Guest column: DeKalb Schools ought to clean house and start fresh

I was planning to post this essay on DeKalb by local writer Janusz Maciuba later today, but events got ahead of it. A DeKalb resident, Maciuba teaches English as a Second Language at an area technical college.

Here is his piece with my note on today’s updates:

By Janusz Maciuba

The most popular teacher in every school is not the one who can control a class of hooligans or inspire students to love Shakespeare or physics. It is the teacher who knows about the retirement plan.

This teacher could explain why DeKalb is paying for two superintendents when there is only need for one.

Ramona Tyson, the previous interim superintendent, now tucked away in a make-work job, is still earning $235,000 a year.

The retirement teacher can explain: A teacher’s pension is based on years served and the average of two highest consecutive years of salary.  If she had reverted back to a $150,000 position at the end of the interim period, she would be entitled to around $100,000.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the DeKalb Board of Education is scrambling to avoid being dissolved. Time is marching to the almost foregone conclusion in three weeks. Deckchairs are being stacked on the Titanic. What can they do to prove they can change?

Here’s an idea: stop paying for two superintendents, stop this thievery of our property taxes, and recover the misused money.

Another idea: fire Ralph Taylor, who once worked with Dr. Atkinson for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. (Revealed today, Tayor has resigned.)

According to the AJC story, he got a sweetheart contract to write a $10,000 report which proved to be heavily plagiarized. Then he got a sinecure as associate superintendent for $121,726. He is willing to give the little money back, of course, and keep the big money.

Dr. Atkinson’s deep thought relayed through a spokesperson, “The infraction pertains to his work as a consultant, not as an employee.”

What? Sixth-graders understand plagiarism but an associate superintendent with a doctorate doesn’t?

It must be okay to hire a man who doesn’t understand academic standards or common morality. How our school superintendent can defend this behavior and her own is beyond imagination and common sense.

So, the third idea: fire the superintendent because nothing has improved in her year on the job. She has hired incompetent friends at high salaries. She has not reduced the bureaucracy. The school system is on probation.

Do not pay her to leave.

Fourth idea: Stop offering golden parachutes in a superintendent’s contract. They are deployed too often in DeKalb County. Make in a by-law.

For other ideas the board members should read the DeKalb School Watch Two blog to find out the extent of cronyism and ineptitude that is going on in the DeKalb school system. For instance, a blogger estimates that more than $20million could be saved annually by following the correct salary structure.

Take action on as many problems as possible in the next week.

Even though there seems to be little hope of school board members all retaining their seats, this is a time to establish the beginnings of a new directions for future boards and to leave some measure of progress that has been lacking in all the in-fighting, power-wielding, employee abusing, and parochially-focused behavior of the past that led the SACS to put DeKalb on probation.

There is still time to go out with dignity. There is still time to leave a small positive legacy.

Start today.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

89 comments Add your comment

Beverly Fraud

January 29th, 2013
2:47 pm

Is there any hope that a consortium of astrophysicists, and ethicists could be gather in the hope of convincing an asteroid to have a moment of Christ like consciousness and sacrifice itself by descending on DCSS?

As far fetched as it sounds, it might be the most likely possibility of bringing positive change to DCSS.

Patrick Edmondson

January 29th, 2013
2:53 pm

Hear hear from a retired Dekalb Teacher. Ramona Tyson was a godsend to a troubled system, but it becomes cronyism the way people are shuffled into make work with high pay. The clubby atmosphere at the county office wasn’t just the flunkies having weekly parties for anything and everything. Those mice played while the cats sought catnip and ignored all else.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
2:55 pm

then DCSS is well and truly screwed.

what you want requires a sense of moral and dignity

Me

January 29th, 2013
2:56 pm

“A teacher’s pension is based on years served and the average of the last three years’ salary.”

Is this correct? I always heard it was the highest 3 consecutive years average.

jct

January 29th, 2013
3:05 pm

@ me

Retirement calculations for teachers is based on 2 highest consecutive years.

I thought TRS would not consider salary if you held an interim appointment. I guess it would depend on how DCSS set up her salary.

