Dunwoody High School student Caitlin Gutierrez has been nominated for “Georgia Youth Country Artist of the Year” AND “Youth Music Video of the Year” by the Georgia Music Awards!
Caitlin was born and raised in Leesburg, GA but we are lucky enough to claim now her as a Dunwoody High School student in DeKalb!
Please show your support and VOTE for her at http://georgiamusicawards.com/gma/.
Steps to vote for Caitlin:
Click here to go to the GMA Webpage to vote.
From Ty Tagami at the AJC:
The school accreditation agency that placed DeKalb County on probation last year has returned for a review of the school district in preparation for a May 31 report.
A monitoring team from AdvancED, the parent company of accreditation agency the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, visited the DeKalb County School District Friday with plans to continue interviewing staff Saturday.
The team met with principals, teachers, administrators and board members, a school system spokeswoman said. DeKalb will be judged on progress addressing 11 concerns. SACS gave the district a December deadline to address them.
The school system posted relevant files on the system website. Click here for the DCSS press release with links to the files. Or, click the links below to download them from our archives:
In addition, they included this very interesting update on the textbooks and the associated loan:
Textbook Executive Summary as of January 21, 2013
This was just sent out by our interim superintendent, Michael Thurmond:
To: All DeKalb Employees
From: Michael L. Thurmond
Re: Academy of Educational Excellence Awards Postponed
Date: 15 May 2013
Dear DeKalb Employees:
The Academy of Educational Excellence Awards, originally scheduled for May 20, has been rescheduled to August 2013. With the end of the school year approaching, the critical monitoring visit from SACS, and the ongoing 2014 budget process, additional time is needed to adequately plan a successful event that deservingly honors your commitment to the students of the DeKalb County School District.
The Academy of Educational Excellence Awards will honor selected classified and certified staff for exceptional achievement. This red carpet extravaganza will highlight new positive changes as well as continue the traditions of the past. The event’s committee is working diligently to secure a venue that will accommodate all honorees and their guests.
Please accept my sincere apology for the inconvenience. I appreciate your patience and understanding. I look forward to seeing you at this extraordinary employee celebration.
Michael L. Thurmond
What Thurmond doesn’t say – or may not even know – is that the Monday, May 20 date was already a result of a postponement! The “Gala” was originally scheduled for Friday, May 17. Many of these teachers’ families had made arrangements to attend on the 17th and had to cancel, unable to reschedule for Monday due to short notice and work commitments. Now, the 20th date has been bumped to some yet unnamed day in August with no care or regard for the these teachers or their families! This is absolutely pitiful, hideous and sad. This event goes on every year – and should be assigned to an individual with historical knowledge. It should be a slam dunk. Who exactly dropped the ball — twice? Or could it be that Thurmond and our leadership at this point just couldn’t fit our top teachers in their schedules – or worse, perhaps we have no money left to pay for it!
And in other news of ways we spend money on lawyers…
From the sikhsiyasat.net
New York, United States (May 11, 2013) According to a recent release by the Sikh Coalition in an unprecedented victory for Sikh students in United States, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the DeKalb County School District (School District) in Atlanta, Georgia on behalf of a Sikh victim of school bullying.
This is the first time the federal government has entered into a settlement on a school bullying matter involving a Sikh student. The settlement sends a clear message to school districts nationwide that they must take effective action to end bias-based bullying of all school children, including Sikh children”, the release reads.
. . . According to the Sikh Coalition the Sikh middle-schooler, whose identity is being withheld because he is a minor, had been subjected to years of bias-based bullying and verbal and physical harassment by a number of different students. The Sikh student was referred to as “Osama,” a “terrorist,” and “curryhead,” and told he has a “bomb on his head,” and to “go back to your country.” These incidents occurred both at school and on the school bus.
He also suffered physical harassment. In one incident, a few strands of his hair were cut by another student during class. The Sikh student reported these incidents to the School District and although it responded to some of the complaints by disciplining the harassers, the measures were ineffective in stopping the harassment.
Since October 2012, the Sikh Coalition has represented the student and placed the School District on notice of ongoing harassment, and demanded safety plans and effective remedial measures to diminish the hostile educational environment, including anti-harassment training. After repeated inaction from the School District, the Sikh Coalition filed legal complaints with the Department of Justice, alleging violations of federal law.
Read more about the settlement here >>
USA: Landmark Settlement for Sikh Middle Schooler targeted by Bullies; Justice Dept takes action on complaint by Sikh Coalition
By Mike Hassinger For The Crier
Despite parent wishes to protect accreditation at DeKalb high schools with a back-up plan, School Superintendent Michael Thurmond believes dual accreditation “undermines” his efforts to restore full accreditation for the DeKalb County School System, and does not support it.
“My focus is on gaining full accreditation for the entire district…. That’s what I was hired to do, and that is my focus,” Thurmond told attendees at the May 1 meeting of the Dunwoody Chamblee Parents Council. “I will not support anything that undermines the value of that effort,” he added.
Thurmond’s reluctance flies in the face of direct efforts by parents to seek back-up accreditation, from a state agency, for individual schools should the DeKalb School System lose its accreditation from AdvanceEd, the parent organization of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Since December, DeKalb has been on accreditation “probation,” from SACS-two levels below full accreditation.
Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education, a newly formed 501(c)3 organization, has taken up the dual accreditation issue, and Dunwoody Councilman Terry Nall is leading the effort to obtain accreditation from the Georgia Accrediting Commission, which has accredited schools in Georgia for 109 years.
Nall said he had spoken directly with Superintendent Thurmond but that his conversations had “reached a dead end.” Thurmond’s concern is that GAC accreditation would somehow threaten or impede SACS accreditation in spite of written statements from Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvanceEd.
In an email to Nall, Elgart wrote: “…There is nothing in AdvancED Accreditation Policies and Procedures that would prohibit any institution from seeking multiple accreditations. Accreditation is a voluntary activity. Specific to your particular interest, any school in the state of Georgia can be accredited by GAC as well as AdvancED/SACS CASI. In the state of Georgia, AdvancED/SACS CASI and GAC are both recognized for the purpose of the HOPE Scholarship.”
“I’ve spoken with [District 1 School Board member] John Coleman and [District 2 member] Marshall Orson, and plan to bring a dual accreditation policy before the board at their June 3 meeting,” said Nall.
Read more>> DeKalb board moving toward dual accreditation
Michael Thurmond has finally produced a proposed budget for FY 2014. The original due date according to the Tentative Budget Development Process Calendar FY 2013-2014 was March 13. Thurmond was given an extension to the April 6 Board meeting. However, at that meeting he requested another day to flush out some ‘found’ money and adjust the budget accordingly.
So, where did Thurmond find an extra millions?
The Executive Summary of the budget tells us the following:
$ 97,000.00 Title IIA
Reimbursement for indirect costs for management of the Title IIA grant
$ 500,000.00 School Nutrition Reimbursements
Reimbursement for indirect costs for management of the School Nutrition Program
$ 5,800,000.00 After School Extended Day Program
Current surplus funds reserved for future allocation
$ 500,000.00 Title I Substitutes
Reimbursement for substitute cost for teachers paid through Title I funds
$ 6,897,000.00 Total revised anticipated revenue as of 5/7/13
Download the entire proposed 2014 budget from our files here>> DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT FY2014 BUDGET PROPOSAL
To download the budget in Excel format, click the link to Stan Jester’s Fact Checker site below.
The school board is meeting tonight at 6 pm and Thurmond will present the budget. Thurmond mentioned at the Monday night meeting that Mark Elgart of SACS would be in attendance. Tune in to Comcast 24 or stream the meeting online at http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/pds-tv24
In addition, late-breaking news related to this new budget is that our CFO, Michael Perrone has resigned. This is very distressing as it could indicate that these ‘found’ piles of money were either overlooked by Perrone and found by Thurmond – or they are not ‘real’ and Perrone just had to resign rather than put his credentials on the line.
Read more here>> Perrone resigns as DeKalb Schools CFO
Meeting commenced at 6:30 p.m., May 6, 2013
Location: Baptist Church on Clairemont and North Druid Hills Road in Decatur.
In attendance: 700-800+ citizens, mostly middle aged or older. Also noted: Mayor Emanuel Randome from Clarkston, Don Brussard (DeKalb zoning-formerly), Sen. Jason Carter, Rep. Scott Holcomb, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, Sen. Fran Millar, Rep. Tom Taylor, Commissioner Jeff Raider, Jason Larry, Rep. Michelle Hensen, Andrea Arnold, assistant city manager for city of Decatur. City that has been established since 1823.
Notes begin at approximately 7 p.m.:
DeKalb – population near 700K, just under the entire state of Alaska.
Toco-Briar-Tucker-Druid-Lakeside areas that may want to incorporate but want similar commercial areas to make that happen.
Boundaries will need to be determined so that any plan can go forward. Otherwise, all may fail.
Areas should also look at annexation as a possible way to get city services if that is what they desire. Most cities are interested and actively looking for annexation opportunities.
To become a city you first will need to pay for a feasibility study. Cost is about $30K from the Carl Vinson Institute or Andrew Young. These are only recommended groups. There may be opportunity to pool funds between groups if it comes down to it.
Boundaries are important. Must establish communities of interest. Must have buy-in from the communities that will be part of the new city as they can expect that their taxes will be slightly higher than unincorporated areas. Taxes are important.
Will county taxes go up as a result? Well, all cities have what is known as a millage cap. or at least the ones that were created in the past 10 years. It is an artificial millage cap that protects the taxpayers from a certain level being exceeded. County taxes may have to increase as a result when there is the removal of funds from the system, depending on how much the cost of service decreases.
If you are concerned or want to provide feedback, contact all your government representatives as well as the DeKalb Municipal Association.
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver brought all groups together tonight to have open discussion about this issue. She is not happy with DeKalb County government when it comes to some of the land use control issues in her area of Druid Hills. But, there are other vehicles that can solve those type of concerns without having to form a city. So, it can be resolved with overlay districts, townships and other means for more local control.
QUESTIONS (Q:) from audience as read by various delegates (passed forward on note cards).
