Friday, February 22, 2013

Magic Mike Thurmond to the Rescue in DeKalb

Before we get started, we need the aha connection lady to get on the phone with her Hollywood connections.  Forget about Clint Eastwood, Hunger Games, and whatever other movies that have filmed in DeKalb and metro Atlanta.  We have two guaranteed blockbusters here, ongoing.  We have Andrea Sneiderman and we have the DeKalb School Board.  


Yesterday was the BIG hearing in downtown Atlanta - the DeKalb board and staff confronted by the State of Georgia and its Board of Education. Before we get into the detail, I kindly ask the Dept of Education to move away from 1999 and RealPlayer.  Equally as bad is the City of Dunwoody choosing Microsoft Silverlight for its webcasts.
Elgart from SACS

Dr Eugene Walker (right)

Jay Cunningham (far left)

Magic Mike Thurmond (right)

Nancy Jester

State Board of Ed members trying to look undecided

RealPlayer IT staff member, working from a Tandy TRS-80 computer to restart the RealPlayer streaming video

Many people thought, myself included, that this was a slam-dunk case for the State. Earlier this week a blog post here said it would be a unanimous decision.  Call a few witnesses, eat lunch, rule to remove the board, then head home.  Then let the governor agree to replace the DeKalb board.  No one expected 14 hours of testimony.

The hearing started off with the State announcing they are going after removal of six board members, not nine.  The three newly elected people are safe.  The loud cheers from Fernbank rattled across Decatur all the way to Smyrna.

Mark Elgart, the Educrat Czar of North America, was first person of interest to take the stand.  Elgart mentioned how he started working with DeKalb back in 2003.  So it took only nine years for Markie to get a handle on DeKalb Schools.  "A decade of decline in DeKalb" said Elgart.  I'll agree with him.  But it's been more than the schools that have declined in DeKalb the past ten years. 13 hours later Nancy Jester warned the State Board members that things need to change in Georgia or other counties will soon follow.  Jester said programs and safeguards in other states would not allow a decade of decline.  Unfortunately the State Board members could care less of big changes.  They point to DeKalb as a culture of incompetence, all the while they (the unelected State Board members) are part of the ostrich culture - burying their heads in the sand.  Now that the DeKalb Board is set to be removed the State Board and the State Superintendent can go back to being totally irrelevant to the children of Georgia.

Elgart, when questioned if the current Board was suited to turn things around, he expressed doubt.  He said the new Chair and Vice-Chair are new to the board and have no experience.  Wow.  So replacing the entire Board is better?  Hey Mark, replacing the Board means nine people with no experience.  Elgart suggested replacing the Board with people with experience. Who does Elgart have in mind?  Redovian, Zepora,and Bowen?

Too bad no one asked Elgart if DeKalb should switch from district-wide accreditation to single-school accreditation.  According to Elgart only 10% of their victims clients are accredited district-wide.  Elgart said he has seen an acceleration of issues in DeKalb since 2010.  Well, I can explain that in two words: Nancy Jester.  Yes, since taking office Nancy Jester has become the taxpayer's friend in bringing out the dirty laundry of DeKalb.  The issues Elgart mentions have been there since 2003, but he either ignored it or did not see it.  It took Nancy Drew Jester to bring many items to light.  Quite ironic that Nancy is the whistle blower yet may be removed from the Board due to her brave actions.

When asked about records and interview notes and audio on the SACS investigation, Elgart embarrassingly stated his company does not keep notes or records of such things.  So Elgart, after bragging about having 15,000 school districts on Earth, Mars, and now Jupiter, admits they do not keep notes of interviews when handling SACS' biggest case ever?

One final note on Elgart - Elgart said he helped the Board with their superintendent search.  Hey Markie, how about SACS giving us some money to pay off the departed Atkinson.

One final note on SACS - it seems as SACS wants this Board removed.  This Board has members publicly criticizing SACS.  And SACS does not like being called out.  They don't like DeKalb, and they don't like anyone jeopardizing their strangle-hold on schools across Georgia.

