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Process Versus Results – Accreditation by SACS

I thought it would be useful to provide some historical context to the whole accreditation issue.   Five years ago, if you had asked me what accreditation means, I probably would have told you that it meant something about the quality of the education that kids received; that it judged in some way the results of how well children were educated.

It does not.

Accreditation by SACS/AdvancED is big on “process” and “continuous improvement.”  It does not rate how well schools perform their mission to educate children.  Given the recent graduation rates that were released nationally one must wonder about the nature and efficacy of accreditation “processes” and to whom the benefits of “continuous improvement” accrue.

Click here to read the November 26th AJC article showing Georgia ranked 48th out of 50 states in graduation rate.  For even more detail, you can read my November 5th blog.

You will note that we are not graduating even 50% of our African American students in four years of high school instruction, even with an opportunity to take 32 credits on a block schedule of the 24 required to graduate.  Yet, we are in the top ten for money spent on education.   It appears to me that our emphasis on process is quite expensive, but ineffective.  How can we have such poor aggregate graduation rate results and have so many accredited schools and districts in our state?  Shouldn’t we be focused on honestly assessing the results?

State law requires that I must have 9 hours of training annually.  The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) holds large conferences where board members can attend seminars to meet the training requirements.  Your tax dollars pay for board members to attend these conferences.

I recently attended a GSBA conference to get my required training hours.  (I’ll have to blog in the future about how much of the seminar seemed designed as an infomercial for products that GSBA or their vendors sell.  Also, the seminars are largely conducted by educational bureaucrats that tell elected officials how to treat the educational bureaucrats in their district.  But I digress …)

During my seminar, two executives from AdvancED spoke to the group.  I learned that the concept of “district accreditation” is relatively new.  This accreditation product was rolled out from 2004-08.  Many districts in the state do not seek district accreditation. Instead, they have only their schools – or only their high schools — accredited.   State law requires students to graduate from an accredited school to qualify for the HOPE scholarship.  There is NO requirement that a district be accredited.  For Georgia public schools the law permits accreditation by either SACS or the Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC).  State law also provides methods for homeschoolers to qualify for HOPE scholarships.

During the Q&A at the GSBA conference, I asked AdvancED officials questions about how student achievement should factor into accreditation.  (I recorded this exchange and I’ll try to put it up on my website.)  I noted that our state does not compare well in the recently released graduation statistics.  I further asked:

If processes are used effectively, but achievement results are not improved, what does that say about accreditation?  What is it we’re accrediting?  If it doesn’t correlate strongly with, or have a causal relationship actually, to results for children in achievement then it is a …  the whole process seems to dichotomize there and I’m concerned about that.  Are we focused on process or are we focused on results?”

The response from the AdvancEd official was:

“As far as results … it is a process.  Going through this process, the school or district will go through and look at what is happening.  Accreditation is not based solely on student results.” 

So, there you have it.  And you pay for this process with your tax dollars and cede power over your property values to a concept administered by an unaccountable group, made up of educational bureaucrats.  In the end, the process does not guarantee, judge or rank the quality or results of the education provided to students in your school or district.

Our graduates – our frighteningly few graduates – cannot take “process” to the bank.

Additional reading on this subject:  http://www.nccivitas.org/2011/to-accredit-or-not-to-accredit/

–Stay tuned for more of my thoughts, including: the pronoun police, the circle of trust and solutions.

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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.

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Proposed 2016-2017 SPLOST IV Building School, Organization Attendance Zone Adjustments And Bond Financing

Here’s an important document about SPLOST IV building, potential attendance zone line changes and bond financing. The board was just presented with this on Tuesday, 11/27/2012. I’m still reviewing it.

.pdf link iconProposed 2016-2017 School Organization Attendance Zone Adjustments And Bond Financing

.pdf link icon details for elementary schools Attendance Area Changes, Proposed Organization, November 27, 2012

.pdf link icon Details for Middle and High Schools Attendance Area Changes, Proposed Organization, Nov 27, 2012

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Salary Analysis FY2008 – FY2013

I recently pulled the end of year (6/30) Financial Reports provided to the DeKalb BOE by the district from FY2008 through FY2012. I pulled the salary categories and input the reported actual expenditures in a spreadsheet for those years. For the FY2013, I used our budget as an approximation of what we’ll spend on salaries for the current fiscal year. Here’s my spreadsheet:

Note: General Admin is the only salary component that has increased over 6 years

Source Of Data
June 2007 Financial Report
June 2008 Financial Report
June 2009 Financial Report
June 2010 Financial Report
June 2011 Financial Statements
June 2012 Monthly Financial Report

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The More You Know – Where Georgia Ranks In Education

How do you think Georgia ranks in education spending? Near the bottom? Near the top?

