04/14/2013 – DHA

Dunwoody Homeowners Association (April 15th, 2013 @ 7:30pm)


Public Questions

Meeting Transcribed
Stacey Harris:
John Coleman is our new board representative

I’m John Coleman. I live right down the road from here in Brookhaven, just south of 285 by Murphy-Candler park. So, I’m very close to all of you. This was a very convenient meeting to make. I’ve lived in, I’ve been back in the Atlanta area for 3 years, but I grew up in Georgia. Mostly in Columbus Georgia. On my mom’s side of the family is all from Georgia and Vidalia and Montazuma. Kind of all over the place. My dad is from the pan handle, Tallahassee. So, this is a region I’ve been in almost all my life.

[1:25] A lot of folks have been asking kind of why I got involved or what I hope to bring to the school board. And, I think those two answers are a little interrelated, so I’ll preempt that question a little bit although we can dig into it a little more . Obviously, I think that education is one of the most important things that we, especially, have control over as a county. It is the most important function, arguably, of the county, although there are a number of other important functions. Right now I don’t think anybody would debate that there is a lot we can do to improve education in DeKalb. The we run the system in DeKalb and governance in DeKalb. [2:00] Without casting dispersions on anyone, there is obviously a lot of progress we can make. Just by the numbers there is a lot of progress we can make even to catch up to a lot of ??? right now. This particular situation arose …. [2:19] we obviously had a break down in governance. More than a little bit of a break down in governance. And, as a results, all of these issues we’ve been facing, it comes to a head. I saw that as a unique challenge for the county, but a unique opportunity for a lot of those ??? to step forward and at least offer ourselves for up service for that position. I’m interested in education. I think a lot of folks ask immediately if we had kids in the system. My first is on the way, so I have a long term interest in the health of the system for sure. My son will be born in a few weeks. But, I also have a long standing interest in education and serving the community as well and this is an issue, a set of issues I have been concerned with most of my life. I did a graduate degree in public policy for a couple of years. My wife actually has a graduate degree in education. So, she is certainly the brains of the operation. But, I felt like this was potentially a unique circumstance which I spent a lot of time in the private sector working on governance issues and organization issues. I’ve obviously become pretty familiar with financial issues throughout that experience as well. That interest and passion for education, I thought this might be an opportunity for me to serve the county in a unique way. At least for a couple of years here, and then we can see what happens after that. That was one of the reasons I got involved.

Folks will also probably ask also, and then I’ll be quiet and actually let you ask questions. I imagine you might be interested in [3:45] what’s on my mind right now. What are my priorities right now? What am I going to do over the next several months. Obviously, I speak as an individual and not for the board. For me the priorities are a little bit cliché right now. They are probably some of the ones that you could highlight as well. All of the work we are doing first has to lead to better outcomes in student achievement. Any changes we made should be oriented towards that. That should be our ultimate goal. So that stands aside as the number one thing that I am concerned with. In the short term, I think the way to get there we’ll have to deal with some much more boring topics that can set the right foundation for student achievement. [4:33] The first of which we are starting Tuesday, actually, is the budget process for this year. We’ve had a lot of budget issues in DeKalb over the last few years, at least in the school system. So, we’ll be going through the budget process trying make sure we have a proper budget in place. One that we oversee in a way that we can actually achieve it too. We’ve had problems with slippage in the past.

[4:47] The second thing, as many of you might have been able to catch the talk with Dr Elgart recently, is an interrelated topic of governance and accreditation. [5:00] So, there are 11 items we have to focus on for accreditation. At least 5, depending on how you define them, probably 5 or 6 of those are governance oriented and are the board’s responsibility. So, we really have to focus on making sure we set the right foundation to regain accreditation. Dr Elgart noted that won’t be by the end of the year probably. That will probably be a multi year process. [5:23] But, we want to get the trajectory right so we are making progress consistently by the end of the year and we can get accreditation within the next 2 or 3 years, I think, was the prediction he gave us. In doing so, we’ve also got to establish what I view as long term governance principles that will help the county in the school system. [5:43] As a board, there are things we should be involved in and shouldn’t be involved in. We should set pretty clear rules about the way in which we’re engaging the community, the school systems, the issues we’re focused on, etc. So, in the process of addressing those accreditation concerns we’re also interested in focusing on ???. Those those are the things on my mind, at least in the near term or medium term.

I’m very happy to be serving in this position and very grateful to the community for being so supportive so far. Obviously this is a very intense situation, but people have been very welcoming. And, I’m just very happy to be in this position and grateful to all of you for your support and also your very productive feedback. I’ve gotten a lot of emails recently as I try and get up to speed very quickly ???. The board of education from community members all over the place from different parts of DeKalb offering suggestions for the budget, issues that we need to raise at some point. We don’t get to reply to all of those in as lengthy or detailed a way as possible. But those really help us as we ???? issues as well, so thanks for that productive engagement.

