By Nancy (Drew) Jester – “Mom With A Calculator,” Board Member and Sleuth
(If you think it’s important to know how government spends your money, read this.)
The October 17, 2012 AdvancED/SACS Special Review Report states:
“Based upon the information collected and reviewed, the Special Review Team found sufficient evidence to support a finding that the actions and behaviors of the DeKalb County Board of Education are in violation of AdvancED Standards and policies and its [DCSD’s] own established policies.”
For the purposes of this blog posting , we’ll ignore the fact that the AdvancED Standards and policies are designed by educrats, in part, to protect and insulate educrats from the very community they serve: students, classroom teachers, parents, board members and the taxpayers who are footing the bills. There is little in these policies that address effective education of students. AdvancED/SACS and the Superintendent/administration/staff (SAS) give lip service to “stakeholder engagement,” which they usually promptly ignore, and they hide behind the mantra of “policy” when it is a convenient shield or callous substitute for human discernment. All the while, the non-student-centered decisions are made because there’s a “procedure” or “policy” that cleverly protects any one educrat from having to shoulder responsibility. It is insidious and it harms children and taxpayers. But, I’ll talk more about this later. Back to Policy; more specifically back to Policy DJE which said report discusses beginning on page 5.
I have spent some time reviewing Policy DJE and the portion of the AdvancED/SACS report referencing this policy. Click here to review any of the various DeKalb County School District (DCSD) policies.
Whatever in the world is Policy DJE?
Policy DJE covers the purchasing policy of DCSD. The AdvancED/SACS report ostensibly addresses compliance issues with Policy DJE, Section V(c)(4).
The October 17, 2012 AdvancED/SACS Special Teams Report states:
“Clearly, the Board is ignoring the difference between governing the system and managing the operations of the system. Another example, involves an issue that has arisen in relation to Policy DJE – Purchasing, which specifies the following: All purchases and contracts under $100,000.00 shall be reported to the Board monthly for information only, reflecting vendor, goods or services purchased, amount of purchase, and the name(s) of staff member(s) who signed the approval.”
“The board chair requested a report to document compliance with the policy.”
This is good, right? The board chair is documenting compliance with a policy requested two years ago by AdvancED/SACS; one that allows the Superintendent/administration to spend money without Board approval up to $100,000.
The report continues:
“In turn, the Superintendent has indicated that the system’s technology structure and software are not designed to provide the detailed report without extensively revamping the database. Reportedly, producing the report would require excessive staff time that would ultimately interfere with job performance in the delivery of services to staff and students.”
OK, so Boards of Education should follow policy. In fact, this very policy was adopted in the wake of the AdvancED/SACS investigation from 2010 and amended later, at the Superintendent Atkinson’s request, to change the dollar limit from $50,000 to $100,000 thus giving the Superintendent and the administration even more latitude in spending money without board approval. The only requirement of this policy was that the Superintendent/administration had to provide the board with a monthly list of the purchases made and the money spent under this policy.
How Are Policies Made in DCSD?
The Superintendent/Administration/Staff (SAS) researches and brings policies to the board for board approval. So, DCSD staff wrote Policy DJE. Additionally, once a policy is first brought to the board it must sit for 30 days while all interested parties have the opportunity to vet it. Early in 2012, the Superintendent/Administration/staff (SAS) first developed this policy and then had 30 days to communicate to the board that they would not be able to comply with it.
Apparently staff didn’t inform the board they couldn’t comply, even though staff wrote the policy.
Now, AdvancED/SACS has put DCSD on probation and is blaming the board, at least in part, because the board isn’t following policy. The AdvancED/SACS report criticizes the board chair for requesting that DCSD Superintendent/administration/staff follow the policy that DCSD Superintendent/administration/ staff wrote.
