Hey Nancy,

What's Up With That

If you have a question and would like to ask Nancy "What's up with that?", please email Nancy@NancyJester.com.

My Thoughts on the AdvancED SACS Report

First, I would like to explain that I have been delayed in communicating to you about the AdvancED/SACS report because I have been out of the country since December 15th.  I returned this past Saturday evening (December 22nd).  While I was away I had limited access to the Internet, email and phone.  I had time to quietly reflect on my (almost) two years of service on the board and the AdvancED/SACS Report.  I’m writing to you now in the first of a series of blog posts I have written and plan to post over the next several days.  The opinions I express here are mine alone and I express them as an individual citizen.

No one knows better than I do, that the board as a whole can be very frustrating to watch.  As the board member who most often votes “no”, I endure this frustration more than most.  I am the board member who identified and publically discussed the financial issues that were cited in this report.  For almost two years, I have publically inquired during the presentation of the monthly financial report about the discrepancies that I uncovered.  My public statements at board meetings span two administrations.  I have written that it appears to me that our budgets for the past six years were, at best, a weak suggestion of how to spend money and, at worst, a document based on deception.  I received support for my analysis from only Don McChesney and Pam Speaks.  I was publically misled by administration officials who stated at board meetings that our budgeting issues with electricity (one of the many areas I cited as problematic) were due to (1) unseasonably hot/cold summers/winters and (2) increases in electricity rates.  These statements were demonstrably false.

No agency, government department or official was interested in my findings.  Eventually I posted them on my website (here’s the link to my September 13th entry:  http://whatsupwiththat.nancyjester.com/2012/09/13/5-year-budget-analysis/ ).  My public statements at Board meetings go back to almost the beginning of my service.

Additionally, I discovered that “general administration salaries” have been the only salary category that has increased over six years; including the current budget.  I inquired into this matter at two board meetings but did not receive a response.  Here is the link t0 my analysis:  http://whatsupwiththat.nancyjester.com/2012/11/16/salary-analysis-fy2008-fy2013/.

While I’m flattered by AdvancED’s extensive use of my research and statements; their conclusions, required actions, indeed, their paradigm for “team governance” would prevent me or any other board member from discovering and properly alerting the public to these misdeeds (see required action #5).

The report also states, “The board members’ questions to the staff displayed a suspicion and lack of trust for any information provided by the staff.”  As I stated above, I have been misled and stonewalled when uncovering some of the very financial malfeasance that AdvancED now has decided to recognize.  Suspicion and lack of trust, at this point, is clearly justified as I and my fellow board members are legally accountable as stewards of tax dollars.

I’m also curious as to why, with all of their teams of professional educational bureaucrats visiting and researching DSCD (at our expense),  AdvancED never discovered the financial malfeasance that I brought to light.  I’m just one mom with a calculator.  Given the record of misleading statements and nonresponsive behavior I have dealt with from administrators around the financial issues that AdvancED has now chosen to present as evidence to warrant placing DeKalb on probation, it seems odd that they would then simultaneously hold the position that Board members just need to be less suspicious and more trusting of staff members.

If I were an employee, I would most likely be protected under whistleblower laws.  How ironic that I may be removed from office exactly because I discovered and made public the financial misdeeds of the third largest school district in our state.  What message does this send to board members around the state or to future board members in DeKalb?  Given that the majority of our state budget goes to education, I would think that the state would incentivize and welcome local board members to be watchdogs over these finite resources.  To do otherwise is to steal from the educational lives of children.

Stay tuned – tomorrow, I’ll post my thoughts on the education bureaucrats’ construct of “the governance team” and what that means for your children and tax dollars.

(54) comments
  1. I appreciate your update. You are the only BOE member that I care to see stay. I hope you aren’t sacrificed along with the others. Thanks for your integrity.

  2. Give ‘em hell Nancy!

  3. Thank you Nancy. I’m reminded of the old saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” I know firsthand the frustrations from not getting ANYONE in authority to investigate matters suggesting corruption and/or incompetence. Thank you for hanging in there. You will continue to have my family’s full support. By the way, have you eve figured out why the AJC has never really been motivated to do serious investigative journalism regarding DCSS? There is nothing new in the SACS report that several of us DCSS taxpayer/parents haven’t provided to both the AJC AND SACS for years…….

