Emory Lavista Parent Council Meeting
Michael Thurmond spoke with a parents group Wednesday, April 17 about the state of the school system.
April 17, 2013 – Coralwood – State of the System Revisited
Guest Speaker: Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond
- Where are we with Race To The Top funds and teacher evaluations? Is DeKalb doing that on its own? Are we in a pilot program with other counties?
- Teachers have not gotten a raise, but if you look at the salary ranges for central office employees, they have moved up. Salary ranges for district Superintendents has moved up in the last 2-3 years. Is there any possible way of moving those back, because other people have gotten raises in the district but the teachers have not. Is there a plan to look at the people who are getting paid over the top of their salary range.
- Do you have a list of central office employees? Can we get a copy of that list?
- What are your feeling about the military given free access to our public schools at every level, K through 12?
- Is the Nepotism Policy going to be retro active?
- What are some of the aggressive things you plan on doing to get parents engaged?
- How long do we plan on rolling over trailer home leases?
- Who and why won’t people listen when the principals have a track record of knowing what they need? Why can’t our principals hire the good cream of the crop teachers that are out there right now?
- Can you then go direct your people to give our principals the staffing that they need for this coming year to bring them up to get the staff in the building. If that’s going to be the priority, why can’t we start that now?
- When did you know about the community opposition to cell phone towers and is my understanding you signed a permit for the construction of a cellphone tower at Lakeside High School and I was curious why?
- With the use of ??? in the schools and classrooms, will you expect, or should we expect smaller class sizes?
- There are 7 students for every employee. Is your budget going to cut the number of people employed by DeKalb County that are not classroom teachers?
I want to thank Nancy for her leadership as well. I’m delighted to be back with you this morning. Some 6 weeks into my administration, and I’m enjoying myself. Many people who I meet have traveled around the county and the state, have approached me and offered their condolences. I’m a little set back and surprised when they do it. I said look, this is really the most exciting time of my life and as a public servant person, who a long time ago when I was in High School decided to dedicate my life to public service. This is a once in a life time opportunity to do something very special for a very special group of people. Particularly young people who are the students in this district. Obviously we have many challenges. But I always hasten to add, the opportunities far outweigh the challenges that we face. As I continue to work with the fellow employees, as I continue to work with our students, and the stakeholders, parents, and others, I’m convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that we will not just meet, but we will overcome and ??? what is necessary to address the problems that we face and to lay the groundwork for what I think will be a model 21st century public school system.
We have made significant progress in a very short period of time. We have a new board, at least 6 members, as well as the 3 members that were elected. I want to recognize one of my bosses that’s here today. Mr Marshal Orson, give him a hand. Also our area Superintendent. Superintendent Brickston, stand up, give her a hand. She’s done a good job. So, we’ve been able to come in. It was a crisis situation. No one cane deny that.
In any crisis situation, as I’ve said on many many occasions, my first priority is not so much to focus so much on the crisis and the deficit. I always focus my attention on the staff evaluating the assets that any situation might present. The greatest number of assets that we have are 99,000 students who are bright, ambitious, and intelligent. I’ve come to understand why my fellow educators who are here, principals and teachers, you know I thought I understand why individuals answer the call to be educators. I’m beginning, now, to fully appreciate that urge, that desire. It’s really the children. It’s so exciting to be around young people. When I visit the schools, and just get a chance to walk the halls when classes change. I guess I’ll get over this in a few weeks. That just thrills me. And to hear the excitement and the chatter and the joy in the voices. Even if it’s just classrooms, I’ve had the opportunity, and the instructors are very kind. They will allow me a few minutes to stand before class and teach for a few seconds. I’ve enjoyed that as well. That’s in North DeKalb, South, East and West.
Some of the decisions that have been made, I think are good decisions. Number 1, there have been concerns. As you know, I have hosted several town halls type meetings around DeKalb County where employees, particularly educators, teachers and all staff members were allowed to ask questions, question me and provide insight, direction. Out of those meetings, we’ve been able to make some decisions that I think will serve the district well going forward. Number 1, there was a concern for the Success For All reading program. Among many teachers, some, honestly, thought it was a great program. But, a great majority were concerned about how the process that was used to determine the adoption of the program or the use of the program in the DeKalb County School District. What we decided to do, and I think it was well received by educators across the district in the elementary schools, is that we now have resurveyed the teaching population to get their input. And what we’re going to do, and don’t think the survey is completed yet, but we will now look at it on a school by school basis as well as opposed to a district wide basis. There were some schools, some principals, some teachers, who that it was a great program that provided an important resource. But there were others who not. So instead of going to a one size fits all proposition, we’re gonna allow educators to make that decision.
Secondly, there have been concerns raised, particularly by parents, as it relates to the balanced calendar. I tell people, on the day that it was announced that I would be the Interim Superintendent, my neighbor from across the street. When I went to pick up my newspaper, he rushed outta the house and said “I hate the balanced calendar. You gotta change it.” At that point I wasn’t quite sure what the balanced calendar was, but I promised him I would investigate. He always waves and smiles now. What we decided to do was delay implementation, at least until the 2015 school year to give us the opportunity to reengage parents, teachers, other stake holders to make sure when we make decisions we’re doing the right thing. I think that was a proper ???. The ultimate decision is still out, but as you know, whatever we do, the ultimate outcome should be to enhance academic and career achievement. The research was really inconclusive as to whether or not the balanced calendar really did that.
Thirdly, beyond that. On the upcoming board meeting. One of the things, among other effecting. Marshal is here and I have to give him credit. You may have noticed that board meetings are being conducted in a different manor these days. Ya’ll give ’em a hand. He played a big role in doing this. One of the things that’s on the table that will be voted upon at the next board meeting, was another issue that resurfaced time and time again. Stakeholders, instructors and you name it was a concern regarding nepotism in the district. That employment and even promotion was being influenced, not by productivity or accomplishment, but by familia connections or personal relationships. I’m not one to respond quickly based on what I hear. I’m a researcher by heart. I’m not sure people know that. I love to research. So, I said OK. Let’s research the policy to see where we stand related to nepotism. What we found out was DeKalb School District did not have a policy prohibiting nepotism. The word is not used in the policy anywhere. And so at the last board meeting we presented. By the way, we asked you to comment on it because it’s now being another policy we implemented was that whenever new policy is introduced they will lay on the table at least until the next official board meeting so we can get citizen input. Well, we have a policy I think is concise and comprehensive and a commitment from this administration not just to have a policy on the book, but to enforce it. This policy, I think, will go a long way to restore trust in our hiring and promotion process throughout the district. I’m very proud of those two things.
The big issue that’s looming for us, for me as the Superintendent, for the board, and for the district is the F.Y. 2014 budget. We began last night. At the board meeting we discussed the parameters. The board laid out some parameters, some markers that we should at least try to reach as we develop the 2014 budget. There are some realities we have to face. For instance, based on recent legislative decisions, we will have an increase of about $16 Million dollars in expenditures. Mostly health and retirement benefits that the state has dictated. In politics, I put on my politician hat, those are what we call ‘unfunded mandates’. We’ll increase expenditures before we make any single decision by some $16 million dollars. Based on what my fiscal officer said in discussions with DeKalb Tax Assessors Office, revenues, at least the county ad valorem tax revenue will be flat. About $734 million dollars. So our costs have increased and our revenues are flat. We will get a slight increase in revenue from state government because we’ve had an increase in student body. The bottom line, we’ll have more expenditure than we will have revenue. You read the paper this morning. This is not unique to DeKalb County. We’re looking at, before we can make decisions, we have a deficit of $16 million dollars. But I count my blessings. Cause I read in the paper this morning that Cobb county is looking at a deficit of about $80-$90 million dollars. They’re looking at a deficit that represents about 10% of its budget. What we’re looking at now, before we go to work, is a deficit of about 2%. Ya’ll gotta give us a hand for that. At least acknowledge that, especially the narrative is being that the most fiscally irresponsible district in the world supposed located right here in where … DeKalb County. What you’re finding is that obviously we can make better decisions. We’ll make better decisions. We’ve made mistakes in the past. But some of the challenges we face are not just DeKalb specific. When you have a property tax base that declines by $7 billion dollars from the beginning of the recession to right now, the overall ad valor em tax base in this county had declined by $7 billion dollars. When we, and you recognize, that the state has continued to reduce its investment in local public education. This creates a fiscal challenge. But, it’s a challenge that I volunteered to face. So, I don’t ask for any sympathy. But we must recognize where we are. Now the one thing, that Orson and Dr Johnson and the board members made clear is that they want a real focus, a laser like focus, on increasing resources to the classroom and instruction. That is the priority and nothing else will come close to reaching a level that they have suggested that we should follow in increasing revenues to the classroom and to instruction. Because ultimately that’s the business we are in, educating our children … right. So we will be scouring, we have been scouring the budget, for every nook and cranny to make sure every dollar that we do have will be invested in that direction.
That’s where we are. I will report that we have a 26 person team that’s responding and working every day to prepare for the upcoming SACS visit in May, next month of this year. I’m looking forward to SACS revisiting the DeKalb County School District. I really am. I think when the SACS monitors show up, they’re going to find a district that’s focused on academic achievement. Our district is focused on the business of educating our children. A district that has learned from past mistakes. I believe you should learn from your mistakes, but you don’t dwell on them. It’s a huge mistake to dwell on the past mistakes and failures. You learn from them and move on. That’s what we are doing, that’s what we have done, and that’s what we will continue to do. Dr Elgart, I invited him out I guess a week ago now, maybe two weeks, to meet and talk directly to the board, to myself and to the stake holders. It was a great meeting. He was very honest. He was very forthright and specific about his ideas, about his expectations. Nothing he said surprised me and none of the things he mentioned should be addressed that I don’t think will be addressed that are not being addressed. I was happy to note that at the conclusion of his presentation, he spoke in the media and it was covered in the media, that it was unlikely that DeKalb would lose its accreditation at the end of this year based on what he has seen and what he knows to date. I think that we are fortunate. When I was brought here, the issue that hung like a fog was that we were close to losing our accreditation in the district. It’s not just anything that I did. We gotta great board. We refocused our attention and now we’re moving in the direction that’s going to remove the status of probation from the accreditation. With that, I’ll stop and try to answer any questions you might have.
I have an 8th grader at Henderson Middle School in the middle of CRCT testing this week. He knows, cause his teachers told him, that CRCT testing is two weeks earlier this year because you don’t have the money for summer school. So, the teachers have had to stop instruction even earlier this year in order to do the testing earlier so that you can remediate for the few students that need that. That speaks poorly about the budgeting and about the fact of loss instruction. And also, our teachers are stressed about the new teacher evaluation system. Where are we with Race To The Top funds and teacher evaluations? Is DeKalb doing that on its own? Are we in a pilot program with other counties?