Either way it is a shame.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
3:07 pm

this is as common as kudzu in summer.

here’s how the system works. since your retirement is averaged based on your last three years, everyone who is anyone get the three year bump. a sudden promotion as far up the ladder as the system will allow.

if you’re lucky, the person still does a worthwhile function. most often they are put out to pasture to become special advisers, executive assistants, or some kind of asst vp which has never existed before and usually never exists again.

remember: this option does not extend to faculty, anyone below asst, director level, and those without patrons. it is, allegedly, a way to reward long serving underpaid employees. what it is in reality is cronyism run amok. kinda like congress voting themselves a raise while federal payrolls
are frozen.

what sometimes happens is somebody who can’t get the bump at one school will find a new home
at another. but it stays all in the family.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
3:09 pm

@ me & jct.

you’er both right. it is the highest three consecutive years, which almost always occurs at the end of a career.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
3:10 pm

something else which goes on at that state level.

outgoing chancellors stay on the payroll for years afterward. years.

Ed Advocate

January 29th, 2013
3:12 pm

There was a time when I believed it would destabilize Dekalb if the Governor took the drastic step of replacing the board. After attending the hearing before the State Board of Ed, I am left with the impression that the state really has no other choice but to remove the board. It became painfully clear that at least three board members must be replaced. State law only allows replacement of the entire board, but individual board members can petition to return, which I think is appropriate for the newly-elected board members as well as several sitting board members.

I worry that if the board and Superintendent aren’t replaced, the Dekalb County School System will be torn apart. Teacher morale in Dekalb is at an all-time low, and it’s only a matter of time until parents demand their local communitities secede into smaller local systems.

Don't Tread

January 29th, 2013
3:15 pm

““The infraction pertains to his work as a consultant, not as an employee.”

Right….like his ethical standards magically transformed when his status changed from “contractor” to “employee”. A sixth grader can figure that out too…too bad the adults can’t.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
3:25 pm

in all deadly seriousness:

DCSS is sicker than APS ever was. APS has an illness. DCSS has terminal cancer.

I honestly believe DCSS should be nuked. completely nuked. it needs to be treated like Carthage.
(let me know if I need to explain that). bring in an external management company appointed by gov. Deal -shuddering, but its what we got- with as close to zero connections to DCSS as possible.

hell, they can even bring in Michelle Rhee for two years.

the management company takes over the system, and puts in place a situation where two years from now ALL management positions from super to assist principals will be open. incumbents are welcome to apply, but will not be given special consideration.

sell all the current property, relocate the main office elsewhere, change the name, everything.

rewrite the charter, reaccredit with SACS, have a written set of rules defining what the system can and can’t do, and establish a genuine ethics hotline with an independent investigator/advocate.

Bright Idea

January 29th, 2013
3:29 pm

GA TRS benefit is the HIGHEST 2 CONSECUTIVE salaries. Not the last 2 or last 3. Most teachers had their highest 2 salaries several years ago due to furloughs. I retired after 30 years which was 60% but it was actually 67% of my last year’s salary. Downey and the AJC published this lady’s piece without checking her facts. Still, DeKalb should clean out and start over.

muddy waters

January 29th, 2013
3:34 pm

That it took Ralph Taylor until today to “resign” speaks volumes as to how lame Cheryl Atkinson is. Of course, that he was hired — for either job — based on Atkinson having worked with him in Charlotte also speaks volumes.

Boy, it ain’t pretty over there in DeKalb, is it?

Old timer

January 29th, 2013
3:38 pm

And, at least in my case after school, paid tutoring and summer school do not factor into retirement

Maureen Downey

January 29th, 2013
3:41 pm

@Bright: Was just checking that based on earlier question from poster. See change in piece. What I found: The amount of the benefit is determined by a formula which takes into account length of service and the highest two consecutive years of salary.
Maureen

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
3:52 pm

Replace the entire Board. Then the first order of business of the new Board should be to fire Cheryl Atkinson and start a search for a new superintendent. That at least would convince some people that Dekalb can solve their own problems.

Dusty

January 29th, 2013
3:57 pm

DeKalb sounds like Atlanta sounds like Washington…….folks that think the taxpayers money is theirs to distribute to their buddies or their favorite “cause” and especially themselves.

Tis said ” a good man is hard to find.” Women too. Where have all the honest, ethiclal people gone?. Would the h & e persons please raise your hands? We need you as as soon as you can get here. Being able to teach might help also.

Dusty

January 29th, 2013
4:03 pm

Whoops….would you like that repeated? Sorry about that. Didn’t mean it. Wasn’t plagerism! Wasn’t cheatin’! I never meant it. (May I get a job in Dekalb. I’d fit in.)

Big Mama

January 29th, 2013
4:03 pm

I think the experiment with large school systems has proved a disaster. It’s high time to break APS, Dekalb, Fulton, and Clayton into smaller, community-based systems. The dollars that flow into the existing schools wouldn’t necessarily have to change (all APS schools would receive the same money from the city/state they received before breaking out). This would allow the voice of the community to be heard and not diluted with the noise from a hundred other communities.

