Online Survey Vote Was Fiction

The administration has repeatedly referenced the online survey as proof that the people prefer Option B. DeKalb Schools administration has now changed their tune saying the online survey was never intended to count votes.
REALLY ?? Because when I asked at the last board meeting why we didn’t go with a Doraville cluster, Dan Drake replied that when the votes came in the, input was for building additions.
Online Survey
The public participated in an online survey from Aug 23 – Sept 16 to “state preferences, rank options, and leave written comments” (secondary school study recommendations pg 11). The survey asked if the participant preferred A) a new Doraville Cluster, B) Building additions at existing schools, or C) Moving the magnet … and why.
Up until Sept 14, 70% of the participants selected Option A, a new Doraville Cluster. On Sept 15, school councils started sending out school newsletters asking the community go to “an online survey and select Option B”.
Was the support of the school councils representative of an organic desire for Option B? Or was something else at play?
Turns out some school council members had been courted by planning staff at the school district and mesmerized by the razzle dazzle talk of upgrades to aging sports, art, band, etc. facilities. As any good salesman knows, you sell the sizzle. After buying the sizzle, some schools councils turned around and told their communities to support Option B. There was no community or school wide discussion about what was in Option B or its implications. Those communities proceeded to the online survey and repeatedly voted for Option B and in two days, the support for Option B went from 21% to 51% (allegedly).
This begs the question from many people including me:
Question: There are valid concerns that many people voted multiple times in the Secondary Facilities Study Survey sited as being one of the reasons the school district administration went with Option B. Were multiple entries from the same people parsed out of the final total? How was that done?
Response from Mr. Joshua Williams (DeKalb Schools COO): The online survey, in addition to the written feedback from the public meetings and the 20 positions statements from the school councils, PTAs, and foundations, was intended to help the District and Board capture the themes of public sentiment regarding the three options presented during the Secondary School Study. The online survey simply captured the qualitative responses from the public and was not intended nor used as a voting mechanism.
This response is telling us the survey was useless. The district did not take steps to design the survey to prevent multiple votes, nor did they parse the data to determine the real volume of support for each option. If somebody votes 1000 times, its in the totals as 1000 separate votes. There is, furthermore, no way for the district to tell if 20 people said 20 different things or 1 person made 20 different points.
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS the vote total was used to justify the decision. Also known as, if it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck and that duck voted.
.pdf link icon Key Takeaways from Public Input on Three Options:
Page 18 says, “The survey results show an overall preference for B (51 percent) over Option A (45 percent) and Option C (4.5 percent)” with this image on page 16

That looks like counting “votes” to me. We know that anyone could vote as many times as they wanted to.
11/07 – Project List and Community Input Presentation
Board Q&A
Question from Stan Jester: The consultants said at the public meetings there was overwhelming support for a new Sequoyah area high school. If everybody wanted the Doraville cluster, why didn’t we do that?
Dan Drake: We had an online survey and early on there was a strong push for the Doraville cluster. As the process went on and the votes came in, the input swung to a desire to increase the size of our existing schools and not create a new cluster.
One Person – One Vote
At the community input sessions, as the consultants put it, “Overwhelming support for Option A among those who indicated a preference”. Interestingly, when everybody only got one vote, the community supported Option A by 70%

I don’t think we can have it both ways. It seems like the school district asked for everyone’s input and told us that the input shows overwhelming support for something. They actually used the words “votes” and “overall preference.” Nevermind that planning officials were working in the back room to influence the outcome. When deficiencies in the survey were questioned, especially that the survey could be so easily manipulated, we were told that the survey was “qualitative” and “not intended as a voting mechanism”.
Any use of the survey results as evidence of a preference for anything doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. If the school district truly intends to get public input, they should create a survey not susceptible to manipulation. They should also involve the broader community of residents, taxpayers, county, and city officials.

113 responses to “Online Survey Vote Was Fiction

  1. The popular wisdom for many years has been that smaller class sizes yield the best academic outcomes for students. That’s why the State DOE adopted class size limits years ago, and why Governor Barnes took action to lower those limits. For years now, DCSD has sought and received waivers of maximum class size limits due to financial strain and the recession. Now that we have a large operating surplus and SPLOST funds at our disposal, shouldn’t it be a top priority for DCSD to get back to the smaller class sizes? If so, we need to abandon this effort to cram so many students into schools that are already overcrowded, and use the operating surplus and SPLOST funds to build a Doraville HS, achieve smaller class sizes and give these kids space to learn and grow.

