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Archive for September, 2012

The Myth of Local Control

By Nancy Jester

Let’s set the record straight about who controls education in Georgia.   Superintendents and their administrators do.  Local boards of education do hire the Superintendent but once in place, these educrats are in the driver’s seat.  The legal framework in our state reinforces the supremacy of the superintendent’s position relative to a board.

School system administrations choose who works in the system and what they do.  We often hear that the board and administration are a “governance team”.   Sadly, “the team” is dominated by board members with “Stockholm Syndrome” or they are accomplices in the abduction of local control.  All of this power comes with a hefty contract that insulates superintendents and gives them a golden parachute at taxpayer’s expense even if their tenure is marked by failure.  Make no mistake about it.  Local control is superintendent control.  If you agree with the superintendent and they are making good decisions for your particular community, you’re probably content.  But, if they are not, you are in a constant struggle with little to no redress.

The charter school amendment is perceived as an existential threat to the gravy train for educrats throughout the state.  That is what the fight is about.  The “local control” that is hailed by the current purveyors of the fine educational products in Georgia, is “educrat control”.  They push the buttons and pull the levers and try to make you believe that “stakeholders” have a say in it all.  Despite state legislation on school councils, parents don’t get a seat at the table when selecting a principal for their school.  In the struggle for power and control, the educrats have failed you and your children; all the while collecting fat paychecks and doling out six-figure jobs and lucrative contracts to more educrats.  If you realize that your voice as a citizen is so diminished within the current power structure of education, you will know that voting for the charter amendment is one of the solutions.

Parents deserve more choices.  Communities deserve more input into how their schoolhouses are run.  Charter schools are innovation incubators and are governed by a volunteer group of parents, teachers and community members.  That’s local control.  They get to choose the companies that provide services to their school.  If they do a bad job, they will lose their charter and parents will leave their school for a better product.  If they are responsible and create a valuable product for their community they will thrive and our children will get the education they deserve.  This responsiveness is completely missing in education today.  In fact, in DeKalb we have some schools that have been labeled “failing” for as long as a decade, yet remain open with no replacement of staff. All of the “turn around” plans, accountability measures and excuses brought to us courtesy of the “local control” we have today do nothing to rid our system of failure or make it more efficient, helpful and valuable for the students and community.  Please join me in supporting real local control.  Please join me in advocating for kids and taxpayers in DeKalb County and throughout our state.  Please join me by voting YES on the charter school amendment.

posted by Nancy Jester in Charter Schools Amendment and have Comments (37)

5 Year Budget Analysis

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments (5)

My comments to the Superintendent regarding the SACS letter

In our continuing effort to be transparent, Don, Pam and I are making public the letter that is being sent to AdvancED in response to their inquiry. We are also making public our comments about the response.

Dr. Atkinson’s Response to SACS
Don McChesney’s Comments
Pam Speaks’s Comments

From: Nancy Jester [mailto:nancyjester@gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
To: ‘cheryl_atkinson@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us’
Subject: My comments on the SACS response letter

Dr. Atkinson,

Thank you for sending your draft response to the SACS letter to me for comment. Here are my thoughts:

You have listed some of the important steps that you and your team have initiated to set DCSD on a path for both academic and fiscal success. I certainly appreciate the efforts you have made to change the trajectory of our district and I am glad you enumerated them for SACS. I often think that some of my colleagues do not acknowledge the dire straits we are navigating. Why they chose to not accept the reality of our difficult fiscal situation and the abysmal academic performance of so many of our schools is not clear to me. All evidence that I see, tells me that you appreciate the gravity of the situation. I am invested with you in your efforts.

One of the most important improvements that you have made is to bring new, talented leaders to our district. My observations are that DSCD was far too insular and in desperate need of an infusion of new ideas and modern expertise. New, outside talent helps break the hegemony of inefficient and questionable past practices in many areas.

It is unfortunate that you have been charged with drafting a response to a letter that deals with allegations of board member misconduct. You chose to highlight your accomplishments and the perfunctory steps that the district has taken based on previous input from SACS. While I believe that your efforts are sincere and based upon facts, I do not see evidence that the board, as a whole, has joined with you to steer the district into calm financial waters and accomplish our mission to properly educate the students in DeKalb. The reasons for the resistance from some board members remain opaque to me. I only see the fragments of “a posteriori” evidence of their resistance. The letter from SACS is an additional clue to me that there is much going on beneath the surface that is not disclosed to all board members. This is not healthy and I am left to surmise that it has encumbered you in your ability to execute actions that move the district forward.