The case against DeKalb started out strong for the State, with Sarah Copelin Wood (SCW) first on the hot seat. SCW played it low key.  Arriving late, disappearing for a while, and just being Sara.  Bless her heart.  The DOE attorney Jennifer Hackemeyer grilled SCW for an email she sent, using her personal email, to the principal at a school.  SCW is Chairperson of some non-profit group, and her group wanted to present some scholarship award at the school.  She was smart and sent it to herself, and using the Bcc to send it to others.  The State attorney lady pressed SCW, asking her if she sent it as a Board member and sent it to staff.  Of all the things to quiz SCW on, the State goes with an email for a scholarship award?  Give SCW credit - she played it cool and rattled the young attorney.  You criticize SCW all you want, but she was a non-factor in today's hearing.  The State was trying to discredit SCW (not a difficult task, most likely) but the ploy did not work.  Did SCW come across as a great board member?  No.  But the State failed to show she is 100% incompetent, and that was the goal of the State.  The goal of the State was to embarrass SCW and make her look incompetent.  As mentioned in the prior blog post, it is a shame when the Government resorts to character attacks and not facts.  But the State attorney needed to do no in depth research on SCW as she knew before eating breakfast that she would win 12-0.   Not once in 14 hours did the State attorney express emotion or push hard for in-depth answers.  She acted more as a moderator.  That should have been a big clue to the viewers that this case was settled weeks ago.

Next to the stand was Magic Mike Thurmond.  Magic Mike took the room like a seasoned professional.  Apparently he made a wonderful impression on many people (some on the State Board) while Labor Commissioner. Chris Matthews, in town covering the event, said he felt a tingle go up his leg when Magic Mike spoke.

Magic Mike has no experience running a school board.  He was not a typing teacher, not a gym teacher.  But Magic Mike knows how to build bridges. He may be the person to bring a county school system together.  Magic Mike came across to me as a person who wants the glory of fixing DeKalb.  Sure, we taxpayers will provide him with 23,000 reasons a month to do a good job.  I never had a good feeling for Lewis, Tyson, or Atkinson.  After meeting all three I had no confidence in any of the three.  But I feel differently about Magic Mike. I could eat those words in three months or five months, but I will put them out there today.

Many people will say Mike Thurmond just played to the crowd today. And sure, he did.  But Mike does not need the job as superintendent.  The past three superintendents needed the job.  Magic Mike wants DeKalb to succeed - he wants the legacy.  To him it's not a job, but something personal. I don't see Magic Mike taking orders from anyone on the Board.

The State Board is now questioning new board member Johnson.  The State Board members are all worked up over 5-4 votes and 7-2 votes and a Board that has disagreement.  This is absurd.  What do they want, a Board that has no conflict and is bullied by a superintendent or Chair?  A successful Board needs people to ask tough questions and a person willing to say 'no'.  Of all the things said today, this "we want a DeKalb Board that all agrees and gets along together" is nonsense.

Dr. Pamela Speaks was up next. She is a great Board member.  But when asked if she would gracefully step down if the State Board tells her to, she said yes.  Sorry, Pam.  Many people campaigned and voted for you.  You deserve to be there and you could have told the Board you deserve to be there. Tell the Board you are a strong leader and the children of DeKalb need you. Hopefully the governor will reappoint Dr. Pam Speaks.

Next up was Jay Cunningham.  Jay spoke of growing up in DeKalb, and his kids went to DeKalb and are now in college or out of college.  Jay said he was elected by 64% of the voters in his district.  Jays says the new leadership, Magic Mike, is great.  He feels good about Magic Mike.  "We gotta talk about race.  We gotta talk about finances."  "It took Mr. Thurmond to come in to get things going". "We got the right group, we got the right leader".

As predicted, the State attacked Jay and his pizza business from ten years ago (I told you so Maureen).  Really?  The State has many things to ask and she asks about pizza?  But the State was not here today on a fact-finding mission - they were here to discredit SCW and Jay.  Some will say they deserve criticism, and they do deserve it.  But do you want the State attorney questioning Jay about pizza from 2003 when we have $1 billion in jeopardy and 100,000 students in limbo?

One other issue that keeps coming up is the Executive Session vote that took place to spend $150,000 on training.  It seems as some State Board members think this vote, the first vote under the leadership of Magic Mike, should not have been behind closed doors.  This one issue may be the downfall of the Board, but it was done under the advice of legal counsel.  Can't blame the current Board members for that.

One State board member has one question for each DeKalb board member: "Will you sue the State if removed from the Board"?  Why is this a question?  He is asking citizens to give up a right to litigate?  This guy should be removed by the Governor for incompetence.

The DeKalb issue now takes two turns.
#1 - The new members of the DeKalb school Board are .....................................................
#2 - A Fulton County judge has a hearing on the constitutionality of the board removal next Thursday, and a Federal judge will have a hearing Tuesday.

The Fulton judge will look at the constitutionality of the law to remove Board members.

The Federal judge will look at the lack of due process for the school board members.  The Federal judge issue is what will get the state in trouble.