There was a Race To The Top meeting follow up funding that may be available for DeKalb. Let me go back to the budget, the money issue. These are issues confronting every district … right. As a researcher, as a historian, I was interested in where and when did these financial issues first manifest themselves in DeKalb County. It didn’t happen in 2011. It didn’t happen in 2010. We fist began to experience financial issues or at least a shortfall in revenue in 2000-2001. This has been an ongoing, slow moving, crisis that has not really been confronted or addressed for more than a decade. Ultimately, as always, the chicken come home to roost. One of the things I noted as I went around the county, and obviously our teachers have not received raises in what 5 or 6 years. And many of our professionals, our psychologists, and social workers they were cut, bus drivers, you name it. Everybody suffered as a result of lack of resources, lack of money. I mentioned the economy. I mentioned the fact that property values have declined. I mentioned the fact that the state is appropriating fewer dollars to support local school districts. But all of that is real, but it is not an excuse … right. Now we’re going to come out of this. We’re going to get out of this. But I have to tell you, we’re not going to get out of it in F.Y. ’14. This crisis that has been ongoing, unaddressed really, since 2001, will not be resolved in the F.Y. ’14. It’s going to be a long and difficult path back to financial and fiscal health. But, the point is, the journey of a thousand miles began with a single step. You have to start. Decisions could have been made as it relates to summer school, whether that was one of the items that should have been cut. Let me tell you, everybody who’s been cut, has told me one thing for certain. That my program, my salary, my initiatives, should not have been where … on the chopping block. That’s just a fact and I understand it. And I get it. We are on our way back to fiscal health. We’re gonna generate revenue that we didn’t have. One of the things, I was talking to Orson and another, I know we got at least one attorney in the room. Last year, this year we are spending over $10 million in attorney fees. We’re not gonna do that in the F.Y. ’14. I’ve already served notice on all of our attorneys. That is not going to happen. That will manifest itself going forward. In the interim, we have to be up from the bottom up. Learn from the mistakes, don’t dwell on them and move forward. Those are the ways we are going to improve academic excellence. We gotta look at our budget again. I’m going to have a different set of priorities cause the board is going to have a different set of priorities. Because this board, I don’t know what the last board decided, but this board decided that the number one priority must be classroom instruction. So that means, that the summer program may, and I can’t guarantee it, have a different priority associated with it in F.Y. ’14 than it did in F.Y. ’13. I understand. I have a different focus and a different direction. Now I’m inviting everybody come out to the budget hearings too. Those are going to be important and they’re listed on our website. I don’t have the dates and you may have them in your head. I don’t. Please come out and voice your opinion in terms of how this budget is developed. We don’t have all the money we need. But $740 million dollars is still a lot of money to do the things you really prioritize need to be done.
Kirk Lunde [19:45]
The budget meetings are next week, Tuesday and Thursday at 6pm in the boardroom. That’s where the public budget meetings are going to be. A couple of things. You said these aren’t decisions you made, but these are things that I think as you address the budget going forward. Teachers have not gotten a raise, but if you look at the salary ranges for central office employees, they have moved up. Salary ranges for district Superintendents has moved up in the last 2-3 years. Is there any possible way of moving those back, because other people have gotten raises in the district but the teachers have not. Is there a plan to look at the people who are getting paid over the top of their salary range. There are people in the district that are getting paid in excess of the maximum for their salary range. We need to identify why that is and what they’re doing to deserve that value and figure out if we need to continue to do that.
Great Question. One of the things we presented last night to the board, just as a resident of DeKalb, long before I was called to this particular position. Based on the narrative, Number 1, DeKalb has a bloated central office … right … you heard it. Over the past two weeks when we presented it at the board, we looked at all the 14,000 plus employees we have in the district … right. I wanted to know what percentage of those employees, state funded, general fund funded actually work in the central office. What was presented last night, based on the research, is that 6% of the total number of employee actually work in the central office. I was shocked. I didn’t believe it. I said you go back and check it again. I don’t believe the number is just 6%. I invite you all to come to the public hearing that the gentlemen referenced. It maybe should be 3%. It might should be 4%. But it’s not 20%. It’s 6% as presently constituted.
Stan Jester [22:24]
Do you have a list of who that is?
Yes. It was presented to the board last night.
Stan JesterCan we get that list of all those employees?
It will be presented at the hearing next week. I invite you to come.
Michael Burk [22:45]
My name is Michael Burk. I’m with SafePassageNetwork.org. Our main concern is the militarization of our youth. The last time anything happened in DeKalb County School District is the Marine Corp Academy that they were going to open as a public school 4 or 5 years ago. We fought it tooth and nail. So did the, not in my backyarders. My question to you is, what are your feelings on the military being in our public school? I’m not talking just high school. I’m talking K through 12 because we have documented cases where the military do come in and do there dog and pony show and try to impress the kids at a very young age so they could follow them right up the line. And it was the Marine Corp is most aggressive in this resort, so is the army. Not Navy and Air Force so much. I say this as a 10 year veteran of the army. I’m not an anti military person, but I think we need to do something about the encroachment of the wariness ??? in our public school classrooms.
If I understand your definition of militarization, I’m not certain because I was visited several of our high schools. I have been very impressed with our ROTC program. By the men and women who serve as the leaders as well as the young people who participate. Just through my own ??? we have to all appreciate the service our men and women are providing our country, especially in this moment in time when we see a nation under attack from terrorists. I have seen our ROTC program, if that’s what you are referring to. I’m not sure what you are referring to.
Michael Burk [25:14]
I’m talking about recruiters. I’m talking about military recruiters.
That’s a career path that some people, some young people, along with the advice and consider with their parents, they may chose to pursue.
In 6th grade?
The kids and the parents. At da end a da day, whether a child goes to college or technical school, whether he or she moves into the workplace, those are the decisions that parents and children have to make jointly and together with the advice from individuals from the school district. I think it’s ultimately up to the parent of the child to help determine what career path he or she might pursue.
Michael Burk [25:56]
That is not the issue. I’m talking about, plain and simple, what are your feeling about the military given free access to our public schools at every level, K through 12.
First of all, I don’t have any facts personally to suggest that is true. I have no problems with representatives of the military coming to recruit young men and women on the campuses of our, in the school district.
At what level?
I’m not aware of that they’ve gone into 1st grade classes or kindergarten class.
What is your perspective on level.
It’s up to the parent. If a parent has a problem with it then I would address it. It will be a parent of a child.
I think that’s passing the buck, sir.
Shayna Steinfeld [26:58]
Thank you for being here. I’m Shayna Steinfeld. I want to dove tail into two issues that have already come up. I wanna say thank you very much and thank you very much, Marshal, for the nepotism policy. That’s long, long overdue. My question is, is that going to be retro active and are you going to look at people already on staff to whom the policy might apply. Or, are they going to be exempt. That’s one facet of my question.
The next facet is the familiar part to everybody here, the audits. The county has the infamous audit from 2004 and as a requirement, I believe there’s supposed to be an audit done kinda of a forensic audit, every 3 years. As best we know, we being general public, that’s the last audit that’s been done which was now a long time ago. The 2004 audit showed problems. As best we can also tell is suppressed. I think going to your question is to the problems going back financially to 2001 which is before the 2004 audit. I hope I’m not losing you here. The problems predate the 2004 audit. I think if you were to get, I think Ernest & Young, to find that 2004 audit. That might enlighten you as to where the problems stem from. And it might dove tail into the nepotism issues. If we can update that audit to today, that might be very enlightening in trying to figure out where these financial problems are coming from and where we might find some money going forward. I’m not a financial person, I’m a bankruptcy person. I think there is some missing money and I encourage you to try and find it.
