Turning Premier DeKalb into a reality: What the school board needs to consider

Jennifer Hatfield is a longtime DeKalb resident, a graduate of DeKalb schools, a former DeKalb teacher and the parent of two DeKalb students. She is a vocal community advocate in the area of education.

These are comments she made at a public meeting to the new school board edited a bit for publication. While she focused on DeKalb, her advice could apply to any school district:

By Jennifer Hatfield

An open letter to the new DeKalb County Board of Education:

I was very vocal in my support of the suspension of the former board members. I am very impressed by your resumes and what I believe is your genuine desire to help the children of DeKalb County.

Welcome aboard. I and other parents want to help you. Please allow us to. Engage us. Draw upon our knowledge and experience and use it to your advantage.

The district adopted the Premier DeKalb moniker seven years ago. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines premier as first in position, rank, or importance. I think we can all agree that this does not accurately describe DeKalb County School District currently.

For far too long, some of your predecessors believed that premier referred to them personally. We all know people who live beyond their means — those who live in a house they cannot afford, drive a car they can’t afford and try desperately to keep up with the Joneses.

Previously, our school district has operated similarly. We’re operating in a deficit, and we’ve been living beyond our means for over a decade now. That is part of what landed us in our current predicament.

Premier DeKalb is not a superintendent with a quarter-million-dollar contract and a private chauffeur, who touts flashy programs and has a golden parachute.

Premier DeKalb is a superintendent with an incentive-based contract, who can impact student achievement and lead by example. It’s graduating students with golden tickets to university level educations and successful careers.

Premier DeKalb is not a palace for a central office, complete with a fancy boardroom and filled with too many employees earning six-figure incomes.

Premier DeKalb is schools that are well maintained, safe, absent of leaky roofs and operating at capacity, schools where principals have autonomy and make decisions that meet the best interest of their students and teachers.

Premier DeKalb is not company cars for regional superintendents, while teachers drive to and from work every day, paying too much for gas out of their own insufficient salaries.

Premier DeKalb is retaining quality teachers by demonstrating to them that they are valuable — lowering student-teacher ratios, eliminating furloughs, increasing their benefits and pay, asking teachers them their opinions and then really listening to their answers.

Premier DeKalb is not money spent on attorneys.

Premier DeKalb is money spent on teachers, students and student achievement.

Premier DeKalb is not settling for mediocrity.

Premier DeKalb is setting high expectations for all employees and students alike, striving to be the best and doing what’s best by our teachers and students.

We must change our perception of what a premier school system is. We need to care less about the superficial appearance that we are a premier school system and start caring more that the educational experience in DeKalb is a premier one.

We must rethink what Premier DeKalb truly means.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

74 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
9:06 am

I see a list of adjectives, not nouns.
dreams, not specifics.
ideals, not goals.

Anonymous in DeKalb

April 8th, 2013
9:10 am

The article’s on point — up to the canard that teachers aren’t paid enough for their 9-10 month job.

Just as superintendents should back off asking for higher salaries, teachers (or at least those purporting to speak for them) should stop pretending they are underpaid.

When qualified teaching applicants stop lining up ten deep for available jobs and the generous benefits which go with them — THEN we’ll know there’s a compensation issue.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
9:17 am

@ maureen

are you gonna do a thread on the no confidence vote going on at Emory?

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
9:23 am

if you think DCSS was out of control already, just put a super in there with an incentive laden contract.
it’ll become Enron for education.

Thurston Howell IV

April 8th, 2013
9:39 am

I think Ms. Hatfield makes some good points and provides the basis for a discussion that the upper management at DCSS needs to have.Can’t agree with her strongly enough on the desire to stop spending so much precious money on attorneys.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
9:41 am

if nothing else comes of this DCSS mess, hopefully it will lead to clarity of roles and purpose when the system engages lawyers

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
9:47 am

dealing with benefits and salary increases for faculty….

now is not the time. too much is in flux and the economy is too shaky. neither the money nor trust is there at present.

instead (IMO) the focus needs to be on getting lean and mean. eliminating things DCSS doesn’t need (Fernbank, the Taj Mahal. ect) and the slow removal of the friends and family infestation at the heart of the rot.

at GPC on thing which outraged me was the admin staff continued to grow, wildly, while the rest of us when years with frozen wages and skyrocketing benefits increases.