Specifically, the letter asks that the district address the allegations of poor financial management, board interference with operations and continued/multiple violations of board policy. While your letter addresses the positive and sincere steps you have taken, it does not address these allegations directly. Indeed, these allegations pertain to behavior that existed prior to your arrival. I do not know of a way that you could address those experiences. I, however, can say what I see.

Regarding the fiscal management of the district, since almost the very beginning of my time on the board (January 11), I began to unravel what appeared to me to be a budget that was, at best, a weak suggestion on how to spend money and, at worst, a document based on deception. Monthly, I queried, the CFO at the time and did not receive answers that could withstand the scrutiny of the facts. I have been specifically focused on the large variance in our electricity budget and our legal fees. As you know, our electricity budget has been significantly under-budgeted for at least 5 years. Earlier this year, I did a spreadsheet demonstrating this fact. Unfortunately, last year, when I would ask questions of our previous CFO, the response was either about the temperatures being above average or a rate increase. The facts are the our “actual” expenditures have been $15-16 million dollars for the last 5 years but we have consistently budgeted $10.5 million for this line item. Over the course of 5 years, that is a net of approximately $25 million in deficit on this one line item. A similar analysis can be made about legal fees. If you compare the volume of total disbursements to the budget over the last five years, we have spent over $50 million more than we budgeted. As you know since you have been in the district, I have continued to point this out to the public and asked for a culture of fiscal restraint to take root. I have publically discussed this at board meetings for over a year. Thankfully, your new CFO, Mr. Perrone has improved our budget and brought a high degree of professionalism and expertise to our financial department. Without a solid financial footing we cannot educate our children.

I am disturbed, but not surprised, by the allegations of board misconduct. As I stated, I only see the aftereffect; while the action remains opaque to me. I am deeply concerned that misconduct could undermine the efforts you are making. We cannot afford to return to the days of old when fiscal irresponsibility, divisiveness, opacity and punitive resource allocations ruled the day. I fear that if this type of behavior continues to go unchecked, it will be impossible for you or any superintendent to be successful. Our children and our taxpayers will suffer. Indeed, because we are part of a larger metro area, a failure of DeKalb, has broad reaching implications for the economic development of our region and state. There is much as stake.

I will make my comments available to Dr. Elgart in addition to the letter that you send. I have asked for a board meeting to discuss this matter but it appears that this will not occur. In the absence of a meeting, I intend to make my comments public. In the meantime, please keep moving the district towards stability and success.

–Nancy Jester

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments (4)

District Response to AdvancED / Our comments

The district has sent a response to the most recent letter from AdvancED.

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have No Comments

AdvancED / SACS Letter – Our Thoughts

We would like to take this opportunity to clarify recent board actions regarding the latest letter from AdvancED/SACS to the DeKalb County School District. The AJC’s initial report was not accurate and we want to communicate to you what actions were taken by the board at our meeting on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. The Board voted to formally acknowledge receipt of the letter. The Superintendent provided a memo to board members outlining a process to develop the District’s response. The Board voted to accept her process as well.

State law only allows for meetings in executive session for a few, very specific reasons. The discussion of the letter from AdvancED/SACS is not a matter that can be discussed in executive session. Wednesday’s Board meeting was held in public and there will be no meeting of the Board regarding this matter in executive session.

After we receive the draft of the District’s response, we will request a Board meeting to hear from our fellow Board members and vote to accept/reject the draft response. This meeting will be public and all Board members will have the opportunity to discuss the District’s response letter.

Most importantly, we want to share with you that we welcome the scrutiny from AdvancED/SACS. The issues that were raised in their letter have been concerns that we have publicly discussed at Board meetings and shared with various officials. Indeed, we have been the whistle blowers regarding some of these issues. We also want to remind the public that SB84  provides for the Governor to intervene with a Board of Education without the District losing accreditation. This protects the children in our schools while providing a mechanism to correct problems within a school district.

We hope that our statement helps clarify recent events and reports. As always, let us know your thoughts and comments.

Nancy Jester
Don McChesney
Pam Speaks

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments (7)