Dekalbite@Bootney

January 29th, 2013
4:32 pm

“here’s how the system works. since your retirement is averaged based on your last three years, everyone who is anyone get the three year bump. a sudden promotion as far up the ladder as the system will allow.”

Highest TWO consecutive years. Take it from someone who retired recently.

Dekalbite@Bootney

January 29th, 2013
4:38 pm

“How would my retirement be affected if I took a few years off from teaching?
Your TRS benefit is calculated using your highest two consecutive years of pay multiplied by 2% for each year of service. Years not worked impact the calculation of your benefits accordingly.”

http://www.hcbe.net/media/CMSImport/408EEBF3BD8C4A80AF4430BD03EB3AF8.pdf

Straight for Georgia TRS website:
“After determining a member’s consecutive twenty-four months which produce the highest average salary, which also represents at least two years of service credit, a base year is determined for the average salary limitation against which the first of the two highest years is compared. The resulting allowable salary for the first of the highest two years is then compared to the second of the highest two years.”

http://www.trsga.com/ActiveMember/SalaryLimitation.aspx

jarvis

January 29th, 2013
4:44 pm

Gwinnett County let me mother teach summer school for two summers towards the end of her career. This gave her a nice little bump in her pension.

BemusedinBrookhaven

January 29th, 2013
4:47 pm

Step 1: Secede from Dekalb County (check). Step 2: Establish a City of Brookhaven School System. (In progress). Sorry Dekalb – you’re on your own. What a bunch of morons. P.S. Hey – we made it 20 comments withou someone claiming racism!

jarvis

January 29th, 2013
4:48 pm

Pension plans need to be phased out over time. Defined benefits are not feasible on a continuing basis.

I think a freeze would be appropriate. Let those in the Plan be grandfathered. Just stop allowing new entrants.

None of this is doable though with the current 403(b). A matching contribution of some kind would need to be implemented, and the core of the current plan would have to change. My wife’s in Cobb County is the most fee ridden retirement plan I’ve ever seen.

jarvis

January 29th, 2013
4:50 pm

@BemusedinBrookhaven, you forgot the step where you have the State Constitution either thrown out or amended. The current Constitution specifies that public schools must be County controlled.

Dekalbite@bright

January 29th, 2013
4:51 pm

” Downey and the AJC published this lady’s piece without checking her facts. Still, DeKalb should clean out and start over.”
Whatever, it’s now correct. Two years of highest pay – not last two years. That is the point the article is making. If an employee’s salary is bumped up for two years, that will be the retirement calculation at the end of 30 years regardless of any years before or after the bump.

BemusedinBrookhaven

January 29th, 2013
4:53 pm

Of the 181 public school systems in Georgia, 159 are county systems and 21 are city systems; the Department of Juvenile Justice also runs a school system.

Big Mama

January 29th, 2013
5:06 pm

If the state constitution can be amended to allow another county to be formed (and apparently there are many supporters for this notion) then surely it can be amended to allow a different structuring of public school systems. Is it really too much to ask our state legislature to consider the best needs of Georgia’s students and change/abolish the laws that stand in the way of progress. They have no problem creating laws that bleed the systems dry.

10:10 am

January 29th, 2013
5:11 pm

It’s oddly reassuring that things like incompetence and corruption in DeKalb government—and the tribal voting enabling it—can be counted on to endure until the end of time …

ODD OWL

January 29th, 2013
5:18 pm

All the problems in America’s public school systems can be traced directly to the doorsteps of Reagan, Bush-1 and the Bush/Cheney Regimes… America had the best public school system in the world before the Republicans begin meddling into the affairs of school administrators… If parents who have Children in the Georgia public school system want their Children to get a good education, keep the politically inept, stupid Republicans away from your Children and your school system… Nathan Deal is incompetent and unfit for office, and so are all the Republicans in the state legislature, the counties, the cities and towns across the whole state… The Republicans are the problem… If We the People get rid of the Republicans, we can get rid of the problem… The only way we can solve these problems is by electing Mayor Kasim Reed Governor and placing control of the state legislature in the hands of Democrats… The unemployment rate in Georgia under Nathan Deal and the Republicans hovers between 12% and 16% state wide… The Republicans do not have an economic plan for Georgia… They’re waiting on the private sector to create jobs… The Republicans also crave turning the public school system over to the private sector… What a Hoot !!!

