Monday, October 20, 2014

What is the DeKalb County School System Trying to Hide From You?

The parents, property owners, residents and other citizens who are concerned about the impact of technology on the education system have been led down many paths, depending on what is most convenient for the school system to have you believe at the time.

We were once told that cell phone towers were necessary for some schools so that they could provide wireless Internet access and bring their education into the 21st century.  Well, guess what?  They didn't get the towers, but somehow they became wireless anyway and we've  been living in the 21 century for a while now.  So, the towers were not really needed for an educational purpose at all.  If they had been intended for that use, it would not have been an initiative started by the "Finance, Budget and Audit Committee" committee which was chaired by Paul Womack and vice chaired by Dr. Eugene Walker, both notorious for their roles in dragging out the north/south divide of DeKalb County.

We were also told that the digital revolution in our school system would bring children experiences that they could have never had in other way, connecting them to other countries and cultures and taking them to places like the depths of the ocean or outer space.   With rare exception, that is not how computers are being used most of the time.

Smart boards were going to get students more engaged in the learning experience.   Nevermind the expense, the technology would be a way to get kids more involved. Teachers would be encouraged to "think outside the box" as they would have a new tool to get children excited about learning.  In reality, the "new" has simply been a very expensive purchase that replaced the chalkboard, the white board, the overhead projector and the screen that you used to pull down in front of the chalkboard when the teacher had a filmstrip to show in class.

Truth be told, many kids used filmstrip time to fall asleep at their desks anyway, so it's not necessarily a proven fact that  using video/audio presentations in school were ever a good idea to begin with.  One downside to "smart boards" which are now in every classroom is that they also  removed a very effective punishment that was once available to teachers  -  the dreaded "cleaning erasers" chore which was the practice of making kids pound two erasers together outside of the classroom in order to remove the excess chalk.  To clear the display these days, it just takes a click of a button.  But, how is that a benefit worth the expense when everything else was something we could always do?  The information isn't new, but we are all paying for a lot of new ways of getting that knowledge from the teacher to the student.  If the schools are not performing any better, then it isn't about the hardware OR the software.   The system itself is broken and yet, in DeKalb, what has been done to change it?  We have a system wide failure.

The system is broken because the leaders are not focused on the most basic and primary of goals:  educating children.  They were busy spending the windfall sums that came their way when times were good and now they are busy trying to maintain their same levels of spending when times are tough.  Their focus is on themselves.  Instead, they have made promises to the poor to bring federal dollars in while making excuses to the rich about why their demands were not being met when they were paying such a large amount for a system they were being driven out

 So,  the schools are improving, according to Michael Thurmond, the Superintendent who made an Interim position into a real, yet short term, position that required the diplomacy and tact of an international peace keeper.  But, what about the concerns of the taxpayers that led to the complaints to SACS and eventually led to the removal of the board members?

Did the concerns raised by parents ever become something that the new, appointed board was apprised of?  Do they know the actual content of those complaints or were they just appointed because it was the belief of the selection committee and the Governor that they could do a "better" or decent job than the ones who had been elected and therefore they would not create an atmosphere of infighting that could lead to a loss in public confidence?

Well, if you were here during the time of the SACS report (released Dec. 2012) then  you may recall what was going on at the time.  Teachers were upset about furlough days and the firing of media specialists  and paraprofessionals in order to make ends meet financially.  Some magnet school and theme schools were upset because of a threat to end the free transportation for them (even though application to these schools is voluntary).  No one likes classrooms that are overcrowded and no one was very fond of the "balanced" calendar idea or the countless "redistricting" process.  But, those issues come up in other areas, too, and they don't end with a complete removal of an entire board of elected officials.  It is popular to hate standardized testing in schools right now or to dislike a cheating scandal or bookkeeper with sticky fingers.

But, which one of those issues actually caused parents in DeKalb County to throw their differences aside and start working together for a common goal?  Which of those issues caused people to look around and see how the children in other schools were  being treated and start to recognize the pattern of abuse that were taking place?   Which of the above issues actually caused parents and taxpayers to band together in protest so that they were gathered together in an actual march, demanding that a poor decision be reversed?   Which issue resulted in an actual ballot referendum that was supported by nearly every legislator in  the DeKalb delegation, won a referendum vote by a landslide, AND took three full hours of hearings at the Capitol simply for the citizens to voice their demands?

What issue was it that exposed an attempt of a corrupt board to abuse the public's trust by skirting the laws requiring public notification and input?  And what was the one issue that actually had people from both ends of the county finally holding their elected officials to a higher standard of conduct  - one that was truly about fair treatment of all who live here?  What one issue made it perfectly clear that the problem was NOT the people, but the way the people were being represented to one another and the way they were NOT being represented in government decisions?   The problem was with the politicians who were using their positions to gain political power and advantages for their political party, despite the fact that the school board seats were deemed to be "non partisan."

