School Board Gives Away the Farm

August 29, 2011

On a 6-3 vote earlier today, the DeKalb County Board of Education voted to hire Dr. Cheryl Atkinson to be the new superintendent of schools. Board members Nancy Jester, Pam Speaks, and Don McChesney voted against the choice. All others voted in favor.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to call or e-mail the school board members about the proposed contract for Dr. Atkinson. Click here and here to read my previous messages on the subject.

I hope Dr. Atkinson turns out to be a good superintendent. However, the contract that is bringing her to DeKalb County reveals that our school board has learned nothing from its colossal failures with two recent superintendents, Crawford Lewis (who was indicted) and Johnny Brown (who was dismissed).

As I showed you in one of my previous messages, Dr. Atkinson’s contract contains the following “termination for convenience” clause requiring a vote by three-fourths (3/4) supermajority of the school board in order to terminate her if her performance is sub-par:

“The BOARD, upon a three-fourths (3/4) vote of its members, may at its option unilaterally terminate this Contract for its convenience by giving the SUPERINTENDENT a minimum of ninety (90) days written notice of termination at any time. In the event of such termination, the BOARD shall pay to the SUPERINTENDENT severance pay, either all of the aggregate salary she would have earned under this Contract from the actual date of termination to the termination date set forth in this Contract, or a sum equivalent to twelve (12) months of the annual base salary as stated in Paragraph 4 of this Contract, whichever is less.”

In responding to citizen concerns about this clause, a couple of school board members chose to hide behind a subsequent clause of the contract, the “termination for cause” provision, which reads:

“Termination for cause shall constitute conduct which is seriously prejudicial to the District, including but not limited to, neglect of duty, or breach of contract. Notice of termination for cause shall be given in writing and the SUPERINTENDENT shall be entitled to appear before the BOARD to discuss such causes. If the SUPERINTENDENT chooses to be accompanied by legal counsel at such meeting, if allowed in closed, executive session under applicable law, she shall bear any costs therein involved. Such meeting shall be conducted in closed, executive session unless specifically prohibited by State law. The SUPERINTENDENT shall be provided a written decision describing the results of the meeting.”

The concept of termination for cause is a breeding ground for litigation. It is unclear what, short of a criminal indictment, would constitute a sufficient basis for invoking this provision.

The provision that is most likely to be invoked is the termination for convenience clause, the one with the three-fourths restriction. It is odd for a government entity to contract away its right to take an action by simple majority vote. I’m not 100% convinced that the three-fourths restriction would pass legal muster if challenged in court.

Dr. Atkinson’s contract already includes high compensation, abundant fringe benefits, and an overly generous “golden parachute” if the termination for convenience clause is invoked. If you couple the generosity of these provisions with a three-fourths barrier to termination, the school board has gone too far.

In 2012, the DeKalb school board will shrink from nine to seven members. Right now, all it will take is three of nine board members to keep a lackluster superintendent in place. After the board membership is reduced to seven, just two members can prevent our school system from moving forward.

It’s easy to see how a superintendent and very small minority of school board members could abuse the three-fourths provision. Let’s hope it never comes to that, but the fact that the contract allows this to happen is an unfortunate byproduct of the decisions that have brought Dr. Atkinson to DeKalb.


Ashford Dunwoody Consensus Reached

August 29, 2011

I want to extend my gratitude to the Ashford Alliance Community Association for hosting a meeting last week about the possibility of $5 million in improvements to Ashford Dunwoody Road, and to the many citizens who attended this meeting.

The consensus of the attendees was that the funding should be pursued and the project should focus on improving the intersection of Ashford Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry Roads, synchronizing traffic signals where possible, and improving the sidewalks along the entire corridor from I-285 at the north to Peachtree Road at the south.

There remains opposition to the concept of imposing the regional T-SPLOST sales tax in the first place. I acknowledge this opposition, but note that we are only talking about the T-SPLOST project list at this point. You’ll get to cast a vote on the sales tax at the ballot box in July 2012. Ultimately, whether or not there is a T-SPLOST is in your hands.

