Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Superintendent Thurmond Discusses Cell Towers and Refugees

Location of FCC permit for Smoke Rise Elementary
School cell tower.  Permit approval still needed 
by DeKalb County for Special Land Use.  Commissioner Stan
Watson said the issue is on hold but he may
gain new details sometime this Summer.
Roughly transcribed from Tucker Parent Council Meeting, Tuesday, April 23, 2013

(Smoke Rise Homeowner’s Association  speaker cont.  from Brockett / Tucker Parent Council meeting. Held on April 23, 2013)  For full transcript and video, click here:

(Last 20 minutes of meeting)

Thurmond:  I’m familiar with that neighborhood.  That’s my neighborhood!

Smoke Rise Homeowner Association Member:  I feel guilty for bringing this up.  I know you guys are doing a good job and you have a lot on your plates right  now.

But… cell towers.  I was tasked by the Homeowners’ Association to do some research on this area.   Now, I realize that there may not be a lot of definitive evidence, but there has been a lot of circumstantial evidence and we haven’t had a lot of time to figure out all the ways these cell towers will affect small children.  
I know you need the money, I understand that.  But I am concerned in the expediency by which they are being placed and lack of involvement with the parents.  I found out about 8 months after they had been voted on.  At the very least we want due diligence.  These are small children and I ask that you take a look at it.  

Thurmond:  Okay, I’ll tell you where we stand with cell towers.  Two boards ago, the board voted to enter this agreement on 5 or 9, multiple schools.  It landed on my desk.  Just from my perspective.  Conversation from the DeKalb County Commissioners.  They are very concerned about this and involved.

Board Member Marshall Orson:  We are trying to find a path that might address this issue without getting us sued.

Mr. Wilkens (DCSD Operations):   These contracts were entered in 2011.   We held public meetings.  Current status is that there are no cell towers on school properties.   A lot of the same concerns were raised that are at schools now.  The process is that it is in the committee level and it is at the county level.  As far as the towers, they do exist on many school properties, even in Gwinnett County.  So, that information or discussion needs to be an understanding that is a part of your process as well.

Orson:  we are very mindful of the situation.  Do I want a cell tower on my property? I am parent.  No, I don’t want one on my school property and no one else’s?  It was a bad decision by a different board.

Thurmond:  Focus on the county commissioners.

Q from Audience:  So are you saying that there is a current contract that was approved without anybody knowing?

Smokerise Homeowner Association:  I heard that Burrell Ellis does the signing.  Because I know that the commissioners penned a letter to the CEO saying that they did not want the cell towers.

Get the Cell Out - Atlanta (GTCO-ATL):  Just to clarify, Every one of the commissioners  has penned a joint letter saying that they don’t want the cell towers.

Smokerise Homeowner Association:  Yep.

GTCO-ATL:  The initiative is that we were told by Lakeside that they believed their cell phone coverage wasn’t good enough.  We were told this in a meeting with Paul Womack, that we have on video and recorded for anyone to see.  But, the contracts were fudged.  We just got a contract recently (through Open Records Request to the School System) that was supposedly signed for Lakeside.
Before that, they were the only ones who didn’t have a contract because their property was donated.  So, again, are we talking about the contracts that were out there or are you saying that there is something new that is coming up?  Because, and I encourage everyone to go out and take a look at exactly where the cell towers are going up, and with the Lakeside city hood that they are planning, and everyone can say that it has nothing to do with the schools, but it does one hundred percent.    If you look, you will see that wherever the affluent communities are, there are no cell towers.  Take a look.  I guarantee you. The cell towers are right around, pocketed, placed strategically, right around the city’s proposed borders. 

Audience Member:  Wow.

GTCO-ATL: And, as far as the refugee thing goes… if you look at the maps, every single city that’s out there right now writes them off.  No one claims them.  But, they are out there.  And I know.  Because I see them daily.
And, beyond that… as far as funding goes, are they being divided up throughout the county as far as who is paying for all that?  I mean, because our schools are Title I because we live right here.  I don’t live in a Title I neighborhood but my daughter would have to go to a Title I school because of the influx.  Does that mean that there is no way around that?  Brockett will just always be a Title I because of that?  There’s nothing we can do about it?  Because that will hurt our property values.  
Are we having to bear the burden of educating all these students?  The taxpayers?  It isn’t just that we are Title I, it is that we will always be Title I because our property values will just continue to go down.   
 (Side Comment:  You don’t gain higher income families when they see Title I on a report about your community.  It will bring in more Title I families, not fewer.  It isn't fair to expect taxpayers to continue paying a high dollar on their property tax bill for a service they do not need in their community - a Title I curriculum school.   A school should not be something that is actually working against you in terms of being a property owner.  Otherwise, why do we pay for it with our property taxes?)

Q from Audience to GTCO-ATL:   We have refugees?

GTCO-ATL:   Yes.

Q:  Here?  In DeKalb County?  At this school?

Thurmond:  It is what it is.

GTCO-ATL::  But you just said a little while ago, didn't you?  You said we can expect to be getting a lot more of them?

Thurmond:  Well, maybe.  I mean (laughs), I mean I haven’t talked to the state department about it or anything like that.  (laughter in audience.)    But, what he is saying and this reinforces what I was saying is that you  have to keep thinking about what kind of outside influences will be coming in that might affect the kind of school you want to have.   Refugees are coming here.  They are all over DeKalb County.

GTCO-ATL::  But, are we getting any reimbursement for that?  Does the burden fall on all of the taxpayers?  Because here we are talking about how we should do all this with our schools to accommodate the refugees but what is being done by the state to accommodate them?  Don’t they get funds for that?  Aren't they the ones who are bringing them here?  I mean, we have to put up with all this extra traffic, all the buses, tearing our roads apart.  There should be something for the community that is taking on the burden to make sure it doesn't suffer.

