As Yogi Berra used to say, “It’s déjà vu all over again!”
Yes, folks, welcome to the perpetual vortex called DeKalb. We have been living one long, never-ending Groundhog Day for over a decade now. We’ve enjoyed a 10 year history of headlines exposing the corruption, graft, waste, fraud and abuse alternating with a cycle of new ideas, new staff, new board members, new laws, new interest from ‘the powers that be’ and other forms of hope for the taxpayers that only continue to get squashed by the aforementioned overlapping cycle of corruption, graft, waste, fraud and abuse.
Recapping the last decade:
July, 2002: The DeKalb Board of Education hires Dr. Johnny Brown of Alabama as our new superintendent. Brown implements some ideas (at the encouragement of the board!) that really make parents angry – like uniforms, Algebra 1 in 8th grade with no prep for students and messing with the magnet programs. He also started to make cuts at the Central Office after results of a $341,000 salary audit by Ernst & Young showed massive amounts of waste and over-payments (ironically, one person at the top of the list of overpaid staff is a newly elected board member, Melvin Johnson!)
Whoa! Can’t have that! Bye Bye Johnny! Johnny exits stage left with a nearly half million dollar parting gift from the board.
Oct. 2004: The DeKalb Board of Education then turns to long time administrator Crawford Lewis. Lewis promptly sets to work protecting his highly paid insiders by eighty-sixing the Ernst & Young salary study. Well, at least waiting until after he cited it as a reason to give a select few people a raise! Then he does things like tell all DCSS employees to write a letter of support to a principal (friend) discovered to have cheated on the CRCTs, and pay a former judge (friend) nearly a half-million dollars to ‘investigate’ a case of bullying that resulted in a 5th grader’s suicide. She only offered an oral statement that she ‘found no evidence of bullying’. Cha-ching! Thank you very much Crawdaddy!
Lewis also ‘hired’ a new head of construction, Pat Pope (posing it as ‘an emergency’), who we later find out was already serving as a consultant, as well as Vice-President of her husband’s architectural firm (doing school system projects). Lewis and Pope (who actually never formally divorced her former husband whose last name is ironically, “Clark”) then (in an emergency) ask the board to fire the current construction manager, Heery Mitchell. The board agrees and Heery files a lawsuit for $1.5 million for unpaid work and contractual obligations. Lewis asks the board for $3.6 million to do a ‘study’ to determine a cause of action. The board agrees!! (A $3.6 million ‘study’ over a $1.5 million claim!) Of course, the study determined that the school system should countersue for up to $120 million and we all know the rest of the story. The only true beneficiary is King & Spalding as they collect millions from taxpayers representing us in this suit.
Lewis then drove away our best and brightest (which he never replaced) after he cut hundreds of teachers and hired massive numbers of people to ‘coordinate’ the remaining teachers (while being paid significantly more than teachers), building the Title 1 department at Central Office to levels never seen before and doing no good for students as test scores take a nosedive. Oh, and the head of that department? We later find out that primo position is held by his secret lover who he spends tax dollars to spend time away with at the Ritz Carlton and other places (still, ‘allegedly’, as the ‘trial’ for this crime and others has not yet begun and the prosecution’s key witness has died.) Lewis (as well as Pat Pope, his chosen COO) is eventually indicted on charges of racketeering and the board allows him to resign – just a month after granting him a raise. The Lewis timeline is a long and bumpy road.
Feb. 2010: Enter Ramona Tyson, a former business ed teacher (for about three years at Lakeside) who took a job for a while with IBM helping them ‘sell’ the Writing to Read program. She was able to return to DeKalb and eventually parlay that vast IBM experience into a job as Deputy Chief Superintendent of Business Operations – a position far beyond her Peter Principle. But when Lewis resigned (due to those pesky racketeering charges mentioned above), he recommended Tyson be placed as interim – and the board complied! Tyson, with the support of the board, then proceeded to drag her 15 minutes of fame out for nearly 18 months – heading the biggest deficit spending spree in the history of DeKalb Schools, ignoring the board approved budget cut mandates, except to increase class size and cut teachers, while watching helplessly as test scores continued to plummet into the abyss. But lo! She kept the vortex swirling by introducing the “Triage” attempt at recovering student achievement. (What ever became of that ‘leadership group’ anyway? As far as we know, one person was fired, one person was demoted and one was moved into a position to monitor the use of temporary federal funds (the laughable ‘Race to the Top’).
