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DeKalb Schools Probation: 'Upsetting But Not Surprising'

Brookhaven and Chamblee parents, leaders respond to the system's probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.


Monday's news that the DeKalb County school system was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools did not come as a surprise to some Brookhaven and Chamblee parents.

"As I'm known to say around Ashford Park: the stronger our schools, the stronger our community, and vice versa," said Shawn Keefe, co-president of the Ashford Park School Foundation. "Families will start moving out of our neighborhoods and new families will not move in if our school system continues to be weak."

Chamblee City Councilman Tom Hogan hopes the board realizes the seriousness of its situation.

"People will start moving out of our communities to Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett if the board doesn't address these issues," he said."I'm encouraged that (board chairman) Dr. Eugene Walker said that these issues are manageable, but it'd be refreshing to not only see an action plan to not only address the immediate problems, but also set a path for the future."

"The news of probation from SACS is 10 years late but welcome nonetheless," said Kim Gokce, chairman of the Cross Keys Foundation. "Thank goodness the classrooms are NOT run by the Board of Education and the schools will continue to educate children."

"There is significant and irrefutable evidence that the DeKalb County School District is in a state of conflict and chaos,” said SACS Chairman Dr. Mark Elgart. "This failure to govern effectively has resulted in a decline in student performance, financial mismanagement, and lack of integrity and ethics in recruiting, appointing and evaluating personnel at all levels of the school system."

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson's office responded by saying she has co-operated with SACS investigators and more than 300 central office jobs have been eliminated. "We not only had to deal with our budget and a deficit, we worked hard to address whatever concerns were brought," said Atkinson.

The district has until May 31, 2013 to make progress in complying with several issues that SACS identified.

"All of DeKalb has suffered under the poor governance of the Board of Education but in a highly political and corrupt system those at the bottom suffer the most," Gokce said. "With no influence from wealth or political clout, the communities served by Cross Keys schools are completely at the mercy of the system shenanigans and have not been served well by the Board of Education."

"Today's news is upsetting but not surprising," said Keefe. "It is time for the board and DeKalb school leadership to be held accountable for their failures over the past 10+ years.

"We have less than 12 months to start implementing and delivering on these changes to avoid further action which would be devestating to the communities we live in.  The children and taxpayers of DeKalb County deserve better from the people we have elected to serve and lead us."

"In my opinion, state stewardship and a ground-up re-constitution of DeKalb Schools will be required to root out the corruption and mis-management that afflicts the system," Gokce said. "Meanwhile, the students and teachers continue their journey towards an education.

"Shame on the board. They tried to manage everything else except what they are sworn to manage."

SACS is requiring the system to:

1. Devise and implement a written, comprehensive plan for unifying the DeKalb County Board of Education so that the focus can become serving the needs of the children of the DeKalb County School District.

2. Ensure that all actions and decisions of the DeKalb County Board of Education are reflective of the collective Board and consistent with approved policies and procedures and all applicable laws, regulations and standards, rather than individual board members acting independently and undermining the authority of the Superintendent to lead and manage day-to-day operations.

3. Establish and implement policies and procedures that ensure segregation of duties of the governing board and that of the administration including the elimination of Board working committees that result in board members assuming administrative functions that should be the responsibility of appropriate staff.

4. Implement and adhere to fiscally responsible policies and practices that ensure the DeKalb County Board of Education will adopt and ensure proper implementation of budgets within the financial means of the school system and that support the delivery of an educational program that meets the needs of the students.