Prof

January 29th, 2013
5:20 pm

Leaving aside the question of Ramona Tyson’s highest salary for two consecutive years, I wonder how long she’s been vested in TRS and whether she’s 60 or over. (Sorry–I live in Fulton and haven’t kept up with the details here.) She has to be vested 25 years to retire early with lower benefits, 30 years vested to retire regardless of age, or vested 10 years and be aged 60 or more. That’s of course including any years she might have taught.

Is she being kept on to allow her to reach one of those magic numbers?

Retired and working part-time

January 29th, 2013
5:22 pm

Having just been through the retiring process, your base as determined by TRS, is your highest 24 consecutive months pay, not three yrs. I don’t think it has changed in the last year. Any monies paid for instructional services (such as summer school) are counted, whereas money paid for supplements, such as coaching, are not factored in.

Flabberghasted4sure

January 29th, 2013
5:48 pm

Wonder who Taylor’s references were for this $117,000 job. The BOE should be on the lookout in case those names show up somewhere. Who interviewed him and recommended him – Atkinson or a staff member?

southern opinion

January 29th, 2013
5:55 pm

All talk – no action. Truly what can a DCSS employee do? The only option it seems is to go to another school district. But what if you don’t want to leave? What can be done? A lot are knocking on retirement’s door; to leave now is to start over somewhere else. All those references, paperwork! Any suggestions? What can the little people do? Can we appeal to someone for help?

City Schools

January 29th, 2013
7:25 pm

Jarvis is wrong about the constitution. There are lots of city schools in GA. Just in the Metro I can think of Atlanta, Marietta, Buford, and Social Circle off the top of my head. Are Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Decatur next?

Dekalbite@City Schools

January 29th, 2013
7:35 pm

“Jarvis is wrong about the constitution”

No. He is not. Look at the Georgia Constitution :
“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.”
http://law.justia.com/constitution/georgia/conart8.html

I be.ieve that a constitutional amendment has been introduced to overturn this. Whether it will garner support statewide is debatable.

Ed Advocate

January 29th, 2013
7:36 pm

@jarvis is not wrong. There are plenty of city school systems in Georgia. Decatur City, Marietta City, Buford City, etc. formed long ago. My understanding is that it now requires a change to our state constitution to allow creation of more independent school systems. This hurdle certainly isn’t insurmountable, especially considering super majorities in the state legislature. Whether creation of more Georgia school systems is a good idea is another issue entirely…

Dekalbite@City Schools

January 29th, 2013
7:37 pm

Marietta, Decatur, Etc. City schools were in already place when this constitutional amendment was passed in the mid1940s.

Bill

January 29th, 2013
7:39 pm

I TAUGHT IN DEKALB COUNTY FOR 29 YEARS. BECAUSE OF THIS FOLKS USES TO LOOK AT ME WITH RESPECT AND ENVY. NOW THEY LOOK AT ME AND LAUGH. IT WOULD BE FUNNY IF IT WERE NOT FOR THE DAMAGE IT IS DOING TO THE CHILDREN. CITIZENS OF DEKALB TAKE CHARGE. DEMAND THAT THE STATE GET RID OF THIS BOARD WHO RESPOND WITH” I DON’T KNOW HOW THAT HAPPENED.” AND GIVE YOU A RESPONSIBLE BOARD SO THAT I CAN ONCE AGAIN HOLD MY HEAD UP AND PROUDLY SAY THAT I WORKED FOR DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOLS

Another Voice

January 29th, 2013
7:39 pm

Unfortunately, it will take a change at the state level for ANY – I mean ANY – new schools sytems to be established. Those city schools systems were in place when the state ‘froze’ school systems. So they get to continue, but those us who would like to leave the DCSS to create a city school system have to convince lawmakers from the entire STATE that it’s the right thing to do – to give every community the right to self-determination about education.

So, far DeKalb-ites, the best we can hope for is the State Board removing the entire DCSS Board and finding some new starting point.

Re Tyson: She stepped into a difficult role, handled it reasonably well, and to some extent, this is the payback for doing that. Whether she had a commitment from the Board about her future position & salary when they hired Atkinson, I don’t know. Hope it’s limited to a specified period of time, so that we don’t continue paying so much money. Of course, the way things are going, she might be called again to step up until the state can find responsible adults to run this zoo.

Janusz Maciuba

January 29th, 2013
7:44 pm

Thanks for your comments. I stand corrected on the formula. My original blog showed that Ms.Tyson would increase her pension by over $40,000 annually from staying at the $235,000 job for two years, assuming 30 years of service.

I agree that the county should be broken down into manageable units but I don’t see that happening. We would probably end up with four or five dysfunctional boards instead of one. There’s something about power…

The skills a modern superintendent needs to run a large school system cannot be acquired in so-called leadership classes or in leading smaller school districts. It’s time to seek a candidate outside the education system.