April 8th, 2013
10:23 am

C’mon, folks, discuss the topic here! Only Thurston Howell IV does so far.

C’mon, Bootney, get off the subject of GPC when you worked there a year ago. You’ve got to let go!

Maureen Downey

April 8th, 2013
10:23 am

@Anonymous and bootney, Please stop the back and forth or take it offline. Getting reader complaints that you are off topic and tedious.


Another Math Teacher

April 8th, 2013
10:26 am

Ms. Downey,

Can you clean up this thread? There seems to be a poster above that thinks this space is for personal attacks. It’s really detracting from the stories you post.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
10:27 am

@ OP

you are entitled to your opinion, but you are incorrect.
I addressed several specific issues – reread, this time with your eyes open

and as for GPC – I’ll drop than when the major underlying issues which caused it to collapse are dealt with – GPC is a symptom, not the disease. if this makes you uncomfortable – tough

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
10:51 am

hopefully this will be allowed to stand:

@ Maureen and the community et al.

I am pleased to discuss most any topic at any time. while I may ask tough questions, I am more than happy to deal with the issues of the day. education is in a perilous state in this nation and country, and the more we discuss it, the more we can hopefully shine a light toward moving forward.

and I am pleased to do so in a civil, adult manner.

however, if you wish to attack me personally, I will eventually respond – hard.

choice is yours

Maureen Downey

April 8th, 2013
10:54 am

@Another, Took down 12 comments.
Folks, Stay on topic. I am not trying to punish anyone. Just post on the issue and all will be well.

Just A Teacher

April 8th, 2013
10:54 am

How are these school systems avoiding having their accreditation pulled by SACS? I’ve been trying to get this question answered about APS, but the same question applies to Dekalb. How can school systems with dysfunctional school boards and criminal administrators not have the diplomas given to the students devalued? I don’t think any diploma earned by anyone from either of those two districts should be honored by any employer or college. How can SACS justify doing that to the students of Clayton County School System and not these others?


April 8th, 2013
10:54 am

Interesting comments ,but are Atlanta Public Schools and
Dekalb County Schools the only school systems in Georgia
with challenges? There must be something positive happening
in both school systems just as other school systems must
have challenges that are not publicly discussed.

college professor

April 8th, 2013
10:57 am

I would like to add the following to Ms. Hatfield’s list:

Premier DeKalb is a reasonable property tax rate that does not push middle class homeowners into poverty.

old teach

April 8th, 2013
10:59 am

Both Bootney and OP make good points in response to the letter. It will be all-but-impossible to consider pay raises for teachers, etc, at this time. Other actions must be considered to demonstrate to the staff a genuine concern and appreciation. Now, the Board has a formidable job ahead in generating a long-range plan to eliminate the deficit. But specific actions appear to be crucial in showing the public that the Board is indeed serious about doing something positive. Changing such a large system’s course will be akin to turning the Titanic. The system doesn’t have to go down, but the clock is ticking…

Maureen Downey

April 8th, 2013
11:00 am

@Just, There is little attention by SACS to academics in either the APS or the DeKalb probations. If you read the SACS reports on both systems, the biggest concern is on how the school board functions. A growing criticism of SACS is whether it focuses enough on what matters most, student learning. So, I am not sure it is fair to devalue diplomas — at least based on a SACS probation.
An interesting research study would be comparing school performance before, during and after a SACS censure. A SACS probation may lead to a more conciliatory and cooperative school board, but does it naturally follow that academics then improve?


April 8th, 2013
11:01 am

I would suggest to Mr. Thurmond that anyone in the CO with teaching credentials should be teaching! Show us how it is done. And those w/o teaching credentials should be cut by 80%. Then, evaluate what you have, and cut again! Any CO person who has teaching credentials, but unwilling to put them to work for the kids, let them quit! They are not in it “for the kids.” And cancel the order for the new cars. That is ridiculous! Use 97 c of every dollar for bona fide instruction!


