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Archive for March, 2013

Board Norms

The Work Session at 3pm contains the item E.1.a. – “Board Norms”. This item has no detailed documentation associated with it. Previously, the board was provided with a list of “board norms” that included the following ten items to which they are to commit themselves:

1. Adopting policies, providing stakeholder education, advocating the work of the strategic plan, and developing and allocating resources to support implementation of the strategic plan.
2. Setting the superintendent’s annual performance goals in alignment with the strategic plan.
3. Acting to support the superintendent to maintain district focus on work and priorities in the approved strategic plan and to avoid distractions by using the strategic planning cycle to collect stakeholder input.
4. Directing all stakeholders’ questions, input and discussion directly to the superintendent, providing the superintendent and fellow board members with proactive notice of issues or concerns.
5. Using board meetings to discuss board issues, current or upcoming, with the community, not email, social media, other channels.
6. Requesting information from the superintendent or actions by the superintendent by a request to the whole board, rather than individually from the superintendent or from staff or school personnel.
7. Interacting as a parent of a CSD student in ways that reflect the separation of parent and board member roles, informing the superintendent before contact with school personnel regarding parental concerns.
8. When expressing ideas, opinions and intentions to stakeholders, prefacing or clarifying the statements as personal expression, not representation of the board’s ideas, opinions or intentions.
9. Model excellence and innovation in education governance for stakeholders and peer boards.
10. In interactions in which stakeholders request or expect district actions and decisions, in addition to or unaligned with the strategic plan, educate stakeholders in the strategic planning process, as the process for providing input to the work of the district and its priorities.

I have several concerns about these “board norms”. In particular, I am concerned #5 will prohibit board members from communicating with citizens. Would this “norm” be acceptable for your state representative or senator? The majority of your tax dollars (property taxes plus more than 50% of state revenues) are spent on education. These “norms” seem to keep citizens separated from the governmental entity that decides how these monies are spent in DeKalb. That structure seems to benefit the administrative class to the detriment of transparency and accountability. Item #8 seems to contradict #5. If a board member expresses their opinion or intention, would that not be a violation of #5? It’s all food for though. I look forward to hearing the board’s discussion on these issues.

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comment (1)

Board Meeting – 4/1/2013 – Real-time Blog and Interview

Real-time blog and polls below

DeKalb County School District Board Meetings
2:00pm Work Session
3:00pm Committee of the Whole – Discuss “Board Norms” (below)
5:45pm Community Meeting for Public Comments
7:00pm Business Meeting

1. Establishment of Dates & Times of DeKalb Board of Education Meetings for 2013
Passes 9-0

Should Work Session and Business meeting be on the same day?
Yes

 ( 14% )

No

 ( 57% )

Undecided

 ( 29% )

 

2. Affirmation of Board Policy, Descriptor Codes BH and BHA
3. Approval of First Amendment to the Employment Contract Between Michael L. Thurmond and the DeKalb County Board of Education
4. Receipt of Findings and Consideration of the Recommendation of the Tribunal in Personnel Case #13-01
5. AMENDMENT TO THE BYLAWS & POLICIES: FIRST READING
a. Amendment to the Bylaws & Policies: Board Policy GAG, Staff Conflict of Interest
Passed 9-0

Will it do any good to edit Board Policy GAG to say that hires must be based on merit and not Friends and Family.
Yes

 ( 38% )

No

 ( 63% )

Undecided

 ( 0% )

 

G. CONSET AGENDA
1. Approval of Minutes
2. Approval of Monthly Financial Report
3. Approval of Human Resources Monthly Report
4. Approval of 2013-2014 School Calendar
5. Ground Lease Agreement with DBOE and GLOBE Academy
6. District-Wide Telecommunications Services (Year 2 of 5)
7. Cellular Carrier Annual Contract
8. Annual Fiber Maintenance Renewal
9. Redan High School Interior Renovations and Storage Facility Contract Award Approval
10. Southwest DeKalb High School Renovations & Capital Renewal A/E Design Firm Approval
11. DeKalb Parks and Recreation 2013 Summer Feeding Program Agreement

Do you think that the DeKalb BOE will approve a charter cluster for Druid Hills, Lakeside or Dunwoody?
Yes

 ( 13% )

No

 ( 50% )

Undecided

 ( 38% )

 

 

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments (2)

Trifecta of Deficits – Credibility, Academic and Financial

I’ve received several requests for my recent column in the Reporter.
From: Reporter Newspapers
By: Nancy Jester

Pursuant to a recommendation from the State Board of Education, the Governor suspended the DeKalb Board of Education and appointed new board members. These events were triggered by the district’s accreditation being downgraded to the status of “probation” by AdvancED (the parent company of the regional accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)) and Senate Bill 84 passed in 2010.