Thurmond:  There is some federal funding for children who speak English as a second language.

GTCO-ATL::  And we cut the translators, too.

Thurmond:  Yeah, that was not a good move.  That was really not a good move at all.

Tucker High School’s Principal:   Mr. Thurmond, my concerns are greater than just “are they coming to Tucker High School.”  My concern is for the kids.  You've got kids that are 18, 19 years old.  We've got students right now in high school that are 19 years old.  We've got some students in 9th grade that are 20 years old.  And, we've got some that are still kids.  And, it’s kinda unfair to put that kid in that situation.  It’s unfair to put a school in that kinda situation.

Here’s what happens:  Number one: you got kids who are frustrated because they can’t master the content.  But at 19  years old they can get a job.  So, guess what they do?  They drop out of school.   
Then they relate that back to the high school.  They say, “Whoa, look at  your low graduation rates and you got low test scores.“  But, we know why those test scores are low.
So, we're putting those kids in the situation where they  can’t be successful in this school district.
Now, my thing is we gotta give those kids some kinda place where they can be successful.  We get so focused on what’s going on, that we tend to forget, now why are we here? What’s the focus?  We’re here to help people.  We’re here to give them a better life.  Those kids, they’re great kids.  They’re sweet kids.  They don’t deserve to be stuck in the 9th grade with a bunch of younger kids and then we can’t do anything except sit and watch them drop out.  So, as a school system, district, what have you,  we've gotta come to grips that we got some problems with those kids.  We gotta come to an understanding that whether it is Tucker, Clarkston, Lakeside, wherever.  We've got to help these kids be successful.

Thurmond:  Absolutely.  And that’s the principal of the year.  Ya’ll give him a hand.   (Audience claps for the Tucker Principal but he continues to look directly at Superintendent Thurmond without smiling or changing his expression.  He is waiting for an answer.  He doesn't get one.)

Thurmond (changing subject):  Great news!  On Monday I will be in Rockdale County at the Rockdale Career Camp.  I have met with the commissioner of technical education.  I met with Mr. Don Jackson who is the President of DeKalb Piedmont College.  We have been offered an opportunity to apply for a $3 million grant to apply for a career academy here in DeKalb County.    (applause)  That goes to what you were saying.  20% will apply to go to a four year college.  A smaller percent will graduate.  We have to create more pathways to success.

Okay, putting on my Labor Commissioner hat for a moment.  Young people like you just described will have career paths to other forms of viable labor that can lead to an even higher income than some careers that require a college degree.  So, if we can get these kids into some kind of school to work program, we can still impact them at an early age.  

Q from Audience:  According to the state of Georgia, every child will be educated for college.  How can you have a technical school when the state will only acknowledge college preparedness in terms of curriculum in Common Core?

Thurmond:  Yeah, but it is College and Career preparatory is the way I think they got it worded.  Students in DeKalb County can be dual enrolled in the DeKalb Technical College, alright?

Listen, the young folk, the high tech folks, it’s not just a four year at a regular school.  
Look up allied health  After I get back from Rockdale, I will give ya’ll more then.

Audience Parent:  I just wanted to say that I know it has been a mission for you, and that you have focused on increased communication and we appreciate that and the increased visibility.  We can see that and we appreciate it.

Tucker Parent Council Leader:  Way to stay focused.  With regard to the refuges, is there some way that we can focus legislatively?  Is there a way that we can apply for more funding to work with the state so that they will buy-in that this is not just a DeKalb issue.  It is a state issue?

Thurmond:  Now, don’t  quote me on this, but I believe I heard recently that there are something like 57 members the current state congressional district who graduated from a school in DeKalb County.  So, I think you have a very likely audience there.

I need you to do this for me.  I know we have a long way to go.  But, if  you will admit that we have made some progress toward SACS, in terms of restoring accreditation.  If you can admit that we have started the long  process and  have made some headway.  We have a long way to go.  

Tucker Parent Council Leader  In terms of the overcrowding situation:  can we do anything like a K- 6 funding that will give relief to the schools?  It doesn't do us any good to advocate for it if the school board or the legislature isn't on board with it.

Thurmond:  You need to show to your legislature that you are involved in the process of wanting better education for all the students in DeKalb, North, South, East and West.

For more information about the refugees who are living in Clarkston,  CLICK HERE.

UPDATE:  After this conversation regarding the refugees and who is paying for them, Superintendent Thurmond shocked the general public by "finding" approximately $9 million in additional funding that was being kept off the books.  Some of it was reportedly from the after school contributions of parents who have children in clubs who do not participate in the after school program.  Here's word about where the rest of the untapped funds originated from:

So, are these two issues related?  Tell us in the comments.

Please leave respectful comments below:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DeKalb County's School Cell Towers on Hold, for Now

There are many things one can say about the government.  But, saying that it's wheels turn slowly would be an understatement.

A minor victory for Get the Cell Out - ATL?  We will take whatever we can get.  Apparently Commissioner Stan Watson has been checking into the legal issues regarding the placement of cell towers on school grounds and the entire project is now on hold.

In the video below, Michael Thurmond, Interim Superintendent of DeKalb Schools, was asked by the Northlake Community Alliance members about the cell towers and he defered to the county commissioners.

Commissioner Watson stated that the county commissioners have received the permit application and they have now placed it in the hands of the Legal Department to determine what, if anything, can be done legally with the request to put up towers.  He stated that the process curretnly would be giving communities the proper channels that would normally be followed for a "SLUP" or Special Land Use Permit.

If this means what we think it means, the public will be duly notified by proper posting of signage at each location, given the full amount of time necessary to address the zoning commissioners with their concerns and the decisions can be made with full knowledge and participation of everyone involved.