April 8th, 2013
11:05 am

Ms. Downey, loved your 11 am. Now, who is doing the expose of SACS?

home-tutoring parent

April 8th, 2013
11:20 am

Ms. Hatfield cites Merriam-Webster. M-W Collegiate is a good dictionary, but M-W Unabridged is way better. Both pale to the Oxford English Dictionary, which tracks the English language back to the 12th century, and sometimes earlier. My town’s high schools and public libraries didn’t have the OED. I didn’t discover it until I was a college junior.

Do I own Merriam-Webster Unabridged 3rd Edition, and OED Compact (it requires a magnifying glass to read)? Yes.


April 8th, 2013
11:22 am

By gum, I’m tired about hearing all the bad stuff about Stewart Avenue. If we just change the name to something sophisticated, like “Metropolitan Parkway”, that’ll change everything.

There’s a reason that no one attends “Premier Harvard” or “Premier West Point”. If you havet to tell other people how great you are ….


April 8th, 2013
11:35 am

While incentive based contracts sound good in theory, I think we should take note of what incentive based contracts got APS.

home-tutoring parent

April 8th, 2013
11:47 am

A lot of people are going to skewer me for this, but I think APS kids deserve 3.5+GPA Tech math and science teachers. They deserve 3.5+ Emory humanities and social science teachers, 3.7+ UGA teachers.

Poor kids deserve 240 days of annual instruction. I don’t mean 8 AM to 5 PM. When the students tire, give them some things they like. We disproved dummkopfs saying kids only had 45 minute attention spans.

Where are you getting your false information from? For example, if you have a boy who likes science, you need to ask if he loves doing that “all day”. I had three kids who were totally turned off to math, and somebody else’s boy, under my math tutelage, they loved mathematics.

Let me give an example. On other threads I’ve given different ones. I can always come up with newbies.

“You’re 13 years old. Prove the Pythagorean Theorem two ways. “

Mountain Man

April 8th, 2013
11:50 am

I thought this was a great letter. I do agree with Anonymous that teacher salaries and benefits are already pretty good (especially the benefits). Getting rid of furloughs is good, though. The more important thing is to empower the teachers, to listen to them and let them help fix the problems – they are the ones who know the problems first-hand.

Mountain Man

April 8th, 2013
11:52 am

“I don’t think any diploma earned by anyone from either of those two districts should be honored by any employer or college. ”

I don’t think that diplomas from A LOT of schools should be honored by an employee. And as a matter of fact, they don’t! At our company, we will not hire a manager with only a high school education – college degreed only.

No Longer Working for DCSS

April 8th, 2013
12:21 pm

I live in Dekalb but no longer teach within DCSS (my choice) after 13 years. Here’s a question that I haven’t seen addressed: Assuming an unsuccessful challenge to the Governor appointed Board of Ed., when will the appointees be up for election? …..and what is the status of the search for a permanent superintendent ? I’d hate to see a continuous swing of new faces in these positions, when we need a bit more competence and commitment right about now.

By the way, I now teach in a different metro area county for substantially less pay, but much greater peace, productivity, and direction in my current posting.


April 8th, 2013
12:23 pm

@ Maureen, 10:54 am: “Folks, Stay on topic. I am not trying to punish anyone. Just post on the issue and all will be well.”

Just how does “home-tutoring parent” post on the issue of Premier DeKalb here? Does adding the name of one poster, Bernie, do the trick? As usual, his/her posts are only about his/her biography or methods of home-tutoring, irrelevant today.

home-tutoring parent

April 8th, 2013
1:06 pm

The thing you people must understand is this: I gave up a $300k business to let my $100k job wife support me and our 3 sons. Was it worth it? She didn’t want to home-educate. She kind of pressed the issue.

“You know if I home-school our kids, it’s going way out of control.” She accepted the proposition.

Getting to raise two boys, unconstrained from schools, turned out to be really fun. They got admitted to really good schools, Columbia, Dartmouth, WUStL, UW, U Colo, et al. Not HYPS, because I didn;t figure it out so good.