As I told the State Board, I believe DeKalb has three deficits: credibility, academic and financial. Shortly after coming onto the Board in January 2011, I determined budgeting practices were flawed. I publicly discussed my concerns at every stated board meeting during the financial report. I gave spreadsheets to fellow board members and officials showing them the growing financial problem. Until the most recent SACS report, in December 2012, the accreditor (SACS) never mentioned the financial problems. I am the first to discover and state these problems publicly. In my email newsletter of May 20, 2012, Budget And SPLOST Updates, I stated: “For the past year, I have publicly inquired about, and expressed my frustration with, many line items that were significantly over budget. Their consistent variances from the budget suggested that these items were not properly budgeted for years. Still other discretionary items were also over-budget because of a lack of fiscal restraint. These factors, along with a $15 million increase in benefit costs from the state, and falling property tax revenue have resulted in DCSD starting the budgeting process assuming a $73.8 million budget deficit.” I also stated the budget was “a document based on deception”. The SACS Special Review Visit Report contains my research regarding the budget. Anyone can access my blog and see the research I’ve posted. There are a number of other financial concerns I have noted but were not touched upon in the SACS report.

What we have seen with the budget is a symptom of the larger problem: DeKalb has not invested in the classroom. In November 2012, I published a “Salary Analysis From FY2008 – FY2013” that showed every salary category declined except “General Administration”; these salaries increased over 14%. The budgeting practices have led to the academic and credibility deficits. Parents and teachers see increased class size, more furlough days and fewer resources. These developments seem incongruent with having the highest millage rate in the metro area at 23.98 mils. This, along with the opacity of the district and burdensome, often punitive, centralized bureaucratic decision-making, have created the credibility deficit the district faces today.

Our academic deficit is the result of the financial and credibility deficits. The district lost its focus on the classroom. You can see the evidence of this in the drivers of the financial and credibility deficits. Now that AdvancED and the State have recognized what many of us have seen for years, will the system be able to heal itself? Only time will tell. I certainly hope so. I was one vote on a board that did not, as a whole, want to change things. Will the new board, State and AdvancED be able to move the district in the right direction? Replacing the board was one step but it is the administration that has operational control. This insular group has shown little appetite for adjusting their methods. The administration is the driver, while the board is the map. Are the drivers going to stay on the road map? What type of vehicle will they put the district in? Will it be the same vehicle for every school regardless of their needs or accomplishments? Will the administration continue to get the largest luxury vehicle?

I will be writing a series on changes that Georgia must embrace if we are to make it out of the bottom third nationally on achievement measures. Stay tuned for those. It was an honor to serve you on the board. I am happy knowing that my research illuminated the financial problems in our system. I look forward to continuing to serve you in different ways. As always, I remain an advocate for kids and taxpayers.

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments Off

The Teaching Firm

The Teaching Firm
By: Nancy Jester

Much of the “education reform” talk we hear today gets discussed with the tacit assumption of pitting one group against another. The framework often boils down to parents wanting a better education for their children versus teachers who baulk at increased accountability measures that judge the quality of their teaching and represent a threat to their job security and growth. I reject this paradigm.

The architects and beneficiaries of this faux war are the educational bureaucrats. We now have more administrator than teachers in 21 states, including Georgia. Discussions about accountability are really discussions about creating more jobs for them. Anytime you add another bureaucrat, the classroom teacher is burdened. The growth of these bureaucrats has degraded the teaching profession and created the hostile climate we witness today. Bureaucrats sell parents on “accountability” by making them believe some new program, test, measurement or evaluation system will magically turn their child’s classroom experience into a, heretofore unseen, utopia; opening up educational opportunities previously unattainable. We are just one magic idea away from curing what ails education today. I’m sure some bureaucrats even believe this. Sadly, they burden the teacher, charge the taxpayer and generate false hope in parents, all while collecting six-figure salaries, stretching their bureaucratic tentacles and creating growth in government sector jobs. Well played.

I’m not a Pollyanna. Not all teachers are equal. Some are more effective than others. Some teachers are better-suited for the reserved child; while others do better with gregarious, talkative children. I’m keenly aware some people have made it into the classroom that have no business being there. But I’m also aware that somewhere, a bureaucrat hired them and has allowed them to stay. I also know not every parent is an asset to their child’s teacher. Some parents are incredulous when their child doesn’t get a good grade. There are helicopter parents. There are parents that never show-up at all. And there’s no bureaucracy to evaluate and fix those parenting foibles for teachers.

