Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Just the Six? (A Note from the Court Marshall)

Marshall Orson, non-suspended board member has taken time to email us at Get the Cell Out - ATL.  We appreciate his correspondence  although not sure it will get us anywhere in terms of the cell tower contracts that have a big question mark in their "status" column.  Nonetheless, we thought his words were pertinent to the subject on everyone's minds lately - the future of the school system and the DeKalb Board of Education - so we are reprinting it for you below.  
Restore DeKalb meeting held a skeptical audience for ousted member
Jay Cunningham.  The federal hearing to determine if the ousting will
stick, starts tomorrow, March 1.  Check back with us then for a full report!

Don't worry, we have not ended our SPLOST feud, nor are we putting all our eggs in the Fernbank basket.  But, we are absolutely interested in speaking to whomever might be willing to assist us in the quest for the truth and protection for the children and their valuable playground space at our schools.  

So, for that, we say thank you to all three of the newly-elected board members for being better than our previous ones thus far when it comes to corresponding with "the public."  And, for at least giving us the impression that they are listening.  Baby steps.  This whole trust thing is going to take baby steps. 

Here's the email text, received today.  We're still trying to decode it from Legaleeze into English.  

From: Marshall Orson
To: XXXXXX  ( Sent: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:38 PMSubject: Why only 6

Dear (Get the Cell Out - ATL)
First of all, thanks for your note of the other day. I will try to keep from running afoul of the contracts. But, I am serious about wanting us all to do the right thing. 
As for the question of why only the six. because the better reading of the law suggests that is the correct result. Those who want all 9 gone (often its a group that just does not like me!) focus on subsection e which has the all board members language. However, you cannot read that alone. The rules of statutory construction include the requirement that subsections be read in context with other parts. And, more importantly, there are no superfluous words.  
So, you go back to subsections a and b where the term "eligible members" is used and you must figure out that term first. The State concluded (and I suspect, but do not know, there is an AG opinion to this effect) that it meant you had to be on the BOE at the time the probation commenced. 
Further supporting this argument is a rule of construction that seeks to avoid illogical outcomes. In this case the State BOE could have held a hearing as early as December 27 (10 days) and three different people would be before them. 
It would not be logical that a random event (ie the date they set the hearing) would dictate who was subject to the hearing).  
For those who doubt the foregoing, they need to answer the question of who is an "eligible member" (or the converse!)? It's the threshold question.

Michael has his hands full but I continue to believe he is the right person at the right time. Now if we could only get past the craziness to get to the real work.
Also, thanks for coming to the Town Hall last week.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

LETTER: Superintendent Thurmond's Response to Get the Cell Out

On February 11, 2013, Get the Cell Out and Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter were united in DeKalb County to ask the DeKalb Board of Education to give the county something to believe in. If they were truly trying to move the district toward a new, better, transparent future then they should welcome the opportunity to make amends for past mistakes.

We presented a cell tower resolution, and welcomed the new Interim Superintendent to the district. We modeled the resolution after ones we have seen pass in other school districts in the United States.

We finally received the letter below from the Interim Superintendent which does little more than offer a form letter explanation that the number one priority is saving the accreditation, NOT looking out for the children. I suppose one could say that one is tied to the other, but as Nancy Jester (ousted board member) pointed out in the state hearing: some of us can think of more than one thing at the same time.

For more from out outspoken leader of the "Mad Mommy Brigade" see Nancy's site here.

Response to Get the Cell Out - ATL by Get the Cell Out - Atlanta Chapter

Please continue to check back on our website often as we will post any coorespondence relavent to this issue here. And, we are remaining vigilant in our efforts to bring you the most recent turns and twists of events taking place in the effort to give the board the boot and unit our county against them as a common foe.

Please remember to also "like" us on FB,

Monday, February 25, 2013

Deal Suspends Six Elected Board Members; Names Committee to Nominate Replacements


Deal suspends six DeKalb school board members

February 25, 2013
Acting on the recommendation of the State Board of Education, Gov. Nathan Deal today suspended six members of the DeKalb school board. Deal announced that he has appointed a panel to nominate replacements and has tapped Brad Bryant, a former DeKalb school board member, to act as his liaison to the DeKalb board and Superintendent Michael Thurmond.
“The stakes in this case are high; the future of almost 100,000 students hangs in the balance,” Deal said. “Therefore, I have accepted the unanimous recommendation of the State Board of Education to suspend six members of the DeKalb school board. I have met with Superintendent Michael Thurmond, and I believe he can play a vital role in getting the system back on track. I look forward to a positive working relationship with Superintendent Thurmond on behalf of the children of DeKalb County.”
Brad Bryant, liaison to Gov. Deal
Bryant currently serves as the executive director of the Georgia Foundation for Education for the Georgia Department of Education. He previously served as the department’s general counsel. In 2010 he was appointed by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue as state superintendent of schools to fill the unexpired term of the outgoing superintendent. For 10 years, he served on the State Board of Education and also served on the DeKalb County Board of Education from 1991-2003. Bryant is a member and past president of the National Association of State Boards of Education and also served as president of the Georgia School Boards Association in 2002. He is a member of the State Bar of Georgia and earned his law degree from Mercer University, his master’s in Business Administration from the University of Georgia and his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Presbyterian College. Bryant resides in DeKalb County. 
Nominating panel
Kenneth Mason, Chairman 
Mason was appointed to the State Board of Education in 2011 as the member for the 5th Congressional District, which includes a portion of DeKalb. He is the director of Urban Initiatives for the Southern Regional Education Board where he promotes college and career readiness for all students. Mason earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Hendrix College in Arkansas and a master’s in Teaching/Education from the University of San Francisco. He resides in Atlanta.
Garry W. McGiboney
McGiboney serves as the Associate Superintendent of Policy and Charter Schools at the Georgia Department of Education. He has more than 30 years of experience in public education, having served in several school level and district level positions. McGiboney has a Ph.D. in both school psychology and educational administration from Georgia State University and is a state certified psychologist and a state certified mediator. He resides in Stone Mountain.
James E. Bostic, Jr. 
Bostic is managing director at HEP & Associates, an educational consulting company and a partner at Coleman Lew & Associates, Inc., an executive search firm In Charlotte. He has more than 25 years experience in the paper and forest products industry with Georgia-Pacific Corp. He served as a member of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education and chaired it for five years, served on the Georgia State Board of Education for nine years and has served on the Board of Trustees for both Tuskegee University and Clemson University. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees at Wofford College and serves on  the Board of Directors of ACT, Inc. Bostic earned his bachelor’s degree and his doctorate degree in Chemistry from Clemson University. He resides in Atlanta.
Alicia Phillip
Phillip is president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Named as one of Georgia Trend’s “100 Most Influential Georgians” and one of the “100 Most Influential Atlantans” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Phillip has led the foundation’s grant-making, fundraising and collaboration with donors, nonprofits and community leaders for 37 years. Philipp received a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a master’s in Business Administration from Georgia State University. She resides in Decatur.
Sadie Dennard
Dennard works as a region external affairs manager for Georgia Power's Metro East Region in south DeKalb. She served three terms as a member of the Atlanta Board of Education and is a former president of the Georgia School Boards Association. She received her bachelor’s degree from American University, and she’s a deacon at Atlanta’s Friendship Baptist Church. 