Stacey Harris: [6:50]
I would just say concerns we’ve heard time and time again in the community as you guys build the budget for next year. Class size, Class size, Class size, in capital letters and exclamation marks, Class size. I don’t think there is a person in this room that thinks it’s acceptable to have 34 4th graders in one class. So, return that to normal levels and you’ll make 99% of the people in the ??? happier. Because you can’t make everybody happy. A Forensic audit, but like you say, you have a budget. The oversight of that budget is huge. I’m the dive mom at my swim/tennis club, the swim mom is a 3rd grade teacher. And, she’s like we don’t know about teacher furloughs days. So that uncertainty, that’s my two cents. I don’t know if you want to address that or move on to questions. I will say for the balanced calendar, I know you guys went away from it, do not put ITBS in the window that you took away. Because, I know 6 people that have already booked vacations for that week. They might not be there.

Incidentally, those are things that are very helpful if you communicate with us too and make sure we know about all the different possible conflicts. That’s really helpful. On the budget process, I’ll speak at a principal level for myself right now because we haven’t received the budget yet. So I want to wait until we actually see what it is before I make any promises about specific ideas. I think from my perspective to the things I would like to achieve in principle. A) Keep class size the same or reduced depending on what we can do with the budget, right. I definitely don’t want to increase class size. As much as possible within the constraints we are working with I want to reduce class size. And the same with furlough days. We’ve heard loud and clear and I think it’s absolutely within the right philosophy that the resources you are extending as far as the ???? should be located in the classroom. They should be focused on the classroom. The people who are touching the kids day to day are the ones we want to focus on. And so I think as an extension of that, furlough days are really important thing as are a lot of folks who raise concerns about salary increases and how long it’s been since folks had pay raises. Again, I haven’t seen the budget, so I don’t know exactly what situation we’ll be facing. But my bias at a principal level would be to decrease the number of furlough days and confer if possible with teachers especially to make sure they are being compensated appropriately. And class size, try and reduce that ????. Did that address all of it?

Stacey Harris:
I think so.

Allegra Johnson [9:30]:
Connected with the budget question, our teachers have already received their contracts and have already been mandated that they need to sign them, to return them. So their contracts have already been signed with whatever their wage is. So, when you’re talking about budget, and you’re starting on Tuesday, yet our teachers have already signed a piece of paper that last year they signed with one bottom line number then it came back with a second bottom line number.

Hmmm, it came back later in the year?

Allegra Johnson:
They signed one contract and then the second contract came through where they found out the furlough days and per hour wage and all of that. …. [quick introductions] ….

We want to get the communication to our parents as well as to our teachers. But my concern, so you’re saying

So, when you’re talking about budget, and you’re starting on Tuesday, yet our teachers have already signed their contracts. So, how does that work? They’ve already signed the bottom line yet you’re saying you’re just now working on the budget. So, how is it not the cart in front of the horse type thing?

Uhhhhhh … I honestly don’t …. I don’t know how to answer that question other than say that obviously it’s a concern as people are signing on to something before we’ve set the budget. If there is an opportunity to address that in the future, that might be something we are able to raise. This year, unfortunately, I don’t think there’s anything we can do about the contract process timing at this time. So, it’ll probably operate like it has in the past. That’s something I can raise, obviously, with our folks in the central office and make sure we can at least get that issue on the table and see if there is anything we can do about it. I have a feeling we won’t be able to do something about it this year, but maybe that’s a policy issue we can try and address in the future.

Allegra Johnson: [11:28]
I’m just bringing this up so they’re not forgotten. It’s one line that is already taken care of if there is extra money or whatever that it does go back into contracts the teachers have signed.

OK. Great. Thank You

Lisa Victory [11:41] :
[introductions] Do you support dual accreditation for the high school?

The different schools getting accredited, I think individually it’s now the approach …

Lisa Victory:
Dunwoody High School is specifically looking at individual accreditation. I’m first wondering if you support that.


Lisa Victory:
My follow up to that would be, can you get Thurmond to let our principal, give him approval because we are on a really tight timeline. Thurmond has indicated that he won’t fight us on it. We’re using all our funds. But we would literally need it within a week. Like this week we need him to communicate to the principal. And that’s what happens a lot, it takes a long time to get communications. So if you could communicate to Thurmond to please call Noel Maloof, this week, and let him know that we can go ahead. That’s what we need.