For the first time, parents were understanding that the school system should NEVER be about doing whatever it takes to give your child an UNFAIR advantage over others.   That's not a good lesson for children to learn and  we, as upstanding citizens who want something better, should never allow a benefit to be thrown our way if it will bring harm to someone else.  Education and its policies should NEVER been about harming others.  That's not a goal of education and therefore it should not be the goal of anyone hired or elected to use the schools in that manner, either.

So, you probably know what that ONE ISSUE is that we are referring to, don't you?

Cell towers on school grounds as a viable consideration for "alternative revenue" when tax dollars fall short.
To  seek out agreements that would lease the ground right out from under the tax payers who have already paid for that property and take it away from the children who are already using it for the purpose it was originally intended (education) is not really a subject that requires much thought to the average person.  It's clearly wrong.  When you add in the fact that the normal procedures for notifying the public and for gathering their input about the benefits vs. the costs were not followed, it becomes even more offensive, even if it was not happening to you directly.  The fact that it could happen at all is something that we should all be concerned about because that means that is isn't just a school's property, but maybe even your own that you should be worried about.

Cell towers are large structures that do not conform whatsoever to an area of residentially zoned homes or the small space that has been set aide for the education of young children.  They are clearly incompatible with every possible stretch of the imagination of what one would expect to see visually in a residential area.  They are also high enough on the list of possible carcinogens from the World Health Organization that the last  person one would expect to be in favor of placing them near young children would be a school board member.

This issue made a lot of people very upset in DeKalb County.  Many people stuck with the fight month after month after month.    Yet, somehow the newly appointed school board nor the Superintendent has not viewed this particular issue as one worthy of being addressed.

 In fact, Get the Cell Out - ATL, a group started by some of the very first parents who were faced with this issue in the DeKalb County School System, has attempted to remind the board, very respectfully, that this issue remains out there and they need to place it on their agenda before their tenure on the board has ended.

We spoke at the public comments portion of Michael Thurmond's very first board meeting, before the appointed board was put in place.   Many parents have spoken up at a variety of times since Michael Thurmond's arrival, to voice their concerns about this subject and the fact that they do not want to see this practice of skirting public input  to come up again.  And, we spoke again at two subsequent board meetings as well as to our individual  board member, super district board member, surrounding area board members and not only are we essentially ignored, but the ballot referendum was a complete waste of time as it resulted in no action whatsoever.

But, worse than that ...  the video that is normally made of every board meeting so that those who live here can watch the meeting even if they are unable to attend it in person ... is not posted on the school system's website.  And, in fact, that video is being intentionally withheld from the public domain by people who do not want you to know that this issue is being "buried."

Get the Cell Out - ATL has been very polite and non-threatening in the way we have approached these public officials. We have patiently waited for them to deal with the issues most important to restoring the accreditation of the school system.   But, this board, as it exists today, only has TWO MORE MONTHS in office as a whole.

Their work will hopefully continue even as elected members eventually replace the appointed ones.  But, what have they done to address this issue and why are they okay with the fact that the staff of the school system is trying to prevent you from hearing about the suggestions we have presented?

They have options available to them that do not have to be a complete ban.  They could easily adopt a resolution that would discourage future school boards from engaging in negotiations that would require the leasing of school grounds to commercial entities without the full disclosure of their intentions.   If they did not want to try to provide such a recommendation to a future board, perhaps they could create a thoughtful and effective policy to adopt that would outline a specific set of steps that the board would follow and the administration would respect.

To avoid this subject altogether is a failure on behalf of this school board.  It is a failure to truly understand that issues that led to the downfall of the system and it is a failure to protect the system from falling prey to the exact same scenario from repeating itself in the future.  It is a failure to address the fact that there must be a trustworthy link between the schools and the communities that support them.

 Two months left -  will your board member or the Superintendent ask for an item to be added to next month's agenda to address the fact that the school system has no written procedures or policy to address a very volatile issue that could easily come up again?

If not, what will you do to remind them that this issue is still out there and isn't going away?  How will you hold this board accountable?   How can you make sure that what almost happened to some can not happen to you?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Johns Creek Fights 400 ft. Monster (of a Cell Tower)

Neighbors object to 400-ft. city-owned cell tower
by Joan Durbin
July 18, 2013 03:05 PM | 1
Johns Creek is 

A plan to erect a 400-foot cell tower across the road from an east Roswell subdivision has engendered strong opposition.

The tower is one of three judged necessary to implement the North Fulton Unified Radio System project, which will upgrade and enhance public safety radio capabilities for Roswell, Alpharetta, Sandy Springs, Mountain Park and Milton.

As currently proposed, the towers would go on city-owned land at Roswell Fire Station No. 6 on Cox Road, on Fouts Road and at the fleet/transportation yard on Hembree Road.