John McGrew December 18, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Oh, be patient Mr Burger. I have every expectation that your most hated politicians will soon be backing an initiative to break away from DeKalb schools and create a new district. And then you can be critical of that instead of the new city.
HamBurger December 18, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Mr. Kim, education is an issue everyone is concerned about. Some even talk about it. It is also one that very few are involved in and that hand full of folks cannot demand change. Even sadder, the previously singled out state elected officials have little involvement other than a passing statement or email. Their involvement with either DCSS or DeKalb Government can in no way be compared to the creation of Dunwoody, Brookhaven, and future DeKalb cities. They are clearly not engaged or involved with any efforts to make changes to DeKalb government or DCSS. If they were, you would have heard them beating their chests four months ago. Their lack of interest this year means nothing will get done over the next year. Visit Rep. Jacobs and Rep. Taylor at their town hall meetings and see what they have to say. Ask them if they will be advocating for changes to DeKalb Government and to the DCSS. I understand they are an embarrassment. http://tinyurl.com/br3oe8c Waiting for SACS is one thing, being pro-active is something that should have been done by every tax payer years ago. Not to mention concerned (are there any?) elected officials. Please pass the yellow mustard!
HamBurger December 18, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Mr. John, I know firsthand how the dysfunctional Clayton County School System has devastated property values. You whine about my comparison of how state elected officials involved themselves with city creation as opposed to their lack of involvement in rectifying DeKalb Government and the DCSS? I thought you were smarter than that. Maybe we deserve the Clayton Treatment because collectively the citizens and our elected officials chose the wrong cause. We have regularly ignored the destruction of what led to the strength of our community for years. You want a Cheerwine and a special hamburger while you think about this?
HamBurger December 18, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Mr. John, you are so naive. No new school system until we have the resurrected county of Milton. Would you like some thin sliced onions?
Tim Abel December 18, 2012 at 01:13 AM
burger: "other than a handful of folks, clearly, no one cares!" Really burger!? The quality and reputation of a school district has a direct impact on the property values within that district, including yours burger. Every Dekalb property owner, with children or not, has a vested interest in this issue. It would be great if Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Chamblee could get together and form their own regional school district so that we could completely extricate ourselves from the ineptness, indifference and incompetence that so defines DeKalb County schools and government.
HamBurger December 18, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Mr. John, you are a smart fellow, can you tell me what the Pub 71 schedule is for Rep. Mike Jacobs next Town Hall to discuss the DCSS and DeKalb County Government restructure? Please pass the yellow mustard!
HamBurger December 18, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Mr. Tim, I like your mentality! If you cannot reclaim what rightfully should serve the citizens, just create another just like it! Do you have a clue, by law, if this is even possible? Amazing . . . You ever thought about getting your neighbors to attend DCSS school system meetings and roast a few incompetent elected officials on the school board? Or, you just are going to accept their incompetency? Special hamburger?
Kim Gokce December 18, 2012 at 01:26 AM
I got "pending moderation" for posting a link to the full SACS report. Here is what I was trying to add ... This excerpt from the report sums it up: "Until such time as the board members begin to place the educational needs of all students in DeKalb County Schools before those of individual students, constituents and other stakeholders in “their” election districts, the system will continue to fail to meet its mission and vision to provide a quality education for all students." This has been my beef for years and it has been a blatant and repeated offense. Perhaps there's hope for equity and ethics to find their way back into DeKalb Schools governance in 2013 and beyond.
Kim Gokce December 18, 2012 at 01:31 AM
While I would always want to avoid falling into the trap of defending anyone in absentia, I can tell you I have seen Fran Millar front and center on public education for years. He is very outspoken on the subject of DCSD and has been for a number of years. But I am not sure of the relevance in any case. In my fantasy world, individuals and leaders care about public education regardless of party affiliations. In the real world, it is just one more colored balloon partisans bat back and forth. The SACS probation transcends party in my opinion and I would like to (in my fantasy world) keep the debate there. Come now, Harvey, let's go have a drink ...
HamBurger December 18, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Mr. Kim, this will not change until such time as a certain BOE feels the fear of God from their constituents. Or, we can just do as Mr. Tim wants and screw around with creating a run-a-way school system for “the chosen”. Yeah, that is what we do around here . . . Hey! Meet you guys at Pub 71! Please pass the yellow musrtard!