Thank you. You former question, and being a distinguished member of the bar, it is almost constitutionally impossible to implement a retroactive law or policy. Cause then you’d have to decide how far back. Do you go back to the ’20s or ’30s. So the statute, the policy that’s being proposed, will be effective on the date that the board passes it. So it will address any hiring or promotion or contractin’ that occurs from that day forward. Post spective as opposed to retrospective. A retrospective statute would create chaos to be honest with you. At some point you learn from your mistakes, but you move on.
Secondly, as it relates to the audit, there are several audits done, not just by private auditors, but also the state of Georgia. It’s interesting, for instance, the most recent state audit that was a recommendation but no, it was an unqualified audit. They found fundamental issues wrong with the financial county process with the DeKalb School District. There were recommendations. You know there’s a difference, a recommendations as opposed, and unqualifications or unqualified audit. There’s a KPMG audit with some issues. We’re going to look at all of them. Right now, I have to get a budget done. That’s one of the things that’s challenging about this. I talked to the board about this last night. The desire, my deep desire to solve all these problems today. Everybody could walk away and say it’s over. This is a long term process. No magic wands, no silver bullets, no magic elixir. Even the budgeting issues will take time. Right now, I’m having to, I’m ending one budget cycle and trying to make sure we have the budget balanced for this fiscal year which is F.Y. ’13. We’ll have to have a new budget in place by July 1st which is about 8 weeks from now. All of this has to happen and it will happen. What I said to the board last night, is that part of the strategic plan will be ‘what is the way forward’. My goal when I show up at work every day, is that this district will be a little bit better, a little more efficient, a little more successful, in educating our children. I know for a fact that every day we go there we are going to work to find some way to improve what we are doing. If it’s nothing more than coming out and speaking to interested parents and stakeholders. If it’s nothing more than last night, giving the board, providing a more transparent view of the resources that we do have. And next week when we have the budget hearing, you will get information that you have not seen before. And you will have it in a format that you will be able to evaluate it independently. I think make even better conclusions about where we are as a district in terms of the decisions being made. That doesn’t generate news coverage, but that’s important at a district where trust quite frankly is at a very, very low amount. To answer your question, I’m looking at all the dots.
One of the things we are going to do beyond the budget is that, I mentioned the 6%. And I know people say ‘Oh, Mike, you crazy. There’s now way that’s 6%. It just can’t be’. I don’t believe it either, but the point is, of the 6%, how many of those job functions do we really need? Are there any redundancies? Can people be reallocated or reassigned to where their skills and talents might be better utilized. So, there are many ways to approach this problem. One of the things you will see is that we’re going to decentralize more authority and focus and direction to the regional school level. You’re gonna have regional area Superintendents like Ms Brickston in the rear, making more decisions, or helping to make decisions with our principals who are closest to the point of delivery of the service, which is education. Even if it’s 6%, you will have fewer people assigned to work at the central office in F.Y. ’14. That’s just a personal belief I have. Those of you in corporate america, in any business, you know that decisions are more effective, more efficient, the closer they are made to the point of delivery of the service, the greater the probability of it you having a decision that makes more sense. That is one of the areas that’s going to change the DeKalb ???. Look, we have many population. It’s impossible to sit on Mountain Industrial Blvd and understand the fundamental basic needs of 130 campuses and schools around this district. One person can’t do it. Just can’t do it. For instance, this lady is doing a great job. And because she’s doing such a great job, I’m going to make her job bigger. You’re happy right.
5 years ago I was PTA President at Lakeside. You have an opportunity in the next month or so to fill a principal position there. I was part of an earlier change in 2007 where the school council and PTA were part of advising the Superintendent, Mr Lewis. A disastrous selection was made. I’m going to draw an analogy to if you’re an Admiral and your schools are ships in your fleet. High schools are your aircraft carriers. Principals are captains of those ships. You need the best principals you can find in charge of those schools. It’s important, I think, that this selection, not just a Lakeside, but all the principals in your system, no doubt, and a half dozen positions you typically look at that you’re going to have to fill over the next couple of months. I just want to emphasize how important it is that you get the best principals in those positions and let those principals do their job with a minimum of interference. I’d like your reaction to that. I also would like your view as to what is a proper role for a school council and PTA officers would play in advising you all about your selections for those important jobs. Do you have a feeling for that?
