06/13/2013 – Pam Speaks’ Testimony

Dr. Speaks says, “I asked in February. I asked Dr. Elgart, the CEO of AdvancED, SACS. What did I do specifically? You can never improve on something if you don’t know what it is you did. No one to this date has ever given me an answer. I can’t find the answer when I look and read this report because, you’ll have to take my word for it, I did not do any of these things that we were accused of. I was part of the board during that board and I take full responsibility and I take my position seriously as a board member. So, I’m not trying to put off any guilt on someone else and say I’m squeaky clean. But, I’m saying you have to tell me what it is, if your accusing and making accusations, that I’m guilty of. And, no one today has done this.”

[Dr. Speaks is sworn in]
Judge Wood
I would like for you to tell me, now that you’re under oath, any factual information and opinions that you wish to give me on this matter. And then Mr. Willard, our other council, will be free to ask you questions on cross examination. I’d like to hear your side of this.
Dr. Speaks [8:28]
It’s basically I feel that … and again I heard what you said in terms of the fact that I have to prove that I was a board member that will, if I was re-seated again, would not be able to help the district maintain its accreditation.
Judge Wood
That’s the way the statute reads. When did you come on the board? 2009?
Dr. Speaks
2009
Judge Wood
Was that a special election? That’s kind of an odd year.
Dr. Speaks.
No. That’s the normal election. It was a 4 year term. Now it’s 2. So, in 2012 I ran again and was re-elected. But this time, it was for a 2 year term.
Judge Wood
Are you in a district? Or is it county wide?
Speaks
I am one of 2 county wide districts. District 8 and 9 are county wide splitting the district in half. In 2014 there will be only 7 seats with the elimination of the county wide seats.
Wood.
Let me ask you some questions to get you started. What is your background? You mentioned you were an educator for 30 years.
Speaks
Over 30 years. I worked 25 of those years in DeKalb County. And, I came to Georgia from Massachusetts. The beginning of my career was in Boston Massachusetts. I was, when I came to DeKalb, I had various roles. I was a teacher, elementary special education teacher. I was a instructional coordinator, family support specialist, teacher support. I trained for the state on assessment instruments for teacher certification. I retired from the school district in 2004 and at that time I was the director for Title I, which is a federal program.
Wood
How many of your years were in the class room?
Speaks
8 years
Wood
5 in Boston and 3 in DeKalb?
Speaks
It would be 5 – 6 – 7 … I only spent one year in DeKalb and received a promotion. I worked for the Teacher Performance Assessment Instruments. That was teacher certification, still part of DeKalb County.
Wood
So, you were in the class room, forgive my colloquialism, as a good old fashion teacher in DeKalb. Then you went into the instructional coordination work. What’s your educational background?
Speaks
I graduated with a bachelors in science degree in physical education/special education from Boston University. I received a masters in special education from Northeaster University. I received a specialist degree from Jacksonville State University in Alabama. My doctorate in administration at the University of Sarasota.
Wood
I have not seen these reports. I will read them, obviously, before giving advice to the Governor. What in that report, if anything, can you break down for me what things in that report do you dispute? Are there factual things that you dispute? Or, is it more of an opinion assessment that they make that you dispute?
Speaks
It’s the role of the administration and the board of education. The board of education, on the one hand, was accused of a lack of oversight. That’s on the one side. On the other side, they are accused of asking questions. Well, how do you oversee if you don’t have the proper information because you are required to make decisions that cause you to vote in certain ways. And, if you don’t have all the information, how do you do that?
[13:38]
Also, the report makes accusations, but it’s never specific. At times it will say board chair. Well you do know who the board chair was at the time.
Wood
Were you the board chair?
Speaks
No. It does make accusations and will say board chair. Well you know who the board chair was, so you know who that is. Then other accusations come out and you don’t know who it is. So, when I read the report, I read it paragraph by paragraph and would check it off. They aren’t talking about me. They’re not talking about me. But, yet when it was used an instrument to spend, I went out the window with everybody else. And, I asked in the hearing before the state board of education in January. I asked in February. I asked Dr. Elgart, the CEO of AdvancED, SACS. What did I do specifically? You can never improve on something if you don’t know what it is you did. No one to this date has ever given me an answer. I can’t find the answer when I look and read this report because, you’ll have to take my word for it, I did not do any of these things that we were accused of. I was part of the board during that board and I take full responsibility and I take my position seriously as a board member. So, I’m not trying to put off any guilt on someone else and say I’m squeaky clean. But, I’m saying you have to tell me what it is, if your accusing and making accusations, that I’m guilty of. And, no one today has done this.
You’ll have to excuse me with heresay, Dr. Elgart has said to two board members, with one who is sitting in the audience now, that I was not guilty of anything. He knew that it wasn’t all board members. But, again, it was a broad brush that was used to sweep out … and I went out.
Wood [16:08]
So, what I’m hearing from you, correct me if I’m wrong, is a lack of specificity per … at least you. Lack of specificity. Dr Speaks ran the red light, or anybody else.
Speaks
Or anybody else. Again, if when you’re reading it specifically says board chair, but other than that.
Wood
Who has been appointed in your place?
Speaks
I believe her name is Ms. Karen Carter
Wood
Do you have anything you want to tell me about … any opinion you want to express about the functioning of the board at this time with the new appointed board? Pluses and minuses you want to comment on?
Speaks
I don’t really have an opinion about that … the pluses or minuses. I couldn’t say that they’re not doing a decent job of maintaining. Some things that I hear that they are rendering decisions on or things that were before we were suspended, the 6 people were suspended along with the 3 that are still there. If you would allow me I would like to say something about that too.
These are things that were already set in place to happen, because the board was working to rectify the required actions outlined in the AdvancED report. It sells newspapers when you hear the new board and that’s the comfort and I think that’s great. The concerns of parents about accreditation for their children in the school system, but it’s not as if they magically pulled out any of these ideas and now we’re implementing them. And the past board was just so far out of line and so far … there are things of course that we needed to work on. If I were to be re-seated, I would work with the present board. I have absolutely no problem with that.
I was going to say. In the Senate Bill 84, the statute in Section 20-2-73, in this particular section talks about the local school system, if it gets placed on probation and what the Governor can come in and do. This code section shall only apply to local board of education members elected or appointed on or after July 1st, 2009. It doesn’t say anything about any board members that were newly elected at that time. It seems as if there was interpretation of the statute to keep certain people on and others could be removed.
Wood
Was that interpretation by SACS or the Governor’s office?
Speaks
Governor’s office. And if I’m correct, I remember, and I always question the newspapers since I know there’s always something more to a story, especially since 2009 when I became a board member. I did hear and see Dr. Elgart say that when the Governor suspended, he’s moving a little too fast. Because we, in his opinion,
Willard
I would like to give Dr Speaks some leeway, but this is hearsay and would be more appropriate if we directed this to Dr. Elgart who is here. If we could limit the questions for cross examination of him, that might be more appropriate.
Speaks
That’s fine.
Wood
If you could stay away from hearsay, that would be helpful. You will get a chance to talk to Dr. Elgart.
Speaks [21:00]
I think that’s it.
CROSS EXAMINATION OF DR. SPEAKS
Bradbury
Just a couple of questions. I’m Kevin Bradbury with the Attorney General’s office, also seating Mr. Willard. Dr. Speaks, you testified that you were part of the board, you take that seriously, you take responsibility for the boards actions. Is that correct.
Speaks
As a member of the board, there 9 of us and each of us has 1 vote. So, even if I voted against something that the 5 members voted for, after the vote is taken it’s my responsibility as a board member to support the board.
Bradbury
So, yes, you take responsibility for your actions on the board.
Speaks.
Yes.
Bradbury
Are you familiar with the expression, there is no ‘I’ in team?
Speaks
No.
Bradbury
You’re not familiar with the expression there is no ‘I’ in team?
Speaks
Oh, ‘I’ in team. I thought you said ‘I-N-T’. Yes.
Bradbury
Do you agree with me that the actions of the board can impact the public’s perception of the board’s image?
Speaks
Surely
Bradbury
Do you agree with me that the decisions of the board can affect the students of the district and the stakeholders?
Speaks
You said … please say that again.
Bradbury
Would you agree with me that the decisions the board makes can impact the students in your district?
Speaks
Yes
Bradbury
Would you agree that they impact the students in the entire county?
Speaks
Yes
Bradbury
You said that no one, to this date, had given you an answer on what you had done wrong.
