If DeKalb County Schools paid a consultant $10,000 for a report that seems overly broad and overly academic, the district was irresponsible with taxpayer funds. But if DeKalb keeps an employee on staff who copied other people’s material for that report, then it’s communicating to students that cheating can be overlooked.
Ralph Taylor was hired by DeKalb to produce an analysis of its alternative education program in 2011, then offered a job as an associate superintendent in DeKalb shortly after finishing it, according to the AJC.
Following a tip, AJC reporter Ty Tagami discovered that Taylor copied more than a third of his report from publications accessible via the Internet.
DeKalb school chief Cheryl Atkinson offered an odd rationale to the AJC for retaining Taylor in his $117,461-a-year associate superintendent job. “The infraction pertains to his work as a consultant, not as an employee,” she said through a spokesman.
Tagami interviewed one of the authors of material lifted by Taylor.
Taylor’s 15-page document — the school district calls it an “audit” — has been posted on the district website for months. It includes six pages with similar — in many passages, identical — prose to that in a report from the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., and a paper from William Drakeford, an assistant professor at Bowie State University in Maryland.
“I’m just astonished that somebody would do something like that,” Drakeford said when told of the similarities to a 2004 paper he wrote about race and school discipline. He said he was paid nothing for his work. When told how much Taylor got, Drakeford whistled softly.
“Wow,” he said. “This person’s in trouble.”
It’s not clear that Atkinson agrees that Taylor is in trouble. (The pair go back a long time, having worked together in Charlotte.)
Through a spokesman Wednesday, Taylor told the AJC that he’d made an “inexcusable mistake” in not attributing portions of his report and promised to return his fee. “I am not a plagiarist, and plagiarism was not my intent,” he said.
Given the extent of copied material, Taylor will have a hard time deflecting the plagiarism allegation.
I will give the last word to DeKalb board Chair Eugene Walker: “You can’t prohibit a student from plagiarizing and then permit some staff person to do it.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog