On Tuesday (5/3/16) the Chair of the DeKalb Board of Education, Melvin Johnson, was interviewed for “Closer Look” on WABE, 90.1.
Click here to read the transcript or listen to the interview.
The interview was striking because of the blatantly false statements made by the Chair of the Board or Education and his refusal to understand the basics of school finance, how a TAD works, and the financial realities of the project.
Early in the interview, Dr. Johnson said, “all funds generated by tax dollars should go to student learning.” He went on to say, “We are judged by how we manage our funds. We are judged by the product and student outcomes.” That sounds wonderful, right?
Sadly, DeKalb Schools does not even comply with state law requiring 65% of total operating expenditures be spent on “direct classroom expenditures”. And, our weak state Department of Education hands out waivers like candy. The state legislature should really do something about that. But, I digress.
For Chairman Johnson to say “all funds…should go to student learning” is duplicitous given the fact that such a low percentage of taxpayer dollars actually make it into the classroom. Furthermore, Dr. Johnson hasn’t exactly been a faithful advocate for improving the percentage of your taxes actually going into the classroom. Nope, he and the majority, kept right on spending your money on bloating the bureaucracy. The district also has some interesting procurement habits but I’ll save that for another blog. And while they were spending all your money for the benefit of adults and not “for the children”, they accumulated a mountain of cash. As of the end of February 2016, DeKalb Schools has over $225 million in operating reserve cash. For the same period the capital fund reserve is over $260 million. With money like that, why aren’t your classrooms at half the size? Why aren’t teachers getting bigger raises? Why are your kids in trailers anywhere? Why do you have to buy toilet paper to send to your kid’s school?
If they aren’t going to spend it on the classroom, they could always give us a tax cut. DeKalb is one of only a handful of districts that can even tax over 20 mils. Right now, we’re paying 23.73 mils. Do you think that extra 3.73 mils is helping? If it was, wouldn’t we see fewer schools on the OSD list rather than the net +3 that were added as targets for state takeover? DeKalb has more schools on that list than any other district.
Dr. Johnson confidently told the interviewers, DeKalb has made improvements in graduation statistics. Yep. That’s right. It’s also right for every single district in the state. Why? Because last year, the state removed the graduation test requirement. Naturally, the graduation metrics increased throughout Georgia. This has nothing to do with improvements in education.
When asked by Rose Scott, “Do you feel like the board has really vetted the opportunities, talked to all the major players involved here?” Dr. Johnson replied, “…..We have met with Mr. Perry, the developer. We met with the Mayor and her staff of Doraville and many others discussing options and opportunities in this regard.” That is interesting because the developer nor the city has met with the Board of Education about this matter. In fact, the developer and city officials have been discouraged from even meeting with school board members individually. How can your elected officials be expected to make decisions without being fully informed of the facts?
Stunningly, Chairman Johnson stated the school board would be at a loss for a million dollars a month with the TAD. But, we know that the current taxes paid to the school district from the property is $936,000 annually. With a TAD, the school district would keep collecting every dime of taxes they currently receive.
Next, in addition to Dr. Johnson’s financial fabrications, he went straight to fear mongering. In a blatant attempt to manipulate public sentiment, and threaten teachers, he suggested there is some relationship between taxes “lost” at this site and the need to lay off teachers. That is absurd and shameful.
What is most troubling is that the school board and administration do not seem to understand that this isn’t a choice about (1) TAD versus (2) No TAD. The choice is between TAD or Tax Abatements (via a development authority deal). Keep in mind, the abatements are given by The Development Authority and not one elected official gets a vote. The choice is between a development that has the capital ability to fund the major public infrastructure improvements to develop a commercially rich tax base that helps fund all of DeKalb (TAD) – or – a development funded through tax abatements dropping in more apartments and less high value commercial real estate. The apartments will bring more students to the already overcrowded schools. And with the abatement strategy, they really won’t get one dime in taxes to help provide services for those students. The schools will get nothing except more potential expenses.
Is it too much to ask that our school district spend our tax dollars in the classroom and have a modicum of financial fluency?…
Thank you, Nancy, for setting the record straight.
Much needed light to be she’d here.Want to share on fbook. Would that be ok?
Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.
All very true words Nancy! But what isn’t mentioned is that this development is in NORTH DeKalb. Thus the pushback from majority school board leaders. The board chair would never entertain anything that has to do with north DeKalb.
Two things about this guy, Melvin Johnson:
First, he was found to be one of the over-compensated school district employees back in 2004 when the ONLY compensation study was done for DeKalb by Ernst & Young, and promptly deep-sixed by Dr. Lewis. Yes, Melvin was a highly-compensated administrator for the school district back then and was shown to be paid $10,000 more annually than he should have (which is certainly now reflected in his pension).
For a little history on that read these posts (not much has changed in reality) >>
Below is the article with the list of overpaid DCSS employees, including Johnson:
And my favorite – Ramona Tyson’s “plan” (that was never implemented or spoken of again) to conduct a brand new full salary (we hoped forensic) audit. One which has NEVER been conducted at DCSS. Seems we have plenty of money to get one done – but mark my words – it will never happen. NEVER.
Of course, nothing really happened and very few cuts were actually made >>
Second, Mr. Johnson was the representative for New Birth Church who negotiated a lease for a new charter school placed in the church (alongside a private Christian school in the church which has since dissolved and likely absorbed into the taxpayer-funded “Leadership Prep Academy”. Yes, Dr. Johnson negotiated a very tidy sum of $10,000 a month for the church in rent – and has since only gone up. So you see, Johnson DOES believe in tax dollars going to the classroom! (As long as that classroom can function more or less privately within the walls of his church while paying that church large sums of money!
Below is the link to the contract to lease space from New Birth Church for Leadership Prep Academy. The principal at LPA was originally Frankie Callaway, a retired DCSS administrator. Her husband, Clarence, at the time was the head of Destiny Academy, another charter that rents space from a former school building now owned by New Birth. I am not sure if Destiny was able to maintain their charter, as they never could quite produce the necessary paperwork. The LPA contract is for $10,000 a month for the space at New Birth. It is signed by Melvin Johnson as a leader and representative of New Birth. Melvin is currently the chair of the DeKalb Board of Education. As far as I know, we are still paying quite a bit to New Birth Church for these public charter schools.
These are a couple of things we KNOW to be true. But as the lawyers say – it goes to motive and character. Denying this TAD could quite possibly drag us into yet another protracted lawsuit if the developer wants to claim a conflict of interest and stonewalling on the part of the chair. It’s time for Melvin to pack up his strong arm and go home.
PS – FWIW, the Housing Authority is (was) also connected to former school board member Eugene Walker.
Perhaps this is just a power play to move money away from a TAD to someone who makes money from the Housing Authority deals? http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/09/like-father-like-son.html
I am sure those who are suppose to protect the chicken coop but rather raid the egg supply day after day are very uneasy with someone finally counting the egg supply. Keep up the good work Nancy! This is the reason I voted for you: to catch and keep the foxes from robbing the chicken coop.