Here are a few links for you to follow if you would like more information about the "SLUP" zoning and appeals process.  This news may not sound like it is monumental, but it is actually a huge step in the right direction for our followers because it is the proper format established by the existing county codes for building structures that deviate from standard land use plans.  In order for any builder, including a commercial telecommunications carrier or their various subcontractors, to violate the ordinances established by a local zoning authority, a Special Land Use Permit is required.

The cell phone towers that were originally planned for our schools as announced and approved in 2011 in a quick window of public avoidance disguised as notification, were going to be built  without following the standard process for safe siting of cell towers.  Instead, the documents published by the school system on its website contained outdated, inadequate specs for towers with a much lower stability rating and a lower level technology on base station materials that had a high likelihood of falling over under certain wind conditions, which were not impossible to reach according to Emergency Management documents easily found online.

In addition to the lower rated "Rev F" type of towers being planned (Rev. G was the required standard of the industry at the time), but the towers were also being planned without adherence to the required "fall zone" and "set back" requirements.  These standards exists in DeKalb County so that a large, industrial type of structure that could be subject to toppling over would not be permitted to include any structure or pathways nearby that could reasonably be expected to contain living beings (like children or adults in schools, cars or even pedestrians in crosswalks or sidewalks on the grounds below) that could be placed in harm's way.  The serious nature of this concern was made clear to GTCO-ATL around the time that this debate originated when a cell tower in nearby Norcross in Gwinnett County caught fire and forced the evacuation of homes and a daycare center nearby.  (See: Fire Closes Rockbridge Daycare or Lilburn Cell Tower Fire Evacuations)

Thank you to the new, appointed school board and the new Interim Superintendent for operating in a more transparent manner.  Thank you to Commissioner Watson for the simple, easy to understand, perfectly legitimate sounding answer.  That was not so hard, after all, was it?

If your community was slated for a cell tower, you may soon be called upon to defend your property rights.  Start the process now if you need to hire an attorney or anyone else to help you.  These issues come up quickly and  you may not have another chance to address them on the subject until after it is too late.  Gulp!

Here is a link to a brief history and a county overview of the Special Land Use guidelines.  

Other GTCO-ATL articles that may help you fight a cell tower at the zoning level:  

Cell Towers, There is Just Nothing Pretty About Them (and That Just Might be Their Demise) 

T-Mobile's Time Runs Out in DeKalb

DeKalb Service Request for Cell Tower Compliance

Please leave respectful comments below:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Delay, Delay, Delay: Another School Community Makes Headway in the Fight Against Cell Towers

Milestone Communications

Communications representative Christian Winkler shows a
PowerPoint presentation detailing his company's research during
a community meeting Monday at West County Area library to
discuss plans for a Verizon cellphone tower to be placed at
Piney Orchard Elementary School. On Tuesday, Winkler said
 plans are on hold and Milestone will work with the Piney Orchard
Community Association to find a better location for the tower.

Cell tower planned 

at Odenton school 

on hold

Milestone Communications plans to address Piney Orchard Elementary health concerns

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 11:50 am, Wed May 22, 2013.

A proposed 99-foot cellphone tower at Piney Orchard Elementary School is on hold — less than a day after a contentious community meeting at West County Area library.

Christian Winkler, vice president of development at Milestone Communications, said Tuesday the company won’t move forward with its building permit application until it can address health and safety concerns raised by members of the Piney Orchard Community Association.

“Justified or not, people feel what they feel. We’re not out to cause more distress for anyone,” Winkler said.
The tower is one of the first proposed at Anne Arundel County Public Schools under a lease with Milestone Communications. The Virginia-based company will pay $25,000 a year to the school system for the tower, plus additional fees as more carriers lease space on the tower and then 40 percent of rent charged to those companies.

Another tower has been proposed at Broadneck High School, and three more are in development at Chesapeake High, South River High and Tracey’s Elementary schools.

About 50 angry Piney Orchard residents, most of them parents of students at the school, questioned Winkler on Monday about the dangers posed by radiation from the tower, which already is under contract to Verizon.

Winkler presented information on health standards for cellphone towers set by the Federal Communications Commission in 1996 that cap radiation at 50 times less than considered harmful levels of exposure.
“Everything we do is done within those limits,” Winkler said.

But Sean Hughes, land use counsel for Milestone, said “the safety issue is not a real issue.”
Jamie Fraser, the parent of a Piney Orchard student, said Milestone might have been misleading because it skewed its safety data to make cell towers appear safer for surrounding communities, not students who might get close up.

The proposed cell tower would be surrounded by a 10-foot fence and would be disguised to better blend into the tree line with artificial shrubbery, bark and branches. The tower is approximately 400 feet from the school building.

“The risk zone is if you were to be within 3 feet of an antenna and stay there minute to minute to minute. That’s where it gets risky,” Hughes said. “After you move 3 feet away, (the radiation) is so little and that’s why the levels are so low.”

Read article here.

Comcast launches free Wi-Fi hotspots

GTCO-ATL:  Comcast and ATT are two of the big businesses known for being members of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that works on behalf of big business interest and helps write laws brought forth by our representatives that reverse many rights afforded to the individual in the U.S.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Comcast launched more than 350 Wi-Fi hotspots across metro Atlanta on Thursday and said thousands more are coming locally and across the nation.
It’s the first time the cable TV, phone and Internet service provider is making free Wi-Fi hotspots available to its Xfinity customers, and non-customers for a limited time, the company said.
Free Wi-Fi hotspots allow people who have mobile devices or computers to check email, surf the Internet and download data without costly charges. Restaurants, hotels and other businesses offer them to keep customers coming back and to attract new ones.
“People want to be as productive as they can be wherever they go,” said Tino Mantella, president of the Technology Association of Georgia, and that is fueling the creation of more Wi-Fi hotspots. TAG said Atlanta consistently ranks high among major markets in Wi-Fi access.
Wi-Fi hotspots are not only tapped by smartphones and tablets, but also e-readers, game consoles and smart appliances, including TVs and refrigerators.
AT&T, a major Comcast competitor, has nearly 400 Wi-Fi hotspots around metro Atlanta and nearly 900 statewide, according to spokesman Lance Skelly.
Comcast’s launch includes hotpots at Piedmont and Chastain parks, the campuses of Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State universities and the Atlanta University Center, which includes Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta University.
Comcast said its Internet WiFi access is free to Xfinity customers and it will be free to non-customers from Friday through July 4. After July 4, non-Xfinity Internet customers can try Xfinity WiFi via two complimentary 60-minute sessions per month. Beyond that usage, non-Comcast customers will pay $2.95 per hour, $7.95 per day or $19.95 per week.
To find the hotspots, Comcast said users can get an Xfinity WiFi app, which is available online at Google Play for Android phones and at iTunes for phones powered by Apple’s iOS operating system.
Comcast has other hotspots in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Jersey, the greater Boston region and in California.