To your first statement, you said nothing I disagree with as it relates to the importance of principals and area superintendents in terms of managing and running schools. Yesterday someone, I was at Henderson Middle School, I was so impressed with the principal there. She’s phenomenal. I was also at Fernbank. You gotta a great principal there who just happens to be sitting in the room. And I talked to both of these individuals about your second comment and the importance of PTSA and the council. And just parental engagement. I asked Ms Cowen, who voted DeKalb PTSA. My academic staff to inventory every PTSA in the district. If you look at the high performing successful schools, you have great leaders, involved teachers. Let me tell you the one thing that’s more important. You have very active parents associations. It doesn’t matter whether the school’s in North DeKalb, or whether it’s at Arabia Mountain or Harris Elementary or any of the charter schools. The one thing that remains constant are the parents. Someone asked me what I did over Spring Break and I said, well I didn’t do anything. But what I did do, I spent that time researching the correlation of student achievement and parental engagement. In your spare time, just Google it. The internet is wonderful. Page after page after page, study after study. You need great Superintendents and you need school board members that don’t claw and scratch each other’s eyes out once a month. That helps, Marshal. You need outstanding leaders as principals. You need engaged and qualified teachers. But all the studies say, the greatest influence is none of these people. The greatest influence is what … parents. When you have schools where you don’t have parental engagement, it’s hard to find a high performing school when you don’t have the engagement. If you look at the charter schools, the public charter schools as well as the private, there’s this debate whether they’re better than traditional schools. The one really thing that distinguishes charters schools is what … involvement. It’s mandatory. Whether it’s at Henderson or whether it’s at Fernbank or here, you’ve got parents engaged. So, to your question, we’ve inventoried the entire district. So, you have schools with 800 parents active in the PTSA. And then you have schools with 20 or 30 or 0. So, where are the resources? With the entitlement schools with the entitlement money. You have to spend at least 1%. So we spend about $3,800 dollars in these schools regardless of whether or not the parents are active or not. That’s gonna change. We’re gonna have a much more aggressive, involved investment and focus on getting parents involved. Our teachers are maxed out. The big mistake all of our teachers organizations have made and all the stakeholders that support them, is we allow well meaning politicians to dump ??? all the responsibility of educating our children on them. …. I saw what happened. I was there. I came to the legislature a year after QBE. That’s how long I’ve been around. I watched the standardized, and I’m not a good standardized test ??? totally. I’ve watched it. When the studies tell me it doesn’t matter, the parents’ not engaged. Most study, lack of activity are in neighborhoods of low income and poor neighborhoods. It’s just hard. You look at the schools and you look at the parental engagement and there is a correlation. Not all, but when you don’t have engagement is low income and poor neighborhood. Now, let me tell you something I know, that people should understand. Poor parents love their children just as much as the rest of us love our children. The assumption that some make is, well if you’re not engaged then either you’re not concerned, you don’t love ’em, I don’t buy that. I’m not buying that. So, what we’re going to do is very aggressively, support groups like this. These schools that you all represent are exceptional in large because what … cause you all. You can summon the Superintendent twice in six weeks. Right? Text me at 12:30 at night saying make sure you here. Right. That’s what Alyson did last night. And get a response. But we have to train teach help inspire other parents to be like you are. Cause the only way we make the district better when you live ??? you’ve gotta live from the bottom.
I’m concerned that parental involvement will not change the situation where the principal can’t make a decision or doesn’t show up on time for work. I know principals that have those problems in this district. If you want their names, I can getchya that.
I tell you what. You let the principal at Henderson or Fernbank not show up. All heck would break loose. Am I right? It happened because we, and parents allow it to happen. Would you let it happen at your school? I don’t know what’s so complicated about this. The problem is, and I’ll just say it, we have to believe, literally believe, that all of these kids, all of our children can actually learn. And everyone has to be invested, the teachers and the principal can’t do it. I don’t care how engaged that principal is or how smart he or she is, if he or she is by himself, with a 10 person PTSA it’s going to be hard for he or she to be successful.
What are some of the aggressive things you plan on doing to get those schools engaged, the parents engaged in helping uplift that school to provide a more enrichment program for students in ????
Great question. It’s not foreign territory to me. I know that was a debate on whether or not I should even be here. Whether you needed an experienced educator, someone who spent his or her career in the classroom. And that a legitimate argument. I would need and I will continue to need help in that direction. If you’re asset driven, you have a person who very familiar with the term. You have a person, by the way, who lived welfare reform in Georgia. I remember in 1994, the great majority of the population felt that poor people on welfare are there because they were lazy and didn’t want to work. We all remember that. I went all over the state of Georgia and folk were telling me, saying man you’re goin’ over to Oakwood and going up to Dunwoody. That’s nothing compared to going around Georgia in neighborhoods and telling folk, that’s over. Y’all kind and sweet compared. Let me tell you what happened. In Georgia, 120,000 women primarily got up and walked off and went to work. We didn’t circle back to see what happened. But those of us who was slanderin’ sendin’ out the innuendo, but you can inspire and encourage people to do what’s in their best interest. Part of it is, we assume that parents know even from parents in this school, know Number 1, Why should you attend a parent teacher conference. What’s the purpose. We assume that parents know, but you could have a baby and you don’t have to apply for a license to be a parent. You don’t have to take a test. What we are going to do is educate people to their best interest. We are all self interested. We should be. We’re all self interested about our own kid. And I encourage every parent, every guardian, every grand parent to be self interested about their daughter, your son, your grandson, your granddaughter, and you shouldn’t apologize to anybody about that. What I also encourage you to do is to engage in what I call enlightened self interest. When you become interested in other people’s children. You all should teach other parent groups how to do this right. There is no wall that separates North DeKalb from South DeKalb. I’ve been driving around looking for it. They said there are lines, but I can’t see them because they are invisible. I run into the same thing. I run into mothers and fathers who love their children and want the best for them. Some of us, I, you have more resources have more opportunities to do just that. Some people have less. So what I’m encouraging you all to do, I’m asking you to help me make this real. Studies say this is the most important element. Do the research. The cost is minimal. We could be a lot more successful at a relatively small cost if we just increased participation of parents. I know what you say, well you know, I don’t know man, I don’t have, I can’t do 5th grade math either, I don’t know about you, it’s hard. I’m a lawyer. I can do like 33 1/3, that’s my cut. I can do that well. 5th grade math is a challenge. But, what we have to teach parents, is that being present is more important than having a technical ability. You all heard me talk about my dad. He couldn’t read or write. But the man would sit there, all the way, my mother told me in middle school that he was not literate. I was a grown man and figured it out though. It had nothing to do with his ability to do math or understand science. The fact that he was present in the room. The power that you have when you show up at your child’s school. It’s your presence. Most children gonna act better. At least while you’re in the room, most of them, not all of them. That’s what we have to do and I know this sounds pie in the sky, but you all watch, we gonna transform how we do this business based on objective, independent research.
Ralph Carl [48:30]
My name is Ralph Carl. I have a 10th grader at Lakeside. He’s been in the system for 11 years now. Parental involvement is even more directed when we have accurate information to go on. Since the first of the year, the school system has provided financial information for the first time. We’ve got annual budgets, ??? expense reports. We don’t have minutes for board meetings, but we’ve got items, agenda items available. I noticed agenda item from the March 20th meeting that you had was for modular classroom lease extension approval. This was for 14 modular classrooms for Clarkston, Redan and Vanderlyn. It was a 6 month extension. The price was $15,870 a month for a total of $95,200 and change. Which comes to about $6,800 dollars per classroom per 6 month period. How long do we intend to roll over these leases? How often we’re going to pay, and pay, and pay for a mobile home with nothing in them.
