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    DeKalb school audit found bloated salaries — then what?

     

    By JIM WALLS

    DeKalb County schools paid $341,000 several years back for a salary audit that found they were overpaying employees by millions of dollars a year.

    Now, school officials can’t seem to locate those findings.

    It’s a common belief – though by no means necessarily true — that DeKalb schools’ payroll is flabby with high-paid jobs that have little or nothing to do with teaching kids.

    News and blog reports discuss those workers in the context of a jobs program – cynically termed “the Friends and Family Plan” — that supposedly favors those with connections to school board members and top administrators.

    So, for a year or more, school watchdogs have fussed over getting a copy of the salary audit. In 2004, the AJC reported consultants Ernst & Young had determined DeKalb was paying non-classroom workers $14.8 million more than they should each year.

    At the time, former Superintendent Crawford Lewis said that report had exaggerated the overpayments, which were really $1.8 million. Today, school officials question whether a 7-year-old salary study could still be relevant.

    Regardless of who’s right, some parents say Ernst & Young’s work might help to identify savings as DeKalb prepares to close a dozen or more schools and trim its payroll yet again.

    Sandy Spruill, a parent who’s volunteered at DeKalb schools for 20-plus years, thought so too.

    “I believe that we have enough money in the DeKalb County school system to do what needs to be done for our students,” Spruill told me last week. “The problem is we are way bloated in the central office and to make matters worse we are overpaying them.”

    School officials had told other parents that the salary audit couldn’t be located. When Spruill filed a formal request last month under the Georgia Open Records Act, officials told her they had tracked it down and she could get a copy – if she paid retrieval and copying fees of $255.95.

    Spruill balked. “I don’t think I should have to pay anything to take a study off a shelf,” she said.

    Officials countered that it took time to compile the information from different locations and only a few people knew how to do that.

    “It’s not like something you pull off a shelf,” schools spokesman Walter Woods said.

    Many citizens facing similar obstacles just give up. Spruill pushed back, researched the open records law, and school officials eventually agreed she could look at the report, without getting a paper copy, for free.

    As it turned out, Spruill is doubly lucky she didn’t have to pay, because DeKalb didn’t actually find the audit she requested.

    Officials produced a “Compensation and Classification Program Documentation Manual,” evidently developed in 2005 as an offshoot of the audit, and summaries written by DeKalb school personnel of some of Ernst & Young’s work.

    Those documents do not begin to address Spruill’s key questions: Who was being overpaid, by how much, and what did school officials do about it?

    The 2005 manual said overcompensated workers would have their compensation frozen unless and until their pay grade was adjusted to catch up their actual pay. Did that happen? Without the audit that identified those positions, there’s no way for the public to tell.

    Parents have searched for the audit on the district’s website, which posts school board agendas and backup material for meetings dating back to 2002. No luck there, either.

    To their credit, school officials acknowledge that the public’s had a harder time getting public documents than it should.

    Woods, a former AJC colleague of mine, said interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson has instructed him to streamline the process and make sure DeKalb is “totally compliant” with the Open Records Act.

    “She has heard from the community that it’s not working like it should,” he said. “We take this seriously and I have been directed to make sure this happens in a better way.”

    Until it does, DeKalb taxpayers can legitimately wonder how well their $341,000 was spent.

     

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    8 Responses to “DeKalb school audit found bloated salaries — then what?”

    1. Frederick Bailey says:

      I sure would like to know also, since I pay over $4000.00 a year in DeKalb school taxes. I do not even have children in school either.

    2. Hard to Believe says:

      There is no doubt that some of the longtime current DCSS administrators, like Bob Moseley, Ron Ramsey, Alice Thompson, etc., have a copy of that 2004 Ernst & Young audit.

      DCSS has that audit somewhere. If they can’t locate it, then they are completely incompetent for pay over $300,000 for a document they can’t find!

    3. Cerebration says:

      Thank you Jim, for helping Sandy look into this situation. We at the DeKalb School Watch blog have been trying for over a year to locate this study for which the taxpayers paid so dearly. It is discouraging to watch the painful and now slowed process of major school consolidations along with cuts to the regular classroom while knowing that our leaders were told long ago that they are wasting money at the top. To date, Tyson has not even given a cursory look into possible cuts to her upper level staff and their armies of support staff—none of whom have direct contact with students. Now, it looks like what should have been a big step forward in getting school consolidations done, will just be small, slow, advances (basically the same initiatives Dr. Lewis attempted, but backed away from two years ago) which will simply keep the focus on the school facilities and the leadership’s desire to pass a SPLOST IV. Seems they aren’t interested in looking in the mirror to check for fat.

    4. DCSS going downhill says:

      Does Ernst and Young not have a copy of the audit? Couldn’t DCSS get another copy from them?? Am I missing something here?

    5. Jim Walls says:

      @ DCSS going downhill
      We’re working on that, but it’s unclear at this moment whether Ernst & Young has a copy either.

    6. Jean says:

      So do I understand that not only is DCSS incapable of retrieving a report that cost taxpayers $300,000 +, but that Ernst and Young is equally incompetent.

      Gosh, this really speaks highly of the group running the school system and those receiving the bribes/oops the funds to pay for a study.

      There is no point in doing a study if there isn’t a plan to improve the situation based on the study. It’s like a doctor taking a patient’s temperature and saying it’s dangerously high. Now that you, patient, have the information, pay me and go home.

      My property taxes are in excess of $10,000 and we have no children in school. Our adult children won’t move to Dekalb County because they can’t afford private school and they won’t let their children attend public school here.

    7. Ann Shelton says:

      March 14 meeting has this listed under “Superintendent’s Report”

      Ernst & Young Compensation & Classification Audit Report Update

      Quick Summary / Abstract
      Presented by: Ms. Ramona H. Tyson, Interim Superintendent

      Does anyone know if they produced the audit and is it for public consumption

    8. ticktock says:

      The citizens of DeKalb County owe a debt of gratitude to former DeKalb CEOs Manuel Maloof and Liane Levitan for managing the county so well all those years, until it wasn’t … and likely never will be again. Time to move.

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