Governor Will Suspend DeKalb School Board; Thurmond Announces SACS Progress

Governor to suspend school board members; committee to recommend replacements
byKen Watts
2 hrs 12 mins ago | 27 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Nathan Deal says he will go ahead with the recommendation that he suspend six of the nine members of the DeKalb School Board.
Gov. Nathan Deal says he will go ahead with the recommendation that he suspend six of the nine members of the DeKalb School Board.
Gov. Nathan Deal announced this afternoon that he will suspend the six longest-serving members of the DeKalb School Board and has appointed a nominating committee to pick their replacements.

Deal's decision came after an hourlong closed-door meeting with members of the joint DeKalb House and Senate delegations to the Capitol this morning.

The members facing the loss of their seats are Sarah Copelin-Wood, Jesse "Jay" Cunningham, Donna Edler, Nancy Jester, Dr. Pam Speaks and Dr. Eugene Walker.

After the morning meeting, state Sen. Emanuel Jones said the governor seemed to sincerely want the delegation's input.

One of the options discussed was a possible compromise settlement between the state and the school board members.

"We all know that a negotiated settlement is better than one that's forced on the county," said Jones.

The DeKalb School Board is challenging state law 20-2-72(a)(n) that gives the governor the power to remove local elected school board members.

On Sunday, federal judge Richard W. Story issued a court order that prohibits Deal from removing the members before a March 1 hearing in federal court.

The court order did not prevent Deal from announcing his decision today, but he can't implement it until after Friday's federal court hearing.

Read more:CrossRoadsNews - Governor to suspend school board members committee to recommend replacements

Council Logo DeKalb County Council of PTAs

February 25, 2013
Accreditation Status Review Web Page
Please share with your school community and other interested parties
The DeKalb County School District has launched a dedicated web page to provide the public and stakeholders with our progress regarding the AdvancED SACS Accreditation Review. There is a prominent link on the DCSD home page. This web page will be updated on an ongoing basis as we complete the needed work to attain full accreditation.

You may access it quickly by clicking on the following link:

Michael L. Thurmond
Interim Superintendent

DeKalb County Council of PTAs

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Federal Judge Says "No Deal" to Gov. Nathan Deal on DeKalb BOE Removal... at Least For Now

DeKalb Co. School Board files for temporary restraining order over member removal


Federal Judge Richard W. Story has signed a temporary restraining order to keep Gov. Nathan Deal from removing any of the DeKalb County members until a scheduled hearing takes place on Tuesday

Story denied that action, however. "The implementation of Governor Deal's decisions in this regard is hereby enjoined to preserve the status quo until after this Court has held a hearing on the matter," according to Story's order.

In layman's terms, Deal can make a decision to suspend or remove a member, but he can't implement his actions until after Story's hearing.

Court documents obtained by CBS Atlanta News said the emergency motion was made in light of the governor's announced intention to take action Monday against six school board members on the recommendation of the State Board of Education.

On Friday, Betsy Parks and two other parents delivered a petition with more than 1,800 signatures.* The petition urges the governor to remove the board members. Parks said she has now started a second petition that asks the school board to drop its lawsuit against the state.
The first "Restore DeKalb" meeting (above)
was about information.
The second was about questions.
The next "Restore DeKalb" meeting
will be about taking action!

Check back with us for details on the next urgent
countywide citizens' Town Hall to discuss the
next steps toward regaining control of our schools so we can keep accreditation!
"This is a huge opportunity for DeKalb to come together," said Parks. "It's a huge opportunity to really reflect on what the community values which is our children and educating our children."

*  Thank you Betsy!!  
And, thank you to "Restore DeKalb" for keeping the parents and community stakeholders informed and aware of what is going on.  We look forward to your next meeting so we can help unite the county on this urgent issue!

Sneaky Georgia Lawmaker Wants to Speed Up Cell Tower Approval Process

To write to your state legislators to offer constructive opposition to this bill, please click here.