I think our minutes are posted on a much more consistent basis thanks to Mr Lunde. This man, you might want to tell him about the minutes. Hopefully we’re doing better.
Kirk Lunde [50:10]
The minutes are posted on the eBoard. Minutes are posted on the eBoard, but they are only posted for business meetings, not all meetings, not the work sessions. You have to go to the meeting following the one you’re looking for. When they approve the minutes. So the minutes from the March 20th meeting are found on the April 1st meeting, you go through the agenda. There are 9 steps to get to it. I put them on the Parents For DeKalb school’s Facebook page. So if you scroll down the contents, you can find the 9 steps there. But the minutes are posted, but your point is well taken.
While I have the microphone, I’d like to ask. The planning department recently recalculated the capacity of each school. That followed along with a recall of the trailers. Not all of the trailers, but part of the trailers. The question that comes to mind, was the planning department aware of the recall of trailers before they went to the March ?? meeting and ask the department of education for a blank check to purchase as many trailers as they wanted to. The 5 year local facilities plan by the state of Georgia Department of Education requirements, requires a plan to eliminate the use of trailers, so speaking to his point, we know that the capacities of the schools were inaccurate before. We know that putting 40 high school students in a classroom sized, built for 28 is not a good idea. If we are going to put children and high school students, put students in classrooms appropriately for the space required. This touches on another topic which is the special ed space, which we’re not … There are laws saying how much space there must be for each student. DeKalb County is not following those rules and those regulations at this time. Going forward, do you anticipate seeing a lot more trailers or do you anticipate a plan to eliminate the use of trailers as the department of education says we should be doing?
To your question, the voters approved a $500 million dollar capital campaign for the DeKalb school district. Right now, at the moment, we have some $200 million dollars in project ongoing. At that meeting, I’ll get Mr Wilkins to talk to you specifically. He presented a very detailed plan for the first time for DeKalb to begin to address the trailer leasing issue. There are trailers in the county that we have leased for over two decades. For the first time now, we have a detailed strategy to end the leases or at lease purchase trailers and utilize less of them going forward. I can’t go into the details because I’m not as familiar with, but I’d love to have him to call you this afternoon. I think you’d be pleased that finally we have a plan to reduce the use of trailers, save money by leasing, some of these trailers we’ve been leasing for 20+ years. We’ve purchased them 4 and 5 and 6 and 10 times. They’re literally worth nothing. Finally there is nothing. Give me your card and your number and I’ll have Mr Wilkins call either both of you or one of you. Cause you were at the meeting where he discussed it I think.
Kirk Lunde [54:11]
I like Mr Wilkins a lot. But I would appreciate it if you ask him to respond to his emails. He doesn’t need to call me, just respond to his emails. That would be helpful.
Email me and tell me that Mr Wilkins is not responding. That generally works at the district level.
Barbara Arnie [54:33]
I’m Barbara Arnie, my last of 4 is a 9th grader at Lakeside. I wanted to respond to and segway onto 3 things people said. First from Mr Brusard. There is currently a board policy pending and you have until the 19th to talk about and respond about the change in the policies for school councils and how this Superintendent and the parents will relate. To the military question, just for information for you, there is a form on the DeKalb website and every parent has access to it, to sign it to prevent and block any information being given to any military person at all. Lastly, to Shayna’s audit. There may be 6% and that may be great. We may be able to be more efficient but I think a part of what the audit showed is that people in positions in DeKalb, holding those positions are paid significantly more than comparable in the corporate world. So, I hope you’ll look at that piece of the puzzle. My question, is if the principal at Henderson is great and I believe she is. If the principal at Lakeside is great and I believe he is. Then I would hope that someone in the school system would trust them when they say you are not giving us the staff we need for next year. So I want to go back and give you some history. For over 5 year that I’m aware of, we started the school year with not even staff because we were told that we don’t have enough points. So last March, in 2012, at Emory Lavista I asked the Deputy Superintendent for school support, Ms March, would we actually do something about our staffing going forward that was realistic. And I gave the example of Henderson Middle School. We knew we had X number of 8th graders going out and we knew we had X number of 6th graders coming in. What we were told we would get for staffing was not reflective of what our actual enrollment was going to be. The same happened for Lakeside. We get into October and November and we still do not have staff. There are two options for principals. They can either hire a long term sub, so they can divide the class the way it needs to be. Or we can a long term sub and the student is stuck with a long term sub for 6, 8 10 weeks. Or the principals could do what they believe is the right thing, which is to have the classes be larger, way larger, but with a certified, qualified teacher until such time they’re allowed to hire somebody. What happens then is that all the schedules get rearranged at 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 10 weeks down the road. We’re already hearing that this is happening again this year. Who and why won’t people listen when the principals have a track record of knowing what they need. They’re not trying to cheat the system. They know they need X number of science teachers. They know they need X number of math teachers. As much as we like for it to divide out evenly, you know that every class has 21 gifted, and that they come to us in blocks like that. It doesn’t happen that way. So it’s not the way you can identify and plan on your staff. We’ve got to start the school year with teachers in buildings and they need to be hired now. We know we’ve got 7% less already. And we know that schools have teachers that turned in their retirement, teachers that have turned in their resignations, and we’re already 7% down. Why can’t our principals hire the good cream of the crop teachers that are out there right now?
I can’t specifically to your point, but last year the DeKalb school district cut its budget by $90 million dollars. $90. We were where Cobb is this year. This drives unless you believe that people in the central office just don’t like the folk at Lakeside and try to create chaos. Which I hope that’s not the case, but that’s an option. One of the things I’ve noticed, when I’ve traveled around. One of the jobs we didn’t do well in the past, is that we did not educate and inform and connect budget staffing decisions to revenue loss. And I talked to so many employees and the impression I received, because we did not educate, we did not inform, we didn’t do a good job with budget explanation. That they are at a loss as to why decisions like that are being made. Right? But it’s tied back to, you can’t spend dollars you do not have. Could we had better invested the dollars we did have in a way? Yeah.
Barbara Arnie [59:49]
But we eventually did spend the money, because we go the teachers. It’s the process.
