Withdrawal of Druid Hills Charter Cluster Petition

Earlier today, the DHCC announced their official withdraw of their cluster proposal from DeKalb County Schools with the below scathing notification to the district.

October 15, 2014
Re: Withdrawal of Druid Hills Charter Cluster Petition
Dear Members of the DeKalb County Board of Education:
On behalf of the proposed Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC), and with a sense of despair for DeKalb County, we the Board of Directors of DHCC hereby withdraw our petition to become a charter cluster. The DeKalb Board of Education has again failed and refused to put our petition on its agenda for a vote, despite the Georgia Legislature clearly and unambiguously requiring such action in the event of a re-file such as ours.
We believe that the DeKalb County Superintendent and his staff are so invested in the denial of our petition, the maintenance of fiscal and policy control, and preservation of certain central office budget requirements that our efforts are and will continue to be fruitless. As long as the Superintendent and his staff are allowed unfettered access to the Board of Education and permitted to provide inaccurate and misleading information, the Board will continue to vote on topics presented in a misinformed manner such that the employees rather than the duly elected officials control our schools.
Thousands of diverse hands nursed the idea of the charter cluster from a dream to the single best, most well-reasoned, and compelling petition for a charter cluster ever seen in Georgia. Community support was incredible with 92% of those who voted approving of the petition. Nevertheless, when presented with our petition, which the Georgia Department of Education stated “met all” requirements of law, was in the public interest, and should be approved, the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) actively opposed the petition, and the Board of Education voted against it based on the false and misleading information provided by the Superintendent and his staff.
The DCSD, an institution charged with protecting the best interest of the children, instead protected only its own status quo and budget through the basest of gamesmanship and bureaucratic nonsense. The DCSD responded to the petition with obvious disdain evidenced by its written commentary that was internally redundant, inconsistent, and expressly contradicted by the petition and applicable law. DCSD’s alleged “clarification meeting” meeting was a sham given that DCSD refused to answer any of our substantive questions.
Shockingly, the DCSD and the Superintendent actively mischaracterized material facts, the law, and statutorily mandated budget calculations to you, the partially-elected and partially-appointed DeKalb County Board of Education. These misrepresentations should be investigated and, if determined by relevant authorities to be appropriate, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
For example, staff acting as counsel for DCSD sought to conceal documents from the public and DHCC by fraudulently claiming they were protected by the attorney-client privilege. Similarly, staff members provided false documents to the Board indicating DSCD had implemented curriculum that it never has had, specifically Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM); and further falsely implied that the DCSD had other curriculum in place that it does not.
DCSD staff further actively misrepresented budget items to you, the elected and Governor-appointed Board of Education. In particular, advocating that that the Board not approve the petition unless the Board deduct funds from the seven schools in an amount violating state statutes (O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2068.1), representing a withholding significantly higher than the lawful per pupil amounts from the schools, children, and educators, so that DCSD could keep those funds in its control and presumably fund central office activities. Ironically, while some staff criticized the DHCC for requesting too much funding (even though funding is specifically directed and mandated by the Charter Schools Act), other staff criticized DHCC for not having enough funds and positions in administration, comparing DHCC to Decatur City Schools, suggesting that more money should be taken from classroom instruction and directed to administration.
DCSD falsely claimed to the Board that the DHCC petition was not in the public interest and implied that the thousands of volunteers and hours put into the petition fell short of the required effort for granting such a petition. Only when specifically asked by the Board did DCSD’s Charter Schools Director finally admit that the DHCC petition met all legal requirements, despite his office’s recommendation that the petition be denied.
DCSD refused to meet with DHCC during the pendency of the petition, except for the single one-hour ‘clarification’ meeting. In contrast, DHCC offered to meet repeatedly with the Board, of which most offers were denied or went without answer. DHCC was not permitted to respond to DCSD’s recommendation for denial of the Petition, and despite submitting open records requests, face to face requests to the DCSD’s Charter Schools Office, and written requests for information on the recommendation, DHCC was unaware of the DCSD recommendation for denial until it was presented at the November 11 board meeting. DHCC requested opportunity to be present and speak at the November 11 Board meeting, but such request was denied (after being invited, then disinvited, then permitted to attend but not speak until spoken to regarding specific limited questions).
On behalf of DHCC, we request that the DeKalb County Board of Education institute an independent investigation of the allegations raised herein. These misrepresentations should not be tolerated by the Board, but must be investigated and addressed through Board action, including disciplinary action, censure, and report to proper authorities addressing licensing, fraud and misrepresentation of public resources. No representative of DCSD should ever be allowed to misstate law or fact to the Board of Education, a constitutional actor under Georgia law. Absent complete truth from DCSD, the Board will forever be unable to vote on any matter with full knowledge and confidence.
At the same time DCSD actively denies our efforts to create and implement a true, locally controlled charter cluster, it moves for system-wide charter status. Such a system-wide charter status under the control of DCSD is, we fear, a pretense useful only for DCSD to obtain more waivers and divert more funds to the central office. Nothing from our now substantial experience with DCSD evidences a true desire to allow meaningful autonomy or local control at the cluster or school level.
We, the Board of Directors of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, hereby withdraw our petition. DHCC reserves all rights with respect to this withdrawal, including but not limited to the right to re-file and avail the community of the right to a conversion charter, and all claims, demands, and other rights provided by law.
Beyond our conviction that the DeKalb County School District is irreversibly opposed to the DHCC, we step away from our efforts in order to give life to other active processes underway in our communities that affect our constituency, such as annexation and city-hood. Our cluster neighborhoods are involved in many of these alternative efforts to stimulate reform in our county school system, and the DHCC effort has always been about empowering local constituencies to act. We owe our parents the opportunity to get fully involved in those of their choosing that have a far greater likelihood of success than the DHCC has within the DeKalb County School District.
Matthew S. Lewis /s/
Chair, Board of Directors, Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc
cc: Michael L. Thurmond, Superintendent, DeKalb County School District (via U.S. Mail only)
Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, State of Georgia (via U.S. Mail only)
Robert D. James, Jr., DeKalb County District Attorney (via U.S. Mail only)
Garry McGiboney, Deputy Superintendent, External Affairs & Policy, Georgia Department of Education (via U.S. Mail only)
Louis J. Erste, Associate Superintendent, Charter Schools, Georgia Department of Education (via U.S. Mail only)
Lisa Kinnemore, Georgia Board of Education (4th Congressional District) (via U.S. Mail only)
Kenneth Mason, Georgia Board of Education (5th Congressional District) (via U.S. Mail only)
Barbara Hampton, CPA, Georgia Board of Education (6th Congressional District) (via U.S. Mail only)