The AdvancED/SACS report goes on to say:
“Meanwhile, the board chair unilaterally made an arbitrary decision, without further discussion and direction by the full Board, to set a new, lower floor for purchases for which the Superintendent needed to submit a report. It appeared that the Board and administration had reached a stalemate in resolving the issue, but rather than initiating the policy revision process to rectify the dispute, the board chair attempted to create a work around solution. This type of resolution without appropriate policy vetting, approval, and implementation leads to lack of clear requirements for the direction and oversight of fiscal management at all levels of the system.”
I reviewed the emails I received regarding the Curious Case of DJE. Here’s what I found:
- Our board chair did send emails requesting that the administration comply with this policy and was told that the existing financial software used by DCSD did not support generating this report. (Why we don’t have robust software is also another blog for another day.)
- If the district were to comply, the board was told that 5-7 additional staff members would need to be hired at a total cost of approximately $490,000 to review the more than 28,000 transactions that might fall under this policy.
- Nothing in the emails indicated the Chair made an “arbitrary decision” regarding complying with this policy. So, I called the Board Chair to discuss what this statement in the AdvancED/SACS report meant.
- The board chair asked the superintendent to make an effort to comply with the policy even if it meant, providing a report on a smaller subset of transactions (i.e., $75,000 – $100,000 or any other subset).
It appears that, after writing a policy it could not comply with and silently waiting out the 30-day comment period, the administration (superintendent) decided that this represented a “dysfunctional” board and submitted this incident to AdvancED/SACS as proof.
So, let me sum it up for you. Staff writes policy and the board approves it after giving everyone a 30-day window to comment or bring up any potential conflicts with the policy. Board Chair asks staff to comply. Staff says they can’t because previous staff didn’t purchase the right software. AdvancED cites the board for both following and not following policy.
I could close this blog right here but, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, here is “the rest of the story. Page 2.”
Are you familiar with the www.open.georgia.gov website?
“Open Georgia is a gateway for obtaining information and key documents about how the State of Georgia spends tax dollars and other revenues to provide services to Georgians. The information maintained on this site comes from various state agencies and is updated annually.”
DCSD is required to send data for this website to Georgia. For example, you can look up salary information on any DCSD employee – or any other state employee. There’s another handy feature. You can look up information on all payments issued by DCSD on the open.georgia.gov website. The website states,
“In accordance with the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 50-6-32, we have provided a list of the names of each person, firm or corporation that has received payments from each department, commission, authority and agency of State government; ”
Pull up the “Fiscal Year 2012 Detailed Payments” report. The report lists 7,547 payment entries. The payments span $2.58 paid to AT&T Long Distance Service to $318,455,289.84 in aggregated teaching salaries. So, apparently DCSD is keeping and producing information on payments that can be uploaded in a searchable database. In fact, DCSD sends this data to the state on an annual basis. This begs the following questions:
- Policy DJE specifies a monthly report to the board for purchases of under $100,000. According to what is sent to the state, DCSD is tracking most of the information needed to fulfill Policy DJE. So why was the Board told it would cost near $500,000 to develop the information?
- Why didn’t the superintendent simply offer to provide a list of transactions (including the amount and the vendor) pursuant to Policy DJE, with this caveat: details on the specific materials or services purchased and the name of the authorizing staff member (two pieces of information required by Policy DJE), could be available on request as needed?
- Why wasn’t the Superintendent cited in the AdvancED/SACS report as being obstructionist or, at least, obtuse?
- Shouldn’t the Superintendent — CEO of the third largest school district in Georgia — have some affirmative responsibility to address the policy given that the Superintendent’s staff wrote the policy and then neglected to note any compliance issues?
Certainly we can expect better from our well-paid educrats. But, perhaps, this issue was engineered to cast the Board Chair as difficult to work with and then served up to AdvancED/SACS for their report. The reality is the facts don’t match the administration’s, and thus AdvancED’s, position.
To quote Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
–Stay tuned for more myth busting, my take on School Council empowerment and the complete lack of human discernment in education today. My final blog on this subject will contain my action recommendations.