  4. Thank you for being a mom with a calculator. For too long Dekalb County Schools have been led by people who do not feel they should be held accountable for their actions, in-actions and malfeasance.

    I had noticed the parts of the report that seemed aimed at you. If not Board of Education members, who can ask school officials about discrepancies and inaccuracies in the budget? I would be interested in SACS’ answer to that.

  5. @TuckerGuy Yes, the Board should just let Administrators do their job and not question them! In what world does that make sense?

  6. Lord knows parents are not allowed to question them.

    I recently sent an email to a high ranking “Central Palace” employee pointing out some of the flaws in the proposed organization. It was apparently passed to the area superintendent who sent it to my child’s principal. She was instructed to call me and get me to stop asking questions which made the school system look bad.

    I laughed at her, which upset her to no end. She then begged me to stop so she wouldn’t get into trouble. When I asked how my emails would get her into trouble she said something to the effect of “anything can get anyone into trouble these days.”

  7. @TuckerGuy Such a shame! Our principals need to be empowered to make the decisions that are right for their schools. How sad that they feel so threatened by central office personnel that are sucking up all the school tax dollars!

  8. Nancy,
    As a forty plus year resident and taxpayer in Dekalb County, whose three children attended our public schools, let me congratulate you on your work as a School Board member. I must say that, as a former management executive, I cannot understand how the apparent level of mismanagement, corruption, etc. has been allowed to continue, and get worse each year. As far as SACS is concerned, how bad must it become before they remove our accreditation? Also, where is the State Board of Education in this matter?
    At this past Saturday breakfast meeting I made the statement ( at least half seriously) that the solution to our problem may be to fire the Board for two or three years and let the Superintendent run the whole thing.
    Again, thanks for your excellent work and please “keep on keeping on”.
    Ryan L. Mura

  9. Way to go, Nancy! Please do not back down. The gravy train needs to grind to a halt and the crooks need to be brought to justice. It is obvious that DeKalb schools are infested with the equivalent of hundreds of cockroaches.

  10. That might work theoretically…but I believe the Superintendent was selected because she would do what the Board wanted her to do. Apparently she has a bad record in her former school system and a resume full of grammatical errors.

  11. @Bruce Ewwww….nasty!

  12. A board member with integrity. Who knew? Perhaps Markie Mark can appear before the board, so that he can be asked to comment on these issues, which are imminently fair and legitimate?

    Y’all know Markie Mark, right? The guy who was silent when Beverly Hall perpetrated the largest cheating scandal in United States educational history, but only broke his silence over a 5-4 vote to remove the board chair who ACTIVELY conspired with Beverly Hall to cover up evidence of cheating?

    No, not to support the vote, but to work hand in hand with Kasim Reed to strong arm the board to REVERSE the vote.

    Not that the DCSS isn’t totally FUBAR, but don’t be so quick to judge Markie Mark as a white knight in shining armor.

  13. And sadly, the previous board ran off a superintendent who showed some concern for learning and teaching conditions. This is very sad and I can understand your frustrations.

  14. @ Ryan, The solution here is the removal of the board and an unqualified Superintendent. Appoint a temporary board, have the DA, Attny Gen and Feds launch investigations into the fiscal and HR practices of the system and let the chips fall where they may. Crawford Lewis could have some new cell mates.
    @ Nancy, your efforts and frustration are appreciated; you were willing to ask questions when others were not, but the level of corruption that kept you in the dark requires decisive action. Keep doing the right thing.

  15. It sounds to me like the solution may not be to replace all the board members (some definitely but not necessarily all) but rather to fire and replace the entire upper level of DCSS administration!

  16. Nancy:

    Keep up your great work. Criticisms of “the Board” do not include you. People clearly know you are shedding light on the problems caused by others.

  17. Thank you for the update, Nancy. Your integrity and commitment to our children’s education are very much appreciated!

  18. What are our options??
    Given:
    1. Only the Board of Education can hire/fire a Superintendent.
    2. Only the Superintendent can hire/fire their executive staff.
    3. Every board seat is up for election in 2 years, so any appointed BOEs will only be there for 2 years.

    The board is irrelevant if the powers that be can strong arm the current board into hiring a respectable Superintendent. Thought: Since Ms Jester is the only trustworthy person up there, why doesn’t somebody make her the Superintendent??