STATEMENTS (S:) from community organizers, pre-planned, five minute limit.
(Note: NONE of the invited speakers were anti-city development in general. We believe this was quite possibly by design. No one contacted the “Save Tucker from Lakeside City” group and we have been among the most vocal and were the first to raise awareness of the Lakeside City movement in the Tucker area. At this point we have not been for or against city formation in general. This viewpoint was not adequately expressed at the meeting although we believe it is the sentiment felt most widely across all areas in the general public.)
S: CANS – Civic Association Network
S: LCA, Bernard Knight – Atty. over Land Use issue, but here tonight only as a personal interest in Oak Grove. Lived there since 1986. On the board for LCA. Former Rep. Kevin Levitas and LCA Chair Mary Kay Woodworth are sorry they could not attend this evening’s meeting but they said it was due to late notice. They are both very busy and had other commitments. (Audience was not amused with the late notice comment since, obviously, a room full of people were able to make it with the same notice or less.) They are not an advocacy group. They will be dissolved after they meet the goal for funding of the feasibility study. They took out areas that did not want to be included, or most of the areas, maybe not all. They will start with control of zoning, police and parks, but that is not written in stone.
S: Druid Hills community association – most of us feel this has been an unfair process. There has been cherry picking and it is unfair to those who live here. Two largest concerns on everyone’s minds are the schools and land use. I used to be a city planner so I may know more about this than some other people because I still read the trades. From what I’ve seen in terms of land use is that the cities seem to fair pretty well. It is the suburbs where you really start to get into some problems outside any major metropolitan area, in terms of land use and creating a sense of place. In terms of service the county has done a pretty good job.
S: Clairemont Heights – our association is asking everyone how they feel about this. Most seem to be pretty happy with DeKalb County services. I would say that you have some of the younger families with the real small children and they are just not interested in anything to do with politics. They figure that they are busy enough and don’t want to be bothered by it and just want time with their family while their kids are young and I can’t say that I blame them. But, like it or not, this stuff can have a major impact on you whether you follow it or ignore it so we are hoping to educate more in our area about what’s going on. I guess you could say we have a problem of the willfully uninformed. (laughter)
Q: What is the optimal mix of commercial to residential in city formation?
A: After some debate, Sen. Carter gives the mic. to Commissioner Raider who says 70-30 or 60-40 (with the 60 being residential). Later the assistant city manager from Decatur said 60-40 would be a dream for them. They are more like 80-20, but residential properties are high value so they are fortunate to have the tax base that they do which comes almost entirely from residential, so it can be done.
S: Pat Thomas – Chamblee. Thank you to everyone who helped with HB 619. There was a big concern about whether or not to allow us to be annexed into Chamblee and it came down to 36 votes but there were some folks who got the question on their ballot who shouldn’t have and others who did not. So, after much going back and forth, the issue is back on and we are glad about that. We don’t want to be part of Lakeside or any of the other groups but we are ripe for the taking so in an effort to preserve what we have, we just want to be annexed into the city of Chamblee and be done with it.
S: Jason Larry, concert promoter, wants a city of Stonecrest. The world is changing. You can either watch it or be a part of it. We want to study whether a city would benefit the people in this area of Stonecrest. (shows slide of the area which surrounds Lithonia completely and includes the Stonecrest Mall.) Why? Well, let me tell you about my personal home. I bought it before the housing market crisis for about $350K. Now, the house down the road from me, do you know what they sold it for? I’m not saying anything bad about the people who sold it. You have to do what you have to do, but do you know what the houses in my neighborhood are selling for? $115K. The down the road: $120K. Another one: $115K. People are losing money and I think we might be able to stop that from happening if we form a city because there will be more value to a destination like Stonecrest. We have some great schools, like Arabia Mountain for one. I think we could have ourselves a city center, the mall and maybe build a nice amphitheater one day with some top notch entertainment. Just one thing I want to say. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I want everyone to be clear that the city of Stonecrest – we’re not taking anything from anyone. This area is either unincorporated, or it becomes part of Stonecrest, but we are not like Lakeside City Alliance. We are not taking what doesn’t belong to us, or doesn’t want to be part of a city. Once we do the study then we will know if it will go or not. Then, leave it to the people to decide. Let them see here is what we can do if we have a city or things can just go back to exactly the way they are now. No change. You like it, great. If not, that’s it.
S: Tucker Together. Michelle Penvaka. Thank you for the chance to at least be able to come to the table same as everyone else. Tucker is involved and perhaps a bit emotional after first hearing about the city proposal from Lakeside City, but we have had time to regroup and we are exploring the possibility of cityhood. We have had one public meeting so far and focused on public safety. We are taking it one topic at a time to compare what we currently receive in terms of services that a city might take over. At the same time we are hoping to raise the funds for the study. http://www.tuckertogether.org
Q: Will taxes increase?
A: Rep. Fran Millar addresses this question by saying that Dunwoody first started out with a 2.74 mill tax, same as DeKalb at the time. After several years now they are still at a 2.74 mill tax. DeKalb has raised taxes to 4.13 mills, that’s a 66% increase. So with good planning and management, it can be done for less. (Groans from audience indicating the increase is thought to be due to Dunwoody’s exist from the system.)