This issue is going nowhere for a while.

The list of new members appointed to the DeKalb board will probably be revealed after Tuesday's hearing in front of a Federal judge.

Mark your calendar for May 2014.  Jay Cunningham and Gene Walker will be re-elected to the school board in DeKalb.  The Board will go from 9 to 7 members.  Mike Thurmond has lots of changes to implement the next twelve months.

I believe the law to remove elected Board members is unconstitutional, but other states (California) have similar laws in place.  It is unsettling to have a Board of appointed (non-elected) unseat elected officials.  There are people all across DeKalb rejoicing that six members of the Board are gone - but there is an equal amount of people waking up today feeling violated as they have had their rights disregarded.  Elected officials have a right to office.  Removing elected officials (who have not committed a crime) violates the rights of the voters who elected them. This will be the basis for a Civil Rights lawsuit.  Plenty of people are willing to assist Dr Eugene Walker in a case against the State of Georgia. 

A safeguard to remove an elected official from office is needed by the constitutional principles of due process.  I would not call a group hearing like yesterday due process.  Every Board member should have had an individual hearing.  Let the State prepare a case against each member.  Instead, we tossed out six people, two of whom who had no part in the serious issues raised by SACS.

Georgia has a recall method.  It is very difficult to conduct a recall - on purpose.  After all, who do you think wrote the rules on a recall?

There is only ONE way to fix the situation in DeKalb - reduce the size of the district.  No matter if the school system loses accreditation, Jay and Gene will still be reelected. As will Donna and Pam and Nancy.  The people in these districts believe they have the best Board member to represent their part of the district.  Not even Magic Mike change this.  But make things smaller and the People will see things differently.

If a district goes from 100,000 to 30,000 students things become more transparent.  Voters can easily grasp what needs improved and who needs replaced.  Currently DeKalb School System is like a machine that has 1,000 moving parts.  This machine manufactures 18 different widgets.  When the machine breaks no one is qualified to fix it.  Let's disassemble this machine and make it into three or four smaller machines - machines with less moving parts and making fewer types of widgets.

There is only one way for this machine to be disassembled - via a Constitutional Amendment.  And there is only one way for an amendment to get on the statewide ballot - we need parallel bills in the GA House and the GA Senate.  Tom Taylor is dropping a Bill this session in the House.

Without a successful school system our property values will continue to decrease, businesses will continue to avoid the Dunwoody and Brookhaven sections of the PCID and choose Sandy Springs, and new families will avoid Dunwoody and Brookhaven like the plague.  This issue is too important to ignore.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beware The Swinging Pendulum in Georgia

The State Board of Education has already rendered their decision for the DeKalb School Board meeting that will may take place on Thursday. The appointed State Board folks will vote unanimously to remove the members of the DeKalb School Board.  Governor Nathan Deal will accept their decision and remove the Board.  Nine replacements have already been hand-picked by a DeKalb state senator and a pair of DeKalb state representatives.

I suspect the State will put on a show and try to embarrass Jay and Sara at the hearing on Thursday.  They will surely bring up the personal financial issues of these two board members. Maybe even a crack about not having a college degree.  In short, the State's case will NOT focus on any laws that were broken or rule infractions - it will be an attack on character.  Not good when your Government's main purpose in a hearing is to simply shame its citizens.  If State boards want to embarrass elected officials over personal finances, we could have one hearing a day, every day of the year.

I want to be clear _ I am not even close to satisfied with the performance of the DeKalb School Board.  I know Pam and Nancy have tried their best. They were elected to work for the People.  But it seems difficult for these two Board members to do more than report on the failings and corruption. They are out-voted every time.  Did I want the voters in other districts to elect new Board members when Jay and Sara ran for office?  Yes.  But that did not happen.  As a shareholder here in DeKalb I wish we had a better board. I hope that the replacement Board, hand-picked by a couple of liberal politicians from DeKalb, will do better than the current Board. But do know those removed Board members will be re-elected summer 2014.  And until then, with a new superintendent and nine new Board members, the central office 'workers' will be unstoppable.

But let's look in the Georgia Crystal Ball.  Let's fast-forward 30 years or so.  The demographics are moving away of the Republican end of the spectrum.  Immigrants arriving in large numbers annually and the umm, ummm, birth rates of the urban counties is higher than in the rural areas.  In short, Georgia may not be the Republican strong-hold in 2034.  Don't look for a 2/3 Senate majority past 2020 (Jan, you have two-four years to get your Milton County passed).