Speaks
Specifically what I did, correct.
Bradbury
Let’s talk about some of the AdvancED reports. Since you’ve been on the board, AdvancED has done 3 different reviews. January of 2011, March 2012 and Octover 2012. Agree with that?
Speaks – Yes
Bradbury
Part of the AdvancED reports is alerting the board to the specific issues there needs to be improvement on. Isn’t that right.
Speaks – Yes
Bradbury
In March 2012, AdvancED said that the board needed to establish and enforce a policy that board members honor the chain of command when communicating with stake holders. Does that sound familiar to you?
Speaks – Yes
Bradbury
Would you agree that kind of puts you on notice that the board needs to improve something.
Speaks – Yes
Bradbury
Would you agree that puts you on notice that the board needs to improve something.
Speaks – yes
Bradbury
What actions did you take to implement that recommendation?
Speaks
First of all, I served as chair of the policy committee for several years. That policy committee was established to look/review … there were over 200 policies in DeKalb. And, to review all of the policies, to make sure there weren’t any outdated policies, policies that needed some sort of tweaking, policies that needed to be created. It was an ongoing process. My assumption is that it’s still going on now as we speak.
There, embedded in other policies, I don’t know if there was one specifically that talked about … named, I should say … what you’re referring to now. But, there is a chain of command. There was a chain of command and I never broke the chain of command.
Bradbury
There’s a chain of command. You’re aware that AdvancED said that DeKalb was failing to meet that indicator and they were violating the chain of command.
Speaks
If those words were said in the report, then they obviously had a reason for saying them. We had interviews and I’m saying no one ever said to me I was violating … I can only be responsible for my actions. I can only work with, whether it’s a new board or new board, I can only work with them on any actions that AdvancED gives us or public perception, whatever. But, I can only be responsible for myself.
So, yes. I think all of those things are important. I think they are an indication coming from AdvancED. The district chose AdvancED to accredit our schools, accredit our district. Yes, we needed to listen to them. I listened. I believe as a board we were working in that direction in order to meet the required actions AdvancED gave us until December 2013 to address the required actions in that report. We never got the opportunity to continue working on those.
Bradbury – So, you took responsibility for what you did and nothing else?
Speaks – I didn’t say that. I said a person can only be responsible for themselves. I can’t be responsible …
Bradbury – But, you agreed with me …
[26:50]
Speaks – I can only work with other people.
Bradbury – During your answer, what I understood you to say was that there was a policy committee that undertook to review whether this chain of command issue had been resolved. Is that correct? Is that what you did to implement the policy?
Speaks – There is a policy committee … and by the way …
Bradbury – Ma’am, before we get into the actual answer. Was the implementation of the AdvancED recommendation, March 2012, was that limited to that committee reviewing policies?
Speaks – No. That wasn’t … I wasn’t the chair at the time. No … of that policy committee.
Bradbury
OK. What I was asking you is, when AdvancED alerted you in March 2012 that there is a chain of command issue. That you yourself had observed at board meetings and had been brought to your attention, what did you do to implement AdvancED’s diretion?
Speaks – First of all, I never said that I observed a chain of command violation at board meetings.
Bradbury – You were unaware of the January 2011 SACS report that said that some board members were communicating inappropriately with district staff?
Speaks – Yes. And, I disagree with that.
Bradbury – So, you were aware of that. You just disagree with that.
Speaks – I disagree with that. Can I tell you why?
Bradbury – I just want to know if you were aware of that for right now. What we’re talking about is in March 2012, when AdvancED comes to you and says there is a chain of command problem, you had in fact heard about that a year prior. Isn’t that right?
Speaks – Yes.
Judge Woods
I would to hear why she disagreed with that while it’s on my mind.
Speaks
In terms of it. I believe it was in that report the reference was to questions being asked of staff members at board meetings. And, I believe my interpretation would be that it was felt from AdvancED that the questions were too detailed in terms of what was being asked of the staff. Well, the Superintendent was the one that had staff report during board meetings. That’s who you’re responding to. You’re responding to the staff member making the reports, and the Superintendent is seated at the dais with us. And, of course, if the Superintendent ever felt there was clarification that was needed on a response by a staff member, the superintendent would interject. But, that’s who you respond to. As a board member, you’re responding to the staff.