Q: To Stonecrest. With you city, there is no way physically possible for the city of Lithonia to ever become any bigger than it is right now. Do you think that is right?
A: Yes. I have tried to pull Lithonia kicking and screaming into the future and they still say they need time to figure out where they want to go. Well, I’m tired of waiting so while they sit and wait, I’m going to actually do something. (light applause)
S: Leafmore Hills. We have about 720 homes in our association or our community. We are all opposed to a city of DeKalb, but not all opposed to
anyone else having a city or listening to city proposals. But, no one really seems to think there is much wrong with DeKalb’s services. We’re all pretty happy with what they do provide. They may not provide an identity, or sense of district “place” like a city might be able to do, but what they do is provide regular services that we all use. The devil is in the details, so they say, and that’s just it… we need a loooot of work on the details.
Q: How much does it cost to transfer assets?
A: $5K per fire station; $100 per acre of park space. Taxpayers have already paid once so why should they have to pay for it all over again?
Q: How do we know if the cities are paying their fair share of what they do use at the county level?
A: When they leave, that is thousands fewer people to provide service for, right? So costs should go down.
S: Don Brussard for city of Briarcliff. (Not sure if this is same as Lavista Hills) We are frustrated when our two commissioners are consistently outvoted by the other five and the CEO. (They have TWO commissioners?? Does everyone feel this way?) We want more control over land use issues. We also want to be prepared for the possibility of city school districts with Tom’s H.B. 486 that would allow more school districts. We would have a total of $9 Billion a year in assets, that’s with a “B” and it not anywhere near what you would have with a city of Lakeside. We are set up for 65% residential, 24% commercial, 3 % industrial and 8% non taxable.
I don’t have a map to show you a comparison of our area to Lakeside, but if you want to get an idea of Lakeside, just look up an old map of former Rep. Kevin Levita’s House District 82 and you’ll get the general idea. You’ll see where that one is coming from.
We have respect for Tucker and think that Tucker actually should be and deserves to become a city if they so desire. (Note, his city is still planning on taking everything inside the perimeter and east of I-85, including the land inside I-285 that is part of the existing Tucker CDP and including the entire Northlake Mall area which is mainly frequented by residents of Tucker.)
We will still pay our share of county taxes. This is not a way of seceding from DeKalb County. People ask why would we want a city and it is for the same reasons that everyone else has been saying. It comes down to self determination and local control.
Q: Why would LCA want to usurp an area like Tucker?
A: We don’t think we are usurping anything. We took all, or almost all, of the areas out of our map that didn’t want to be there.
Q: My house is on three city maps. Is everyone fighting to have me included in their city? How will I decide which city to vote for?
A: Yes, and hopefully there will be only one that will actually go forward, if any of them go forward. Some are not being actively pursued in terms of dollars for the feasibility study so they will simply not go through.
Q: Will we be forced to use the name of the new city in our post office mailing addresses when it will cause a loss in property value for many of us who now live in areas that are considered unincorporated Atlanta or Decatur?
A: I can’t answer for the U.S. postal service. But, listen, I live in Briarwood Estates. We have seen a series of burgularies there. A bunch of kids came through our neighborhood one evening and do you know how they decided which cars they were going to come back and get later? They simply tried all the door handles on all the cars and my wife just so happened to be one of the unfortunate ones who left her car unlocked and left her computer in there. So, we were most disappointed when we found out that the DeKalb police department will not even send out an investigator to your house when something like that happens because they are spread so thin. They just take a report over the phone and that’s it. No investigation and you never hear from them again. That’s the kind of thing we would be able to do more about with a city of Lakeside.
Q: How can any city feasibility study be considered reliable when the tax assessment data for the past two years has been incorrect due to admittedly faulty software?
A: (Jeff Raider) Now this is a good question and it is a fair one to be asking. It’s about the accuracy and volatility of the housing market in DeKalb over the past several years and it bears the need for some explanation. You have several factors as work here. One is the housing market, the bottom fell out, and that was felt all over the nation. But, two, we also had some changes in state law that for the first time ever the state was saying that you had to include foreclosed properties into your overall evaluation for the tax base and property values in that area. This has never been done before and it created a great increase in the overall workload for the tax assessment office and of course we didn’t allocate them any additional funds or staff or anything like that and expected them to complete this significant amount of work in a relatively short period of time.
It was also a transition period for us where you had a lot of the long time tax assessors who had retired and, quite frankly, we had only a handful of new guys and they just simply didn’t know the neighborhoods as well as those who had the jobs before them. So, what we had to do is rely upon this sort of massive, bulk property appraisal software. It’s a brand new application and has a lot of bugs to work out. So, we had a lot of appeals to hear and I suspect that trend will continue. We now have a state law that also requires the department to redo the tax appraisal every single year. And, a good thing is there was a cap placed on how much your property can actually increase in value in a one year time.