Please leave respectful comments below:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lakeside Parents Petition to Stop Cell Towers!

Target: DeKalb County Board of Education
Sponsored by: Lakeside Parents

We are shocked and appalled that our elected officials would entertain a proposal to construct cell towers on school property at Lakeside High School, Atlanta, Georgia.  There are many issues which concern us:
First, there are negative health issues associated with being around cell towers for extended periods of time. Cell towers emit high levels of variable radio frequency emissions. Our children spend 6-7 hours per day 180 days a year on school property and would be in close proximity to these proposed cell tower sites.  Currently the impact of this radiation is unknown. However, 30% of students and teachers in Bayville, New York and nine teachers in California's Vista Del Monte Elementary School complained of serious ailments such as leukemia and thyroid cancer after cell towers were erected on school property.  Multiple studies, such as those conducted in Germany and Tel Aviv, indicate that cell tower radiation is associated with a heightened risk of various cancers.  Those who live nearby and work at or attend the schools could experience negative health affects involving dizziness, mental confusion, and hormonal disruptions.
Cell towers in our neighborhood will lower our property values.

While DeKalb Schools would initially receive extra revenue, this financial gain would be lost when residents begin to file litigation to prevent cell tower construction or file suit for damages resulting from health problems and property devaluation.

No amount of revenue however is worth sacrificing our children's health for corporate profit.  Cell towers belong on vacant lots, industrial areas, or shopping center lots.  They do not belong on residential or school properties.

We the undersigned residents, standing together and strongly united, oppose the installation of the Cell Tower at Lakeside High School.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cell Towers, Schools, Cities

At GTCO-ATL, we have brought forward a lot of information over the past two years regarding the push to place cell phone towers on our school grounds.  We have uncovered the fact that the initial drive for this revenue generating idea came from the Lakeside High School community, specifically a former board member, Terry Morris, who later became the campaign manager for another former board member, Paul Womack.  Womack placed the cell tower issue on the plate of the Budget, Audit and Finance Committee in 2010 and then acted a chairman in the July 2011 meeting of the school board in which they voted to approve towers for 9 campuses, mostly elementary schools, 2 high schools and 1 comprehensive school for the disabled.

Mr. Womack is a former Republican lobbyist who owns several homes in both DeKalb and Fulton, so it is not really clear which one he actually resides in, but for the school board purpose of running in District 4, he stated his address to be the one in the area between Briarlake Elementary School and Lakeside High School.  The people, he often claimed, asked him to come back after having retired from public service in the late 1980's.  He was a full time school board member for most of the 1980's and late 1970's.  When he stepped down, Terry Morris filled the seat.  When she lost it in a re-election campaign, probably due to the cell tower issue, she helped Womack come back to the board.  But, Morris and her agenda for a cell tower at Lakeside never really went away.

We have often pondered who Mr. Womack considered his constituents or his community as it obviously was not the children.  Education has suffered tremendously during his time on the school board, having served the majority of the 10 year period that SACS now claims was what led to the eventual ousting of the entire board sans Womack and McChesney who were not re-elected.  Their replacements, McMahan and Orson, are still serving their brief, two-year term currently although it was originally expected that they would be ousted along with the rest of the school board.  The state BOE never really explained that one.  They have just moved on, as has most of the county.  Most people are assuming that the education system is on its way  back.  Michael Thurmond just found loads of money and the new board appears to be competent in their new roles and will likely regain the coveted SACS accreditation.

But, recently we saw the name Terry Morris pop up again, along with former Superintendent Brad Bryant and it wasn't related to schools or cell towers exactly... or was it?  They were listed as "co-sponsors" of a Lakeside City Fundraiser.   What is Lakeside City?  Well, first you have to start with Lakeside High School, which we have absolutely no problem with and would never say anything negative about with regards to the large majority of people who send their children to high school there.  This is not about education, families or children.  This is an issue about Georgia politics and how nothing is truly sacred if they can find a way to make money off of it.  Lakeside High School "advocates" were behind the drive to get a cell tower for their school, but they were defeated in court because the school is on donated property.  But, still, they are trying again.  Perhaps they found new space near a home or store that they have been allowed to use, but why haven't they complained at all about this two year delay we have been experiencing between the time the school board okay-ed the towers and the time it has taken to build them, still not complete and now with contracts that appear to be void, except for the Lakeside contract.  It is the only one with a question mark over it because it does not have a final T-mobile signature.  AND it was signed by Dr. Walker and Dr. Atkinson, both of whom are not longer serving our county in this regard.

Apparently, the Lakeside folks decided it was easier to switch to Verizon if they didn't like their dropped calls rather than wait two years for a new tower to be built and then fought over in court.
Some residents who live near a feeder elementary school to Lakeside High now want to form an actual city based around their high school (even though they live in another area that goes by its own name and has its own school named after it) and they want to use the tax dollars from other areas to pay for it which is causing some controversy.  They need to raise $30K for a feasibility study.   Who do we know that goes around giving out $25K - $30K for every co-locator?  It will be interesting to see if the "turf" industry leadership of this particular city exploratory group will be listing the contributors to their funding study.  