But what happened is, it came up last night. First, our budget office, and I wasn’t here then, it’s mine now, was under the impression that that would be 6% decrease in revenue ad valorem taxes. That was the way the budget was built. Because when we asked the question, the county told us expect 6… right. It turned out to be 9. We found out about it in the middle of the fiscal year. There is a huge difference between 9 and 6 in terms of a decline in revenue. I’m not trying to give you an excuse or saw what was done was right, but I am trying to give you an explanation as to why it was done. Did we explain this to you? No.
Barbara Arnie [1:00:46]
But I think the question is that the staffing of the schoolhouse has to be done first. And then we need to find money for all the other things…
But that’s what I said to begin the meeting. The board directed last night for my knowledge, the first time that that is the priority. Prior to that what you’re seeing was not the stated priority of the DeKalb school board. It should have been, but it was not. So, consequently, people budgeting and appropriated based on what they thought the priorities were.
Barbara Arnie [1:01:26]
So, if that’s the priority as stated last night. Can you then go direct your people to give our principals the staffing that they need for this coming year to bring them up to get the staff in the building. If that’s going to be the priority, why can’t we start that now?
This is what I’m saying. There are numerous priorities associated with improving academic performance. That will be one of them. I can’t know more say to you that absolutely that will be resolved. Cause also remember now, $16 million in new costs, revenue flat. So we’re starting F.Y. ’14 with a $16 million dollar deficit.
I want to recognize and may I suggest that I didn’t see this. She was sitting behind this gentleman. Y’all give her a hand, the old school board. Give ’em a hand.
I can address a little bit. We need to know that ??? process for staffing schools and because there was a problem with Tucker and Lakeside, as I walked in the first day last year. You need know that a lot of meetings are happening next week. I would be present at all of my schools allotment meetings to make sure that it’s not underestimated. I believe last year there was also a piece of, I have one school, I ???? block schedule and I have others that are 7. I think there was a mix up also with Tucker and with Lakeside thinking they were 4-5-4 and so there was some underestimation of teachers needed with that. I assure there is a different process in place this year. We’ll start the school year on a good note. … I think part of the process that Barbara is referring to was that what ends up happening is that the end of the school year, using Henderson as an example, Ms Allen will know how many incoming 6th graders are going to come along with how many outgoing 8th graders are going out. The number for the 6th graders each year continues to rise. What she has been told in the past, that’s not the correct number even though we know it is the correct number from all the feeder schools. And you have to decrease your staff. Your staff at the end of the year. Well you have to let teachers go. And then you come to the beginning of the school year, the numbers that we already knew were correct to begin with. Bare out to be true, and then she’s short staffed. When really if we could trust the feeder school numbers, which we can. And trust the principal which we can to say this is what’s coming in. And it’s about the same number each year. Then we wouldn’t have to lose teachers and then try and hire them back. I don’t know how that fits into the budget process. But I’m talking about in the school house. You know you’re going to have 1,500 kids coming in for the school year regardless of coming out or coming in. You know it to be true because you’re getting it from the feeder schools. You also know who is coming in from the private schools. Then the county is saying, Neah, you’re really only going to have 1,200. So we’re going to short you in teachers, then you come back. School year starts and there’s 1,500 kids just like they were told. That’s the process I think needs to be addressed and changed so that those teachers can stay in place and that 6th graders that come into the school that are then put on teams that are large. They don’t have to wait until 10 weeks into the school year to be split from two team teachers to four team teachers. You lose an opportunity to hire the cream of the crop. That’s where I think the issue is if I’m explaining this correctly.
I’m hearing you. Thank you Ms ???. Let me tell you what I have found. It’s just the way I see it. The complaints I have heard, the real fundamental driving point of decision was budget. If there was a way to save a dollar, it was done. You not having the teachers or staff you need. At the end da da day, if you really drill down to the bottom, you have to finance it in order to do it. That’s been my biggest challenge. This is why I say it over and over again. You can’t have a quality system unless you get your budget in order. Last year, $90 million dollars in one budget cycle. That’s what’s going on in Cobb. Read the paper today. What they are going through is what we went through last year. They’re there because they didn’t accept the Superintendent’s recommendation. The good news in Cobb is they got a fund balance that they can reach into to finance. The bad news for DeKalb is what … we didn’t have one. There was one way out of this morass. It was cutting not really knowing what the ultimate outcome would be, because no one had ever cut that much money at one time in one fiscal year.
Good morning Michael. I’m Allen. I’m an officer with the Green Party, DeKalb County and a resident of this neighborhood for about 20 years. I first want to thank you for coming here to respond to our concerns today. It’s an opportunity for us to acknowledge Mr Thurmond.
I understood that I’m not running for homecoming queen. By the time this is through, I’m going to be the most unpopular guy in Dekalb County. I’m just telling you. I knew it coming in. I know it going out. You not going to be totally happy and no one else. But the decisions will have to be made and they will be made if we are going to have 3 or 4 or 5 years from now, a quality district. Everyone will not like will be asked of them in terms of sacrifice. I’m just telling you. No one will be totally happy. But I’m not seeking happy. We want a quality, prosperous, achieving district.
The T-Mobile cell phone towers to be constructed on the school properties here in DeKalb County. The world health organization has classified a threat of this type of RF radiation as being potentially a significant carcinogenic. Representative Carla ??? who has a PhD in the department of sciences was so concerned, she sponsored a referendum here countywide last year that voters responded to overwhelmingly rejecting the construction of cell phone towers on our school property. I understand that you are new to this job. Maybe you weren’t informed of that. My question is two part. When did you know about the community opposition to cell phone towers and is my understanding you signed a permit for the construction of a cellphone tower at Lakeside High School and I was curious why.
The reason why is the board. The DeKalb School Board voted in favor of placing the towers on those campuses. The Dekalb School Board is my employer. If they voted in the affirmative, which they did, then I am obligated to either follow their direction or resign. I don’t have a choice to do it or not do it. If I chose not to do it, then my only response would be to walk away. I’m not doing it at this point in time. That was the decision of the school board of DeKalb county. It was not my decision.
Was that the board the Governor removed?
It was the board prior to that. It was the board prior to the board that was removed by the Governor. That was it. That was the decision of the board.