Ted Rhinehart, DeKalb County’s Deputy COO for Infrastructure, will be developing a scope for the potential Ashford Dunwoody project. If you have any further thoughts, you can e-mail them to David Pelton, who works with Mr. Rhinehart, at [email protected]


Call to Action on Superintendent Contract

August 25, 2011

Something has come to my attention that requires immediate citizen action. In the message (click for link) that I sent earlier this week, I told you about the DeKalb County School System’s choice of Dr. Cheryl Atkinson to be the new superintendent of schools.

Embedded in the proposed contract between Dr. Atkinson and the school system is the following, very troubling termination clause:

“The BOARD, upon a three-fourths (3/4) vote of its members, may at its option unilaterally terminate this Contract for its convenience by giving the SUPERINTENDENT a minimum of ninety (90) days written notice of termination at any time. In the event of such termination, the BOARD shall pay to the SUPERINTENDENT severance pay, either all of the aggregate salary she would have earned under this Contract from the actual date of termination to the termination date set forth in this Contract, or a sum equivalent to twelve (12) months of the annual base salary as stated in Paragraph 4 of this Contract, whichever is less.”

You read that correctly. The DeKalb County Board of Education proposes to require a three-fourths (3/4) supermajority of its members to terminate the new superintendent’s contract.

That makes it difficult to fire a superintendent whose performance is lackluster. The contract should provide for termination upon a simple majority vote. Our school board is failing us on this one.

The school board has a poor track record of picking superintendents. Our most recent superintendent, Crawford Lewis, was indicted. The superintendent before him, Johnny Brown, was a failure and released from the position. Why on earth would our school board want to make it more difficult to dismiss a superintendent who is failing our children?

The three-fourths termination clause, standing alone, is terrible. When viewed in context with DeKalb’s history of hiring bad superintendents, it’s unconscionable. And if Dr. Atkinson won’t come to DeKalb without the three-fourths clause in her contract, we don’t need her.

Please take a minute to call or e-mail the members of the board of education and ask them to rewrite the termination clause to allow the superintendent to be released by simple majority vote of the school board. Here is their contact information:

Tom Bowen, Chairman
(404) 392-1621
[email protected]

Paul Womack, Vice Chairman
(404) 680-8790
[email protected]

Sarah Copelin-Wood
(404) 371-1490
[email protected]

Jay Cunningham
(404) 392-3091
[email protected]

Donna Edler
(404) 394-1238
[email protected]

Nancy Jester
(404) 394-8750
[email protected]

Don McChesney
(404) 664-2458
[email protected]

Pam Speaks
(404) 931-7971
[email protected]

Eugene Walker
(404) 593-5095
[email protected]

I am told that some of the school board members would prefer that the contract provision be eliminated, but a majority of the school board is intent on proceeding with the contract as written. You can read the full contract by clicking here.

Please consider forwarding this message to your neighbors and urging them to take action.


Ashford Dunwoody Funding Makes the Cut

August 23, 2011

On August 15, the executive committee of the Metro Atlanta transportation roundtable completed its work approving a $6.14 billion list of regional transportation projects for the one-cent sales tax referendum that will be held in 2012.

Pursuant to the Transportation Investment Act, the state law that created the transportation roundtable and referendum, I have been serving as one of three non-voting state legislators (two representatives and one senator) on the roundtable. The roundtable includes the head of the county government (from DeKalb County, CEO Burrell Ellis) and one mayor (from DeKalb, Mayor Bill Floyd of Decatur) from each county throughout the Metro Atlanta region.

You can view the full $6.14 billion list by clicking here. It remains subject to change because the full roundtable must now weigh-in on the list. The executive committee that approved the list is a subset of the membership of the full roundtable.

Ultimately, the fate of this list is in your hands. You’ll get to decide with your vote in 2012.

