Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dunwoody to Seek Russian Advice to End Adoptions?

a good example of the Adopt-A-Spot program

UPDATE: I think the entire Adopt A Spot program should disappear.  No way should taxpayers pay for political signs or private business signs.  If you want to clean and maintain an area near your home or business, go for it.  But I don't want taxpayer funds paying for a SaveDunwoody sign or a Bill Grant Homes sign or any sign.  We have city maintenance crews now so they can maintain all the intersections.

Dunwoody has an Adopt-A-Spot program.  The idea is to reduce costs to the city by allowing an organization to get their name on a sign and keep the area looking beautiful. Bill Grant Homes is the benchmark for this.  Bill Grant has done a nice job on a couple of areas.  But leave it to the radicals to push the agenda.  I now support the complete destruction of the Adopt-A-Spot program.

The program has now taken a political turn.  When Bill Grant signs are yanked from the ground and the city picks up the tab for maintaining these intersections blame SaveDunwoody.  As we said before, we need to save Dunwoody from Save Dunwoody.

This is the sign that will lead to the elimination of the Adopt-A-Sign program

So this week a sign (way too close to the road by the way) was erected at the busy intersection of Mt Vernon Rd and Mt Vernon Way.  Of course the SaveDunwoody posse picked this location due to the excellent visibility.  This intersection is notorious for long wait times and traffic congestion.  Cars get stuck here daily, thus lots of people will see it.  Ironically this intersection needs improvements, something the SaveDunwoody people oppose.  SaveDunwoody knows this is a bad intersection for travel, yet use it to their advantage to gain eyeballs on the sign. This intersection was not chosen because it needed an immediate cleaning and beautification. 

So what do the residents of Dunwoody get in return for looking at this offensive political sign?

 To encourage citizens to adopt an area in the City of Dunwoody by installing landscape features and/or planting and maintaining grass, annuals and/or perennials. Individuals, organizations, associations, groups or businesses, hereafter called groups, will agree to keep the designated area clear of litter and weeds for a minimum of two years. In exchange, a sign bearing their name will be posted in the area. At the completion of the time period, the volunteers will receive a special certificate of appreciation and may renew their agreement.
So SaveDunwoody can go buy two bales of pine straw at Ace for a total of $8 and be done.  And for the next two years drivers have to look at this crap of a sign.

One guy at the city approves the signs.  If he feels intimidated or fears a lawsuit, he will approve the sign.  Today I called The Oasis Good Time Emporium and spoke to the manager.  DunwoodyTalk offered  to pay 50% of the sign cost for his new sign going in at the WOVER intersection (Womack at Vermack).  The application will be submitted tomorrow.  If it does not get approved he will put up a legal fight.  The manager at the Pink pony has not called back yet, but the offer is good for him as well. 

Banana Nut Crunch and Dunwoody Baseball

The DunwoodyTalk staff needs to take a break from school issues.  Next item on the agenda is Post cereal Banana Nut Crunch.  This is the go-to choice in the break room at our office.  We wait and wait for Publix to put it on sale (Buy One Get One = 50% off).  Well, it happened for a couple days this week, but there is a problem; it is apparent others in Dunwoody like this cereal.

the empty slot on this shelf is the space for Banana Nut Crunch

On two consecutive days a staff member has visited Publix with no success.  A brief consultation with the stock boy (the stock boy was actually a female, but 'stock girl' does not sound right so we will stick with the sexist language of stock boy) brought no results except a suggestion for a rain-check.  So a rain-check it is.

It's nearly spring and that means baseball.  We are just weeks away from the Pittsburgh Pirates jumping out to an early lead in their division, then the much anticipated trade deadline where Pirate management trades every pitcher with more than 7 wins on the season and every hitter averaging over .250 (except McCutchen).  It also means baseball in Dunwoody.  I stopped by and watched a few innings of middle school baseball at Dunwoody Park (soon to be the home of the new Austin Elementary school after a land swap with the school district,in the event the independent school district effort fails).  After being critical of the baseball program in the past I have come to terms with it.  Let's keep baseball in Dunwoody.  Much better than soccer.

Peachtree Middle School defeated St Pius

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Moving Forward or Backward in DeKalb?