To her credit, Tyson, after a great deal of pressure, finally released 4 boxes of papers relating to the Ernst & Young study. We posted our findings in the hope that it would inspire a new full forensic and salary audit. It has not. The board is unconcerned with inflated salaries in administration. Tyson promised a new audit, complete with a timeline, but it never came to fruition (surprise!)
Tyson, despite her utter ‘Fail’ as an education leader for children and their teachers, managed to cobble together a golden parachute that would even make the Governor drool! In fact, the 2012 salary schedule shows that she made more than her replacement that year! Let’s not even think about how much this little stint will inflate her pension for years to come. Pretty impressive for a leader who left us literally broke. (And just wait until the teachers win their lawsuit!)
Speaking of… The DeKalb Board of Education (with hopeful newly elected members, Nancy Jester and Donna Edler) after a great deal of political maneuvering and leaks to the press, eventually hired Cheryl Atkinson. Former board member, Don McChesney, who was a part of these ‘negotiations’ informed us of what really went on behind the scenes to ensure an Atkinson hire (despite our published concerns regarding her personal bankruptcies, inaccurate information on her application and the fact that her former system is broke and has financially been taken over by the state of Ohio.)
Atkinson brought 90 days of “Fireside Chats,” followed by her “Excellence in Education”, her “Five Guiding Principles,” “Theory of Action for Change” and her “Victory in Every Classroom” chatter to the podium, yet she implemented a vast pile of nothing. At times, she seemed more interested in her county-issued car, her personal security and her text messages (requiring the services of yet another taxpayer-paid attorney, Mike Bowers, former Georgia Attorney General!) than any kind of real work focused on educating children. We believe it is these ‘missing’ text messages that caused her to vacate her post. She exited quickly and quietly, slipping away to tend to her ailing father, and the details of his reported January 23, 2013 death, but never returning, instead sending her (taxpayer funded) attorney to negotiate her exit package – literally imposing a checkmate on the Board and leaving a school system of nearly 100,000 students without a leader. Nice lady!
Overall, we as parents and taxpayers, have suffered a laundry list of corruption, waste and ineptitude, punctuated with alternating news of the latest ‘solution’ posed by the board and administration in the form of Charrettes, Blue Ribbon Task Forces, Citizens Task Forces, Triage, Elections, a proposed law attempting to reduce the Board, Grand Jury ‘investigations’, (or not), reapportionment, SPLOST IV, SACS, the State Board, the Governor, etc., etc., etc. Those ‘programs’ and legal maneuverings have only proved to be Smoke and Mirrors designed to provide cover for the administration as they darn well do as they please, hire as they please, pay as they please and make cuts to the schoolhouses as they please.
The newest ‘action’ the Board is taking will probably be voted on in “Executive Session” today, as they vote to hire yet another new superintendent — in secret. We are not going to fall for any of these latest empty promises. Not the empty promise of a state ‘intervention’ or the sudden appearance of this latest “new superintendent candidate” (who, by the way was the former Labor Commissioner of Georgia, so where do you think his focus will be? JOBS of course!) Wake up and smell the coffee! We have been trumped by this Board! There will be no hearing on Feb 21. There is no work being done to address the SACS report. They have proven that they are untouchable – and now they are considering secretly hiring a third superintendent in as many years without even advertising the post. And this new candidate is a life long friend of the board chair who worked very hard with him to attempt to gerrymander political districts in order to create a third “max black” voting district for Georgia. … Brace yourselves… here we go… round and round in the vortex… take your Dramamine!
But due to the laws of physics, all swirling cycles of clogged waste succumb to gravity and the big flush is imminent. I, for one, am dizzy. I am ready for the big flush. The one that finally sends the clog of waste off into the free-flowing sewers allowing us to get out the Lysol and get to work scrubbing and restoring the system to a functional level. Bring it on!
Yes, this latrine will soon be flushed as there is no way to continue on the path of spending our dwindling tax base at the current rate, while using fake budgets that are never monitored or followed ending in year after year of deficit spending requiring massive cuts to the schoolhouse in order to maintain the bloated Palace employment of friends-and-family. Teachers cannot flex any more than they already have – they are ready to move yoga style from the Downward Facing Dog to the Warrior pose!
We need to demand support of the classroom. We need to demand a full forensic audit and salary audit. We need to demand that ‘bottom up budgeting’ so hollowly promised by Atkinson. Unless and until we see true, bonafied, transparent action (like the Open Check Register) we cannot back down in our demands. Do not fall prey to this latest scam. Heed Dr. King’s advice: Do not allow yourselves to fall victim to sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Action is what we want to see and actions are what we will judge. Advice to the new super: Keep your wordy, empty promises to yourself and take some serious action: Flush.