  19. Rae Anne
    Dr Atkinson had a bad record at Lorain City Schools? That’s an understatement!!

    From the Morning Journal: LORAIN — The state will take over Lorain City Schools [in 2012] when the district, which has a $12 million deficit, goes into fiscal emergency, according to school Treasurer Dale Webber.

  20. Thank you for your work Nancy, you are a lot more than “just a mom with a calculator”.

    I’d have given up long ago. As a matter of fact, I have. I can’t be a bystander and tell my kids as I’ve heard so many parents say: “oh, it’s bad, but what can you do, but to endure it”. That would make me an accomplice, or an enabler. I applaud you Nancy, for calmly and rationally trying to change things for the ones who are sticking with it.

    There is better out there, starting with less or no corruption and ending with systems that actually care about educating children. I grew up with one so I know it exists, but apparently not in DeKalb public school system. DeKalb is, from what I can tell, going backwards since 40 years ago. The teachers and kids are frustrated and the rest is an embarrassing mess.

  21. [...] Below I have pasted Nancy’s Blog Entry from yesterday on her Blog entitled “What’s Up With That?” [...]

  22. Nancy, thank you for your leadership. While I’m grateful you took a strong stand and your research finally has drawn attention, many of us are understandably very nervous about the school system losing its accreditation. Please do what you can to avoid that outcome. I would also appreciate your attention to the outside legal bills – oversight of those is needed. Board members need to be help accountable for all their decision.

  23. Nancy, please keep fighting the fight!! I know you will. You cannot do it alone, though. Parents and other stakeholders in DeKalb County are going to have to get involved. It seems to me that it is always the same parents fighting the battles with DCSS. How can we get the entire county involved?

  24. Nancy,

    I appreciate your candor about your “misdeeds”.
    I think SACS point is the Superintendent is hired by the Board. She/He is expected to run their administration and then all things to be questioned should be funneled through the Supt. Everything should be thru the Sup. She/He is alone responsible to the Board, therefore all that happens is his/her fault.

    However, our Superintendents and their administrations have been so bad in the last 15 years that the board has had no choice but to roll around in the minutia. Its been the way to get it done. They have become de facto Superintendents themselves. It doesn’t work the way it is supposed to.
    The real problem, one that unfortunately will not change, the quality of Superintendents that have been hired is unacceptable. We in DeKalb will never see the type of Superintendent that we need again.
    The board will take the fall for their poor choice in hiring. I feel you will be reappointed. I do think that some board members have done what they could to bring issue to light but with the gang of 5 and their top picks as Super. will manipulate the system. DeKalb schools are mismanaged. The Central office is full of friends and family. Deal needs to fire Atkinson and appoint a real “new sheriff in town” but it won’t happen.
    Keep your chin up Nancy. You are trying to help and we know it.

  25. Ethics rules for the Board must be stated as they are for other government agencies. There are good examples out there. Properly written and properly enforced ethics rules will begin stripping away the corruption.

  26. mom that came to her senses said: Properly written and properly enforced ethics rules will begin stripping away the corruption.

    1. Can you give us an example of an ethics rule that needs to be written properly?
    2. How would it be enforced?

  27. Nancy,
    I had the same questions as you when I read the SACS report. Why does SACS think it is bad when a Board member points out an error? The ridiculous way we have been budgeting for energy needed to be pointed out, and you did so in a professional manner. This is not interference but taking one’s responsibilities seriously.

    I feel the same way about your analysis showing that only Central Office salaries have increased over the past few years. It seems to me that in a normal business a CEO would take that comment seriously and respond to it. But in DCSD that comment is ignored and the one asking the question is made out to be the bad guy.

    Please don’t give up. I am keenly disappointed that the SACS report didn’t differentiate between Board members meddling and those representing their constituents by asking key questions.

    And I’m glad you were far, far away from DeKalb! I hope you had some great R&R.

  28. Nancy~Thank you so much for being a dedicated Board member for doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do! As a DeKalb Co. teacher, I can tell you that the teachers are extrememly frustrated by the behavior of our top Administrators. We are expected to go above and beyond, yet are given one task after another that is unreasonable.
    The children are NOT the ones that are expected to come first.
    Nancy please hang in there. You are our only help. If you see actions that we as citizens can do that will help you, please let us know. Again, thank you for being on top of these money matters and speaking out.