Governor Deal put out a press release exclaiming victory in the court case against Gene Walker and the DeKalb School Board.  So far so good. Then we read this gem:
After a federal judge today removed a stay on Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to remove six members of the DeKalb County school board, the governor said the process he began last week will move forward. Deal also announced that the State Transportation Board member from the 4th Congressional District, Robert Brown of DeKalb County, will join Brad Bryant as a second liaison to the county’s school board to monitor progress.
“Given the gravity of this situation, I greatly appreciate Robert Brown accepting my request to serve as a liaison to the DeKalb board. He and Brad Bryant will make a great team to work with me, the DeKalb board and Superintendent Michael Thurmond to make sure that the system puts the students first.” said Deal
Robert L. Brown?  Why not hire Vernon Jones as your liaison?  Here's a little bit of Mr. Robert L. Brown in the news:

Evidence Shows Wiretaps in DeKalb Corruption Investigation

The records filed in DeKalb County Superior Court shed new light on potential evidence in the case, including four discs containing recorded cellphone conversations, texts and location information.

A special grand jury has been looking into allegations of bribery and bid rigging in DeKalb County's Watershed Department and other county contract irregularities. There has also been a recent focus on the County CEO, Burrell Ellis.

One of the warrants authorized investigators to get lists of phone numbers for incoming and outgoing calls at a Decatur architecture firm, R.L. Brown and Associates.

Ellis has acknowledged using a phone near the lobby of that office to make his campaign calls. State law prohibits him from making those calls from his county office.

Robert Brown confirmed that phone number is connected to a trunk line, used by so many employees and others that call data would not be able to be traced to an individual. Investigators noted they did not end up executing that warrant.
How convenient?  Is R.L. Brown a true advocate for fixing the DeKalb School System, or a dedicated supporter of the Friends & Family program, looking to protect the DeKalb Jobs and Financial Fraud organization masquerading as a school system?

And does anyone know of how many contracts R.L. Brown And Associates has received from DeKalb County School System?  And what about future contracts?  Will his firm be able to bid on the design of the SPLOST schools being built in the next couple of years?  I sure hope Brad Bryant keeps his eyes open and his head on a swivel.  A step forward? Time will tell.

So was it the DeKalb Delegation asking the governor to appoint R.L. Brown to 'assist" with our DeKalb School System?

See south DeKalb report on this topic HERE  (thanks to SDOC for the link)

Signs Greet Teachers & Walkers in Dunwoody

Today is Walk-to-School Day.  For those of us who carried a metal lunch box to school and to the Old-Timer who walked uphill both ways to school, a day set aside to walk to school seems odd.  But nowadays most kids don't walk to school.  But with the large-capacity elementary schools being built, kids are attending school further from home than in years past. 

A group of people put up signs in the early morning hours - when those snowflakes were falling.  The signs are simple yet send a great message.  The signs show thanks to the school teachers.

The signs were placed by the new non-profit that hosted Sunday's public forum.   The signs were donated by Heyward Wescott, owner of Custom Signs Today.       DunwoodyParents.Org

Monday, March 4, 2013

Why Jester and Speaks Did Not Resign from DeKalb School Board

Six members of the DeKalb School Board were recently suspended from the Board. The school board voted to fight this in court.  It is rumored that Jester and Speaks did not vote in favor of hiring lawyers in the Board's defense.  Many people have asked (and criticized) why Jester and Speaks did not simply resign and separate themselves from the others.

The answer is simple - the Board fills all vacancies until next election cycle.

Back when the Board filed suit and and awaited word from a State judge and a Federal judge (the Board withdrew their State case, taking it straight to a Federal judge), Jester and Speaks knew if one of the two judges sided with the Board and those two had resigned, then the remaining Board members would fill Jester and Speaks positions.

Do you want Gene Walker and Sara Coplin Wood picking the representative for District 1 (Dunwoody/Brookhaven area)?  I didn't think so.  Now you know why Jester and Speaks did not resign. 

Parent Meeting in DeKalb

A public forum for Dunwoody residents was held today with approximately 450 people in attendance.  This will go down as one of the best-attended public forums I've seen in Dunwoody.  The event was well organized, people were civil, questions were asked and answered.  Hats off to the organizers and participants.

