has gone to the dogs in just a year. It was poor before but now it is BAD!!!

Pride and Joy

December 17th, 2012
2:33 pm

Finally some good news! “leading to possible removal of the school board…”
Whoo hoo! Go governor! Get those idiots out of there and while we’re at it let’s investigate the principal of Mary Lin Elementary who is using SPLOST money to pay for his own private bathroom in his office!
No kidding! He just showed all the parents a plan to install his own private bathroom in his office! This is absolutley wasteful and ridiculous!
He is not too high and mighty to share a toilet and sink with the rest of the staff.
That private bath will cost up to 10 grand!

seu eu

December 17th, 2012
2:44 pm

@chillywilly I truly don’t understand the comment you made at 1:34. Are we on different planets? At most board meetings, Nancy Jester is one of the few board members who asks the school administration to provide details to support their proposals. Frankly, out of the group, she exhibits the best overall grasp of the finances and operations of school system. Please explain why you decided to cast aspersions on the most competent member of the board.

Magpie in the cage

December 17th, 2012
2:49 pm

BOE is the tip of iceberg. Under stated circumstances, what kind of “educators” do you think get hired, advanced to unearned positions, given pay raises, etc — to the detriment of real education? Ever noticed misspelled words on forms and notes? Lunchroom accounts that are “unaccountable?” Bullies with active parents and attorneys who never stop bullying? You think it reads badly in AJC — you should see, read and smell it from the inside!!!

Maureen Downey

December 17th, 2012
3:01 pm

catlady

December 17th, 2012
3:06 pm

SACS ain’t gonna do nuthin’ that cuts off the money stream! Everyone knows, I am sure, that participation in SACS is expensive. How about some AJC fact-finding into the cost of membership for the metro counties/systems? Eye opening?

APS oldtimer

December 17th, 2012
3:16 pm

@Pride and Joy: the principal’s office in every APS school building that has been constructed or remodeled in the past 20+ years has its own bathroom. It’s standard-issue. Check the plans for Jackson High and the new N. Atlanta High, they’re in those plans too. There is one now at Lin, and it has been there since the building was last renovated in 1995.

Starik

December 17th, 2012
3:21 pm

The solution, the only solution, is to restore community schools. We need to amend the Georgia Constitution to allow the formation of new independent school districts, certainly in the cities.

DeKalb County government is not so bad. It is majority black, but the ratio of competent to incompetent leadership is no worse than it was during the last gasp of the white power structure during the Levetan administrations. DeKalb has an excellent Tax Commissioner, can conduct an election without a scandal. The police department polices itself – bad cops are fired and prosecuted without involving the FBI. The court system is still better than any other in the area. We could have had decent Sheriff, but he got shot by some sheriff’s deputies.

I’m moving to Fulton, which has a truly awful county government and court system, purely because North Fulton has excellent schools. Please Republicans…Milton County?
I’m moving to Fulton, where the government

living in an outdated ed system

December 17th, 2012
3:26 pm

@Maureen, I can say that you and I agree on this one. Having started nonprofit organizations, I believe in term limits so governance doesn’t go “stale.” I would like to see more citizens on local school boards who are qualified to hold the office. We can leave the qualifications for another day. I would also like to see some adjustments to the governance that allows the Mayor (or county CEO) more influence over school boards. Perhaps an ex-officio seat for starters. That issue will take far more time to socialize and get passed.

So for me, I’d like to see some mechanisms where we figure out when it’s right for the local Mayor to assert influence, or the Governor.

Pardon My Blog

December 17th, 2012
3:40 pm

This confirms what many of us have been saying for 10 years. The slide started in DeKalb with the election of Vernon Jones to the CEO position, he really did a good shuck and jive there. Then the school board hired that Superintendent from Birmingham which was a disaster from the word go and it has gone downhill ever since. There has been so much corruption that all the parents and teachers could see but has largely been ignored.

The entire BoE should be removed and the State of Georgia should step in and put in place knowledgable and responsible people to review all audits and the qualifications of the superintendent and then work to right the ship. More importantly, statewide there should be stringent qualifications in order to run for a position on the Board in the first place and certainly no one with felony convictions should be able to qualify.