  29. Do any of you commenters have the time and skills to:

    1. Organize a recall of the current un-super-intendent? Is it even possible?

    2. Organize to get Nancy as Superintendent? Wouldn’t she be great?

  30. Bruce
    The Superintendent can be fired at will by the board. There would need to be pressure from a “higher power” like they did at Atlanta Public Schools.

  31. [...] Nancy Jester, in a blog post on Wednesday night, noted her whistleblower items could help in her ouster from the board, if Gov. [...]

  32. THANKS Nancy! Keep up the great work!!!

  33. Bruce,
    I’d like to help to organize to get Nancy in as the Super. We’d be lucky if she’ll take the job. We need someone local. All of these out of town superintendents have no idea what they’re getting into.

  34. Crash and Bruce
    Let’s start a grass roots movement. I’ll put together a petition.

  35. No. I think even Nancy would agree that we need someone experienced at turning something around. Someone who has a proven track record of success. What Nancy needs are enough board members who feel the same. Keep in mind that Atkinson has a contract and if the Board breaks it, she gets a huge payout.
    Starting a petition will just make it more difficult for Nancy to get anything accomplished.

  36. Nancy Jester for DeKalb Superintendent
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/nancy-jester-for-dekalb-superintendent/

    We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

  37. Crash
    You are wrong about local. We need someone with a proven track record. No one within DeKalb fits that bill. For those of you who live in Marshalll Orson, Marvin Johnson or Jim McMahan’s districts, you need to be putting your energy into encouraging them to work with Nancy. Right now, I am not confident that will happen. And the side that currently has three votes could slip to two. It is a problem.

  38. I don’t know Nancy and don’t know if she would be interested in the position of superintendent.

    Let us be more reasonable and start a petition to get her elected as the chairperson of the board. She would then be able to set the agenda for the meetings. Her position as chairperson would get media to pay attention to the things she is saying which is what we all want. The media will drive the changes which need to happen in DCSD.

  39. No offense to Nancy, but we need management experience with large governmental organizations and a strong ethical background to chair the board (if we need a board which I just am not sure is productive) How much money would we save by eliminating the board and rolling the school system under the county as a department with dedicated funding?

  40. Jeff – I don’t know about anyone else on here but I do NOT want Burrell Ellis in charge of our schools! Eliminating the board is also not a good idea – they are accountable to us, the voters while the elimination of them would leave the corrupt administrators free reign with NO accountability to the voters.

  41. Tucker Guy,
    Electing Nancy as the chair would be a small and reasonable start. Unfortunately, I think it would just be putting lipstick on a pig. Nancy is still just one vote and Walker can always move to change the agenda during the meetings.

    The Walker 5 would never let Nancy chair. They are beloved in their community, so it would take serious pressure from forces outside their districts to make that happen. If the powers that be step in, they are going to do more than make Nancy chair.

    Food for thought: Keeping walker as chair isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As chair, he has the burden of trying to bring all sides together. 5-4 votes look really bad on a chair’s record.

    All that being said the new board is pro-Walker. Walker can easily purchase the votes of team Fernbank. Look for a lot of 7-2 votes in 2013.

  42. This is our best opportunity to clean house on the board. I am sorry that it will be at your expense, but I hope the governor will see fit to remove the board so we can start over. I hope the superintendent is up to the task.

  43. @dekalb parent, you do realize that the real enemy is the administration and staff? You can get rid of the board and nothing will get better. It will get worse. The board has some nuts on it but it’s the staff that screws over the schools. Think about the problems you face at your schools. They are created by staff not the board. The staff will get worse if they think they can get rid of the board. Having a new board or no board won’t do anything to change what we deal with everyday. It’s the staff. Given the make up of the staff the racial politics will get worse not better. We need a law that hold administrations accountable.

  44. You’re right. What we have here is a system of intimidation from the top down. Walker bullies the principals, the principals bully the vice principals and the vice principals bully the teachers. But you can’t yank out and replace the Board and the Administration at the same time. One thing at a time.

  45. “DeKalbinsideout says:
    1. Can you give us an example of an ethics rule that needs to be written properly?
    2. How would it be enforced?”