Ideally, someone who is used to moving and shaping large numbers of people, who has a finance degree, and who was an English major — the only grads who increased their critical thinking skills in college. No coaches or PE teachers.

Janusz is a male name in Polish.

Moderation

January 29th, 2013
8:01 pm

The board was elected and should not be removed.
If the governor believes (based upon evidence) that
the board has demonstrated illegal actions ,or financial
impropriety, he should appoint a state auditor, but
removing an elected body without a recall effort from
local constituents is troubling. I doubt that anyone
would accept a school board in any county having the
power to remove an elected governor from office. If
the board can be removed in one county, why not
argue that the governor should be able to appoint
board members in every county. A state auditor would
meet the concerns of interested parties while maintaining
the integrity of a local elected school board.. Firing the
superintendent would send an even worse message to
future educators seeking positions of leadership
(especially considering how the job search and interview
of prospective superintendents was mishandled last time.).

dekalbite

January 29th, 2013
8:08 pm

DeKalbMama

January 29th, 2013
8:49 pm

We need to implement a portfolio style system as put forth by BoE member Nancy Jester. It’s our only hope!

AnnieAD

January 29th, 2013
9:08 pm

Dekalb parents and teachers, who do you think could be a good superintendent in Dekalb? is there someone from within the system? Did Dekalb try to hire Dr. Sam King from Rockdale before he left for Virginia? I do not live in Dekalb any more, but lived there for many years. There seem to be several Georgia school superintendents who could straighten Dekalb out. If Atkinson does not work out, who would Dekalb want?

Janusz Maciuba

January 29th, 2013
9:50 pm

This blog merely gave the BOE suggestions on how they might save their seats by showing some progress in fixing something, anything. A bit over three weeks left to the state BOE meeting and nothing’s happening. Too bad one of malefactors fired himself.

DeKalb School Watch Two’s blogs about the mischief at the DeKalb BOE would make a year’s worth of material.

jarvis

January 29th, 2013
9:58 pm

I personally don’t think an amendment would likely pass. Don’t forget Amendments have to come to a general referendum. Don’t think South Georgia has anymore tolerance for what they see as Atlanta Metro problems.

dekalbteacher

January 29th, 2013
11:06 pm

Tyson oversaw a budget that didn’t save the $49 million it was supposed to have. The AJC wrote about this finding in the KPGM audit. And I believe that Tyson was in charge when Dekalb implemented its short-lived “triage” (someone must have figured out the meaning and implication).

This teacher doesn’t think she should be taking any more of taxpayers ‘money. If this were the private sector or a more functional system, she would have resigned (as Taylor finally did).

What I find as concerning as Atkinson’s willingness to defend a plalgiarizing “educator” is the fact that Dekalb’s website claims that the superintend and her administrators read thorougly the audits. So either they don’t possess the critical reading skills of advanced high school students or they don’t do as they say (because the audits may be more about supporting friends or building Atkinson’s list of things done/implemented as Dekalb superintendent).

JACKIE

January 29th, 2013
11:11 pm

HOW MANY PEOPLE REALIZE THAT SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE PEOPLE RETIRE AT EXHORBIANT PENSIONS BY GETTING PAID, IN THEIR LAST YEAR OF WORK, FOR HUNDREDS OF SUPPOSSED UNUSED SICK DAYS AND VACATIONS DAYS IT IS LEGAL BUT NO ONE CAN CONVINCE ME THAT THEY GO 30 YEARS AND NEVER GET SICK. NO ONE IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY HAS THIS BENEFIT. IT IS ANOTHER RIPOFF OF TAXPAYERS.

Mandella1099

January 29th, 2013
11:15 pm

I think that it is important to point out to all of those posters, bloggers, etc… that are demanding that all of DCSS be cleaned out – isn’t that exactly what Atkinson did when she came in? DeKalb School Watch II demanded that an outsider be named Superintendent – they got it. They demanded that multiple members of the upper powers that were in place prior to her arrival, even going so far as to name names, be removed from their positions – they got it. They pushed for new Board members – they got it….

I have to believe that there are employees at all levels of DCSS that are just trying to do what’s best for the students and avoiding, at all costs, the nuts that are running the asylum. If you have three bad teachers at a school, do you fire the whole staff? No – you get rid of the bad teachers, or get rid of the Principal if she doesn’t do it. Get rid of the Taylors in DCSS and keep the good – We have to believe that some are there, don’t we?