Kim Gokce December 18, 2012 at 01:35 AM
According to the report today from SACS, it will change by this time next year or there will be no accreditation.
Kim Gokce December 18, 2012 at 01:57 AM
On the subject of "new school districts," the referenced Millar says, "not likely." See: http://www.reporternewspapers.net/2012/11/16/city-looking-to-create-its-own-school-district/
HDM December 18, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Hopefully we kind find a way to leave this blighted part of DeKalb County politics too.
Brookhaven Maven December 18, 2012 at 03:15 AM
BROOKHAVEN-CHAMBLEE UNIFIED CHARTER SCHOOL DISTRICT That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? I think you can safely leave Dunwoody out of the mix --- they have their own thing going up there. Chamblee HS is already a charter school, and the Brookhaven / Chamblee area elementary schools feed into either Chamblee or Cross Keys. With the recent passage of the charter school system legislation, and with the existing feeder-school structure in place, this should be a no-brainer. Regardless of what Fran Millar said in the article Mr. Gokce references above, we all know that there are ways to get things done under the gold dome when people really want it. Since the creation of a B-C Unified Charter School District would be within DeKalb County and within the boundaries of two cities, why couldn't there be local legislation enacted to pull our schools out of an untenable situation? If city governments cannot influence the passage of local legislation, then what good are they? -- The Maven
"E Pluribus Unum" December 18, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Am I the last to know? HamBurger, where are you located? I'll swing by one day for one of your special hamburgers.
Henry Orvin December 18, 2012 at 03:58 PM
The best thing that could happen to the large school districts in Georiga such as Dekalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, etc is to break them into multiple smaller districts. These districts are ridiculously large. What prevents this is the Georgia Constitution of 1976. In it school districts, unless grandfathered in like Atlanta and Marietta, can't be smaller than counties. This is a hold over from the old county unit system that Georgia suffered under for many years until it was declared unconstitutional. State leaders did not fix the problem in 1976 with the new constitution. We can thank such great leaders as Zell Miller, Jimmy Carter, and Tom Murphy that gave us this wonderful constitution that is preventing local management of school districts. This needs to be changed. These school districts have become too large and cumbersome to manage effectively and are too far removed from the citizens they serve. The charter school amendment was a start but is not enough.
Enuff Govt Already December 18, 2012 at 05:00 PM
The situation has already escalated. The school board operating outside of its scope is a far more important issue than the need to create more cities that duplicate services. The SACS report reveals nothing that wasn't already known about for years. The politicians have not dared to address the problems until they were forced too by the citizens; DeKalb Schools Watch, local media investigations etc. And as long as we cherry pick , "It would be great if Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Chamblee", notice no Doraville or unincorporated areas, then we are not solving problems just segregating. I fully support the D.A.s office in its prosecution of the previous superintentant and I'd like to see all reports of public corruption given a high priority for a thorough investigation.
brookhavengablog.com December 18, 2012 at 05:12 PM
New Post here: http://goo.gl/LZ0jH
Eddie E. December 18, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Dean, This time, just have the decency to keep it 'north of Peachtree'.
William December 18, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Burger- It's always 'politics 101' with you, isn't it? I'm pretty sure you are in the small minority of folks in our area who want to make this into some sort of referendum on our state legislators instead of fixing a long term problem. Feel free to look at the legislation that Rep. Jacobs, Rep Taylor, Sen. Millar, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, Sen. Carter, Rep. Parent, etc. etc. worked on to reduce the size of the county school board over the past few years. Or feel free to read Rep. Jacob's many blog entries related to the school system. Etc. Etc. You continue to attempt to divide by making broad, untruthful generalizations about your representatives and your neighbors. Continue to take pot shots from the shadows at your neighbors...that's all part of politics 101...but you'll also continue to lose credibility. Especially on this issue which affects all of us in Brookhaven and one that I promise, despite your statements to the contrary, that many folks care about.