We know that we’re close to the bottom in many of our achievement statistics. Our state graduation rate is 54% in aggregate ( 44% (African American), 32% (Latino), 61% (White) ). Our ranking is 46th out of 50 states. (That is also with an inflated rate of 64%).

So, how much money are we spending?
We keep hearing that education spending has been cut in Georgia. You can see the amount of money Georgia has spent on Education since 1996. There are only 3 years where the state has sent less money to school districts (2004, 2009, 2010 – by 2011, funding went up again).

Where do we rank?
Georgia is in the “Top Ten” states for education expenditures. So, we’re in the top ten on spending and in the bottom ten in achievement. What’s up with that? Here’s the ranking:
1. California
2. New York
3. Texas
4. Illinois
5. New Jersey
6. Florida
7. Pennsylvania
8. Ohio
9. Michigan
10. Georgia


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It’s Called a Balance Sheet

One of the arguments against the Charter School Amendment is that it will de-fund education. The facts do not support this claim. More importantly, amendment opponents are only discussing one side of an equation.

It’s called a Balance Sheet
assets = liability + equity

Yes, if a student leaves a traditional school the local district will no longer receive state funding for this student.  But the opposition fails to acknowledge that the corresponding “liability” (the cost of educating that child) is also removed from the balance sheet. Because the cost to educate that one child is greater than the amount that the state sends to the district, combined with the fact that the district will keep all of their local tax dollars; the end result is that they removed more liabilities (i.e. cost to educate) than they removed “assets” (state funding). This results in an overall improvement on their balance sheet and improved position relative to every other child in the district. They now have more money per student than they did before.

Don’t let anyone fool you – you must look at both sides of the equation.

Here’s an extremely simple example:

Before charter in district (100 students):

Assets Liabilities
State funding = 500,000 ($5000 for 100 students) Cost of educating 100 students: $750,000
Local Funding = 500,000 Reserves = 250,000
Total assets = 1,000,000 Liabilities + Reserves = 1,000,000
Assets per student: $10,000

After Charter enrolls 10 students from district:

Assets Liabilities
State funding = 450,000 ($5000 for 90 students) Cost of educating 90 students: $675,000
Local Funding = 500,000 Reserves = 275,000
Total assets = 950,000 Liabilities + Reserves = 950,000
Assets per student: 10,555 (5.5% more per student after charter school)



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Chamblee Middle Coralwood shuttle

I am writing to ask you to vote against restoring the Chamblee Middle/Coralwood shuttle.  At a time when we are asking everyone to tighten their belts, it would be destructive to agree to spend $17,000 to minimize inconvenience for a few.  There are hundreds of parents who would gladly drive their kids door-to-door for the opportunity to attend Chamblee Middle.  Certainly driving a few extra miles to Henderson Middle to take the existing shuttle is reasonable and fair.  Parents were notified before the start of school that they would be provided transportation to Chamblee from Henderson Middle.   They have now had ample time to adjust to the new plan and always have the option of driving their child all the way.

Thank you for your consideration

  1. I believe that I have good news for you regarding your concerns about the Chamblee Middle School Shuttle from Coralwood. First let me say how much I agree with you regarding “belt-tightening”. As you know, I was not in favor of any magnet transportation. This would have provided for a savings of almost $2 million but the board voted to maintain this service. Additionally, I requested that administrators take a pay cut which would be congruent with your stated opinion that “… we are asking everyone to tighten their belts…”. Again, this was not done. I am happy to note that you share my concern about the serious financial situation of DCSD.

    As discussed above, magnet transportation was maintained by the board. The good news about moving one of the shuttles to originate at Coralwood rather than Henderson MS, is that it is not an additional cost as you mentioned in your email. It is simply moving one bus from HMS to begin its route at Coralwood. If executed properly, this change should save the district money. Additionally, this is a greener, more efficient and congestion minimizing location for the shuttle.

    Chamblee MS families were notified twice on Sunday, August 12th, the day before school began, with conflicting facts about the Coralwood shuttle. They received two emails; (1) one sent at 1:15pm from DCSD’s Magnet Program director telling parents to pick up bus #1680 at 8am at Coralwood and (2) one sent at 5:55pm from the principal indicating that there would not be a shuttle originating from the Coralwood location. Clearly, these parents were not given ample time to prepare their transportation plans.

    Thank you for your concern about this issue. As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to provide clarity.

    Yours in service,

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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.

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5 Year Budget Analysis

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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

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