  2. Sitting on $600 million surplus makes the argument that a fourth cluster would be too much of a financial burden from an operational standpoint ridiculous!

  3. Thanks Stan. So, it seems we have an entire SPLOST collection sitting in the bank – unspent. Why? And why are we squabbling over crumbs, when there’s a whole loaf of bread in the oven?

  4. Of course, you all should also realize that while a lot of this surplus is SPLOST tax dollars, a lot of this surplus is also due to over collection of property taxes after the school board raised the millage rate during the ‘Great Recession’ – resulting in a windfall – collected when home values ‘recovered’ and were re-assessed by the tax assessor. The school board could have – and should have – reduced the millage rate in order to balance the collections and not over-collect. But Michael Thurmond tricked taxpayers by claiming he wasn’t ‘raising the tax rate’ – which while technically true, was in reality a sly ripoff. Now you see all of your property taxes sitting in the DCSD bank – collecting interest for the school district, while they continue to cry poor.

  5. Tim DeBardelaben

    Paula,would you rather BOE members not speak out? Stan Jester and I do not always agree. As a a matter of fact I called him out at public meeting when he said he was not an employee of DCSD after he took his oath of office where he affirmed that he was an employee. I say that so you know that I am not one of his cronies. The one thing I will always give him credit for is the fact that he puts more information about Board activities out than anywhere else. You may not agree with him but as far as I know he does not engage in behind the door politics that Marshall Orson and Jim McMahan do. To say it is unethical for him to speak out is as ludicrous as somebody’s earlier statement say Dan Drake is a good forecaster. Stan has spoken out from the beginning saying to continually add on to existing High School is not a realistic long term solution. If we continue to listen to Dan Drake I am afraid we will continue to get short term solutions. Tucker H.S. Is already overcrowded and it is one of our newest schools. Lakeside H.s. was overcrowded when they completed the last addition. DCSD is slipping back into it’s old ways. Example….when they named John Lewis E.S. they did not follow their own rules. Now they are doing under the table deals. When did Brookhaven H.S. get listed as an option. More importantly why if Cross Keys Cluster is the most pressing problem why is nobody talking about it? Not even Kim is pushing for what is best. Since Druid Hills H.S. Is overcrowded why no mention of that school? What will DCSD do if they lose DHHS? Everybody has their own personal agenda with no concern about the people who are really hurting. DCSD wants to spend money like they use to on things that do not help improve the quality of education of the students. Will somebody please explain how spending $14,000,000.00 on artificial turf helps with education. Please tell me how spending over $12,000,000.00 on Parking decks is mart use of money? Everybody wants the money spent on their schools with the same short sighted thoughts as Dan Drake. So you can complain about Stan letting people know where he stands all you want. DCSD Ad ministration is going to do what they want anyways

  6. The spending on stadiums and artificial turf was one of the promises people voted Yes to on SPLOST IV. It passed so now it must be done legally. Not sure why it’s taken so bloody long though.

  7. Where can we find an updated Financial Report on the Projects Completed

  8. DeKalb Schools – E-SPLOST Monthly Status Reports can be found at E-SPLOST IV Status Reports & Audits

  9. I heard back today from my open records request for the survey results, including IP addresses. No IP addresses were recorded, so no parsed out survey responses. They did send me the same spreadsheet results that are available to everyone. Here is the emailed response I received along with the spreadsheet:
    “See the attached response to your open records request. Please note, the IP address is not captured in our records. If we can provide further assistance, please contact our office.”
    I realize this doesn’t matter much now, but I said I would post the response.

  10. Tim DeBardelaben

    Think it is time to talk about recall.

  11. It does confirm that any statement made by DCSD staff that duplicate addresses were removed is false. Does that warrant reporting to the BOE, Dr. Green, and/or others? What’s the likelihood anything would happen to that employee?

  12. AB, probably a very low likelihood. I’m going back to them and ask for those same responses be provided with time and date stamps. That might give a glimpse into the gaming that went on at the end. I’ll report back here again if they are able to produce that info, although I’m not hopeful.

  13. Disregard the previous response as I see the time/date data is already in the file I received. Off to inspect closer.