UPDATE: The DeKalb School Board, though attorney Bob Wilson, has filed a suit seeking a temporary restraining order “seeking to prevent a hearing by the Georgia Board of Education Thursday,” reports Ty Tagami in the AJC. This stuff just got real.
D-e-K-a-l-b, a political subdivision in Georgia, pronounced, “debacle,” as in “a sudden and ignominious failure, a fiasco.” The County government in being investigated by the District Attorney, as reported yesterday. The County School Board could be (and should be) removed en masse on Thursday, in part because that Board is dysfunctional and incompetent and incapable of managing the littlest of the little things, and therefore should not be trusted with bigger and more important things, such as levying property taxes for educational purposes or setting policies for the education of nearly 100,000 DeKalb children. The case was made, again, yesterday with two actions by that Board. They decided to adopt an ethics policy and to purchase some “governance training.”
At first glance, this sounds good. Lack of governance (and not the incompetence, financial shenanigans and p-ss poor student achievement in DeKalb) is why the Board is at risk of removal. The muddled ethics policy was addressed by former State Rep. Kevin Levitas in 2009, and former DeKalb School Board member Paul Womack in 2010. It only took a few years, accreditation probation and the looming threat of suspending the entire Board to get them to act, but look at how they acted: ”…when it came to signing an oath to uphold a new code of ethics, there was confusion and some disagreement. When board member Sarah Copelin-Wood suggested the code be read aloud, a tense exchange ensued between her and board chairman Eugene Walker.”
Audio from WABE at the link. Transcript of the exchange below:
Wood: “Although we’re going to sign it, we need to know what it says and to understand what it says.”
Walker: “Well, I’ve read it. You’ve not read it, Mrs. Wood?”
Wood: “That’s not what I asked, Eugene. That’s not what I said.”
Walker: “Ok. Go ahead and do what you want to do, ma’am.”
Wood: “Ok. What I said was the public don’t know what it says.”
But we do. We certainly do know that if basic subject-verb agreement from a school board member is such a challenge we can’t expect them to grasp the concepts of a set of rules governing their behavior. And look, the argument was not over some subtle nuance in the ethics code. The “tense exchange” arose over whether or not they should read it aloud before SIGNING it.
The other action taken by the Board was to approve a contract with McKenna Long Aldridge for “governance training.” What will DeKalb parents and taxpayers get for $50,000 per month from the “international law firm with more than 575 attorneys and public policy advisors…?” Here’s what former State Attorney General Thurbert Baker proposed:
“…extensive experience in Georgia and across the country designing and implementing best practice governance systems for governments, quasi-governmental entities, not-for profits and public companies. As a former Attorney General of the State of Georgia, I have extensive experience in compliance and regulatory matters, and I will be responsible for ensuring that your matters are executed in a timely and professional manner. I will manage the project with assistance from my colleagues, Bill Ide, who has extensive governance experience, Eric Tanenblatt, a Senior Managing Director who has extensive policy-related experience, and Tharon Johnson, who has extensive government relations experience. Mr. Ide, Mr. Tanenblatt and Mr. Johnson will serve as point persons with respect to the governance and public affairs matters. As required, I will utilize other attorneys and staff in our firm whose level of experience and area of specialization makes them the best suited to perform the work in the most efficient manner. I expect to utilize a substantial amount of personnel and other resources over the course of this engagement in order to meet both short-term and long-range objectives. In consideration of the financial situation of the school system and the important role it plays in the community, McKenna will only charge a flat fee of $50,000 per month over the next three (3) months or through May 31, 2013, with an upfront retainer of $20,000.”
Apparently one can, in fact, apply lipstick to a pig, for $20,000 down and $50,000 per month. (Read the entire proposal at this link.) Note that training on “governance,” the very issue that put DeKalb before the State Board of Education was approved by a 5-3-1 vote. Newly-elected Board member Jim McMahan bravely abstained, and Board members Pam Speaks, Donna Edler and Nancy Jester voted against, with Jester noting that a replacement board might not need governance training, and “Perhaps, had we done this earlier, we might be in a different spot.”
A chain may only be as strong as its weakest link, but weak links can serve as examples. Georgia has 179 school systems, each of which could become as disastrous as DeKalb’s within 5 years. Fixing DeKalb schools is urgent -but fixing Georgia’s K12 education system is important. The state must end the fiasco in DeKalb -and make certain it doesn’t happen anywhere else in Georgia.