ATLANTA - We seem to have a love-hate relationship with cell phone towers.
We protest when someone tries to put one in our neighborhood, but we also complain about poor connections to the gadget crazy wireless world many of us now crave.
A Cobb County state lawmaker wants to make it easier for cell towers to sprout, he claims for better public safety and more jobs.
"If companies come here and they don't see that they have the bandwidth and the coverage they need, then they're going to be looking someplace else," Rep. Don Parsons (R-Cobb County) told 11 Alive News.
Parsons' HB 176 would limit the power of Georgia's local governments to deal with cell tower requests.
Among other things, it would require that government to make a decision on a new application within 150 days or an improvement application within 90 days.
If they don't act one way or the other in that time, those applications would automatically be approved.
It would also no longer require a company to prove the technical need for the tower, such as a gap in coverage.
And it would allow certain improvements without approval, such as making a tower up to 10 feet taller or up to 20 feet wider.*

Communication companies believe it would help streamline things.
"It's a very long process to begin with, 18 to 24 months today, and that's if everything goes right," ATT spokesman Bob Corney told 11 Alive.
"This is really about just trying to take out that unnecessary component of it," he added.
Local governments complain it would tie their hands and muzzle public opposition.
"It will significantly limit the power of local government and the public at the negotiating table on new cell tower locations within their communities," said Todd Edwards of the Association of County Commissions of Georgia.
Edwards said the 150 day decision limit may sound reasonable at first, but it doesn't take into account a case where a communications company or several companies might file multiple applications at one time, which could overwhelm a local government.
Rep. Parsons argued that because so many governments lack expertise in the field they have to hire outside consultants to study the applications.
He claimed that can drag out the process since consultants are often paid by the hour.
Wednesday afternoon the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee unanimously approved Rep. Parson's bill.
It now heads to the State House for possible debate on whether Georgia should speed up the cell tower process.

*  GTCO-ATL is currently checking with our sources at the FCC to determine if these suggestions are legal.  It is our belief that the FCC Telecommunications Act of 1996 has put forth certain minimum standards and states and local governments can choose to make their regulations MORE strict, but not LESS.   
The necessity of showing a need is a very important issue when we are talking about giving tower companies the right to place towers that emit constant low-level radiation that has a compounded effect on the Earth and living beings (like humans) below.  If they do not have to show a need, then tower companies will begin putting up towers at higher and higher levels of radiation just so that they can OFFER services to communities that they may or may not even want, need or have a desire to ever try.   
The World Health Organization, the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Pediatrics Association and even the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) itself are all coming out right now and saying that the standards of allowable radiation standards in the U.S. need another look.  There is growing evidence being supported by scientific research that shows our current standards are not sufficient and were never intended to protect women and children, especially considering the high frequency of use that we are seeing for wireless devices compared to just 7 - 10 years ago.   
We need to be passing legislation that calls for TIGHTER controls over this industry and most towers are not even inspected or regulated by any outside agency and are frequently services by contractors and subcontractors who are the only ones liable if something goes wrong.  To place an "automatic approval" into the process that is already relaxed to the point that the towers are going up faster than local commissioners can keep up with the approvals is irresponsible, in our opinion.   
Adding height or width to a tower could create a significant hazard to the community if a tower is top heavy and not secured or constructed according to industry guidelines to support the additional girth.  This is one industry that does not need more legislation to assist it as the telecoms' profits are only behind National Defense and Oil.   
There has been significant slowing down in the consumer market and lower demand for the latest releases of products as they have only offered minor improvements over the prior version and are creating hassles for people who do not want to have to buy a new phone or switch plans when they only recently found one they could live with for a while.   
And, electromagnetic hypersensitivity is becoming more and more common as doctors are unable to suggest any more safe harbors for those who suffer from the condition as we are becoming saturated by wireless over the majority of the entire national and worldwide landscape.   
Caution and care should be preserved to give local governments the time that is necessary to fully review all applications, once they are complete before they make a decision about them that fits within the local laws and ordinances in place to protect the rights of the citizens and preserve the value of the land being proposed as a site.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Instead of 9 Board Members, We Will Have 15

Feb. 23, 2013...  The AJC is reporting that Monday at 11 a.m., Gov. Nathan Deal will hold a press conference announcing his decision regarding the suspension of the DeKalb County School Board.  It was recommended that he suspend the 6 members who were serving at the time the district accreditation slipped to the Probation status.  The next step is loss of accreditation if they do not comply with a long list of improvements, mostly aimed at governance issues and financial instability.

The members expected to be out of work with full pay are:  Dr. Eugene Walker (a super district that spans the west side of the county, not the south as is the common misconception), Dr. Pamela Speaks (the super district representative for the east side of the county), Nancy Jester (the northern district of Dunwoody), Sarah Copelin-Woods (the southwest portion of the county that pays the least in property taxes and has seen a large number of school closings in the past five years), Jesse Cunninham (the southeast portion of the county that includes M.L. King High School) and Ms. Donna Edler (the Stone Mountain, middle section that appears to be getting squeezed by the larger districts surrounding hers).

If Gov. Deal adds 6 appointees, will this be what the BOE in DeKalb will look like?
The remaining board members were just elected in July 2012 but did not have their terms begin until January 2013 which was an odd twist in the school system voting debacle.  Most people who are paying attention to school issues are parents and the summer is when the kids are on vacation, so most adults try to focus their attention away from school matters and toward summertime vacations and other forms of developing interests for their children like summer camps and swimming lessons.  Moving the school board elections to the dead of Summer was an attempt, some say, for the special interest groups, like the Fernbank community, to have a stronger hold on the outcomes in their districts as they have been organized and strategic in their planning for quite some time.  They have been criticized for using questionable methods for bullying other groups out of their way, using personal attacks on anyone who criticizes them and using their clout and political connections (donations) to get laws rewritten and districts redrawn to give them the largest advantage possible.