It’s the Fouts Road location that has the Twelvestones community seeing red. The tower would be directly across the street from them.

“Keep in mind that we're not opposed to improving safety, but we just believe that this project was hastily put together under the radar,” said resident Bob Richardson. “No one here knew about the Fouts Road placement until your article in the [June 19] Neighbor.”

An online petition against the tower at had more than 100 signatures by midweek. On July 16, around 50 citizens attended an informational meeting about the tower to ask questions and express concerns.

One of those attendees, Twelvestones resident Joyce Ross, said several neighbors pointed out the fact that, with this project, the city is in violation of its own ordinance.

“There are strict guidelines in place regarding the height of a tower and proximity to homes and neighborhoods,” Ross said. “Roswell code states a tower ‘must be set back from the nearest residential lot line a distance equal to the height of the tower.’ This 400-foot tower is slated to be located 138 feet, measured off by two neighbors, from the street.”

One of the residents, Susan Booth, pointed out there are locations inside the adjacent East Roswell Park where city industrial equipment is being stored. Moving the tower to an industrial area inside the park would be in keeping with other the sites proposed, she said, and the tower would be much less of an issue in that area of the park.

In the June 19 story, City Administrator Kay Love said all three towers are needed to make the new unified system work. “Optimal coverage means towers must be strategically located at sites that provide the highest elevation and coverage of the local terrain,” she said.

And according to the city, the Fouts Road site is the best in that area, considering the elevation and the fact that they own the land, Richardson said. “They conceded that a larger tower on a lower elevation or two or more smaller towers at multiple locations would be acceptable, but they appeared determined to build the tower at the site they just purchased.”

Mayor Jere Wood, who was at the July 16 informational meeting, said the “I think the majority of the neighborhood acknowledges the need for a public safety radio system, but they had a lot of questions about this site for the tower, and I don’t think the city did a good job of explaining why we couldn’t put it somewhere else.

“And I have some questions myself about our options. An alternative that was mentioned but not discussed was why not move it to another location inside the park.”

Wood said he would like input from the recreation and parks department on that issue. The city council is slated to vote on sites for the three tower sites on Aug. 12.

“I believe the council has an open mind. They have not yet made a decision on this site,” the mayor said. “It’s a done deal that were going to put up the towers, but I’d like to hear more explanations as to why this is the best location. I anticipate objections to the tower wherever it goes.”

Read more: Neighbor Newspapers - Neighbors object to 400 ft city owned cell tower 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Group of Parents in Maryland Fight Cell Towers

From:  The Washington Post
 September 30 at 8:43 AM 

A new group, made up of residents and activists from across Maryland, has formed to help Prince George's County residents who are fighting the county school system’s plan to build cellphone towers on school property.

The Maryland Coalition Against Cell Towers on School Grounds is the most recent evidence of a coordinated effort by those who oppose the construction of the towers. Last month, Safe Schools for Prince George’s County began collecting signatures on an online petition calling for the school system to stop construction of the cell phone towers.

During a recent school board meeting, numerous speakers voiced concerns about children’s exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

Some of the speakers live in the county. Others are residents of Montgomery, Anne Arundel or Baltimore counties. One was from the District.

“I find it quite shameful that you would put our kids in danger,” said Percie Rutherford, who several years ago successfully fought the placement of a tower near his subdivision in Upper Marlboro.

The board does not respond during the public portion of the meeting.

But Board Chairman Segun Eubanks and schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell have previously defended the school system’s decision to lease property to Milestone Communications, and they gave little indication that things would change.

“The board and the administration did considerable homework when it came to the issue of public safety regarding the cellphone towers,” Eubanks said previously. “There is no reason to believe that the cellphone towers are more dangerous than any other technology that we are exposed to on a regular basis.”

Under the agreement with Milestone, the school system would receive $25,000 for each site and 40 percent of the gross revenue from the towers on its sites. The school system estimates that the agreement could generate $2.5 million over five years.

Before the meeting, members of the new group held a news conference to share the experiences they have had in their own jurisdictions.

Thea Scarato, a member of Safe Schools for Prince George’s County, said she didn't know many of the people who are a part of the group but found that “the lack of transparency in these deals” was something that they all had in common.

In a joint statement, the Maryland Coalition Against Cell Phones on School Grounds, offered 25 reasons for a moratorium.

Among the reasons listed was that schools should in the business of education, not radiation. The group said students and staff should not be constantly exposed to cell tower microwave radiation and put at risk of adverse effects from cumulative long-term radiation exposure.

For months, residents have spoken out against the construction of the cell phone towers. The number of residents testifying has increased with each meeting.

The new coalition is focusing its efforts at the local, county and state level, combining a grassroots campaign with a legislative initiative, according to its press release.