Now, I disagree because I don’t know … I agree there is a way you should question people. You should do it in a respectful manner. You should not badger anybody. But, how do you know the information if you have a question unless you ask for the information. But, to not ask … I just don’t understand how you can vote. So, if I were to go back on the board again, I still don’t know how you can do that. There’s a way of questioning, but again, in order to understand the information and be an informed board member, you have to ask questions. So, I disagree with that. I disagree that you can’t ask a question.
And, I never witnessed a board member asking questions to the administration during a board meeting that I consider to be questioning that was rude, or inappropriate. I honestly don’t. I never did that. I remember board members before they asked a question saying to a staff member, I’m not trying to put you on the spot, I’m just trying to get some information so I can make an informed decision.
[31:31]
Bradbury
Related to that. Do you remember AdvancED’s concern that at board meetings, based on videos they reviewed, that board members were intimidating staff witnesses. They were reviewing them with suspicion and hostility. Do you recall those words and concern?
Speaks
No. But, I believe in the report itself something to that effect, but I certainly don’t remember those words.
Bradbury – You recall that general thing being in the report?
Speaks – Yes.
Bradbury – And, you disagree with the finding of the accreditation agency?
Speaks – Yes
Bradbury
So, going back to what we were talking about, honoring the chain of command. That recommendation from AdvancED. After you additional notice from March 2012, what did you do to correct that issue?
Speaks
To be quite honest with you, I don’t know if we have a policy dealing with specifically … I believe we do, but I’m under oath, so I won’t say we have a policy specifically worded chain of command. But, we certainly during mediation came up with, talking with Dr. Elgart, he expressed to us what he thought we should be doing in terms of chain of command, making that sure we go through the Superintendent prior to talking to staff members … those kind of things.
Bradbury
That’s what Dr. Elgart said. What did you do?
Speaks
I always did that to start with, so I didn’t have to do anything but just make sure that I kept up with what I was doing.
Bradbury [33:30]
OK. So, in your time as a board member having been alerted at this point twice to the issue of chain of command, were you concerned about that recommendation or by that indication of AdvancED?
Speaks
Surely. I was always concerned with what AdvancED said. The were holding our accreditation. Yes, surely. And, I have respect for the organization but that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with them.
Bradbury
OK, so you disagree with them, but this brings up serious concern. You, as a board member, don’t want to think that maybe the other board members are communicating improperly. Isn’t that right?
Speaks,
That’s correct, and I don’t disagree with the chain of command, so let’s clarify that. I don’t disagree with that at all. I’m saying that if I disagree that I witnessed any chain of command violations at board meetings. And I’ll even go a step further. When the special review team came in and I was actually interviewed, this is actually me … Well, I don’t know if this is considered hearsay. This is when I was interviewed, so I’m speaking from what I know. I asked … There were two people from AdvancED that came to question me and I asked him specifically, if anything that you are going to ask me, are you asking me about ??? committee? By that I mean what you hear, what I’ve heard … Just out … what I hear … in the public. Those kinds of things, are you asking me specifics that I am personally aware of because there’s a difference. And I explained to them that certain questions that they asked me, I said I’m not aware of those things personally. Now, I hear things. We all hear things. It’s like in court, you don’t want hearsay, you want what you’re specifically … What you specifically know about. I never witnessed that. I honestly didn’t.
Bradbury [35:35]
What review committee dig you implement two ensure this direction was taken care of?
Speaks
What review committee did I implement? None.
Bradbury
What I take your response to be is, if you did not personally observe it, you didn’t do anything about it. Is that what you’re saying right now?
Speaks
No. That’s not what I’m saying.
Bradbury,
Then help me and the judge understand this. When AdvancED told you that your program has a systemic issue with the chain of command in 2012, what did you do to fix it?
Speaks
I attended mediation sessions. I talked to individual board members. I served on ??? standing committees. I served on those committees to give input. I attended all board meetings and never missed one in four years. I conducted myself in a manner that I thought would meet the requirements of SACS and would also set an example. I also attempted to run for the chairmanship, because I also thought that that was a leadership role, but that didn’t work out.
Bradbury
The things that you did to correct that issue, you would agree with me that the board was not successful in correcting that issue?
Speaks
I would agree that the board was not successful enough to not warrant, obviously, probation.