Just A Teacher

April 8th, 2013
1:23 pm

I’m still asking the same question and I don’t believe I’ve received a satisfactory answer. How can SACS take negative action against one school system (Clayton County) and not others whose behavior is worse (APS and DCSS)? My theory is that these school systems are larger and are therefore, somehow immune. If Clayton County was discredited by this organization and their students suffered through not having their diplomas recognized by major colleges and universities, then the same thing should happen to Dekalb County Schools and the Atlanta Public School System. That is unless you don’t believe in fairness.


April 8th, 2013
2:18 pm

@home-tutoring parent,
OK, you’re skewered. Demanding that math & science be taught by Georgia Tech grads with 3.5+ gpas is like demanding that all farm fields be plowed by Ferrari sports cars:

1) they are real expensive
2) there aren’t nearly enough of them to go around and
3) the educational result would be roughly equivalent to a sports car stuck in the mud in the middel of a field.

If you want to wish for the unlikely, just wish that all high school classes are taught by teachers who majored in their subjects in college and then added a teaching credential on afterwards. THAT won’t happen either, but at least the pool of candidates you won’t be able to recruit teachers from will grow dramatically.


April 8th, 2013
2:21 pm

Opinions on whether DeKalb can afford to increase our teacher’s pay is moot. DeKalb MUST offer compensation near or equal to other metro schools systems in order to attract and retain high quality teachers. Highly qualified teachers are the number one component for increasing student achievement, especially in low income schools. This is not a negotiable for students. Highly qualified, motivated teaches are the most critical element of the core business of education which is to move students forward academically.

Lewis, Tyson and Atkinson removed the Board TSA (Tax Sheltered Annuity) for teachers which is akin to Cobb County suspending Social Security payments for teachers (fortunately for their teachers that can’t happen).

The TSA took the place of Social Security in DeKalb in 1979, and now thanks to Lewis, Tyson and Atkinson and the BOE, the teachers in DeKalb have no TSA and no Social Security while ALL of the other metro systems have one or the other. The lawsuit by the Dekalb teachers who lost their TSA which took the place of Social Security in the 1970s is winding its way through the courts and will probably end up being a $50,000,000 liability for taxpayers.

“Crossing your fingers” that you will find highly qualified and motivated teachers when your compensation is LESS than other school systems is not a sound business plan. This seems to be the approach that Mr. Thurmond and the BOE are taking, and it simply defies economic theory.

DeKalb county taxpayers pay a property tax millage rate of 23.75% for school taxes – just under the state maximum allowed and the highest in the state. When taxpayers are paying the highest millage rate in the state yet teachers are being compensated less than the other metro school systems, that creates a problem for our students and for taxpayers.

Cutting, consolidating and outsourcing in the non teaching area must happen in order to ensure we have students in classrooms with reasonable pupil teacher ratios and highly qualified teachers. This is not a wish list – this is how students – particularly disadvantaged students – move forward academically.

DeKalb has literally hundreds of Coaches, Coordinators, Specialists, Directors, Managers, etc. that have teaching degrees but do not teach. These personnel could easily be returned to the classroom at lower salaries in order to lower the pupil teacher ratio and free up money to compensate teachers at a competitive marketplace level.

We spent around $50,000,000 for the scripted learning program America’s Choice over the last 8 years – no student improvement data and now abandoned for Success for All. Success for All is a $5,000,000 to $6,000,000 (annually) program that has no quantifiably measurable objectives or benchmark dates for DeKalb students attached to it; nor did it have 80% teacher buy-in (supposedly a prerequisite for the program).

We are on track to spend $12,000,000+ on legal issues this year alone, a figure that towers over the legal expenditure of every other metro school system.

We spend $12,000,000 for 200+ Security personnel who staff less than 50 school and Centers (none of our 80+ elementary schools even have any Security personnel) while demographically similar systems spend but a small fraction of that.

Our maintenance cost per child is out of line with other systems as well.

Our travel budget is still $1,000,000 a year.

Fernbank Science Center still costs $3,000,000 a year even as they employ 20 non teaching employees for 20 teachers – all this while most of the Fernbank teachers are out in the schools doing outreach.