The Fernbank community is frequently given credit on the online school blogs for putting Walker into office when he promised to save their school from closure.  Believed to have jumped from a school district marked for elimination to one that is now gaining a brand new school and swiping enough students from surrounding areas to sustain it in the future, they have made many enemies and a few friends, depending upon where you live.  Fernbank has been led by newly elected and not recommended for suspension Marshall Orson.  Many say he has extreme influence over neighboring district board member Jim McMahan, the new vice chairman who some say may have alliances with former board member Paul Womack.

Sounds like Mr. Orson is trying to repeat the power scenario that Dr. Walker and his neighbors Cunningham and Copelin-Woods are getting ousted over, doesn't it?  Another similarity is that Walker, Orson and former board member H. Paul Womack are all Duke University graduates.  Duke is in North Carolina, where Dr. Cheryl Atkinson has lived and worked.  Atkinson was the former Superintendent who recently abandoned her job amid possibly felony charges for her improper firing practices that were being challenged in court.  Walker and Womack brought Atkinson in.  Did they have this planned from the beginning?  Do they also have a role to play in the construction scandal that will soon be tried in DeKalb with another previous Superintendent Crawford Lewis?  Lewis is being tried on corruption charges, racketeering and running a criminal enterprise in the school system.

You can't run an "enterprise" all by yourself.  GTCO-ATL wonders just how far up the food chain does this conspiracy against the DeKalb taxpayers go?  And, by leaving Orson, McMahan and long-time Dekalb "palace" employee Melvin Johnson in place, just how much change will any of this state BOE decision really make?

Are we fooling ourselves to keep getting our hopes up that real change will happen here?  Or do we continue to allow the "masters of distraction" and their top notch legal team throw our children right out of the bus and into the real world without an education and with terrible adult role models for what it means to be a success.

At the state hearing, Michael Thurmond pleaded with the state BOE to save the DeKalb BOE because if they are replaced he will essentially be left with 15 board members, 6 elected, 3 serving and 6 appointed.  Well,  at least we know he can do the math right.  That's a step in a better direction already.  Maybe there is still some hope.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Meet Your New School Leaders Now Before They're Gone

Questions abound... will the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, suspend the entire board of education in DeKalb County, the third largest county in the state?  Will he allow three of them remain as they were not serving on the board at the time it was placed on the Probation level of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)?  Can emails being sent to the Governor today affect the decision he plans to make on Monday?  Read more about the deal with Gov. Deal here.

New Board Chairman Melvin
Johnson, DCSD
Regardless of the drama that abounds, business must still get done and school is still in session.  After several failed attempts, the board finally elected a new chairman on Feb. 20.  It was reported that, by default, there was an election held in haste that put Dr. Melvin Johnson, long time DeKalb Schools employee, in charge as the new chairman for the DeKalb County School Board, effective immediately.  It was decided by a vote of 7 - 2 with Nancy Jester and Dr. Pam Speaks abstaining from the vote. Nancy had nominated Speaks, but she declined as the decision was likely already made.  It was, in fact, predicted the night before at "Court Marshall" Orson's Town Hall Meeting.

It was reported on School Watch Blog by a parent who attended the called meeting that Donna Edler, who had previously stated her desire for the Chairmanship, nominated Melvin Johnson from District 6. Johnson won his district in the July 2012 election only after facing a runoff by contender Denise McGill, a parent and community leader in the Redan / Stephenson area.  McGill later lost after a very poor turnout of voters during the runoff election.  She started the Stephenson Community Council shortly afterwards and has vowed to remain active in the school issues.

New Board Vice Chairman
Jim McMahan, DCSD
While we had hoped Ms. McGill had won the election, we do not have any specific or direct issues with Dr. Johnson and hope that, more than anything, as our School Board Chairman, he has learned from watching the mistakes made by Dr. Walker and has listened to the words of the state BOE. We hope his actions, words and decisions will reflect the call for DeKalb County to work together for the sake of all the children. We hope all board members who remain, those who might be soon appointed and any future elected members will share this goal, strive to work together and keep the best interest of our children in mind as their primary responsibility.

Here's a recap of the board hearing yesterday from WSB-TV:

We hope that one prediction made by Interim Superintendent Thurmond during the hearing yesterday will NOT come true - he said that if the state recommended removal of the six members of the current board (which they did) and the Governor agreed (which he will likely do on Monday, Feb. 25), he would end up with 15 school board members to worry about instead of just the 9 we have now because he knows the ones who are asked to step down will still be telling him what they think and watching his every move in addition to the ones who remain and the ones who are appointed. Now, THAT is an unintended consequence that could only happen in DeKalb County.
Interim Superintendent
Michael Thurmond, DCSD

Good luck, Mr. Thurmond, Dr. Johnson and the vice chairman, Jim McMahan.  The members of GTCO-ATL, SACS, Unhappy Taxpayers and Voters, Restore Dekalb, the Stephenson Community Council, DeKalb School Watch Two AND the Mad Mommy Brigade (a term coined by Nancy Jester during her testimony before the state BOE yesterday) will be keeping  our eyes on all of you and that is one thing you CAN count on!

So, do the right thing and work together to stop the underlying corrupt system of special favors to the system favorites and bring all our school up to the level of education where they should be.  Stop shipping kids all over the county like they are package freight.  Restore quality basic education to serve all the children in their own communities.  Make decisions because they are the right ones so you can justify them to the communities who are paying for your choices and we will all support you and our unified success.

VICTORY in Every Classroom! State Recommends Removal of DeKalb BOE


February 22, 2013:  Late last night, shortly after 10 p.m., the state Board of Education concluded its 13 hour hearing of the DeKalb County, GA, Board of Education.  While many of those who had been watching and listening throughout the day were expecting a 14-day wait before a decision, the state BOE immediately began their individual statements and then casting their votes.