PUBLIC ALERT: Summer Break Starts Thursday; Could Tower Construction Begin Friday?

Residents Near the Original School Cell Tower Locations in DeKalb Should Remain Alert!

Note:  The text below is a from a copy of the cell tower lease in DeKalb County for Lakeside High School, possibly going on a light pole near the baseball field.  It states that it is part of a larger group that shall execute together upon the last party to sign.

We did not see this wording on any other individual school lease.  Now we are unsure if we even received valid copies of these documents via Open Records Requests.

So, if the contracts execute together, then when? It has been more than two years already?  How much longer in limbo?  Take a look at the line for T-mobile.  It's blank.  That means we STILL do not know who will be the "last party to sign."

And, in case you feel sorry for Lakeside... don't!  
Here's a look at their current cell tower landscape just in a four square mile radius.
They do not need more towers.  They just want the money from everyone else's towers.!  

Lakeside High School, (Atlanta)
Briarlake Elementary School, (N. Decatur)
Narvie J. Harris Elementary, (S. Decatur)
Jolly Elementary School, (Clarkston)
Smoke Rise Elementary School,  (N. Stone Mountain/Tucker)
Flat Rock Elementary, (Lithonia)
Martin Luther King High School, (Lithonia)
Princeton Elementary,  (Redan)
Margaret Harris Comprehensive School (Atlanta)

Note that all cell towers planned by the school system in 2011 have not yet been
constructed, but we could see something as early as this week if rumors are true that
Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond signed a permit application or Lakeside 
High School on this issue.  GTCO-ATL is still following this story!

Monday, May 20, 2013

SACS Visits DeKalb and Other News

Some insightful reporting by Ty Tagami from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Is Dr. Atkinson out there laughing at us somewhere?
Is she enjoying her fat payout at the expense of our
children and homeowners?  Will the nightmare for
DeKalb's schools finally come to an end?  Or is
this just the beginning?  Traditionally, the worst decisions
that affect the most people and cost us the most
money have taken place of the Summer months, mainly
in July.  So, regardless of whether or not you have
children in the school system, if you pay taxes and
plan to live here for a while, please pay attention to
all issues affecting our county and, most of all,
don't lose sight of the school board's actions just
because the kids are out for Summer break!  Corruption
doesn't take a holiday.  It waits to strike when it thinks
no one is paying attention!  

Accreditation agency visits DeKalb

May 17:  The school accreditation agency that placed DeKalb County on probation last year has returned for a review of the school district in preparation for a May 31 report.
A monitoring team from AdvancED, the parent company of accreditation agency the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, visited the DeKalb County School District Friday with plans to continue interviewing staff Saturday.
The team met with principals, teachers, administrators and board members, a school system spokeswoman said. DeKalb will be judged on progress addressing 11 concerns. SACS gave the district a December deadline to address them.


DeKalb schools change budget hearing plans

May 14:  Hours before a final hearing Wednesday on next year’s budget, the DeKalb County School District cancelled and rescheduled the event for noon on June 3.
No reason was given for the abrupt change of plans. The school board is now expected to hear from the public just a week before a possible June 10 preliminary vote on the fiscal year 2014 budget, which starts in July.
A final budget vote is now expected June 26.

and, just prior to that:

DeKalb schools’ finance chief leaves amid questions about the budget

May 8:  The same day the cash-strapped DeKalb County School District released a proposed budget with millions of dollars in surprise revenue, the district’s finance chief turned in his resignation, two events a district spokesman said were unrelated.

Michael Perrone’s decision to leave Tuesday had nothing to do with the district’s release of a budget that day with $27 million in revenue that did not exist in his earlier projections, district spokesman Jeff Dickerson said.

“He left on amicable terms and all is well,” Dickerson said, adding that Mike Bell, a government finance veteran, will step in temporarily.
Perrone’s departure after an accounting discovery obliterating a projected shortfall for fiscal year 2014, which begins in July, left some observers uneasy.
“With the discovery of what has been called a surplus, there are a lot more questions than answers,” said Gil Hearn, a Dunwoody parent. The founder of Parents for DeKalb County Schools said some worry the new money is not real. “It introduces significant doubt into the process,” he said.
Superintendent Michael Thurmond told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution how he found the money: Some of it, such as a state subsidy associated with a growing population of students who don’t speak English, was always there and unrecorded, he said. But some of it DeKalb had failed to collect, he said. For instance, the district gets federal dollars to feed children, but failed to bill the government for the cost of administering the grant, Thurmond said.
“Some of it, we got it but we didn't know we had it,” Thurmond said. “Some of it, you had to know to ask to get it.”
School board chairman Melvin Johnson said he’s confident in Thurmond’s discovery. He said DeKalb can collect the unbilled money for the current fiscal year, and will try to recoup money from prior years — though he was less optimistic about the prospects for that.
Johnson said he assumed Perrone left because of the revenue revelation. “He probably looked at the budget and saw the discrepancies that had been revealed and decided to resign,” Johnson said.
Perrone did not return messages left on his district cellphone or on an older cellphone he brought with him from Florida. No working number could be found for him in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, where he worked as a school finance officer before he was hired last year by former DeKalb Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.
Perrone is the first member of Atkinson’s cabinet to leave under Thurmond, who took over in February.
School board member Marshall Orson said he does not know why Perrone left but said it could have been a simple changing of the guard.
“It’s not unusual when you have a change in leadership that some people end up going,” Orson said.
The new superintendent’s budget is a sharp departure from Atkinson’s. With Perrone’s help, Atkinson engineered some of the deepest cuts in school district history. DeKalb sheared off $78 million in spending, implementing a $730 million budget that increased class sizes by reducing teaching positions, laid off library workers, interpreters and bus mechanics and imposed two additional furlough days — unpaid leave — on teachers.
Thurmond is recommending a $759 million budget for fiscal year 2014 that cancels one of those furlough days and gives bus drivers and other support workers a cash incentive for showing up to work regularly. He is also asking the school board to buy new textbooks, hire interpreters and invest in planning for a career academy when they adopt the budget in June.
Teachers advocate David Schutten said the canceled furlough day is a welcome, if small, concession. The president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators visited a half-dozen schools Wednesday and said teachers at all of them expressed “hope but cynicism” about the newfound money.
Schutten was surprised to learn of Perrone’s departure and said it will only deepen suspicion. “He struck me as being competent, so I’m just kind of taken aback,” Schutten said. “What people are going to want to know is, does this have anything to do with the money?”

