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.
Thank you for this information. You are appreciated by parents from ALL districts!
“Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
— AN APPEAL TO ALL READERS OF THIS BLOG —
It is well known that former Senator Dan Weber and current Senator Fran Millar have done a lot of groundwork in the General Assembly getting legislation passed that will allow the formation of not just charter schools, but charter school districts. It is less well known that much of this effort was directed toward a future Dunwoody City Charter School System.
The new city of Brookhaven would never be able to join in with Dunwoody in their charter school system, and we would likely not be able to fund such a system on our own. However, we COULD combine with Chamblee and develop a Unified Charter School System with two high schools (Cross Keys and Chamblee High) and all the junior high and elementary schools located within our cities’ boundaries that feed those two high schools.
I encourage all of you readers to press Senator Millar and Representatives Taylor and Jacobs to do everything in their power to pass legislation — up to and including modifying the GA Constitution, if that is necessary — to allow residents of Chamblee and Brookhaven to get out of the DCSS cycle of neglect, deceipt, fraud, waste, incompetence, etc etc and to create our own school system.
As taxpayers, voters, parents, and even interested parties, we deserve to have local control of our schools — and we should individually and collectively demand such!
— The Maven
Keep them coming!
It appears as if there is as much going on behind the scenes as the parents in Dekalb County suspected there is.
Can you shed some light on what caused the rift between the board and Dr. Atkinson?
Unfortunately the charter school law related to clusters won’t help us very much. Because the school system still owns our buildings it is a complicated thing for communities to wrestle control.
The board chair hired Dr. Atkinson. Dr. Walker isn’t angry because he thinks she is doing a bad job Rather he is angry because she fired or demoted friends and family of powerful DeKalb County residents.
If this current board is allowed to pick a new superintendent it will get worse.
Thank you for offering a clear backgrounder on this situation, including the actions of our board chair. As a parent, it can be very difficult to figure out what has been happening. We hear whispers around the district about different situations, we notice things at our children’s schools that are frustrating at best, and we observe disjointed board meetings where the admin seems surprised that they are being asked to report on activities that are routinely on the agenda. Anyone listening knows that there is dysfunction. And anyone who reads the news knows that there is a history of corruption in the admin that needs to be faced head-on. I’m sure it must be very difficult to come into a district that carries such baggage. But the best way to overcome corruption is to be overly transparent until trust is rebuilt within the district. Anyone who accepts (or retains) a role in an organization suffering from previous corruption needs to check their feelings at the door and focus on the facts they can bring to the table. It is not a job for the weak of spirit. When I heard SACS put us on probation I was encouraged…until I read how much blame was being assigned to the board and specifically the board chair. I’m not a “Palace basher” per se, but based on what I’ve observed, I don’t see how “trusting” the admin will make our system stronger. It will just make all of us suckers…again.
Thank you Nancy for pulling back the curtain a bit and allowing the public to see the continued betrayal of our children’s education by the DeKalb School System and majority of BOE members. This post further solidifies my belief that this BOE must go. They cannot be allowed to hire another Superintendent.
Get rid of this inept superintendent and her gang she brought with her — especially Kendra March!
What does DJE mean? – DJE doesn’t stand for anything. ‘D’ is an arbitrary index code given to Fiscal Management Policies. ‘DJE’ is an arbitrary index code given to Purchase Policies under Fiscal Management.
I see the skirmishes and read much about the strategies and tactics, but it isn’t clear just what this war is all about–“educating children” is insufficient to explain what is and has been going on. So, a question to you (all of us actually) is “what do you see as the optimal, successful end state?”
Are public schools basically structurally sound, but for some reason have attracted enough bad apples to cause this dysfunction? In other words, do we simply need to get the right people on the board, as superintendent, in the administration, on staff and in the classroom? So is the end state pretty much as it is now, with some name changes in some positions?
Or, as secessionists suggest, are they simply too large? Are public schools well designed, but of such a design that it does not scale well yet has fallen prey to the belief that economies of scale require scaling up?
Could it be a combination of the previous two? IE: make it smaller and put “our” people in place?
Or is there something more foundational at fault? Are public schools, at least as now constituted, architecturally insufficient? Are they flawed in basic organization, governance structure, operational characteristics and funding? Are they so far from what they need to be in these that they cannot be transformed to the proper end state? Do we need a “forklift upgrade”?
At a later date (as I’m sure you’re otherwise occupied at the moment) I would like to hear your thoughts on what the ideal school organization, administration, operation and funding model would be for those children now being served by DCSD.
Thanks Ms Jester for giving more information about the SACS report. However, one question the chair should have ask the staff, why they need 4-5 people and it would cost $500,000. Because first the staff and IT should always be able to provide detail information. It appears to be that the board hired the wrong person for this job.
I’m really having a problem with DJE. These routine expenses were requested, budgeted for, and approved by the Board via the annual budgeting process. Why rehash after the fact? The Board absolutely needs to approve expenses that weren’t previously approved in the budget, but don’t waste time on busy work instead of focusing on the students.
Here’s another hot policy that the board and super continue to fiddle with ad nauseum… they just can’t make it quite sound right – and still provide carte blanche for administrators to choose whatever school they wish for their children and grandchildren…
It’s baaaack! Descriptor Code: JBCC – Student Assignment