William December 18, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Henry- Factual correction...the 1945 Constitution enacted the prohibition on new "Independent" school districts (aka city schools such as city of Decatur, Atlanta, Gainesville, Marietta, etc.). The theory was that large school districts were preferred because they reduced the cost per pupil through economies of scale. So...while there is a ban on new independent schools, there is nothing stopping county school districts from merging into larger ones. What the folks in 1945 didn't count on was the law of diminishing returns. While the economy of scale argument seems to have some merit, it's clear that once a school system is too big, there are many opportunities for bloat, waste, and corruption at the expense of the goal of educating the student. The city of Decatur is a good example of the type of system that can flourish by maintaining local control. However, it comes at a cost...taxes in the city of Decatur are very high. I'd love to have that conversation here in Brookhaven...but that will take a state-wide constitutional amendment. So while I will be supporting that effort started recently by Dunwoody, in the meantime, I will be supporting whatever action the state needs to take to clean house with our BOE and replace them with people who are not only committed to making the changes needed to pull us out of probation, but also are committed to making the structural changes to the board governance to attempt to keep this from happening again.
Tom Doolittle December 18, 2012 at 06:06 PM
whereas it makes some sense for a unified school district of the FOUR cities, it might be the straw that breaks the camel's back for city (combined or not) finances of newer cities. Many people watching for there own possibilities (Tucker, etc) are waiting for overreach by the new guys (especially if economy continues to shift as infrastructure beckons)--and that could be it. Also, Brookhaven will be in the most tenuous condition of all--even if no schools are envisioned there.
HamBurger December 18, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Mr. William, call it what you like. DCSS has been troubled for years and little has been done to better the situation. However, we do have a new city. Speaks volumes? Please pass the yellow mustard!
Eddie E. December 18, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Anyone paying any attention has seen this problem for years. It has continued through several successive board iterations (during my time with the Chamblee High Governance Council alone, we had three successions). So why does it take a 'report' from a private tentacle of the CofC? Would it maybe easier if we had top down 'ethics reform' starting with the General Assembly, State Board of Education and Superintendent which was then passed down the line to each county with a clearer picture of what behaviors are appropriate and ethical and which violate the oath of office and allow for immediate suspension and replacement? I agree with Mr. Burger that this should have been a consideration long before carving out the latest municipality, yet the hard work necessary for correcting the problems of Dekalb County Schools does not draw the same level of cheerleading and back-patting. The idea of attempting to establish a new 'school district' and populate it with governance, educators and staff is clearly madness. The political fight to attain the ability for such a change would make the citihood fight pale by comparison and the costs would be STAGGERING. It might be easier to plot an effective course for reform if guidance came from a detached, educational research institution, rather than a for profit tentacle of a business group.
Eddie E. December 18, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Tom, Chamber of Commerce. I bet you thought 'SACS' was a not-for-profit, educational research outfit didn't you. And to the charter requirement, therein is my worst fear.....dan weber's screwball start-charter schools for all plan. No reason to go with a plan with proven functionality, just pick from the list of unlikely kook examples!
HDM December 19, 2012 at 01:16 AM
DeKalb BoE is all screwed up and you want to kill the messenger? Folly.
HamBurger December 19, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Mr. Dean, are you seriously calling SACS the messenger? Really, this is another “head in the sand” moment for you! If you actually understood what SACS was all about you would know that they are no different from a fox in the chicken house. It is all about the money and not very much about responsible monitoring. SACS is a great American story muted by a bureaucratic monitoring system allowed by government for the sole purpose of personal profit at the expense of those they purport to serve. If SACS was truly a reputable organization, intent on monitoring and improving education, they would have issued their DeKalb County ruling five or more years ago. Sir, and to think you actually vote . . .
lastminutemom December 19, 2012 at 07:54 PM
http://www.change.org/petitions/georgia-governor-nathan-deal-replace-the-dekalb-county-school-board-2
Tom Doolittle December 19, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Only 282 signed by 3:02 today. Its been out more than a day--and it originally went to a 300 person e-mail list, so has to have hit 5,000 by now just e-mail alone. I did FB and two Patches and its on DeKalb School Watch--and it got into AJC this morning. 283 now is low. C'mon people riiisiiisee up!
Betsy Parks December 19, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I've started the petition "Governor Nathan Deal and Georgia State Board of Education: Review SACS findings, if accurate REPLACE the Dekalb County School Board. " and need your help to get it off the ground. Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Please share with your friends! http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-nathan-deal-and-georgia-state-board-of-education-review-sacs-findings-if-accurate-replace-the-dekalb-county-school-board

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