Please leave respectful comments below:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Testing the Towers: Maryland Examines RF Compliance

Poolesville testing cell towers for health risk
Kansas firm to test for high radiofrequency levels

By Krista Brick Staff Writer

Dan Gross/The Gazette

Cellphone towers perched on top of the Poolesville water tower have brought more than $1 million in rental fees into the town’s coffers, but town officials now want to make sure they aren’t posing a health risk to residents.

The Poolesville Town Commission voted unanimously Monday night to hire the Kansas company Radiofrequency Safety International Inc. to conduct a hazard assessment monitoring of the towers and check for hot zones where radiofrequency levels are unusually high.

Thomas Orr lives directly across the street from the water tower on Wootton Avenue. He said he’s been pushing for a safety evaluation for more than a decade.

“My belief is that water tower is a cash cow,” Orr said. “They made well more than a $1 million on the space so there is not a lot of interest in one man’s health concerns when you are raking in that kind of money. It has clouded their vision so to speak.”

Four carriers including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint/Nextel pay the town a total of $167,000 a year to have their antennas on the Poolesville water tower, Town Manager Wade Yost said. Cell towers have been on the water tower for about 15 years, he said.

In mid-June KSI is expected to monitor the towers and produce a report to determine if there is a violation of RF levels, Yost said. The report is costing the town $4,000.

“It is something we contemplated doing for some time. We have no indication to believe anything is unsafe. We believe they are safe,” said Jim Brown, president of the Poolesville Town Commission.

He said the commission recently reassessed the safety of the tower when an infrastructure issue caused a leak at the water tower. The cell towers are another component of that safety assessment, he said. “We might as well give it a look-see.”

Greg Kechter, general manager of KSI, said the reports can be produced in as little as a half hour to as long as a week. He said his company will use special instrumentation to take RF readings around the site and evaluate those readings to be sure they meet the Federal Communications Commission’s standards for environmental regulations.

KSI also makes mitigation recommendations for those sites out of compliance including moving antenna and changing antenna types, he said.

He said he has never done a study that required changes to cellular antenna on water towers.

“I’ve seen water towers with as few as two antennas and I have done some with as many as 60 antennas,” Kechter said. “I have not had a water tower with issues due to cellular equipment. All I talk about in terms of health is what the regulations are.”

Brown said what the cellular companies pay the town is “nothing to sneeze at,” but the money is not the town’s top priority.

“Money doesn’t matter when it comes to anything health related, that is number one. Number two, and a distant number two, is we recognize cell providers provide valuable service to our residents. Services and money come number three.”

Orr’s son who was living with him and his wife in their Poolesville home was diagnosed with testicular cancer three years ago at the age of 25. Their cat now has an inoperable tumor.

“I feel like we are being cooked particularly now that the cat got cancer,” Orr said.

According to the American Cancer Society website, cell phone towers “are unlikely to cause cancer.”

Orr admits much of the research does not point to cell towers as cancer-causing agents.

“I don’t know if they are harmful. I’ve been asking for the town to monitor the cell towers for about 15 years since they were first put up. I expressed my concern and then wouldn’t you know my kid would get (cancer),” Orr said. “God darn here I have been preaching about this and trying to get answers and my kid got cancer.”

Orr said he was “kind of surprised” by the town’s decision to hire KSI to do the study.

“It is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

YES! GREAT JOB! DeKalb Parent Councils are on the Right Track!

From Atlanta Magazine

Power to the parents

The school system crisis brings North and South DeKalb parents together

In the rose-colored room of a restored antebellum home in Decatur, a place that usually holds the luncheons of Junior League ladies or showers for Southern brides-to-be, DeKalb County parents quietly made history this week. Leaders of parent councils met on Monday and agreed to become a unified force.
Parents usually work most passionately for their children, their neighborhood, their schools. In DeKalb, that instinct has been heightened by a longstanding distrust and a suspicion that the other side of the county gets a bigger piece of an ever-shrinking pie. The north part of the county was historically white, the south solidly African-American, and those divisions have lingered—even as DeKalb as a whole grew ethnically diverse, with children from more than 157 countries now enrolled in the system.
But the crisis over accreditation brought the parents together across the old boundaries and caused them to ask each other: What would happen if we cooperated? How much more power could we have?
The talk became emotional when parents brought up the county’s historical divisions. “The North-South thing is being used by politicians to support their needs,” said Michelle Pinkava, a Tucker mom with a third-grader and a seventh-grader. “I think they play that up. That is not going to play in this room.”
While some commented about “different allocations” and unequal construction money and the pain of budget cuts, the assembled parents agreed that their common needs were greater than their individual grievances.
“Individual word of mouth is the most important thing you can do. Each one of you needs to be a quiet zealot,” said Faye Andresen, a longtime parent activist from the Druid Hills High School cluster who moderated the meeting. “You advocate for your parent council and you advocate for the whole county’s educational system.”
The next night, seven of the nine school board members came to a forum of the South DeKalb Parents Council at Redan High School in Stone Mountain. They promised transparency and better communication. They promised not to fight for their turf but to do what they thought was best for all DeKalb children. The South DeKalb parents applauded.
“The tone is very different from what we’ve had in the past,” said Deidra Willis, a board member of the South DeKalb Parent Council who attended both meetings. “I think it will really bind us.”