DeKalb has the money because our taxes are very high. It is just not spent on ensuring students have reasonable class sizes and highly qualified, well compensated teachers. We are tired of high taxes and low returns on our investment. Mr. Thurmond and a new BOE are running the show. The burden of student achievement is on them. This is their most important job – not SACS accreditation. They need to realize they cannot improve student achievement without redirecting money back into the classroom.

concerned citizen

April 8th, 2013
3:30 pm

The money must go to the teachers and their students, in the classroom. I’ve seen years of waste on coaches, directors, lead teachers, and so many other useless positions. I expect the supt and the BOE to put the money where it belongs: in the classroom. BTW, how did Mayfield make it onto the BOE with his brother in the school system? I don’t understand that.

Pride and Joy

April 8th, 2013
5:33 pm

I agree with old teach “Both Bootney and OP make good points in response to the letter. It will be all-but-impossible to consider pay raises for teachers, etc, at this time.
The tax payers who pay the salaries for everyone are not getting pay raises. They get pink slips yet are still supposed to pay for outrageous taxes.
Pay raises for teachers?
With what? My good looks?


April 8th, 2013
5:51 pm

According to the article in the AJC on Monday, none of the Board members that were suspended had resigned. This is strange as last month, Nancy Jester announced that she had. Is this a mistake or did this provide an opportunity for her fan club to rave about how nine Nancy Jester’s would right the ship in DeKalb? There was even a blog on March 6th about this. Read the article for yourself and decide


Beverly Fraud

April 8th, 2013
6:08 pm

I was hoping Thurmond would do something more realistic such as rebrand a Yugo as Premier Yugo and then enter and win the Indy 500.

You know, something that in comparison would actually be more achievable than turning DCSS into a “premier” school system.

dekalbite@Pride and Joy

April 8th, 2013
7:47 pm

“I agree with old teach “Both Bootney and OP make good points in response to the letter. It will be all-but-impossible to consider pay raises for teachers, etc, at this time.”

I must completely disagree with you. We have the highest property taxes and the lowest teacher compensation in the metro area. We cannot be competitive for high quality teachers unless we pay marketplace rates. We already are experiencing a teacher attrition rate twice that of the state of Georgia. We used to have high property tax rates and high teacher compensation. Now we have high property tax rates and low teacher compensation. Where has the money gone? Into lawsuits, non teaching personnel who are certified to teach but do not teach, centers like Fernbank that have outdated and inefficient content delivery models, departments created for Friends and Family like Security, Parental Involvement, Prevention/Intervention, etc. that are overstaffed and overpaid when compared to demographically comparable school systems, educational programs bought by DCSS that are used as the future employment for our top level administrators (Atkinson was by far not the only administrator that recommended multimillion dollar programs and then left to work for the company), etc.

There is plenty of money for us to pay our teachers compensation that is competitive with other systems, but NOT if it is spent on a bloated admin and support group, overpaid departments that function as a jobs program, educational programs that provide no student achievement progress for students, and legal costs that equal the total expenditure of all of the other metro school systems combined.

We MUST fund our classrooms to AT LEAST the level of other metro systems and then use the money that is leftover to fund the admin and support side.

Lewis,Tyson and Atkinson with the complicity of the BOE completely gutted the classroom more than any other metro school system, and our children paid the price in student achievement as it plummeted to the lowest level in the county’s history and the lowest level in the metro area. It is on Mr. Thurmond and the new BOE to correct this imbalance. It’s really not a question of paying teachers more or less. It is a question of paying our teachers enough to compete with other metro systems for high quality teachers.


April 8th, 2013
11:46 pm

I haven’t been able to get on all day, but Maureen said something at 11:00 that caught my attention – she said “student learning.” She didn’t say “student achievement.” Although the two are related, the former is much more important than the latter, but we only seem to focus on the latter. For those without an education lingo thesaurus, “student achievement” means one thing – Standardized Test Scores. “Student Learning” is much more important to me. If we truly focus on that – and hold the students accountable for their part of that equation, the “achievement” will follow. I can’t imagine any employer asking a potential worker how well they can fill in an oval with a number two pencil, but that is all the General Assembly, the Department of Education, the Secretary of Education and the President seem to care about when it comes to our schools anymore.