OK. On the first issue first and then the second one after that. This is my personal opinion. I can’t speak for the board of education at all. That’s the chair’s responsibility. Personally, I have no issue with dual accreditation. I think you guys are in a tough spot. Especially the accreditation downgrade or whatever you want to call it. So, for me, if the community takes an active role and tries to proactively do something about that, I view that as a positive thing. So, I don’t have any issue with that. With raising it with Superintendent Thurmond, we do have a meeting Tuesday. I didn’t know, honestly, what timeline you all were on. But, that is at least an issue I can raise with him.

Lisa Victory [13:25]:
The timeline is so that we can be accredited by GAC by that December date. It’s just to make the parents more comfortable knowing that we’ve got a safety net.

It’s an insurance policy.

Lisa Victory:
This week. That’s why we are so tight. They need to get in here and evaluate the school and get things moving in the next few weeks, so that’s why we are on it.

Coleman [13:51]:
May I ask a favor of you if you don’t mind? If you would shoot me an email with that information so I don’t get any of the names and timelines wrong. Especially since we’ve been going back and forth here. It will be exceptionally helpful and I’ll at least be able to forward that along to Superintendent Thurmond and perhaps we can talk about it on Tuesday.

Chris :
[Introductions] Seems Nancy Jester did a lot of analysis which I found very useful and informative. Have you initiated any discussions or meetings with her or visa versa so that you can get her take and knowledge to help you better understand? And, have you done that with any other board member, prior board members? Get a sense of anything from Nancy or anyone.

Coleman [14:37] :
Yeah, so I actually had a chance to catch up with Nancy recently. I talked to her. We talked for about an hour to get her perspective on different things. I’m very open to talk to all the previous board members. This district especially that served as the community ???. She’s obviously a great source of ideas. She’s got a lot of unique knowledge about the system. She was in this position for a while, so I welcome feedback from her and if she knows. From my perspective, I’d love to catch up with her about various issues at different times. Because I have no, honestly, I prefer more engagement to less engagement especially on ideas and policy issues. Was there a second question about analysis in there?

No. That answers my question. I have a second totally different question. There is a movement in the metro Atlanta area for sections of the county to become incorporated and become cities. It’s spreading. Where and when it’s going to end. Recently there is a movement with Dunwoody to try and get its own school and perhaps in the next 10 years that will be the next movement for metro Atlanta for each city to do that. Do you have any thoughts on specific cities, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Lakeside, if they become one? If they petition and all eventually push hard have you developed any thoughts on whether you favor that or against it?

Coleman [16:05] :
I’m pretty intimately familiar with the city process since I’m now in the new city of Brookhaven. I’m still switching over my addresses with the credit card companies and everything. Right now, I’m not taking a position on the independent school districts. As I understand it, that’s largely a state legislative issue right now because of the cap on the number of school districts we can have. Honestly, it’s less because I don’t think it’s an important issue but more because I feel like we have a lot of stuff to focus on right now, in the near term especially. So, my priority would be to work on the things that are before us and are kind of within our control before we start. At least the board starts discussing the issues like that. I feel like that could potentially be, for us, not for the state, because I think it’s an important issue, but for us, as I understand it, we don’t have any purview over that right now. I feel like, potentially, that could become a concern. I think ???? working on the things that are before us. So, I’ve kinda stayed out of that for the most part. I know that’s a pretty unsatisfying answer, but it’s kind of the approach I’ve been taking.

Allegra Johnson :
To connect with that question. What something that DeKalb does have control over is all these new high school charter clusters that are popping up. North Druid hills has put in their letter of intent. Stephenson has done theirs. What is your feeling, because that is something that DeKalb can stop if they wish. There is no appeal process for a conversion charter. What’s your feeling? Maybe, if you can, not speaking for the board, but what is their feeling about all these high school charters starting to come up? Are they open to them or are they going to stop them once it hits?

Coleman [17:43] :
We haven’t had a chance to discuss the charter issue yet, again we been focusing on some other issues in the short term. I think at an intellectual level without speaking to any specific charter, I don’t follow the charter schools, I think charter clusters can be beneficial. We haven’t had a chance to talk about those and the specifics. I know we’ll have to engage on that sometime in the reasonably near term. I don’t know if it will be in the next couple of months with the other issues that we are going to have to …

Allegra Johnson :
And the reason I ask is because the letters are due May 1st to the state. So the February 20th date from DeKalb is already past and the letters go to the state on the first. So I’m wondering if it hasn’t come up, it might need to if they are going to get blocked before they go to the state.

Coleman :
Sure. I’m sure it will come up. I haven’t talked to any of the other board members about charter clusters unfortunately. So, I don’t know.