So, to sum it up, I’d say you had the Bubble, the Bust, Foreclosures, Rules Changing, Inaccuracy of Data and the Appeals / Reassessments. So, we can’t look at the property tax data as a true dollar for dollar revenue amount as much as can we use it as a measure of the district’s ability to pay. The cost of services will remain through ups and downs fairly stable, so it is that ability to pay that is the most important.
Summary / Closure by Scott Holcomb: Hi there, I just have a few things I want to say. I don’t know if you have noticed but I’ve been doing a lot of listening tonight. I think that is very important for an elected official. As the only person on this stage here tonight, in terms of your elected officials, I think I am the only one who personally lives within the boundaries of any of these cities that are being proposed. Now they certainally have territory in their districts that include some of these areas, but I’m the only one who would be pesonally affected. And with that in mind, I think it is absolutely critical that any movement to form a city must come from the people and not from lawmakers, or former lawmakers, especially former lawmakers as is the case for one of the cities here tonight. I just don’t think that’s right. All we have heard about is how these cities will provide basic services that, from what I think, you are already getting right now and most of what people have said is that they are pretty satisfied with the delivery of those services. So, what you have is a question of identity or efficiency. But with efficiency comes the expectation of additional or “non basic” services and I haven’t heard anything about what some of those things might be. Have you? So, I want to commend Mary Margaret Oliver for putting all of this together for us here tonight. You have her to thank for getting all of these proposals together in one place and I think there is going to have to be more of that if we are going to see anything move forward. I hope. So, thank you all for being here and staying engaged in the process.
Sen. Millar – Well, to just add to that, yes, of course at some point you are going to see a point where there may be a higher cost for service to some areas or a reduction in services previously supplied by the county, but it comes down to whether the costs outweigh the benefits.
Q: Will a city have to privatize its services?
A: (Millar) You don’t have to but in this day and age it certainally makes sense. There are plenty of excellent companies out there in the private sector and it comes down to not having to pay the high expense that the county does in terms of employee costs, like benefits and pensions. You don’t want to promise something you can’t deliver and pensions are getting up there these days.
Mary Margaret Oliver: Thank you all for coming here tonight. You can email me with any specific questions you may have if we didn’t get to them. We tried to get to all of them that we had answers for. If you have an evaluation form, please turn it in on your way out. Thank you.
Adjourned: 8:20 p.m.
State School Superintendent John Barge on Tuesday released first-year results of the Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index, the state’s new accountability system that replaces the No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress measurement. The CCRPI measures schools and school districts on a 100-point scale and the average score for Georgia’s elementary schools is 83.4, middle schools is 81.4 and high schools is 72.6.
Read more: The Daily Tribune News
Barge addressed The Daily Tribune News during a press conference Tuesday, saying it is premature at this point to consider score discrepancies between local schools or state averages as significant or insignificant.
“… This is establishing our baseline, so I would hesitate to say [for example] three points is significant because I would want to wait and see next year how all of our schools perform compared to this year to know if three points is significant or if 10 points is significant,” Barge said. “It will really depend on how all of those schools perform year to year.”
Barge explained the results cannot be compared to AYP testing results because the CCRPI measures results from different learning areas and, for example, provides percentage-point incentives for schools with students who follow a rigorous curriculum that includes AP and honors-level courses. He said overall the CCRPI’s intent is to go beyond the realm of measuring student success because AYP rated schools on a pass/fail system.
“What we’ve wanted to do with the index, and what we hope we accomplish with this, is this accountability system now drives school improvement,” Barge said. “Schools know exactly where they need to improve on these indicators.
“Our hope is by breaking out these indicators and having schools accountable for the full scope of work they do, that we have a framework that drives school improvement … and there’s no question where they need to go.”
In DeKalb, the averages were near the bottom of the state, with only Clayton County and City of Atlanta Schools performing worse:
High School: 66.4
Middle School: 73.5
Elementary School: 71.2
However, when you start sorting DeKalb’s results on a school by school basis, you start to see a very uneven balance of success. Some random comparisons:
Chapel Hill: 69.5
Oak Grove: 91.9
Cross Keys: 63.5
Destiny Achievers: 40.3
Druid Hills: 71.3
ML King: 59.9
In fact, in spite of our troubles at many schools, congratulations goes out to DeKalb School of the Arts, DeKalb Early College Academy and Wadsworth Elementary Schools for making the TOP FIVE lists in the state!
To view all local scores, visit http://ccrpi.gadoe.org/2012
Definitions and descriptions for the CCRPI data:
Download the State DOE’s Powerpoint here>> Georgia’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI)
Good afternoon Mr. Superintended and Board Members.
My name is Ana Salas and I am a Pleasantdale Elementary parent.
The reason why I am addressing you today is to make you aware of the needs of the Hispanic community in our area. Although the administration team at Pleasantdale is making a great effort bringing programs to our school to help us understand the school system and how to become more engage in our children’s education, we have serious communications problems. Due to the language barrier we have to face these issues on a daily basis. There are not enough translators or bilingual staff, in our schools to help us express our concerns and suggestions. Many of us, even though we are trying to learn English, are not able to effectively communicate. For instance, Pleasantdale has more than 700 Hispanic families, and there is just one person, the Community Liaison, who speaks Spanish. Oftentimes, there are so many people in need of interpretation that even though the school wants to help us they can’t. It is frustrating that we want to talk to the people who are educating our children but we are unable to do so because of the language barrier. This situation doesn’t only happen at Pleasantdale, it happens in all school where there are high percentages of Hispanic students. We want to have a better line of communication with our principal and teachers; however, we are faced with this barrier that we can’t avoid. In many occasions when we have parent teacher conferences we are forced to use our children as interpreters. Our children don’t have the vocabulary needed to interpret a specialized adult conversation.