The meeting started off with an introduction of local celebrities.  City Council members (Nall, Shortal, Bonser, Heneghan, Thompson,  Deutsch) were all there, as well as State Representative Tom Taylor, State Senator Fran Millar, former school board member Jim Redovian, Brad Bryant (former State school Superintendent, who should have been DeKalb's interim Superintendent) former school board member Don McChesney, DHA President Stacey Harris, Dunwoody's Social Chairwoman Lisa V, Al, Ringo, Sgt Hulka, and many others.  Nancy Jester was there, and when announced, she received a standing ovation from 400 taxpayers.  Name me one prior, current, or suspended school board member or elected official in DeKalb who today can get a standing ovation in their district?  She deserves it, as does Rep Tom Taylor. Too bad Nancy may no longer be on the Board, and too bad we don't have all our elected state officials fighting for her down at the Capitol.  The opposite of that is what is happening.

An alert reader said I was making too much of the Democrat Republican / Conservative Liberal issue.  The reader is correct.  After all, we ALL want what is best for the kids, right?  Well, mostly.  For some it is all about control and power.  And there are 1 billion reasons for control and power in DeKalb. Yes, the DeKalb School System is a $1 billion entity when you factor in all the "free" federal dollars.  And no way would people allow political parties, political philosophy, culture, and race get in the way of educating children. In response to this blog's reader's input, please do not read the text with the strike-through if you don't want to read about political parties and finger pointing. I don't want to appear as angry or upset or disturbed over any of this - it's only 12 or so years of schooling for 100,000 kids - no big deal.  The kids can easily learn all they need in life from Instagram, Facebook, Kik, Pinterest, and the Disney Channel.

 Just like last year when the Democrats in the DeKalb Delegation drew the new school board lines for DeKalb (when the State has a Republican governor and 2/3rds majority in the Senate) the DeKalb delegation will be selecting our new District 1 school board member. I know, there is a selection committee taking applications.  If you really think that is an open and transparent process then I have a 100-acre Old Growth Forest to sell you.  You don't think the Democrats of the DeKalb Delegation don't already have the replacement board members picked?  And if you are expecting a number-crunching, tough-question asking conservative to represent District 1 (Dunwoody) then you have not lived in DeKalb long enough.

Last year when all the political lines were redrawn (every ten years, and new lines were needed for the new school board positions) the DeKalb Democrats got their plan passed.  Why did the Republicans not submit THEIR plan then tell the governor and legislators, "Here it is, this is what we want."?  Instead, the Democrats drew the lines.  Fast forward a year and the Governor needs some guidance on reappointing/selecting  school board members.  So do the Republicans in DeKalb tell the Republican Governor, "Here is what WE want to do, based on our knowledge of the situation and feedback from the voters".  No.  They instead are told by the DeKalb Democrats what to do. The DeKalb Delegation, headed by south DeKalb pols and MMO, are again calling the shots. Must be tough going to work knowing you are owned by a liberal.

Yes, you heard me - the liberal DeKalb Delegation does not want Nancy Jester on the school board, so she will not be reappointed.  The DeKalb Delegation does not want Dr Pam Speaks on the school board, so she will not be reappointed.  The funny part is that Jester and Speaks routinely get positive feedback from parents outside their districts, from south DeKalb.  But Jester and Speaks don't meet the criteria for being a DeKalb School Board member, at least the criteria as put forth by most of the DeKalb Delegation (Delegation = State senators and representatives from DeKalb County).  The Republicans are not really in control on this issue, they just think they are in control.  You will hear calls for a clean slate, a new beginning.  District 1 does not want a clean slate.  District 1 wants Nancy Jester and Pam Speaks on the Board.  These two have voted 'no' time and time again for lawyers.  They brought the financial issues to light.  Yet they have no vocal support from elected officials at the State level - but they do have the support of the voters.  And remember, these voters vote for these same senators and representatives next year.

I was glad to see so many parents of young children at the event today.  A few teachers, local political people, taxpayers, business owners, and even a spy or two from outside of Dunwoody.