    1. Yes, of course I could – but not on a blog, anonymously, with an anonomous person.
    2. Not knowing how to enforce ethics rules is probably why DeKalb has a problem in the first place. Other government entities know how to write and enforce ethics rules. It can’t be that hard to find good examples. I have rules but they are specific to that entity and I’m not going to be the one to share those.

    I am confident DeKalb would have no trouble placing and enforcing ethics rules, if they had any inclination on being ethical. After discovering discussions about creating ethics rules were “tabled” – and realizing they had no ethics rules for the Board (a few years ago) made me realize there was no hope. Now they supposedly can’t find $25 million spent on books. It’s just sad.

    I don’t understand why someone says the “staff” is a problem. I consider teachers “staff”. Teachers are not the problem. The top heavy administration is a huge problem.

  46. “I will consistently uphold all applicable laws, rules, policies, and governance procedures” would be an example of an ethics rule and censuring would be the punishment. There would be a hearing and be on record.

  47. Okay, now I’m worried again. The ethics rule example above is not what I have in mind. Following a law (and rules, policies and procedures) is just that and one would assume they are follwong laws or else held accountable.

    Ethics is different, like not accepting bribes, no gifts of any kind. Not hiring family. Not having any financial gain from having inside knowledge of the board actions or any other action releated to the DeKalb County public school system. The punishment is obviously removal from Board.

  48. Look at http://www.usg.edu/audit/compliance/ethics/. I doubt the Board can vote to remove an elected Board member.It is a process to give the Governor authority to do that.

  49. Nancy, how do you respond to the accusation that you over stepped the boundaries of your job by pushing for a bus route that another department eliminated to save money?

  50. Hi Crash!
    Thanks for the question. First, let’s go back to the passage of FY13’s budget. You can read my July blog about it at: http://whatsupwiththat.nancyjester.com/2012/07/19/budget-discussion/ . Item #4 points out that the board was never given a budget by the administration. Rather, they provided only a list of cuts and increases. One of the cuts was to eliminate magnet transportation. I supported this cut. My opinion did not prevail and so, this cut was not implemented in the FY13 budget. Had I prevailed, no one would receive magnet transportation.

    As school began, parents contacted the administration and then board because the staff had cancelled their route the evening before school began. Earlier on the same day, staff had given them bus instructions for this route that including a route number and time. (This is documented in email from district employees to parents.) In the discussions that followed, staff members gave various costs and conflicting information for this route. As staff had already caused confusion about this matter a fellow board member asked the Superintendent to review the matter and give the parents a “yes or no” about this issue. My colleague was clear that the superintendent need not agree with them about the route but thought the matter needed closure. Rather than make the call, the item was placed on a board meeting agenda by the administration. I don’t control the agenda nor am I consulted about it. The board was presented this item to adjudicate and the item passed.

    If an item is placed on the agenda by the administration that should be handled administratively, we should ask why it was placed on the agenda at all. Is it equally plausible that someone along the chain of command was abdicating their responsibility? If so, why? This wasn’t the first time the administration has brought these types of matters to the board.

  51. [...] Jester posted a letter on her blog the other day outlining her thoughts on the SACS action putting DeKalb on probation. Today, she [...]

  52. This is how communist countires work. Set up watchdog institutions(shams) or management that supress quality and lack the power, or expertise to recognize what is happenning, because they are employed with low paid people, then the recomendations is for patience and trophies for everyone, and zero accountability, and lets be nice, and oh geez armed officers in every school how terrible, then Newtowns happen, and when legitimate citizens try to change things it’s always whoa, slow down, there’s a process for this. A never ending circle of hell one had to try to get through. We are on the verge of collapse, and it will not be fun to watch. The legalization of pot and crossing of lines in the war on drugs which is not working because our effort sucks… is only going to make it worse.

    Enjoy everyone. This is how it works. Notice how congress is not doing anything on the Newtown issue. We need a task force.

    Fence Schools with gates.
    Lock them.
    Get a scanning machine like the airport with gaurds.
    Every kid goes through the machine, every day.

    It’s pretty simple.

    Stop bullshitting and ACT!

  53. [...] claims in her blog posting she was met with “stonewalling and deception” when she asked staff about financial [...]

  54. [...] [...]

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