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Despite the law, DeKalb school minutes vanish without a trace



Paper has been around more than 2,000 years, the folks at Georgia Tech’s Robert C. Williams Paper Museum tell me. Word-processing software started to take off about four decades ago.

Each invention represented a huge advance in our ability to record information for posterity. Either technology is also acceptable for complying with Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, which requires that government agencies keep records of official meetings.

DeKalb County schools are in the education business, but they haven’t learned to adhere to that basic principle.

We told you a few weeks ago that a 2005 audit reportedly found up to $14.8 million in bloated salaries for non-classroom personnel in DeKalb. When a citizen asked for that audit, which cost taxpayers $341,000, officials produced a job reclassification proposal but nothing that would identify a single employee who was being overpaid.

Why does this matter today? Because, with the school district continuing to face major budget deficits, parents and other school watchers want to know whether more fat can be trimmed outside the classroom.

I followed up, asking for the minutes of three meetings in 2004 and 2005 where the audit was discussed. School officials found minutes of one meeting, and rudimentary notes — no one seemed to know who made them– for another.

There was no trace of minutes for a third, two-hour briefing on the audit on April 1, 2004, even though records seem to show the school board approved those minutes a month later. That session, unaccountably, is also missing entirely from the board’s online archive of nine years of board meetings.

The “complete executive summary” of the compensation study was also to be included in the official file of a fourth board meeting in September 2005, minutes show. But it’s not there now, schools spokesman Walter Woods said.

Why is all this stuff missing? “Record-keeping, human error, I think there is a number of factors,” Woods said.

Lynn Cherry Grant, who stepped down in 2008 after serving 16 years on the DeKalb board, had a different take when I called her about it.

“I have no explanation for that except for very bad management of official documents,” she said. “There’s no excuse for board meeting minutes to be missing.”

Georgia law, in fact, requires that minutes of school board meetings must be kept — permanently. Failing to do so is a misdemeanor. Destroying public documents – not that I’m saying that happened – can be prosecuted as a felony.

The notes on a January 2005 meeting appear to show about $12 million of the estimated overpayments were for school-based personnel, including social workers, psychologists, principals and assistant principals. Another $1 million or so, then-Superintendent Crawford Lewis told the board, were for food-service managers and workers.

Two months later, the consultant from Ernst & Young told board members that the $14.8 million figure was incorrect and had “dropped significantly,” minutes show.

Ernst & Young delivered a report later that year calling for new job titles and pay scales across the board.

Those specific recommendations were never put into effect, officials now say, but they’re not entirely sure why. They suggested the school board chose not to proceed but could not produce evidence of such a decision.

Grant said it’s quite possible the matter slipped through the cracks. “Those days were a very turbulent time,” Grant said.

Grant also recalls that some other board members were upset about some of the consultant’s findings.

“Everybody had a sacred cow,” she said. “If you had a relative or best friend or somebody you went to church with … then you were not very happy to hear they were being overpaid by $5,000.”

Grant said she could only speculate today how those matters might have been resolved. But of one thing she is certain.

“Never dismiss the power of politics. I learned that on the board of education.”





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3 Responses to “Despite the law, DeKalb school minutes vanish without a trace”

  1. More Political BS says:

    If any present Board members are involved, they need to be recalled and sent packing.

  2. csquared says:

    I find it interesting the minutes from ANY of the meetings discussion of front office and non-classroom salaries would be missing. How do we know we got out $341,000 worth?
    What, if any, high officials salaries were discussed?
    That’s WHY these minutes are supposed to be available.
    I think you did a survey last year that found over 200 employees in the Dekalb system making more than $100k a year.
    I don’t need another over-priced study to tell me what we already know.
    THAT’S the FIRST place you need to cut. Not the folks making $10-30k a year. Dekalb schools could have 10 of them working for the price of one asst supt, $160+ for example.

    Of course, this is going to fall on the previous superintendant, who is already facing charges in other areas. This is yet another area where the students and parent stakeholders in this system deserve better than they’ve been getting.

  3. Fed Up Tax Payer says:

    When will the state, SACS, or whom ever has the authority to stop the corruption ram-pet in DCSS come and put an end to it? When secretaries make more than teachers, there is a huge problem. When people making $160,000 plus with a doctorate degree have difficulty writing and speaking proper English, but are ahead of the curriculum we have a problem. When students are given multiple chances to make up missing or poorly done work and teachers are not permitted to give a child a zero, even though they have done more work trying to get the student to do the work, we have have problem. When students are not disciplined and allowed to bully and disrupt the educational process, we have a problem. When minutes from many board meetings are not available on line (not just the ones mentioned in this article), we have a problem. When our school board members think that they are above the law, we have a problem. When the district spends millions on programs and give support to the administration by trips to California and not to the teachers in the trenches, we have a problem. When we change employee titles and increase salaries, but not work load, we have a problem. When we can’t afford to keep photocopiers in schools working, but we can refurbish district offices with $2,000 chairs we have a problem. When will we hire employees based on what they know and not who they know? All of these things and so many others are or have taken place in DCSS.

    I look at what has the potential to be a top notch school district and wonder when any adult in the state of Georgia who has that ability to make a positive change is going to step up to the plate for the children of DeKalb and stop the DCSS madness. When will a politician, law maker, employee, or accreditation council have the guts to put an end to the DCSS corruption, over spending, bloated district, where jobs and employees are put well above the children of the district? When will someone show the people running the district that no one is above the law and that they will follow the law or go to jail? When will someone see how the misspending of funds has helped to make the system poorly run and inefficient?

    Providing the documents in question would most likely take a call to E & Y and a few hundred dollars to cover the time one will spend searching for the information in question. If E & Y can’t find their copy of the report, than we know that this even bigger than one can imagine. With the money that DCSS wastes on whatever E & Y charges for a copy of this report is nothing compared to the millions that have been wasted by over paying employees for so many years.