The list includes $5 million for operational improvements to Ashford Dunwoody Road, from I-285 at the north to Peachtree Road at the south. Like the vast majority of projects that were proposed for the Transportation Investment Act, the Ashford Dunwoody project does not have any specific plan or scope at this time. However, it’s safe to say that the objectives are to improve traffic flow, walkability, and pedestrian safety, and that the project will not involve four-laning Ashford Dunwoody Road.

A few weeks ago, I conducted an unbiased telephone survey about the Ashford Dunwoody project using a survey question that included all of the possible features and consequences of the project. The question was over-inclusive and probably reflects more than will actually happen.

The question and results are below. The results of this phone survey are similar in terms of pro and con sentiments to the 200+ e-mail responses that I received after sending out this e-mail (click for link).

658 registered voters in the Montgomery Elementary, Ashford Parkside, and Ashford Dunwoody precincts, the three voting precincts through which this stretch of Ashford Dunwoody runs, responded to the following script:

“This is a telephone survey for registered voters who live near Ashford Dunwoody Road inside 285.

There could be funding available for a project to improve Ashford Dunwoody Road. Please listen carefully to what the project would involve, and I will ask you at the end of this phone call whether or not you would support it.

The Ashford Dunwoody project would add sidewalks and possibly bike lanes on both sides of Ashford Dunwoody from 285 at the northern end to Peachtree Road at the southern end. The project will include a significant amount of new turn lanes, including center turn lanes to allow traffic to pass cars that are waiting to turn left. It also would involve a reconfiguration of the intersection of Ashford Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry Roads. In order to make these changes, the project would encroach on properties that front Ashford Dunwoody Road, including the residential properties near Montgomery Elementary School. The project would not involve four-laning Ashford Dunwoody Road.

Keeping in mind everything that I just told you, would you support or oppose these changes to Ashford Dunwoody Road?”

The results:

56% Support (366 respondents)
30% Oppose (199 respondents)
14% Undecided (92 respondents)


What ADR Improvements Do You Support?

August 23, 2011

On a related note, the Ashford Alliance Community Association is holding a meeting to discuss what improvements you would like to see on Ashford Dunwoody Road. I will be participating in this meeting along with Ted Rhinehart, DeKalb County’s Deputy COO for Infrastructure.

The meeting will be Wednesday, August 24, at 7:00 p.m. at the Ashford Parkside Senior Residences, on the right-hand side of Donaldson Drive heading north from Johnson Ferry Road.


Let’s Hope “Super” Pick Isn’t Mediocre

August 23, 2011

The DeKalb County School System has announced its choice to be the new superintendent of schools: Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, the current superintendent of the Lorain, Ohio city schools.

This choice is cause for concern. The school system in Lorain, Ohio has approximately 8,000 students. DeKalb County has approximately 98,000 students. Plus, Dr. Atkinson lacks a clear track record of improving student achievement in her present school district.

The board of education had other choices and attempted to negotiate with two candidates hailing from larger school systems. Details of those talks were leaked by someone with inside knowledge of the process in an effort to scuttle the negotiations.

Unfortunately, this tactic succeeded.

Senator Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), and I — among others — lent our support to Brad Bryant, a former member of the DeKalb County Board of Education and State Board of Education and former State Superintendent of Schools, whom we hoped would be named to the post on an interim basis. This would have been similar to the stabilizing role that Erroll Davis, the former Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, is currently playing as the interim superintendent for the Atlanta Public Schools.

This suggestion was ignored.

Dr. Atkinson likely will arrive in DeKalb following a non-unanimous vote of the school board. Board members Nancy Jester and Don McChesney already have announced that they disagree with the choice. Click here to read what they had to say.

I encourage you to review the facts and, if you agree with Nancy Jester and Don McChesney, contact the other school board members. This is a crucial decision for a school system that is standing at a crossroads with its SACS accreditation on the line. Click here for contact details for the school board.

For further information, please click here for a blog post about an upcoming opportunity to meet Dr. Atkinson this Saturday, August 27, and for details about her proposed contract.


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