April 9th, 2013
2:10 am

“For those without an education lingo thesaurus, “student achievement” means one thing – Standardized Test Scores”

I have 30 years of teaching experience in elementary, middle and high school. Student achievement is an apt description of what we should expect of our students. Also, having a decade of business experience, I can say that an employer does expect that his employee can read the directions in a manual, write a proposal, memo or letter with a main idea, supporting details and proper punctuation, grammar and spelling, and perform mathematical functions such as addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, percentage, fractions,etc. These functions are indeed very basic and BTW – tested by “standardized tests” . Many of our students that graduate high schools and even get into college without these very basic skills. Standardized testing for all its faults does show us which students are not even mastering the most basic content and skills, and there are far too many of them. IMO – the leaders of a school system need to be held more responsible as they set the policies, procedures and programs that teachers must follow and in addition control the expenditures for education. Greater teacher involvement is critical yet scarce on the whole in education. Education has become a top down situation rather than a bottom up one. That needs to change.

Fred in DeKalb

April 9th, 2013
7:49 am

@dekalbite, you raise interesting points at 7:47 however you are also letting the special interest groups in the community off to easy. Why do you think Fernbank continued to operate along with keeping small schools that were fully staffed with positions that there were not subsidized by the state.? Title 1 mandates the parent centers and instructional coaches exist however the lack of an organizational structure with a salary scale allowed those to get out of control.

There was a superintendent that inherited and recognized the infrastructure problems in DeKalb however many special interest groups conspired with the Board to remove him. This happened shortly after he commissioned the Personnel and Salary audit along with the time he also moved several central office workers back to the schools. He was attempting to make the necessary changes however was not allowed to complete the job. Where would DeKalb be today if he was allowed to do what was necessary? Does this community really want change?

There is enough blame to go around….

bootney farnsworth

April 9th, 2013
7:52 am

@ dekalbite

that you are pillaged by property taxes is obvious. problem with pay and benefits increases at this time are legion. and please do not take this as a defense of the system – its not.

-stats vary, but roughly 80-90% of most large business major expenses come from personnel issues. a system which just sorta crawled out from under 80 million in debt has neither the ability or the moral standing to raise pay/benefits at this moment

-the looming court fight with Gene & co could cost the county millions more.

-DCSS is already a pitiful steward of the monies they get now. before getting and allocating more, the first issue must be fixing a broken system

-its well known the state and most counties don’t pay their bills on time, and are near upside down in their health benefits balance sheets.

I KNOW the benefits has run amok. I KNOW money which needs to go to the classroom doesn’t. I KNOW DCSS faculty/staff have very legitimate issues with management.

fix the leaks before heading back out to sea.

bootney farnsworth

April 9th, 2013
7:57 am

if DCSS is ever to be taken seriously about is money issues, it must either privatize or find corporate sponsorship for Fernbank.

its a luxury DeKalb can’t afford, and will eventually sink the system.

Fred in DeKalb

April 9th, 2013
8:23 am

@bootney, dekalbite raises issues without failing to consider government mandates (Title 1 comes with many, so does Special Education through IDEA) and the reality is that the operational budget has been declining every year since 2009. The state provides less money as a percentage of the overall budget along with property taxes generating less than in years past.. As you rightly mention, personnel costs take up about 80-90% of the budget for most organizations. Employee benefits and general utility costs have been increasing over this same period.

SACs and the state indicated DeKalb does not have a balanced budget. Atkinson made a tough and uppopular decision to freeze and lower salaries in an attempt to balance the budget. You see where she is now. To think that furlough days can be eliminated along with providing a raise is something most citizens and employees would probably want however it would be irresponsible to do so given the current budget. Just saying cut the central office is not a solution unless you can also indicate who would take on those responsibilities. Just because someone doesn’t have teacher in their title doesn’t mean they don’t provide support to teachers and students.

Dekalbite@Fred in DeKalb

April 9th, 2013
8:59 am

“Title 1 mandates the parent centers and instructional coaches exist however the lack of an organizational structure with a salary scale allowed those to get out of control.”