Because I understand the budget problems the school district was going through. But the compensation is a mere pittance. It’s not even a response to the issue. It’s less than $2,500 per tower for the life of the towers and there’s no guarantee there’s going to be paid to the school district or the schools.
I understand the concern about the towers. I understand there was a very controversial. It was discussed in great detail, and debated. At the end of da day, for whatever reason, and I can’t articulate as to the reasons, that the previous board voted to have the towers installed. Now, I do understand that representatives ??? and county commissioners are concerned about it. They may be able to provide some resolution, that you might be more happy with ’em. But at this point, my hands are tied because my employers have voted.
Two things. One is with respect to the number of kids coming in and the number of children and the lack of teachers, one thing that I would hope that the board and everybody would look at next year is a better way to check proof of residence. Because we see lots of kids coming to Lakeside all the time with Gwinnett tags, and other county tags. And the kids who are friends of my children talk about the long drive they have home and such. So, I would hope you would do something to help that situation. We are always over crowded because of the many kids that want to come to our schools and you don’t want to deny them a good education, but … there’s got to be a better way.
When my older son started DeKalb, my friends always told me to never write any DeKalb calendar dates in pen because they always change it. With the new calendar, I noticed there were no furlough days and no other potential days ??? again, wondering when the final calendar will be implemented.
When we implement the final budget, that will be the case. There are no plans that I’m aware of adding additional furlough days. Actually, we are trying to move in the opposite direction. Hopefully things won’t deteriorate first.
With the use of ??? in the schools and classrooms, will you expect, or should we expect smaller class sizes?
That’s a budget issue. The class sizes were increased to save money. That’s why we can never allow ourselves to put us in this financial condition. It affects any and everything. That’s why I’m encouraging y’all. Come to the budget hearings. Familiarize yourself with the budget. It drives every decision that’s made in the school district. It just does. And that’s another example of it. The increase in class sizes. Because if you have larger class sizes, you need fewer teachers. 85% of the budget is personnel. If you’re gonna cut the budget, you cut personnel. That’s how the budget was balanced. Unfortunately, it was focused too much on the academic side of operations. Which is to your point. That has changed I do believe. I’m convinced. I know it’s changed at the Superintendent’s office. I’m convinced it’s changed with the board, at the board level. I think you are going to see a difference. You’re gonna see a difference with a budget that’s already $16 million in deficit. We don’t have $50 million to show you that reduce the class sizes and staff up all the classroom, so you’re going to see it in an incremental way. Only because we have limited resources. We’re not trying to get it all, i’m not trying to get it all done this year. Because I know it’s not reasonable and rational. What we can do is set the stage for future growth and opportunity.
You said earlier there were 14,000 district employees. If you do the math on that, that’s 7 employees for every child … 7 children for every employee. But obviously, nobody’s got a classroom size that’s 7 students per teacher. We’ve got way too many people who are whether physically located in the central office or in a school. There are way too many people that are being paid that are not classroom teachers. Is your budget going to cut the number of people employed by DeKalb County that are not classroom teachers?
Obviously we’re gonna cut. The only thing we can cut is employees. You can close some schools, but that’s on the horizon. We just cut $19 million dollars from the budget. I understand your need and your desire and your concern, but you have to acknowledge that that’s what occurred. And that’s why we’re having concerns about classroom size and staffing in the school. So we can continue to cut teachers, bus drivers, some of you people bus drivers, we still gotta have bus drivers. You gotta have cooks to cook the food. You have to have custodians. You have to have support personnel for your classroom instruction. The central office, 6%. That will be smaller. At some point, and the gentleman said, one of the school board members said last night. At some point you get to a point where not only do you cut you have to recognize this is no longer a reasonable function that we need to be involved in. But where is that? I was at the Fernbank Science Center. They were concerned they lost 50% of their budget last year. Some would argue and some did argue that that’s not a fundamental need or resource for this district. They wanted more money. The point I’m saying to you is, that everybody will sacrifice something. No magic wand, we won’t correct it all in F.Y ’14. But you will see a difference in direction. Which is all I can promise you. And I ask you to hold me to it.
I appreciate you televising the board meetings, the committees of the whole, that type of thing. Because in the past, only the standard meetings were televised. Not everybody can get over there every time. So, I have watched when you have the meeting with SACS. And the meeting last night about the budget. The concern I have with the talk about the central office and the sizing of it, is that if you make it smaller, but the way you make it smaller is by coding people out to the school and not a central office person. And I know there are a lot of different ways to do it based on what they said last night with all the different counties and it’s hard to compare. If the result is you don’t cut anybody, but they get coded somewhere else and the class sizes stay the same and we still have the same number of teachers then I don’t think that’s helpful.
I wouldn’t either if that’s what would occur. But I don’t think that’s what’s going to occur. That would assume the only reason we’re doing it is to protect a job of a person, but what the board wanted was to improve academic achievement. If you do it under that particular rubric that you suggested then that would not result in increased academic achievement. I don’t think the board would approve of a budget presented to them in that vein.
Last year, a lot of people got coded in different ways. So they got moved ??? determine were there any cuts or did people just get shuffled. Because shuffling isn’t going to work.
We’re going to learn from last year. I won’t dwell on it. I’m not responsible for it. I ask that last year was last year. I’m a totally different person. The only request I have is to judge me by me. Not by what may have occurred prior to my coming. Is that fair. Last year the Superintendent was not here to explain to you what the cuts were. Or asking you to come and engage so you will know what happened and why it happened and when it happened. So there’s a difference. I hope you all appreciate the difference. I’m thankful for you all for coming.
One thing I need to ask you all to do. I need your help. I’m back to parental involvement. I need for all of us in this district to recognize that first self interest is good. My neighborhood, my school, my district. But we will not succeed, we will not progress until we recognize that it’s our district. All of our children have to have an opportunity for success. I’m not asking you to leave your home or leave your neighborhood. But at least, I’m asking for the acknowledgment of the reality of that. Because that’s what I am here as the Superintendent for the district. I have to use that in my analysis in terms of the decisions that I make.
I thank you for your attention. I thank you for your commitment and I thank you for allowing us to educate your children.