Another serious problem we have is transportation. In many occasions buses are, either, late or don’t even come to pick up our children. Bus drivers are stressed out and under pressure and don’t take care of our children appropriately. We understand that their salaries and benefits were cut and they are having a difficult time, yet, it doesn’t justify losing their patience with our children constantly.
There is a great need for tutoring services in our community; many Hispanic children are not ready for test and the CRCT exam. Finally, if ESOL classes were provided for parents at the school we will be able to better help our children with their school work.
Thank you very much!
The newly reformatted monthly Board meetings will be held today. In the past, the work sessions were held the week before the actual Board meeting where the voting takes place. Occasionally, they were combined. Now, the work sessions are held at 2 PM – the same day as the meeting.
Today, also, a meeting of the Committee of the Whole will be held at 3:00 pm. The “COW” meetings are not usually broadcast nor recorded, but are full of important information and decisions. If anyone can attend and report back, we would all appreciate it.
Here’s the schedule for today’s meetings:
Work Session – 2:00 pm Click here for the agenda.
Committee of the Whole – 3:00 pm (Cabinet Room)
Executive Session – 4:00 pm – for a student appeal and a legal matter
Public comments – 5:45 pm (New, Town Hall style) (J. David Williamson Board Room)
Business Meeting – 7:00 pm (J. David Williamson Board Room) Click here for the agenda.
The main meetings are broadcast on Comcast 24 and streamed on the DCSS website here.
You can participate in the live blog for the meetings beginning at 2pm. Click here for the link. We will try to stream it here on the right side panel of the blog. Follow along and join the conversations – both at the live blog and here in the comments.
From Nancy Jester’s email newsletter:
The discussion and approval for dual accreditation through GAC has been postponed until June.
There are a number of important agenda items today. As always, I encourage everyone to closely examine the financial report. There is a sharp increase in legal fees for March. In the last fiscal year (FY12) YTD legal fees were $3.78 million and this fiscal year (FY13) the YTD fees are $6.3 million. I routinely voted against incurring additional legal fees and rejected accepting financial and HR reports with discrepancies. Unfortunately I was not joined in my dissent by most members of the board.
The board is going to approve several policies tonight, including one addressing nepotism. From what I read, I don’t think the new language offers a substantive change. What remains my main concern is the enforcement of the policy. The administration must vigorously enforce the policy.
At the 7pm Business Meeting the CFO will give a FY14 budget update.
In the most recent reports available on the GA DOE websites (FY11), if DeKalb reduced its per pupil general administration costs ($206) to the levels of Cobb County ($83), it could save the district approximately $12 million. I thought it was interesting that Gwinnett’s last report showed that they spent $240 per pupil on general administration. I’m disappointed that these numbers aren’t the most current but they can give insight into budget decisions.
I have long been an advocate for restructuring compensation. Outside of the Superintendent, no central office employee should make more money than the average principal. Highly effective teachers should receive compensation that incentivizes them to remain in the classroom.
AJC writers Nancy Badertscher and Ty Tagami are reporting today that DeKalb is outspending all other area districts on legal fees. In fact, DeKalb spends more on legal fees than Gwinnett, Cobb and Fulton combined.
Buy a Sunday paper or read more here>> DeKalb school system spends more than other systems on legal expenses
Ty Tagami has posted a very important article at the AJC online about the Heery Mitchell case. It appears that Heery and a private citizen have teemed up to sue DeKalb schools for illegally spending itself into the ground and for entering an unconstitutional agreement with King & Spalding. That would be the handiwork of Josie Alexander, of Alexander & Associates, one of our two law firms of record, who negotiated this bad deal for the school system. We have tried to bring this to light ever since the ink dried on the contract, only to have our words fall on deaf ears, or worse, to be mocked as uninformed.
In the new suit filed in DeKalb Superior Court, former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers argues that the contingency arrangement is unconstitutional because it vests in King & Spalding “an ownership interest in property and money” of the school district.
The suit, filed Friday, also takes aim at another part of the contract, which says King & Spalding can force DeKalb to pay for those unbilled hours if the district settles the case against the law firm’s recommendation. That creates an “illegal debt,” the suit filed by Bowers claims. It notes that “there has never been an allocation in any year to cover the attorneys’ fees at issue in that year.”
Read Ty’s full article here>> DeKalb school system sued over spending on lawyers
Further, read some of our posts from the Original DSW blog on the subject of this lawsuit, which we contend that along with the teachers lawsuit will bankrupt the school system:
March, 2011: And the Winner Is… Why – the lawyers, of course!