While they had some hope that the district was headed in a better direction than they initially believe when they first convened in January, they unanimously determined it was in the best interest of the 99,000 children who live here that the Governor remove the entire board.  There are three exceptions, however.  The three newly elected members who were not serving at the time the system was lowered to the Probation status by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) will not be held accountable and will likely remain in their seats.  Those members are the newly-elected chairman Melvin Johnson, newly-elected vice chairman Jim McMahan and newly-elected board member Marshall Orson.
Financial Officer, Michael Perrone, answered some questions that had
lingered in the minds of many residents about missing textbook funds and
some questionable practices of borrowing from accounts to pay off debt.  The
state BOE attorney Hackmeyer was tough, yet subtle, as she got to the
heart of many of DeKalb's problems:  a general lack of accountability that
persists among upper level staff as well as many of the board members.

We will have more on this subject later today.   Congratulations to every whistleblower and thank you to every citizen who stood up to be counted in a petition that was signed by more than 1,500 people.

Thank you to every teacher who has endured the abusive relationship with the former board members and has still found a way to teach and take care of our precious children.

This decision was made thoughtfully and is a step in the right direction for DeKalb.  We hope to remain involved in the process of rebuilding our schools and restoring full accreditation.  We look forward to the changes that will be facilitated by the new Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond who has stated his commitment to excellence and a focus on the classroom.

While Dr. Eugene Walker says he will file a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the controversial state law that allows for the elected board's removal, it is a brighter day in DeKalb today!   The voices of the children were not heard, but there were adults in the hearing room who did not forget them.  They did their jobs and did not allow the "masters of distraction" to throw them off track.

To our GTCO-ATL friends, fans, followers and leaders, we thank you for following this story and doing your part to remain involved in your school, your community and caring about the future of the entire county.  We can accomplish great things when we agree to all work together!  Our ability to hold off the cell towers from invading our public school grounds has set a great example to parent groups everywhere that have been turned toward fighting each other instead of focusing on the source of the problems that are tearing them apart.  Rooting out the corruption and coming forward with what you know has been important to exposing those who wish to bring harm to our communities in order to line their own pockets with our money.

Working together to understand and help each other sets a good example for the behavior we want to see our children exhibit, and how we want our leaders to behave as they are leading us.  It is how we want our classrooms to function and our neighborhoods to grow and flourish.

VICTORY is every classroom was the rally call of former Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson which she never achieved.  Instead, she turned our classrooms into battlegrounds where there were no winners.  But, today we can claim that VICTORY is ours - the parents, children, teachers and other stakeholders of our public education system.  CONGRATULATIONS!!  

Please check back throughout the days and weeks ahead as we will continue to be covering the details of these events and the outcome of the decisions being made.  We will also be providing update through the Patch online newspaper, Crossroads News and the DeKalb School Watch Two blog.

Please stay involved and aware of the progress being made so that you can show up in 2014 to VOTE responsibly as the entire board is slated to be voted upon in the same election and will hold their seats for four years.  Direct questions to Get the Cell Out - ATL at

Thursday, February 21, 2013

And Now It's Time for the Break Down...

... actually, we meant "break."  But, it feels like there is going to be a break down at some point today from someone, doesn't it?  They are taking a break for lunch.  Hearing will resume at 1:15 p.m.

You can view the live webcast of the hearing by first downloading the latest version of Real Player then clicking this link: and selecting Basic Webcast from the options.  SEE YOU BACK AT 1:15 PM TODAY!

Sarah Copelin-Woods
Sarah Copelin-Woods has been on the board since the year 2000.  She is the longest-standing board member who is still currently serving.  She was not feeling well this morning and was MIA when she was called to the stand, but she was located.  She has testified to very little, thanks to the constant interruptions by the high-priced lawyer, Bob Wilson.  She's confirmed things like the board not following their own policies, the board not taking action when one member asked for an inquiry into the conduct of another board member.  She sent a few emails where she BCC'ed people but the information was not made public.  She said there is a report the Superintendent is supposed to give them monthly about expenditures on legal fees.  And she has forgotten many of the other things or the timeframes of subjects discussed.

GET THE CELL OUT - ATL is participating in LIVE BLOGGING 

on The Patch.  You are invited to join us!!  

When the hearing resumes, just click here.  

Here are a few of the comments from 

The Patch Live Blogging that took place this a.m.

Comment From Rep. Scott Holcomb:  
Here is an alternate feed from State BOE - they are aware of tech issues and working on them. I haven't tried the link but think you need realplayer for it to work.

TuckerPatch: Question: Have you developed a risk rating for DeKalb schools? Answer: Yes, they are high risk. Have been for years.

TuckerPatch: DeKalb did not use "millions" it was entitled to.

TuckerPatch: State BOE member: "This financial system seems archaic."

Comment From DeKalb School Watch:
It's hard to believe that this GaDOE financial person came to a hearing specific to DCSS almost completely uninformed about DCSS.

Comment From Dyspepsia:
My stomach is hurting - this is clear confirmation of what we have all been discussing for years.

Comment From Guest:
FWIW> last year the state decided that non-partisan elections would be held in summer. School boards are (supposedly) non-partisan - so the last election was held in (June or July - can't remember). The 2014 election to replace all seven at once will be held in SUMMER of 2014. You know - the time when hardly anyone votes...

Comment From Guest:
I am a lawyer. And this is lousy lawyering by the board's representative. Glad we're paying for this.

Comment From GTCO-ATL:
They steal money from us and our children every time they hold a public meeting, why isn't THAT a crime?

TuckerPatch: H: You would agree with me that ethics and conlicts of interest are important? 