Parents and teachers should unite behind the idea that they aren’t on opposite sides. Parents, children and teachers are pawns on the chessboard of educational bureaucrats. What’s the alternative? Well, lawyers work at law firms, CPAs work at accounting firms and they manage themselves. Teachers should work at teaching firms and be expected to do the same.

When a lawyer or a CPA begins their work, they practice their profession and do so throughout their career. Yes, they may take an off-ramp, but many work in professional firms from the beginning to the end of their careers. They develop their reputations and their specialized skill set. They may become a partner within their firm. Their firm may also specialize in a particular market segment.

I believe we need to see schools as teaching firms. Just as other professionals manage their “firms”, so should teachers. The Principal should be the managing partner of the firm. Generally the managing partner is someone who has been successful at their career and is seen as an asset to the partners, associates and clients of the firm. The partners of the teaching firm would work with the principal in managing budgets, hiring and planning. Each teaching firm would receive its per pupil funds and the partners could determine their own pay structure and deployment of resources. Of course, they would be responsible for complying with all legal requirements. You could allow schools to specialize in areas. Teachers could recognize their talents with different types of learners and specialize within the firm. Right now, we have no organized way to maximize the talents of our teachers. We expect them to be all things to all people. That’s an unrealistic approach.

The parent compliment to the idea of the teaching firm would be the freedom to choose the teaching firm that works best for them. If parents are allowed to find the best fit for their child, teachers and their firms are freed up to embrace the professional specialization and techniques in which they excel.

The bureaucrats are able to keep control and grow their budgets by creating fear, mistrust and false hope. When teachers and parents realize they are both prisoners in the same bureaucratic gulag, then we’ll have a true reformation. The keys to unlocking the prison gates are Teaching Firms and School Choice.

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments (9)

Board Meeting – 03/21/2013 – With Live Interactive Comments

Live blog and polls below.
Commentary on board discussion on DSW

DeKalb County School District
Business Meeting 3/20/2013 @ 6:00 PM
Meeting Agenda

1. Approval of Minutes

2. Approval of Financial Monthly Report
Report passes 9-0

3. Approval of Human Resources Monthly Board Report
Report passed with no discussions and no questions. 9-0

4. SPLOST IV Acquisition of Support Service Vehicles
Report passes 9-0

Should we spend $1.7 million SPLOST dollars to buy new vehicles?
Yes

 ( 6% )

No

 ( 94% )


5. Approval of Resolution to Phase Out Twelve Instructional Facilities
Report passes 9-0

6. Approval of Plan to Officer Two Surplus Properties for Lease or Sale
Report passes 9-0

7. Approval to Declare 10 Properties as Surplus
Report passes 9-0

Should DCSD sell off unused properties?
Yes

 ( 89% )

No

 ( 11% )


8. Dunwoody High School Parking Lot Repair and Repaving Contract Award Approval
Report passes 9-0

9. District Wide Moving Services RFP# 752-13001 Approval
Report passes 9-0

10. System-Wide Imaging Solution Contract Extension Approval
Report passes 9-0

11. Approval of Portable Classroom Lease Extension and Purchase – Williams Scotsman
Report passes 8-1 with Mayfield voting ‘No’

12. Modular Classroom – ModSpace Lease Extension Approval
Report passes 9-0

13. Termination of the DeKalb County School District’s status as a plaintiff in The DeKalb County School District vs. The Georgia State Board of Education

Termination of the DeKalb County School District’s status as a plaintiff in The DeKalb County School District, et al. vs. The Georgia State Board of Education,

Yes

 ( 95% )

No

 ( 5% )

What is our top priority?
Getting off probation

 ( 0% )

Finding a new Superintendent

 ( 12% )

Teachers – Furloughs and class sizes

 ( 71% )

Students – Address student achievement

 ( 18% )

Should one of the first orders of business be to find a permanent Superintendent.
Yes

 ( 69% )

No

 ( 31% )

Should we spend $1.7 million SPLOST dollars to buy new vehicles?
Yes

 ( 6% )

No

 ( 94% )

Should DCSD sell off unused properties?
Yes

 ( 89% )

No

 ( 11% )

Termination of the DeKalb County School District’s status as a plaintiff in The DeKalb County School District, et al. vs. The Georgia State Board of Education,

Yes

 ( 95% )

No

 ( 5% )

posted by Nancy Jester in DeKalb County School District and have Comments Off
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