Title 1 only mandates a small portion of Title 1 funds go to parent centers and Instructional Coaches. DeKalb has long spent far above the minimum amount mandated for these non teaching and also non accountable groups. More successful school systems have executed these mandates far more inexpensively (e.g. Clayton recently returned many of their coaches to the classroom to directly instruct students in math and reading). Lewis always used the excuse that this expenditure is mandated. That was true but misleading. Only a small percentage of the Title 1 funds must be used for Coaches or Parent Involvement (even centers with parent coordinators are not required – school systems are given wide latitude in how they want to execute this mandate). Coach and Parent Center positions became and remain in DeKalb a highly paid jobs program for the well connected Friends and Family. IMO – that’s not helping kids.


April 9th, 2013
9:20 am

“-stats vary, but roughly 80-90% of most large business major expenses come from personnel issues. a system which just sorta crawled out from under 80 million in debt has neither the ability or the moral standing to raise pay/benefits at this moment”

In DeKalb that figure has run closer to 90%. Saying we can’t afford pay teachers marketplace salaries has bee used as an excuse to raise class sizes and cut teacher compensation by Lewis, Tyson and Atkinson and the BOE. This cannot be used as an excuse in a county that has the highest property tax rate in the state. Our property tax rates were raised even as the BOE increased class sizes (thus eliminating teaching positions) while they budgeted $12,000,000for lawyers, $3,000,000 for Fernbank, $10,000,000 for 150+ non teaching Coaches, $10,000,000 for Coordinators, $12,000,000 for Security, 5,000,000+ for Success for All and many other expenses out of the classrooms that DO NOT correspond to what is happening in the marketplace.

Economics tells us you cannot offer your core employees (the ones that are absolutely critical to your business and are responsible for your return on investment) less than your competitors and expect to attract and retain the ones that can make your business successful. That is what is happening in DeKalb. We don’t have a choice. We MUST pay our teacher AT LEAST the same compensation and AT LEAST guarantee them somparable teacher pupil ratios as competitive systems or we will lose high quality teachers and will not attract new ones. Thurmond and the BOE cannot change this basic economic principle. Highly qualified teachers like any other highly qualified employee will avoid the lowest paying, least supportive positions in favor of higher paid positions with a more supportive atmosphere.

Thurmond and the BOE must send enough non teaching employees back into the classroom to reduce our pupil teacher ratios and make further cuts the non teaching area until we can compete for highly qualified teachers in the marketplace.

Dekalbite@Fred in DeKalb

April 9th, 2013
9:47 am

Read the BOE minute during Lewis’s tenure to see the tens of millions of dollars he added to the budget as he added non teaching departments and employees. He paid for this by the ever increasing property taxes fueled by ever increasing property assessments and by raising class sizes thus eliminating teaching positions. NOT ONCE did Lewis care about the actual classroom. This was the house that Lewis built and Tyson and the BOE and to a some extent Atkinson tried to maintain.

When the Great Recession hit, Lewis should have begun to dismantle the non teaching house he built or Ms. Tyson could have done this as well. It wasn’t like the structure Lewis built improved student achievement for our low income students at the same rate as demographically comparable systems. In fact many less Title 1 schools made AYP under Lewis’s beefed up structure of non teaching departments and personnel.


April 9th, 2013
12:25 pm


You appear to be very knowledgeable on the required expenditures for Title I (parental involvement, professional learning, etc…). Can you tell us how much the feds require to be spent on parental involvement and professional learning and how much higher DCSS went over that minimum?


April 9th, 2013
4:15 pm

“Can you tell us how much the feds require to be spent on parental involvement and professional learning and how much higher DCSS went over that minimum?”

Well, the most recent state Salary and Travel audit (2012) says that we have around 190 Instructional, Instructional Change, Graduation, Literacy, Math, etc. Coaches. They consume around $15,000,000 in Salary and Benefits. DCSS is only obligated to spend around $4,000,000 on Instructional Coaches per Title 1 guidelines. We get around $42,000,000 in Title 1 funds and 10% must be earmarked for staff development so that’s where the $4,000,000 figure comes from. See SEC. 1116 – DISTRICT/LEA IMPROVEMENT regarding setting aside 10% for staff development. That is not to say we must use this $4,000,000 for the Instructional Coach position BTW – and in DeKalb’s case this model has not been successful in terms of student achievement rates for Title 1 schools. That’s not opinion. That’s based on Title 1 student achievement rates on making adequate yearly progress – AYP being the very reason we are told we need these non teaching personnel. There are other models that can be used.