The New Divide in DeKalb: City Formation Causing Chaos

From The Patch:  At a meeting that seemed to be designed to slow the on-rushing train of cityhood, Democrats in DeKalb’s legislative delegation urged residents to consider a variety of issues before deciding to incorporate.

“You all have gotten our attention in a very substantial way; we hear you,” said state Sen. Jason Carter (D-42) told the several hundred people in attendance. “I’m not sold on the idea of creating new cities, but the fact that we have so many people here tonight is a good sign.”

The meeting was held this past Monday at Clairmont Hills Baptist Church, and was hosted by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur). Oliver has been an outspoken opponent of the way that cities are created in Georgia, most recently during the debate over Brookhaven’s municipalization.

Other DeKalb lawmakers, county commissioners and leaders of local civic organizations joined Oliver. All but two of the elected officials were Democrats: state Rep. Tom Taylor and state Sen. Fran Millar, both of whom represent Dunwoody in the General Assembly, and who were involved in Dunwoody's road to cityhood.

Taylor is also a leader in an effort to allow new cities to form their own separate school systems.

Several bills were filed in the most recent General Assembly session that would create cities from throughout several areas in DeKalb, including portions of the Tucker, Druid Hills, Briarcliff and Lakeside communities.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tower Climbers, Especially Subcontractors for ATT, Die at Rate 10 Times Higher than Construction Workers

Will a school in DeKalb be the next location where a
cell tower climber falls to his death or a wrench is dropped from 
100 feet in the air, killing an  innocent person on the ground
below?  Safety concerns are numerous when it comes to
placing cell towers so near the places where we live, work
and play.  Has the school board considered the liability 
that goes along with a faulty decision made TWO boards ago?
Is it even legal for a board to decide something that
isn't intended for action until they are safely out of 
the pubic eye? 
Cell tower climbers are dying in large numbers in order to build better cell service for the public --- a risky, high-pressure job that is necessary to expand America's cellular infrastructure.
Cell tower climbers are dying at ten times the rate of construction workers. PBS Frontline says , “People don’t understand what the danger is to tower climbing,” former climber Robert Hale says in the Frontline film. “One person drops a wrench, it’ll kill somebody.”
Untrained cell tower climbers work at the most dangerous job in the nation, climbing 400-foot high ATT towers that usually involves numerous layers of subcontractors. In a field with under 10,000 tower climbers, about 100 climbers have died with over half working on cell sites. In about five weeks, six cell tower climbers fell to their death --- three were on AT&T towers.
According to ProPublica, between 2003 and 2011, 50 climbers died working on cell sites, more than half of the nearly 100 who were killed on communications towers.
The United States has more active cell phones than people. According to CNN Money, a problem developed when ATT began to develop a reputation for dropped calls, unacceptable once they became the sole carrier for the iPhone.
Subcontractors became the answer for not only ATT, Verizon and numerous tower industries, but also service industries, retail, logistics and health care. Building new towers and installing new antennas by AT&T and other tower subcontractors continues to bring 3G networking to striving U.S. markets. But for better cell service and faster video and online games, tower climbers are losing their lives.
The problem seems to lie with subcontractors often contract out jobs to other subcontractors. Jobs are passed from one company to the next, with less ability to control the workers. Many subcontractors are not approved, but OSHA reports that there is "a pattern whereby ATT had significantly more deaths on towers that they were owning or renting than the other carriers."
Many of the crews he came across weren’t taking the most rudimentary safety precautions. “They didn’t have their hardhats, they didn’t have safety glasses, they didn’t have safety gear,” said Mark Hein, who has worked for several turf vendors as a construction manager. Many of the climbers lacked training certificates.
“Rather than paying this amount to this guy, who’s really qualified and … has a great reputation, they hire this person over here because he’s available right now and he’ll do it for what we want him to do it for,” he said. For the task of installing a remote radio head, the price sheet said, the carrier would pay the turf vendor $187 and the turf vendor would pay the subcontractor $93.
To prepare for the iPhone 3G's introduction, ATT poured millions of dollars in the summer of 2008 for its wireless expenditures. This meant an unprecedented scale of untrained tower climbers. OSHA considers cell tower climbers the most dangerous job in America.
“It was nuts,” said Dan MacRae, a project manager who has worked on cell site projects for several turf vendors. “We were working in the field for 40 hours straight. They had crews in rain, sleet, snow.”
Meanwhile, the building boom is continuously accompanied by one fall after another. On May 25, 2012, Plano, Texas-based Goodman Networks sent out a bulletin notifying workers of a mandatory safety stand down.

Read more:

CNN host Carol Costello was a victim of an iPhone mugging

By Rodney Ho

CNN mid-morning anchor Carol Costello was mugged of her iPhone on the streets of Atlanta.

She wrote about it on her Facebook page:
Good Morning. In retrospect, what happened to me yesterday is insignificant in light of what happened in the Boston. Still, I feel the need to vent. And isn't that what friends are for? 

I was robbed.  And I am angry.
I was walking down a beautiful, leafy Atlanta street, talking on my IPhone.  Guess what happened next?
Three teenagers ran up behind me. One of them grabbed my IPhone. Stupidly I struggled to hold on-to it. But, he was a big guy. And he pulled out a chunk my hair.  I let go.
As he ran down the street, laughing, I hurled a few expletives his way.  I felt no fear at the time, I was just angry. Now I'm angry, shaken and sad. What a lousy life those kids have ahead of them.

As smartphones proliferate, they have become easy items to steal and resell. The New York Times recently ran a page about the subject and how manufacturers don't seem to be doing much about it.