The meeting started with Rep Taylor giving a breakdown on his House Bill. He needs 120 votes on the House to agree (2/3rds) then Senator Millar has to work the same magic in the Senate (2/3rds).  If it passes this session, it goes on statewide ballot in 2014.  If the Bill does not get action this session then it does next session, with the issue still going on a state ballot in 2014.  With all the publicity on this issue I think it is best this session.  If DeKalb gets off probation by this time next year (as we expect) then much of the anger will have subsided, along with the press coverage.

The meeting then had some general information on the group known as Dunwoody Parents Concerned about Quality Education, Inc.  The steering group for this entity is comprised of eight peopleTheir web site is in process so be patient and check back in a few days. You can search for their Google Group in the interim.

The Steering committee:
  • Deb Cameron
  • Gil Hearn
  • Allegra Johnson
  • Donna Cannady Nall
  • Rick Otness
  • Heyward Wescott
  • Robert Wittenstein
If you live in Dunwoody you will surely recognize at least one, if not many, of these folks.

Putting legislation aside, this group will work on a feasibility study on the possibility of Dunwoody supporting (financially) its own school district.  Well, not really.  It's no secret the tax dollars generated in Dunwoody will be enough to support a school system. This system would actively recruit the best teachers in Georgia to come here.  And the pay will be near the top.  This is opposite the DeKalb model.  DeKalb does not seek the best teachers - neighboring districts and private schools cherry-pick our best.  DeKalb is all about hiring friends of friend, sorority sisters, etc.  This is a major problem not just in Dunwoody, but across the county.

Back to that study.  The study is needed to show the State legislators the financial impact a new school system would have on existing districts.  The City of Dunwoody will most likely vote to pay for the study.  Any council person voting "no" does not get re-elected and risks losing a seat on the July 4th parade float.

A study may cost between $10,000 and $15,000 and will show Dunwoody needs $70 million to run its own district and, at the current millage rate, brings in close to $130 million.  If we had a Dunwoody Independent School District we could cut the school taxes by 25%.  This means we could be home to the McEachern of DeKalb.  It also means less money for the others in DeKalb.  If this happens, DeKalb School System would need to finally get its finances in order and run more efficiently.

The forum also discussed the option of charters and charter clusters.  A conversion charter school (Peachtree Middle) means nothing but extra letters on the spirit wear clothing.  And it creates a better cheer for the middle school cheerleaders.  Without the 'charter', the school's cheerleaders would be yelling "PMS, PMS" through red, white, and blue megaphones. That would be embarrassing.  The school staff still lives in fear of the central office, local parents have no say and no power.  The checkbook is still controlled by the central office.  In my opinion a conversion charter is no better than being a regular school.  If someone wants to write a piece on why Peachtree is better as a conversion charter, send it over and I will publish it.

The school Portfolio option was mentioned.  Go see Nancy Jester's blog for details.

Although not yet a law, the Parent Trigger option was not mentioned.  Too bad.  If the Parent Trigger Bill passes (after it is tweaked), a group of parent can take over a Dunwoody school next year, controlling the money and all that goes with it.  You elect a local board, hire the staff, choose textbooks, everything.  A strong Parent Trigger law is our best hope as of now.

The Dan Weber cluster idea was mentioned as well.  This is Plan C.  If Tom Taylor's item fails and the Parent Trigger fails, then we go to Plan C.

There was some lively discussion at the forum, nearly all positive.  Senator Fran Millar, jokingly saying SACS is a four-letter word, said SACS leader Mark Elgart  "has had enough" on the DeKalb issue.  Well, Elgart has been here working with DeKalb for ten years - what took so long?  A little intervention five years ago and we avoid this mess?  Senator Millar said the governor has done everything he has asked of him the past two months (on this school board issue).  For all of you readers please see Item #5 on the list below.

Hopefully the 450 people at the forum stays energized.  Hopefully the group grows to 4500 people.

Now that you are engaged, what can you do?

#1 - email Michael Thurmond , interim school superintendent, and let him know you want all DeKalb high schools to be able to get their own accreditation from Georgia Accrediting Commission.

#2 - Call Governor Deal's Chief of Staff at (404) 656-1776 (Chris Riley) and request he reappoint Pam Speaks and Nancy Jester

#3 - email Tom Taylor and volunteer to help lobby for the Bill he proposed in the State House

#4 - get involved at one of the local schools as a volunteer

#5 - email Fran Millar's assistant and ask the senator to support Nancy Jester and Pam Speaks

You are mad, worried, upset, involved, willing to work, etc.  You can sit around and do nothing or you can do the items above.  Your choice.  