SCW: Absolutely

Comment From Guest:  
Folks--this is direct evidence of a single conflict of interest which allows the fact finder to make the inference that the board does not follow its own policies. That's how hearings work. SCW has now just said she does not believe what she did was a violation of policy, which opens the door for more questions. Patience. This is not a 60 minute court tv show with commercial interruptions. It is a real legal proceeding.

Comment From GTCO-ATL :  
SCW has been used, imo, by Walker. Same with Cunningham. They are not as smart, clearly, and they put forth the image that keeps the county divided. They are supported by their church members, friends, family. Nothing wrong with that inherently, but much is wrong with voting on issues because someone is telling you what to do. I hope we learn from this and demand more (everyone) from those we elect. Don't just go along to get along is what Don McChesney would call it.

Comment From GTCO-ATL:  That's absolutely true. They do not follow their policies, but they also do not have to. Nothing illegal about it. Can't throw them out for changing their own rules. If that were possibly, you would have to overthrow the Boyscouts of America. Not saying I agree. Just something we learned when many rules were broken on cell towers and we sought legal advice.

TuckerPatch: Email allegedly contained disparaging remarks made by SCW about Ad Ed/SACS but was not sent to board members, therefore Wilson contends it's protected by free speech and is not relevant.

GTCO-ATL:  They can do what they want. This is not a court of law. This is akin to being called to your boss's office when some money went missing from petty cash. They may or may not fire you and you can say what you want or keep quiet, but they probably already know what's going to happen at the end of their little "inquiry" and they have their own HR policies to follow, but it really doesn't matter what you say. Only what you did. Or what they think you did.

Comment From Guest:  
WIlson's strategy is clear. Stall Stall Stall with courtroom procedures. SCW testimony is useless as she can't remember what she had for breakfast.

Comment From Guest:  I wonder if Atkinson is watching this from the beach with a pina colada in her hand.

UPDATED: The Hearing of Unknown Consequences Will Air at 8 a.m.

Feb. 21, 2013:  11:13 a.m.  NEW LINK FOR LIVE WEBCAST OF THE HEARING:

Judge Declines Restraining Order ...  

...  The Hearing Will be Heard (click link to begin) ...

... And, After That Your Guess is as Good as Mine

Here's Your Lineup for Today's Edition of "Local Control Freaks USA."  Please note we are pre-empting Housewives of every other city because this will be far more entertaining.  Drink your Red Bull, Dr. Walker, we're hoping you can remain alert like we taught you in that acting class Mr. Thurmond bought for you.  Ms. Woods, just try not to threaten anyone, okay?  Orson, stop looking so happy and rich, would ya? It's annoying everyone else.  Nancy, Pam, great thinking to take the end seats so you can make a quick getaway.  The rest of you just, um, well, do whatever you want but check with the attorneys first.  We've now hired one for each of you and then we hired one for each of them.  We actually invited the Atlanta bar to fill in the background today, too, like they do in the People's Court.  Finally, you will be among your peers.  No, Jim, we said "peers," not beers.  Now, look alive people.  We have a virtual hearing to get through, remember?  

From left, in back, Marshall Orson, Jay Cunningham, Dr. Marvin Johnson,
Dr. Eugene Walker, Jim McMahan.

Seated, in front, from left:  Nancy Jester, Donna Edler,
Sarah Copelin-Woods  and Dr. Pamela Speaks.
As our new Superintendent (Interim) so eloquently stated, "I didn't hire these folks, you elected them."  We all have to accept that we own a part of the problem if we ever expect to find a solution.  (video courtesy of The Patch, Jonathan Cribbs)
Per Ty Tagami in the AJC:
“The state hearing that could unseat the nine members of the DeKalb County school board should proceed as scheduled Thursday morning, according to a judge’s order.
“Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Amanda Lee on Wednesday declined DeKalb’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have halted the proceedings.”
DeKalb School Watch reports:
Tune in at 8 AM, Thursday, February 21, 2013, and watch the Dekalb County hearing as it will be streamed live on the Department of Education website. If you experience technical difficulties with any webcast, please call the Help Desk at (800) 869-1011 for assistance.
And, there will be LIVE BLOGGING on The Patch starting at 7:45 a.m.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

UPDATED: Is There a Truthsayer Among Us?

Which way do we go??  State takeover or local control?  Are we being
forced to choose between the lesser of two evils?  But, which one is truly
less evil?  Do we believe in our own abilities to vote for more responsible
board members in the November 2014 election?  It will be the first time they
are ALL up for re-election and the number reduced to just seven.  Can we
demand a countywide election for all seats in order to prevent special interest
groups from holding control over seats since they all receive one vote and
they all must represent the entire county, according to SACS?

Or are we ready to throw in the towel?  Do we trust in Governor Deal and the
recommendation of the state board of education to know what is best for
DeKalb County, a widely diverse county with lots of money that did not
vote for Deal.  DeKalb is a stronghold in the Democratic Party for the state
of Georgia.  Deal is a stronghold in the Republican Party old school for
the entire U.S.  Is this a premeditated takeover, aided by former Republican
lobbyist H. Paul Womack, Jr., your cell tower advocate and the Dr. Atkinson
swing vote who brought her here and potentially leaked information to the
press about the other candidates so they would back away from Georgia?

There is an old riddle about the Truthsayer and the Naysayer.  

The Truthsayer always tells the truth.  The Naysayer always lies.  If you approach them both along a wooded path and must rely on them to point you in the right direction, but can only ask one question, how will you know what to ask?  And, more importantly, how will you know which path to take?  This is the problem we are facing, Dekalb County.   But, we have many people playing both roles.  

On one side...