Bradbury
So, is that a yes or no? The board was successful in correcting the chain of command issue? Yes or no?
Speaks
I have to answer yes or no? I would then have to answer it ‘no’, because we were placed on probation. But, we had until December 31 to right that.
Bradbury
When does your job start?
Speaks
When does my job start? I don’t understand.
Bradbury
When did you begin your duties as a board member.
Speaks
2009.
Bradbury
Between 2009 and 2011, AdvancED comes in and says in January 2011 you have a problem with the chain of command. Do you agree with me?
Speaks
Yes.
Bradbury
Another year goes by. AdvancED comes back in March of 2012 and says you have a chain of command issue. Do you agree with me on that?
Speaks
If that’s what they said, yes.
Bradbury
Another half a year goes by, AdvancED comes by in October 2012, says you haven’t fixed the chain of command issue. Do you agree with me on that?
Speaks – again, if that’s what it says in those documents specifically, then I would have to agree with you.
Bradbury
And you agree with me if probation is the measure of success, then you and the board failed in that regard?
Speaks
I guess you could measure it that way, yes. But, again, I’m saying, I’ve all along been willing to work to right any wrongs in the SACS report. As I believe other board members were doing. Obviously, we didn’t do it to the satisfaction of AdvancED.
Bradbury
So, you said you were committed to righting the wrongs. Let’s talk about the audit report that KPMG did in December of 2012. Do you recall going before the grand jury to talk about that audit?
Speaks – Yes
Bradbury
Do you recall seeing in the grand jury report a statement that the board had difficulty articulating the focal point for the cost of audit? Do you remember that?
Speaks – Yes
Bradbury – Wouldn’t that have been an opportunity for you to explain exactly how your particular input and skills are going to help the county?
Speaks – I wasn’t being specifically questioned. We went as a board to the grand jury. It wasn’t individual board members and we had made a decision that we would allow the board chair to do most of the talking during the grand jury … For unification purposes, which again, that was something we were also working on. Because, that had been brought out in various reports that the board appeared to not be unified. So, this was another opportunity and for us to appear not disjointed, but unified. So, the board chair did the bulk of the talking.
[40:31]
Bradbury
So, in that situation you chose to appear that … Or you chose to show the grand jury that you didn’t know what the point of the audit or the cost of it was for the sake of appearing unified?
Speaks
No. Your twisting what I’m saying. The grand jury, they are a group of citizens that want answers. And, I respect that, because if I was sitting on a grand jury, I would want it too. There were … Not that specific question that you were asking … But there are things that the grand jury would ask us that would take place in executive session that we couldn’t talk about because we’re not allowed to do that. No, I never set out, and I would venture to say that no other board member, but I’m not speaking for them, ever set out make us look like we didn’t know something or couldn’t explain something or didn’t care about something in front of a grand jury. So, if that’s what you’re asking me, no. I’m just stating that to jump in and maybe … Jump in with some information … Not even what you’re asking, but that we did not want to appear that we were not unified. But, of course we also wanted to answer truthfully and went in there to do exactly that.
Bradbury
So, truthfully the board did not know how much this audit was going to cost and what it was actually going to do?
Speaks – I think we know what it was going to do. I think the findings of the grand jury was that it was not extensive enough. But, it was to look at the financial operations of the school district. But it didn’t delve far enough in the eyes of the grand jury. And, I remember … tell me if I can say this … I actually heard the superintendent, the superintendent then, say that you get what you pay for. She only had a certain amount of money to pay for the audit in the budget. So, she could only outline certain things that the KPMG report would look for or look at or investigate.
[42:57]
Bradbury – So, as a concerned citizen on the grand jury you only get what you pay for. How much did you pay for that KPMG …
Speaks – She didn’t say then. Again, I’m saying that’s what she said. In other words, it wasn’t a full … And this is my opinion now … It wasn’t a full or as full an audit as it could possibly be. But, in order to get that it would have to … The district would have to pay more money for that. So, I believe … And that part’s heresay … Because it focused in a certain area and ask certain questions but I believe in the opinion of the grand jury it did not go far enough.
Bradbury – Based on the statement that I read to you, would you agree with me that the board, which you were a member, failed to communicate to the members of the grand jury the focal point of the audit or its cost? Item as an investor

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