In 2012 DCSS had around 80 Parent Center personnel and spend around $4,500,000 in salary and benefits for them. No other metro area school systems spends this. We are only obligated under Title 1 guidelines to spend 1% of Title 1 funds on parent involvement which equates to around $400,000. As a matter of fact, parent centers are not even the only model for parental involvement – just the one DCSS chooses.

Here is a nice powerpoint that Audria Berry made that shows the breakdown for negotiable and non negotiable Title 1 expenditures. Look at the breakdown of percentages:
(see slides 7 through 10 to view the negotiables and non negotiables for Title 1 expenditures. You can see that she used negotiable money to double the expenditure on Instructional Coaches in the negotiable section)

Now this does not even include the Coordinators. We have around 60 coordinators who make around $100,000 per employee in salary and benefits for a total of $5,600,000. DCSS used to have less than 20 coordinators. Programs and services were consolidated and good clerical support allowed them to wear several hats.

Special Education Lead Teachers -There are 90+ DeKalb Special Ed Lead Teachers, Coaches (not to be confused with the above named coaches) and Coordinators (not to be confused with the above named coordinators. They are termed Special Education Specialists on the Salary and Travel audit. They serve 130+ schools and cost $8,000,000+ a year in salary and benefits. They are in charge of paperwork for the special education program and never teach a single child. By contrast, Gwinnett Schools has 20+ Special Education Specialists serving 130+ schools costing them around $1,700,000. DeKalb has 7,500+ Special Education students while Gwinnett has 16,000+ Special Education students.

Title 1 does not pay for all of these Coaches and Coordinators and Special Ed Lead teachers. So the money must come out of the General Operations funds which also are are the funds that our teachers’ compensation comes out of. More non teaching dollars = less teaching dollars.


April 9th, 2013
4:54 pm

Speaking of trimming costs – Counselors and Assistant Principals – DeKalb is overstaffed and/or pays over the school day in hours for counselors and assistant principals. 270+ Assistant Principals cost $25,000,000 in salary and benefits and 320+ Counselors cost $25,000,000 in salary and benefits. This is a total of $50,000,000 for 590 Counselors and Assistant Principals. Counselor hours need to be reduced from 9 to 8 and position numbers need to align with other school systems. If need be counselors in very small elementary schools can share a counselor. Assistant Principal numbers can also be aligned with the marketplace numbers.

Look at the top salary for DeKalb Assistant Principals –
Elementary Schools – $54,303 – $86,450 (194 days)
Middle Schools – $54,303 – $95,450 (207 days)
High Schools – $54,303 – $95,450 (207 days)

Now look at Gwinnett’s Assistant Principal salaries:
Elementary Schools – $51,338 – $73,505 (200 days)
Middle School Schools – $51,855 – $76,155 (200 days)
High School Schools – $54,085 – $78,860 (200 days)

Consider that Gwinnett has much larger schools than DeKalb – in many cases twice as money pupils to be responsible for yet our APs are paid at a higher rate.

So it can’t be the numbers of students they are responsible for that accounts for the higher pay.

Nor can it be based on student outcomes for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. Gwinnett students in Title 1 schools have much better student outcomes.

This salary discrepancy does not make economic sense or educational sense for students. This is a perfect example of paying our teachers less than Gwinnett teachers so we can pay our non teaching personnel more.


April 9th, 2013
8:20 pm

@dekalbite – I just pulled the website for Shiloh High – they have 10 people listed on their administrators page – and enrollment is 2,063 (it is, at least when I worked in Gwinnett) the smallest high school in the county. Pull Southwest DeKalb – which has a population of about 1,500 and a total of 5 administrators. The administrator/student ratio is much higher in DeKalb it would seem (at least at the school level).