One one side you have the state BOE and the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal.  Some of the DeKalb delegation has started to line up with these fine folks.  Rep. Scott Holcomb voiced his opinion in the Patch today. Sen. Fran Millar has also been vocal about the DeKalb board and their placement of themselves before the children.  Rep. Tom Taylor has agreed and says his district of Dunwoody wants to form its own, separate school system.  Can you blame them?  The state BOE will likely vote to remove the local BOE.  Lawsuits will likely follow, but don't let that deter you from the fact that the most important lawsuit is still to come - the Crawford Lewis construction scandal charges and then, hopefully, Heery Mitchell.  Hope they collected their fees up front because we have to be close to broke by now.

On the other side...

We have to give some credit to Michael Thurmond for his choice to speak for the first time outside of the boardroom to parents at the Emory-LaVista Parent Council meeting, at Oak Grove Elementary School, right in the the middle of the well-established, tight-knit, politically-involved and uber-connected "ITP" (Inside the Perimeter) crowd.  You really need to watch the short video clip here, which was brought to you by Jonathan Cribbs of the Patch.  Thanks Jonathan!  

He gave these PTA parents, soccer Mom's and Dad's, Parent Council Members and others a lot to think about. Are the stakeholders in our county, the involved men and women who love their schools almost as much as they love their children, a part of the culture that needs to change? Has part of the problem in the county stemmed from the years of voting on "auto-drive" where you don't consider the person, just the party?

On the Thurmond side you have five board members and two of their hostages, Nancy Jester and Dr. Pam Speaks.  Funny how the board has sort-of alienated the two board members who represent accounting (Nancy is a CPA) and instruction (Pam is a former teacher).  You also have Don McChesney weighing in on this side with his belief that the law that authorizes this whole process is not constitutional.  Who keeps writing all these unconstitutional laws?  Can THEY get some kind of training please???  

One way is death, the other is paradise.  Which one should we choose?

The riddle continues as you are to consider the two path.  One is right and one is wrong, but how will you know which path to take?  

Putting this ancient riddle into our scenario, we have only recently been introduced to Michael Thurmond, who comes with glowing recommendations.  He wants us to believe he knows which path to take.  If we choose to follow him, and not Nathan Deal's path, we will be showing our support for the elected board, as they are today.  We will be giving our approval, blindly, of the board's choice for Superintendent, a choice made in a closed door meeting and without the standard employment process or notification to the public.  

That's likely what they hope we will do.  Trust in Thurmond and fall in line where we belong, according to the "powers that be."  The pecking order has been set.  The parents and others payees in the system should rank behind the Superintendent and under his/her thumb.  We're likely being shuffled to the end of the line behind the friends and family and others who are being paid for showing up to work in the Administrative Office, fondly referred to as "The Palace."  Principals, teachers and children are still not registering on anyone's scale of importance.  Sad, isn't it? 

It starts to make sense, or seem inevitable that we will go down the path Thurmond wants, but there are a lot of people who do not agree.  In listening to the irate parents at Oak Grove, one would think they are on the side with the Governor, right?  They are not happy with Thurmond and very unhappy with the BOE.  But, wait a minute...  Isn't Oak Grove the school that spoke out at the Feb. 11 board meeting?  Aren't they the ones who were professing how grand life is at Oak Grove?  

One would assume them to be on the side with Thurmond and the board that they love so much because we all know they get many favors from agreeing to "play the game."  But, we just watched a video where they were yelling and disrespecting, some might say, the new Superintendent.  So, which is it?  Do they love everything and not even see the troubles around them?  Or are they irate and irritated and want to see the board tossed out?

And for all the frequent claims this particular mid-section of the county makes about its wonderful schools and their support for education, we couldn't help but notice how frequently they interrupt whomever is speaking.  Has "hijacking" a meeting become so common of a practice for them that they will do it anywhere, any place, anytime and to anyone?  They are obviously part of the Orson cult, as this is his former "posse," the Emory-LaVista Parent Council that he ran for several years.  

Is this how we expect the upper crust of DeKalb to behave in pubic?  Do their children copy their behaviors and interrupt their teachers in this manner?  Is this condition contagious because we don't  want to catch it.  It's rude, disrespectful and the rest of the county has already been provided their "instruction manual"for tricks called "Attention Losers, This is How You Win."  If you haven't seen it, click here.   Amid all the talking these folks like to do, someone should suggest they try to take time to listen.  That's really the only true way to learn something.

We've been listening.  We heard Orson called to task the night prior to this Oak Grove meeting.  Orson is the former head of the Emory-LaVista Parent Council, yet he chose to have his meeting separately from this other group.  I'm going to guess that the folks at the Orson meeting also attending the meeting the next morning, unless they had to work.  (By the way, how are all these folks getting off work to go to all these meetings??)  Orson was reminded of the particular document that was posted online in a battle for attendance zone lines.  It describes how to control the microphone at pubic events so that all the attention and focus is on your school and no one recalls the others.  That school was Fernbank, a stone's throw from Emory University and only a couple miles away from Oak Grove, placing them in separate voting districts, but the same Parent Council bounaries.  (No idea how that happened.)  

What we found interesting is that we saw these EXACT SAME tactics used with our efforts to stop the cell towers at DeKalb County schools.  There was one group, also involved in this particular parent council and also around the corner from Oak Grove and Lakeside High School.  This other protest group, which was formed after we alerted them about the cell tower coming to their school, claimed to be representing Briarlake Elementary School and the community's best interest.  They refused to play fair.  They took all the credit for the work that was being done by all the schools in an effort to work together.  They spoke out about themselves and would have saved their school exclusively and gladly chose to throw everyone else under the bus.  As we recently spoke up about wanting an answer on the cell tower contracts and wanting the board to sign a resolution against the cell towers, this "other" group from Briarlake popped up out of nowhere to contact Marshall Orson, who had also been in touch with us.  The connections are all there.  We just need to figure out what these folks are plotting as it could potentially come at the demise of other schools and to the detriment of other children. 