There is so much waste and misappropriations and this superintendent is a part of that. Why does she need a driver anyway?

Momof2.5

December 17th, 2012
4:09 pm

It is absolutely true that schools (at least in the Dunwoody cluster) lack textbooks. My Dunwoody HS student took two years of Spanish with no textbook. The teachers both said they had been asking for them for years. I do believe they have been purchased in the last year or so (too late for my child). Currently in my child’s English class, there are so many kids in the class that there are not enough of the books so some students have to purchase their own.

Regarding computer labs, I believe Dunwoody HS has them, but my child’s elementary school does not. Which is bad because they are constantly having to take county-mandated tests on the computers so it is very disruptive.

Pride and Joy

December 17th, 2012
4:34 pm

Maureen, when we click on the link you provided we get an error message that reads “Sorry, we are having a temporary problem generating a view of the document. Please try again later.”

jmac83

December 17th, 2012
4:35 pm

Anyone else been able to get the link to the SACS report to load? Too much traffic, I guess, I can never get through.

Maureen Downey

December 17th, 2012
4:40 pm

@jmac, If your email is correct, check as as I just sent it to you. Some folks are accessing it as the viewer list is long. My email to you just came back as undeliverable.
But email me and I will forward it to you.

mdowney@ajc.com
Maureen

Pride and Joy

December 17th, 2012
5:01 pm

Maureen writes “At some point, fresh outlooks and new ideas are vital to an organization’s health and future.”
I think we need to start with honest and competent. We need board members who are doing their jobs competently. Right now we have more than a few crooks on the board.

Lobee317

December 17th, 2012
5:08 pm

My child has no math book and is the first time in her school years that she is failing math.. Go figure. An “A” “B” student is now failing, with no counseling, just kick them out of school, in the 6th grade. What happen to In School Suspension.

Call Me Missouri

December 17th, 2012
5:44 pm

People, please call the Governor’s office and ask that he remove this board ASAP. I should think that the state would want to do it anyway. They should be tired of having to supplement some teachers’ pay because DCSD has cut their pay to the point that it is below the state minimum! Computers and books aren’t the only basics that are scarce. Have you asked your DeKalb student if they have soap and papertowels in their restroom or how often they don’t have these basic hygienic supplies? Some classrooms don’t have enough desks for all the students because class size annually increases in proportion to the Board’s and Super’s pay/budget. Do you have a child in Kindergarten? How many students are in the class? Many have 23 or 24 or more with just one teacher and no paraprofessional because they have been RIF’d. As hard as teachers try, do you really believe that teacher can meet the needs of all those 5 and 6 year olds? This is just a short list of “egregious” acts that have had a direct negative impact on the education, safety, well-being, and in some cases, the health of the students. If you think the truly qualified teachers will continue to work in these conditions you are kidding yourselves. We need action now or DeKalb will lose its best teachers to other systems, leaving us with those who stay because they know they couldn’t be hired anywhere else.

bu2

December 17th, 2012
6:12 pm

Call me is right about basic supplies. The book situation is just inexcusable. Although the lack of books is the superintendent’s fault. Her lack of organizational skills is one thing we can’t directly pin on the school board (now they did hire her).

There is no one responsible for this mess who would have the decency to resign. Bowen said they were incompetent when talking about the Lewis construction thefts. Yet Bowen was the only one who didn’t try to get reelected and he stayed on long after that comment. We have replaced 5 of the 9 in the last 2 cycles. 2 of the others had candidates running poor campaigns against them and survived. Unfortunately, Woods, who is a total embarrassment and sounds almost illiterate, and Cunningham, who stole from a McDonalds he was a manager of in the 80s, defeated challengers who ran decent campaigns.

Married with (School) Children

December 17th, 2012
6:23 pm

Superintendent “It’s a Brighter Day” Atkinson needs to resign as well.

redweather

December 17th, 2012
6:31 pm

blahblahblah

December 17th, 2012
7:18 pm

Parents of 2 kids. We left Dekalb in October. Eternally thankful.