One response to “Withdrawal of Druid Hills Charter Cluster Petition

  1. October 16, 2014
    Dear members of the Board of Education,
    I posted the following link on my Facebook page and got these comments.
    Comment 1: This is so disgusting. It would be great to know what our options are as parents to help bring about change. We are so lucky to have great schools in our area, but I can imagine how much greater they would be if we could get all the corruption out of the way. Perhaps you or someone else has some insight into what options we everyday DeKalb parents have to help.
    Comment 2: You need to advocate for anything that begins to dismantle the school system as we know it. The central office group is too deeply entrenched, and we will never get them out. In the past 8 years we’ve had, what, 3 superintendents and almost a complete turnover of the board, and no good has come of it, certainly not a cleaning of the central office.
    ​By the way; Mr. Lewis and I both have asked Superintendent Thurmond to explain where the money is going which makes up the difference in the state-mandated charter school funding and the DCSD budget. It has been 10 months for me, (11 months for Mr. Lewis) and we have not gotten an answer. This adds to the deficit of trust which I wrote about in my most recent email to the BOE. If the administration is going to use financial concerns to justify recommending against the petition, those concerns should be defined, specified, and shared publicly.
    I hold the BOE responsible for Mr. Thurmond’s failure to explain himself or answer emails. In the last year very little has been done to address the deficit of trust or change the culture of the school district. It is time for the BOE to start requiring action in the form of communication.
    An open and transparent school district with nothing to hide would have put a document on its website explaining the differences between the DHCC proposed budget and the DCSD budget for those schools.
    An open and transparent school district would include the revenues of each school along with the expenses allocated to each school in the proposed budget.
    I agree with and support Mr. Lewis’ call for an independent investigation into the allegations raised in the DHCC letter withdrawing their petition. Please consider the effect on the superintendent search if there is no investigation. What caliber of candidate will DeKalb County Schools attract given the DHCC allegations? Also, given that Mr. Thurmond has not responded to two public requests for information related to the administration’s statements, doesn’t the board want the public to know how the DHCC would have a negative financial impact on the rest of the school district? An independent investigation would provide that information.
    Please begin an independent investigation into the review of the DHCC petition and make the findings of that investigation public. The BOE can take steps to provide some transparency even though the administration refuses to do so.
    Thank you very much.
    Kirk Lunde