We also head Orson say that he is now "sharing a mic wtih Nancy Jester."  He said it several times during his meeting on Feb. 20 and with an odd emphasis and laugh.  Is "sharing a mic" a code for "working together."  Did he mean that figuratively or literally? Is this a sign that Dunwoody, Fernbank, Lakeside and Oak Grove and even Briarlake are all working together?  

In addition, we have heard Jim McMahan from Sagamore Hills Elementary speak up in approval when we reached out to  Rep. Karla Drenner from Avondale Estates.  These are all the same communities that have driving the chaos surrounding forming new cities.  Hmmm... what else do we know about them?  Well, let's just consider what we know ....

Corruption Cooridor:
Oh yes, remember this?  Yes, it's back!  The map that defines the "Corruption Corridor. "  If you live in these areas, this map is not intended to offend you.  We just think you deserve to know who your neighbors are and what they stand for.  If you are feeling backlash against your community, there may be some good reasons you are entitled to know about in case your opinions are not being represented or your image is being tarnished.  

The areas in red are where the cell tower ballot question was either split by a 51 / 49 vote or was higher in favor of allowing towers on school grounds.  Please note, there were no overwhelming victories in terms of areas that wanted cell tower by a high margin.  But, most other areas (the ones NOT in red) were very strongly against the practice of towers at schools by as much as 70% or more.  

Womack's stronghold on his former district was his tie to Oak Grove Elementary
and Lakeside High School.  The new Superintendent Michael Thurmond went
to Oak Grove and placed some blame directly on the shoulders of those in the
room, telling them that he needs more than 8 days to fix 10 years of bad voting
decisions.  Was he referring to Womack influence on the district?  The audience
members said they are currently happy with their board member, refusing to believe the problems could 
be partially blamed on them.  And, Oak Grove was at the board meeting on Feb. 11, speaking to the board
and Superintendent and saying how happy they were with their school.

Marshall Orson told his constituents that he believes in a lot of little neighborhood schools,
but then he told them the SPLOST plan is for big elementary schools, like the one
being built at Fernbank, his home base.  He said he helped start a state authorized charter
school, but he opposed the charter amendment.  He professes to be a Democrat, but likes to talk about
"sharing the microphone" with Republican charter advocate Nancy Jester.  Fernbank and Dunwoody
sharing the microphone?  What is going on here?

Why are the schools where we normally hear parents bragging about being "the best" in the county now the ones
speaking out the loudest about wanting the state to throw out the entire board?

WHO is telling the truth?  WHO is lying to our faces?
And WHAT are they saying behind our backs?


Is Michael Thurmond a Truthsayer?  Is he dishing out exactly the kind of "tough love" that DeKalb needs?  Time will tell.  But, time is surely running out for the board of education which will faces its toughest audience, yet, at the state BOE meeting tomorrow morning.  There is no way of knowing what they will think of the many, many changes that have taken place here, mostly behind closed doors.

Thumond got an earful in return by a member of the Emory-LaVista Council who got a standing ovation for her sharp words of warning to Mr. Thurmond that he cannot fix the problem if he is not able to see that the board is the problem.  But, we know Thurmond has been reported to be a very honest, forthright person.  

 Are the members in the Emory-LaVista Council the Naysayers?   Well, we know that they lied about how great things were at their schools.  We know they lied about the need for SPLOST to pass in order to reduce the board from 9 to 7 and have them stand for election at the same time. 

So, as the riddle goes... you are given two paths and must ask the guardians one question before selecting which way to go.  The truthteller will tell the truth.  The Naysayer will lie.  

The one question to ask is:  
What path will the OTHER guy will tell me to go down?

 And then, you actually choose the OPPOSITE and you will be right everytime.  

If we asked truthful Thurmond which path  the Emory-Lavista/Oak Grove posse would tell us to go down, he would say "the state."  (because that's what he truly believes they want.)

If we asked the Fernbank group what Thurmond would say, they would say "the state" because they would be lying about it.  (he really wants us to stick with the current board.)

So, based on this exercise, we would have to be rooting for the opposite of these answers, or actually wanting the board to retain their seats.   We should hope that Thurmond can convince the state (and us) that he will fix the problems and keep the board in check.  We should not be willing to sell out our school system for the simple fact that it appears like an easy answer.  We should not want to have our rights stripped from us that would allow us to take control off our own schools.  We should hope to maintain "local control" vs. "state control."  Unless we are part of a bigger plan to create charter school districts that are state-run, as Marshall Orson admitted he had already done himself once before, then we should not give up on the election process which takes place in November of 2014 for all board members.  (some say it will take place in July 2014.)   

With enough voters at the polls and a demand to change the election from that of a voters can vote in their own small district only to one where all the voters in the county are able to vote for all 9 members who will represent the entire county.  Perhaps, we can continue to shape the future of our schools.  But, if we give up our rights and let the state take over, we will be at their mercy and they are not too fond of DeKalb, so that could be a problem. 

So, why would the Emory and Dunwoody folks want a state takeover?  And why do we think this is related to the cell towers?  Well, it's quite possible that these districts (marked in red) that have said they don't mind the cell towers as much as the rest of us, are already working to set up new "charter clusters" of schools based on state charter commission approvals.  AND, according to the ALEC initiatives, there is a push for virtual schools.  So, the "better" areas with the "better" schools may be doing the teaching while the rest of the schools not included in those clusters are watching from their laptop while kept in a cookie cutter school building located closer to their homes.

This is not a confirmed theory, but it is something for you to think about.  Orson says "there is no plan."  We think that's a lie.  There is a plan out there for our schools.  We just have to figure it out if we aren't in the circles of people who already know about it.