On Maureen Downey's Get Schooled Blog, Shayna Steinfeld, a bankruptcy attorney and past president of the Atlanta Bar who ran for the District 4 school board seat in 2008, replied to Lynn Deutsch's commentary on DCSS and just added fuel to the fire as to the changes needed at the top of the school system.
While APS is on road to recovery, DeKalb is stalled in the slow lane
Lynn Deutsch painted DCSS’s bleak academic picture and its complete failure to hire a new Superintendent. Many articles have appeared in the AJC, as well as in national media, discussing the current situation in APS. I’m jealous, APS is well on its way to a correction. DCSS, which is twice as large and impacts nearly 100,000 children, flounders and sinks to the bottom of the state. Meanwhile, no one seems to care.
I naively ran for the DCSS School Board in 2008, thinking that I, just one bankruptcy lawyer and a past-president of the Atlanta Bar, could make a difference for these 100,000 children. During this time, I attended a board training class for school board members. At this session, it became clear to me that, besides my firm conviction that school board members are fiduciaries for all the children and the taxpayers, the primary duty and function of the Board of Education is to hire and supervise the superintendent, who is to place learning first and foremost.
Next in importance is implementing and supervising the budget, which is to be adopted with this educational priority in mind. The superintendent is supposed to be the CEO, who operates the school system. DCSS Board of Education members are notorious for being “hands on” with daily operations. Many of them also have family members employed by the system, even as other more experienced staff was laid off due to budget cuts. The “friends and family” of present and past BOE members seem to have priority in maintaining their jobs and in promotions, even at the expense of teachers, as furlough days have been approved, salaries were frozen and as students have been packed into classrooms with class sizes increased in some cases to 35 per classroom.
The functional BOE adopts, develops and follows an ethics policy. Many on the DCSS BOE consistently resist such ethics policies; a whistleblower hotline was not installed when promised and the BOE resists the idea of posting all checks and pcard transactions on line for the taxpayers to see how their federal, state and property taxes are being spent.
At this training, we were advised that we should learn to “disagree agreeably.” DCSS has really failed on this one: the minority, which was not in favor of the vote for Dr. Cox went to the media to actively leak the specifics of the negotiations with her. This was a tremendous breach of confidentiality, which the Chairman of the BOE did not see fit to investigate. Further, the media did not see fit to investigate the underbelly of the story, which was “why” was the minority actively sabotaging the negotiations. The second hiring round, as the Board “tried again” was no more successful: it also had leaks, leaving the taxpayers wondering if they were “Alice in Wonderland” looking for the adults who would make decisions actually prioritizing the education of the children and wondering why it is, exactly, that DCSS pays SACS $75,000 a year as a fee and then SACS seems to turn a blind-eye as the BOE remains dysfunctional, with almost a billion dollar annual budget, and no one scrutinizes why it is that DCSS appears to have completely failed the children with its core mission: the actual act of educating the children, as the system has plunged to the bottom of the state and the long-term implications this has for the future.
It seems to those of us who are actually paying attention, that the fox is guarding the hen house and the hens, who may have futures ahead of them when they first enter school, have had their futures actively robbed from them when they leave school without the ability to read, to write and to do basic math. When they drop out of school -– as the Georgia high school dropout rate starts to hover at 50 percent, and they are not employable — it is very likely that these children will then become menaces to society. Studies are now showing that America has a higher percentage of inmates in jail than other industrialized nations. These inmates cost around $40,000 per year. Their educations cost around $10,000 per year per child.
Shouldn’t we start to pay more attention to how this $10,000 per pupil is being spent so that these children ultimately become productive members of society? The first step is a new highly qualified superintendent in DCSS who will actively place the education of these children as a top priority. The next step will be a BOE which understands its true role and which will support that superintendent with that effort. A public and a media watching each move would be very beneficial.
If the Board does not take action soon, what will it take to right the ship?