In addition, Robin McDonald of the Daily Report, a legal news source reported on the case in February of 2011,
“The fee contract, inked in June 2008, allows King & Spalding to collect both its standard hourly rates and a contingency share of whatever damages the school district may collect-should it win its $100 million counterclaim.
If the case settles in a way the firm does not like, it can convert its contingency payment to hourly fees.
Lawyers for the district’s former construction managers claim that those terms give King & Spalding so much power over its client that the firm could effectively veto an attempt by the school district to settle the case.”
However, all during this time, and even today, we have had an ever-changing cast of characters running the school system – always on ‘the learning curve’ – with virtually no one aware of the financially dangerous history. Worse, the Board leadership as well as the last three superintendents have been more or less unconcerned about the case as they focus on squabbles over how to spend the rest of the budget and where to make enough cuts to the schools in order to pay for these legal fees and other waste and bloat.
Go to FactChecker.StanJester.com to watch the video and read the transcript. There were many issues discussed and the public in attendance asked some tough questions. We learned several key points:
Many in attendance took issue with Thurmond’s statement that he cannot support an effort to seek dual accreditation from another agency besides SACS (in most cases Georgia Accrediting Agency) because it places too much emphasis on certain schools over others, causing division.
My focus is on gaining full accreditation for the entire district. It just is. That’s what I was hired to do. And that is my focus. And what I’ve said to Terry and I’ve said to others here, is that I will not support anything that undermines the value of that effort. Because, at the end of the day, we have 21 … we have schools all across the district that must be accredited. I understand, I get your concern. But, my concern is for 99,000 children.
And later -
I think the other issue, dual accreditation. It seems that you’ve associated dual means equal. But in this case it doesn’t. You’re not seeking equal accreditation. Because these two accrediting agencies are not equal. Dual suggests equal, but these two agencies are not equal. No one argued that. One accreditation primarily the state level and one at a national. And I think that the discussion needs to be clarified so that people will understand what one means opposed to the other. Now, I’m not opposed to having two. But one you’re required by law in the state of Georgia. You must be accredited. The other is an option. And we make those decisions all the time… Some things are necessities and some things are optional. In my world, you address the necessities first. And then you reach for the things that might be optional. You just prioritize in your life. You do it every day, with your children, in your home, in your lives. You have to have some things that are not optional. And, having a fully accredited school district is not an option. One of the the things I said to Terry, and I’ll share with you all. In fact, what I need is your help to win full accreditation that everyone must have including you. This high school. So, as we seek dual, while we’re working for the accreditation for this high school too, we need your help. That’s why we have the parent council meeting from district wide.
On the subject of parental involvement, when asked exactly how he planned to improve involvement around the county, Thurmond gave the following response:
First, it was incumbent upon me to reach out, as I reach out to you and reach out to parents across the district. To reach out to parents in Clarkston who may not speak English on a primary level, to encourage them to participate in the education of their children. And to let them know, that they will have a partner … the lady that spoke first said something that I’ve heard on more than one occasion. That in some schools, some areas, parents feel as if they are not welcome. And whether it’s real or perception, that when they reach at this level, it does not matter. If it’s real, then we can change it. If it’s a perception, we need to correct it. And, next we have to … we assume that all parents know why it’s important to come to a parent teacher conference, why it’s important to participate with the council. That’s an assumption that doesn’t necessarily bear reality. We must build capacity. See, there are parents not like you and I who don’t have the resources that you and I have been blessed with. Who really can’t take off Wednesday morning, and sit there [at a PTA meeting]. Just can’t. Or could and don’t know that they should. We can build that capacity, cause the one thing that compelled me, and I was talking to a parent, I said something think about. We know that because you live in a low income community doesn’t mean you don’t love your child. Does it matter what your income is when it comes to loving your child or your children. Somebody said, we love our children. Parents in other parts of the county love their children too. We can build capacity to help them be more supportive in those efforts. And we can have district personnel who appreciates the efforts, and you know it may not be, I could make the type of investments that you make, there are people that buy houses. There are folks have loans and resources to get contractors to come in and remodel and put it on the market and resell it, at least before the great recession. And there are others who use sweat equity and engage in the same process. You may not have the same bank account, but you can at least balance that through sweat equity in your child’s education. I know it works. I’ve seen it work. We have high performing schools all over. Some of them Title I, they perform well and one thing has become, very active, engaged parents. You’ll see more of it in the budget.
That’s a very nice sermon. No one would disagree. He is obviously good at using his undergraduate degree in religion and philosophy. But as with most of his answers, they are wordy, disconnected, streams of consciousness that have few details, few hard facts and little evidence that he has a full, strong grasp on the enormity of the project at hand. He’s a very nice person with a kind heart and good intentions, but we desperately need a qualified professional who can set a clear path and lead us to a place where education is Job 1 and the $1.2 Billion dollar budget follows, just as form follows function.
Based on an an article published yesterday, Tuesday, April 30, 2013, in the Reporter Newspapers, the question of “allowing” dual accreditation will be considered by the DeKalb County Schools Board of Education:DeKalb school board to consider letting high schools seek back-up accreditation “DeKalb County school officials are considering a proposal to allow administrators at individual high schools to seek accreditation for the school from a state agency.