Her advice: don't talk on your smartphone while walking down a public street because you're a ripe target for a mugging.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

More Cell Towers on the Horizon

GTCO-ATL has been following developments in Maryland as we have found that there appears to be a connection between the operations of our school system and the system in Montgomery County.  If there is something we see related to cell phone towers there, we often can expect to see the same thing occur here in DeKalb, perhaps with a six-month to a one year lag time.

With that in mind, please watch the video below.  You will even recognize the anchor as having recently left Atlanta's morning news on FOX to join the news anchor team in Maryland.

More Cell Towers on the Horizon in Maryland  

(It was noted that the cell provider asking for towers at low income schools was Verizon, not Sprint as erroneously reported by the station.)

These towers are imposed badges of inferiority upon the schools that they abut and upon the surrounding neighborhoods that the affected schools serve. The stigmatic effects undermine BOE's efforts to equalize and integrate County schools.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Notice of Monday Meetings for the DeKalb County Board of Education

The DeKalb Board of Education will hold the following meetings on Monday, May 6, 2013:

2:00pm Work Session
Cabinet Room
Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
3:00pm Committee of the Whole
Cabinet Room
Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
4:00om Executive Session for a student appeal and a legal matter
Cabinet Room
Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
5:45pm Community Meeting for Public Comments
J. David Williamson Board Room
Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
7:00pm Business Meeting
J. David Williamson Board Room
Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
Meeting information can be accessed online by going to:, click on Leadership, go to eBoard Home Page and click on the date for the meeting agenda\information.

From the Tucker Patch:

And here are some of  the questions that parents have not yet heard answered last week at the Tucker Parent council meeting

Thurmond  didn't get a chance to answer all of them, so we are hoping for a final meeting hosted by the Tucker Parent Council before school is out.  

There were some questions parents had for Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond
We have asked TPC to invite our Tucker board representatives since we are unaware of any opportunities the community has been offered to actually have a chance to hear them speak about their views on education and how they will benefit Tucker.  
The next school board election is next year, either July or November 2014, depending on whom you ask. If Tucker is not being fairly represented by the status quo, we need to work together as a community to find some outstanding potential board members and encourage them to run for the office. Otherwise our schools, our community and our children will continue to suffer as being an area in DeKalb that truly has gone without any "local control" in this important area.


1. There are parents and homeowners here tonight who are still waiting to learn whether or not a cell phone tower will go up at their school. Do you have any updates for them? It has been nearly two years.
2. Are you aware of the efforts by a community calling themselves "Lakeside" is going through in order to form a city of Lakeside that could potentially take money, residents and schools away from the Tucker community, which is more than 120 years old? Is this divisiveness something that is still plaguing the school system. Can accreditation remain at risk if neighboring communities are unable to get along?
3. In light of the fact that the board member currently serving and the super district member are both residents of the Lakeside area, what can you say to reassure residents that their children are being represented in the decisions being made at all? How do we know our property values are being protected?
4. Can you explain the school council/parent council/PTA model for parent involvement and is it fair to allow these groups to give input to the school system that might only reflect their views personally, not the views of the majority. What responsibility does the school have to the community? 
5. Principals, even good ones, in the current system are loyal only to the administration. In times past the principal was the advocate for the children, the parents, the teachers, the community because they were involved and even lived in the same area. Now they rotate through some schools only staying a short year or two. How can the community trust that the school is going to be an asset and not a liability?
We pay a lot in taxes, but we are made to look like an area in poverty because this school has been designated as a Title I. Is that fair to those who live around here who are not in poverty? Where do these other children come from and are we actually helping them by transferring them all over the county? Why can't they be reached in schools near them? Many parents say it is this problem that causing them to leave for other schools and other areas.  
6. Is the board and administration aware of a large push right now for charter clusters? Are they doing this on their own or with help?  Does anyone in Tucker realize this initiative? Are we getting the same help?
7. Would you consider protecting Brockett Elementary as a historic school and declare that it will not be placed on a list to be torn down? The push for new construction is causing us to forget the past. A school like Brockett is important to the Civil Rights history because this architecture was meant to inspire a change - that all children are given the same opportunity as well as a natural surrounding to inspire them and a community around the school to support them as they learn.  
Large, technical schools that house thousands may be the future, but Tucker is very protective of its past, too. We don't want to see history torn down and forgotten. We love our small neighborhood schools. We love to keep our children closer to home. If Livsey and Brocket and Midvale are what works here, why do we have to change to something that is not proven?
8. What is the status of the Idlewood Elementary redistricting as well as the Evansdale redistricting?  
9. Rumors are that you plan to tear down Tucker Middle. Is that true?
10. We want to believe in you, Superintendent Thurmond, but you have not said you will remain past a year. What will happen to the school system if and when you leave? Fear is that it will revert right back to where it was.
11. What is being done to settle lawsuits and reduce spending on legal?
12. What is being done to get help to teachers who are overworked and overloaded?
13. Are you looking into better ways to help teach the non-English speaking or English as second language?  
14. What is the "chain of command?" Do you consider the PTA as an official part of the chain of command?
15. So many families have left our schools and gone on to home school, private schools, etc. How can we trust that the 99,000 students is a valid number? It never seems to change but we know many families who have left. Is it possible that we are paying to educate too many children who do not live here? What can be done to stop that?
16. There is a large immigrant and refugee population in DeKalb that needs extra help. Are we getting the federal funds we should to help these children? We have heard they are overcrowded at Jolly. Will they be sending many of those children here as well?
17. If we cannot talk or interact with the board, how are we supposed to get our opinions and feedback to them. How do we know that they know anything about us?  
18. Will you ask the legislators to approve vouchers if the schools are not able to serve the communities, like ours, that are caught in the middle of a North /South battle? 
19. If pre-K is so vital, why was it cut back and will you work to restore it?  
20. Can you please stop the furlough days??