So we look ahead to 2034 with a Democrat governor and perhaps a majority for Democrats in the House and Senate.  They may look at a Conservative school board up in Lumpkin, Hall, or White County, a school board allowing children to have a US flag and bibles in the classroom.  What will the good governor of 2034 do to fix this issue?  Throw the Board out of office, using the power of Mark Elgart's SACS as leverage.  Careful Georgia legislators - the pendulum will swing and your school board could be next.  The power of the governor being able to remove elected officials is dangerous.

As we are a day away from the school board hearing, why has no elected official asked the GA Supreme Court for an opinion on the law that allows the Governor to remove elected officials?  With an opinion in hand, this game of chicken could have been avoided.  Does the State of Georgia Constitution have any meaning for elected officials and voters rights?  If When the DeKalb School Board is removed you will see an epic Civil Rights lawsuit begin.  The Civil Rights attorneys will not rest until the people elected to office are reinstated (and probably rewarded huge dollar amounts for personal damages.  Image Jay winning a $5,000,000 lawsuit, payable by the GA taxpayers. That would be hilarious.)

So did these DeKalb board members break any laws?  We have not seen any evidence of that.  Have they had personal issues regarding finances?  Yes, at least two have.  So is that a basis for removal from a school board?  Is incompetence grounds for removal from office?  How many council members, senators and representatives in Georgia have defaulted on bank loans, been arrested for DUI, or are generally incompetent?  I think nearly every person in Georgia can look to their city council, county commission, and/or school board and find at least one incompetent elected official.  Are we enacting new laws or having hearings to evict these elected officials?  No.

"But the DeKalb board members are hurting the kids" you say?  Perhaps that is true. The antics of some Board members hurt teacher morale, suppress funds for text books, and throw a  blanket of negativity up and down the ranks in DeKalb.  But I ask today, what has the State of Georgia done to prevent such things?  Has the Education committees established metrics of achievement to be met by school systems aside from the annual shakedown by SACS?  Has the State set up rules (and enforced these rules) for school systems keeping reserves in the bank?  No.

Last year the focus was putting together an unconstitutional law to remove from office school boards that Mark Elgart and SACS deem incompetent.  Instead of taking away funds or instituting a State intervention program, the decision was made to remove elected officials.  Again, this will do NOTHING to improve education in DeKalb. We need to get away from county-wide accreditation and move to individual schools. That should have been a Bill this session.

DeKalb Senator Fran Millar served as the Chairman of the Education and Youth Committee and served on the House Education Committee.  What did either of these political committees do to improve education in DeKalb or Georgia? What did these groups do to prevent a disaster in DeKalb or other school systems (beware Cobb and Gwinnett and Douglas counties - you are the next DeKalb County). Again, nothing.  Georgia remains near the bottom of education in the USA, regardless of what we hear from John My Other State Subsidized Vehicle is a Barge.

Speaking of DeKalb legislators - thanks to Tom Taylor collecting letters to hand deliver to the governor this week, and promising to submit a House Bill to break apart the DeKalb School System.

And what about the DeKalb senator who lives in Dunwoody?  No talk of a new school district Bill from Fran.  How can that be?  He has done NOTHING to work toward breaking apart the DeKalb School system?  It is TRUE.  It is time for people to ask Fran why he is not dropping a bill this week. Please ask Fran Millar why he is not working to do more than temporarily replace a school board. Why is there no Bill being dropped in the Senate? 

Don't accept anything less than a Bill that allows the State of Georgia to vote on a change to the state constitution, allowing for us to vote on adding new school districts.  You think things are going to change in DeKalb because Michael Thurmond is our superintendent?  You think things will improve because bureaucrats are hand-selecting a new Board?  Expect more of the same as long as DeKalb County School System remains a 100,000 student district.

Fran and Tom, we know it is an uphill battle.  But we will never climb that hill unless Tom and Fran take the first step.

This is reaching 'crazy' and 'dangerous' status for students and property owners in DeKalb.  The school system is being held hostage by a Board and by SACS.  I've written before about SACS. SACS can destroy DeKalb County and all homeowners, not due to failing schools, but because SACS does not like the way Board members act.  Many students and schools in DeKalb are doing well - but SACS does not care about the students.  SACS wants to retain power and continue to grow financially - at the expense of people in DeKalb and across Georgia.

The problem of education in Georgia is much deeper than the DeKalb School Board, but our senators and representatives don't want to dig too deep as what they will find is something they themselves have been burying for years.

We welcome all the new visitors.  be sure to see an older post HERE on Michael Thurmond's speech