“School board member John Coleman, who lives in Brookhaven, said he and fellow board members will consider May 6 whether to allow DeKalb high schools to pursue state accreditation as individual schools.
” ‘We want to make sure we’re enabling that process,’ Coleman said. ‘[We’re trying] to help that process along to protect students and parents.’ “
Read more by going to Reporter Newspapers online …
Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond was given an extension by the Board to April 30 (today) to submit his 90-day plan. Has he done so? Hopefully someone will ask about it at the meeting at Redan tonight – all members of the Board will be there. Please post in the comments if you find out there is a plan!
Read our original post here>> So, where’s the plan?
UPDATE! The Plan was released to the public today at 6:30 pm. Download it here. Or under the DSW files tab on the page titled “Thurmond Files”.
BTW: Below is the original photo from the DCSS website that is on the cover page of Thurmond’s plan. Interestingly, the two white girls on the left were cropped out for Thurmond’s report cover.
According to a new article by Ty Tagami at the AJC, DeKalb is about to reveal another budget full of cuts.
The proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 has not been presented yet, but Monday, at the first of three public hearings, officials released a document showing a projected shortfall of $14.7 million, or about 2 percent of the current budget. And that shortfall was down about $1 million from the last time they handed out a document with projections a couple weeks ago.
We are excited to share the announcement of a new website that is focused on the facts related to the DeKalb School Board. This site already has posted several videos and transcripts of recent DCSS Board meetings and community meetings with Michael Thurmond. So, not only can you watch the videos, you can now go back and read – verbatim – what was said and by whom. Then, the website moderator checks out those statements and lets us know if what was said is true, false or some kind of stretch. What an exciting new source of information for those of us who are DeKalb Schools junkies!
The first post we’d like to point out is the meeting Mark Elgart had with the Board on April 3, 2013. The FactChecker website gives us summary notes, the full video and a word for word transcript of the event. In it we can see that Mark Elgart has some key areas of concern for this Board to address:
Three Areas of Primary Concern (in priority order)
1. Student achievement
2. Can you get your fiscal house in order
3. Effective governance
First develop a budget and get some training. After the budget, launch into a strategic planning process. We don’t expect to see student achievement for a while. By December we will expect a balanced budget, a strategic plan, the equitable distribution of resources and a framework for improved student achievement.
A few other key statements made by Elgart include:
There’s been no unified leadership and a lot of turnover over the last ten years.
Stability is critical. You need a stable Superintendent, administration and board. I’m concerned with the November 2014 elections.
[DSW NOTE: the School Board elections will actually take place in July, 2014. The entire Board is up for reelection and voting district lines will be redrawn, except the super districts, which will go away. We will then have just seven School Board members. These seven will formally take their seats in January, 2015.]
You have parts of this community who have great capacity and are doing well, but have no incentive. You have other parts of the county where there is little or no capacity, but tremendous incentive to improve. The problem is they don’t have the capacity to do it. The challenge is how to get capacity and incentive to line up. How to get those that have capacity to be able to distribute capacity across this district, and those who have incentive to even distribute incentive. Those who have the incentive to improve and no capacity are fighting tooth and nail every day to get more capacity. Those who have the capacity, but incentive, are fighting tooth and nail every day to protect what they have. That has to stop.
[Elgart further explains that in his description of capacity, he is referring to having the resources - whatever they may be - to get the job done. The required resources will vary from school to school - thus the difference between equity and equal.]
…Use technology to bridge the gap. Technology is one of the greatest strategies to reduce the inequities that our kids come to school with from all different walks of life. Equality will paralyze a system. Equity will allow resources to flow to those that need it and bridge the education gap.
The new FactChecker website was set up and is hosted by Stan Jester (Nancy’s husband). He has made this his commitment as a way to carry the torch for Nancy’s groundwork as a Board member. Go to FactChecker.StanJester.com to read all of the posts. Bookmark Stan’s website and return to find more videos, documents, notes and transcripts as we move forward. We appreciate Stan’s hard work and dedication to getting out the facts!
Congratulations to DeKalb School of the Arts, Arabia Mountain and Chamblee High School (all with magnet programs) for making the list of top high schools published annually by U.S. News.
For many years, Lakeside retained bragging rights as one of the top schools in Georgia to make the US News top list. But now, they aren’t even a contender. Surely this is a sign of the falling achievement levels or at least an imbalance in success in our traditional schools. Those that can have fled to private, charter or magnet schools, which have all done well having absorbed our best and brightest—and provided excellent teachers with low student to teacher class ratios. (#2 ranked DSA: 13:1, #6 ranked Chamblee: 15:1 and #14 ranked Arabia: 17:1)
Click here to see the Georgia ranking list showing class size and relevant data. All schools are listed and have data for your review. To their credit, Lakeside, shown as larger than the average GA high school and with a student-teacher ratio of 18:1, tested 70% of AP students with 39% of them passing the AP exam. DSA tested 100% of AP students with 75% passing the test, Chamblee tested 68% of AP students with 48% passing the test and Arabia tested 100% of AP students with 19% passing the test.
Click here to see how the rankings were calculated.