There are lots of moving parts to this drama.  We await word from a Federal judge.  We await to hear again from Representative Taylor.  We await a study on the feasibility of an independent school system.  We await word from SACS on accreditation (May 2013).  We await word on single-school accreditation. 

Those of you in DeKalb but not in Dunwoody, you need to be calling and emailing Superintendent Thurmond on high school accreditation.  Arabia Mountain, Chamblee, Southwest DeKalb parents - get motivated on this issue. You want to work together as one?  Let's do it on high school accreditation. 

Don't get all excited on the accreditation issue.  Having SACS accreditation does not lower the class sizes at Peachtree, Kingsley, or Chesnut.  it does not improve the quality of teachers in the buildings.  It does not give you local control.  We need to keep looking for a way out.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Charter Cluster Proposal Dunwoody Brookhaven and Others

An alert reader of the blog sent me a summary of the Charter Cluster Proposal.

Charter Cluster Proposal – Executive Summary

The problem
Large urban schools systems find it difficult to push accountability down to the school house level where real change is most effective.  Size, bureaucracy, and inertia make it difficult for large schools systems to react quickly and to tailor solutions to the needs of specific communities where performance gaps and improvement opportunities differ dramatically.
Individual conversion charter schools have frequently failed to yield the level of independence and accountability needed to significantly improve the quality of education delivered to students.  This is partially due to the isolated role each school plays in the Pre-K to 12 educational experience and partially due to the historic control exercised by many school systems and the central offices over the staff of individual conversion charter schools.

Create Partnerships between the local board of education and community based nonprofit to build educational subsystems around a high school cluster (a single high school and all the middle schools and elementary schools that feed into that high school.)  Empower the principals of those schools to effect change and organize those principals to work as a team and be accountable to the local community. 
The focus of the cluster will be academic achievement and the establishment of high standards for students and faculty.  As part of the charter negotiated with the school system, the cluster will establish rigorous benchmarks that include audits of progress and achievement.  The cluster will develop and maintain the curricula for grades Pre K-12 used throughout the cluster and will ensure compliance with state guidelines.  The cluster will also establish the schedule and determine the books/instructional material used in the cluster.  The Board of Education and the county central office will be responsible to monitor the cluster, which will operate under a contract (charter) with the school system, to ensure that educational benchmarks are met.
Dunwoody proposes a five year pilot program with the goal of creating a model that can be used as an innovation laboratory and replicated elsewhere in DeKalb County and in other Georgia school systems.

Support the creation of a Charter Cluster as a 501(c)3 non-profit, non-sectarian, organization whose focus is academic achievement at the community level. 
The organizational charter of this private not-for-profit organization will specify both a Board of Trustees with legal and fiduciary responsibility and a Cluster Governing Council.  The Board of Trustees will be the responsible party who contracts with the school system on the cluster charter. 
A Cluster Governing Council will develop policies that will govern common standards across all the schools in the cluster and provide policy direction to the headmaster and cluster staff.    

The Charter Cluster will operate with funds provided on a per-student basis from the state, and on a per student/per-facility basis from the county at current levels or at lesser levels of funding as negotiated between the cluster and the school system in the charter. 
Additional funds can be directed as raised by the non-profit 501c(3) either though fundraising efforts in the community or through grants.
School support services such as food service, transportation, facility maintenance and safety will continue to be provided by the county. 
Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenues and allocations are not impacted by the Charter Cluster and are allocated as currently prescribed.
Unspent funds are retained by the non-profit charter cluster.  School land and buildings and all physical assets (books, computers, etc.) remain the property of the school system.  Once purchased by the cluster, physical assets become the property of the county school system for exclusive use of the cluster.

Students Served
Charter Clusters remain public schools and must provide services to all local students, including programs appropriate for special needs students.  Transfers in and transfers out would be allowed in accordance with the charter between the cluster and the local board of education.

Open Meetings/Open Records
While the cluster governance board is a private, non-profit entity, it is also a community organization spending taxpayer money.  As a consequence, it will operate with the same open records and open meetings requirements mandated by the state for governmental organizations.