Dear Decaturish – The wrong people were in the room

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt February 9, 2015
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Dear Decaturish,

The “Meeting notes” leaked by the Druid Hills Charter Cluster community are fascinating and stupefying in the same instant.  I would note at the start that Mr. Thurmond has not responded on the substance of the notes and I eagerly await for his side of the meeting. But as a “Fernbank Dad” who loves his kid’s school, I have to say I am appalled that this meeting even took place.

I applaud the attempt by members of Chamber of Commerce for trying to facilitate the meeting. They obviously understand the critical juncture our county is at and they know full well the fiscal, political, and thus economic devastation that will ensue if Druid Hills leaves. But here’s the thing: if you are going to bring people together who stand diametrically in opposition when so much is at stake, you have to insist that you facilitate the dialogue: You have to mediate. You have to be in the room. Allowing Mr. Thurmond to cancel the meeting at the Chamber offices because the “Chamber was biased” was a huge mistake. The meeting which eventually took place without mediation at his office has only served to crystallize the twin notions that Mr. Thurmond and the School Board remain politically tone deaf to what is happening and that what remains of the Charter Cluster effort has always been hell bent on secession rather than making our schools … all of our schools … great again.   I am very concerned that this has only made things worse when most of us simply want some sense of rationality to be returned to Central DeKalb.

I support regionalization of our school system because I am a big proponent of civic engagement in both our schools and government. But the charter cluster concept is not the only path that would get us there and it’s not unreasonable for the School Board to reject that particular formulation given the concept is unprecedented. Nonetheless, the debate is a legitimate disagreement.  We simply need to ensure that the actual debate and the decisions we have to make regarding annexation are framed on the substance of the proposal itself and not the hyperbole surrounding a meeting that should never have taken place to begin with. The wrong people were in the room.

What is appalling to me is that apparently the Charter Cluster advocates went into this meeting thinking they could leverage their solution by dangling Atlanta Annexation rather than trying to reach some sort of compromise. Who do they think they are speaking for at this point?  The hundreds of high achieving teachers who will all lose their jobs?  The parents who send their kids to three elementary schools that were part of their plan but now have been shut out?  The hundreds of students who find themselves suddenly without a High School?

Most of us, who would be directly impacted, do not want to be annexed into Atlanta. No one should be happy with the defenders of the status quo; with the state of our school system our test scores; or our dropout rates. But the way we change the education trajectory is by electing reformers and innovators rather than looking for the first available exit. These are smart people who could have reshaped outcomes countywide had they taken the time to build a countywide coalition or made a strategic investment in the electoral process in 2014. Instead they have squandered their credibility and their ability to lead any reform effort. They no longer speak for most people in Druid Hills and neither Mr. Thurmond nor Mayor Reed nor the Chamber should presume they do.

What is equally appalling is that Mr. Thurmond continues to push Druid Hills to the brink if for no other reason than he feels “disrespected.” If accurately stated, Mr. Thurmond’s position is both politically naive and very dangerous. He is Nero playing with a blowtorch. Every time he opens his mouth he gives people reasons to leave. If he is accurately represented, he is doing no good service to those trying to hold Druid Hills together in DeKalb. Mr. Thurmond, how can you on the one hand ask for millions of dollars to launch a legal challenge to Atlanta’s Annexation effort, and on the other hand be completely dismissive of those who are able to stop annexation in its tracks by simply opening the door to a different solution?

The complete stupidity of these two positions is what truly boggles the mind: The aforementioned holy grail of “local autonomy” is not even available with Atlanta Public Schools (perhaps even less so with this crowd leading the effort) and losing Druid Hills High and two of its feeder schools would be devastating for DeKalb. It will set dominoes falling that will take a generation to put back in place.  Both sides need to wake up.

Certainly there are compromise solutions out there. But clearly neither the DHCC crowd nor Superintendent Thurmond should be leading that conversation. Not when we are so close to such a dangerous tipping point and not when such deep fault lines are so close to the surface.

My Kid’s School, Fernbank Elementary is a great school.  It is not broken. But I am deeply concerned that it will be destroyed if we allow these folks to sit across the bargaining table from each other without adult supervision. The sooner all these people get off the stage the better.

– Steve Perkins

Perkins is the most recent First Vice Chair of The DeKalb Democratic Party and has also served on Georgia Democratic Party Executive Committee.  He is now organizing non-partisan grassroots opposition to both Secession and the Status Quo.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Guest

    I agree with 80 percent of what Steve says especially that a mediator or at least observer should have been allowed, but the charter cluster people who attended the meeting were members outside the Atlanta annexation area (with one exception I believe). So I find it hard to believe Steve’s premise that the charter cluster folks dangled Atlanta annexation or even suggested that. it makes no sense because the meeting attendees would basically be saying they are fine if the annexation goes forward. It would amaze me if that were the case but I guess that is possible. Someone should ask about that. I think the charter cluster either prevails or fails on its own merits and it’s clear Thurmond will have none of it. Even if the board were to pass it, the cluster could not be successful under these conditions. I am also not sure the meeting was even a Druid Hills charter cluster meeting with the superintendent as much as it was just a couple of the board members being politely responsive to the chamber and the superintendents request. The charter cluster chair was not there and I hear was not on the list of invitees, which was picked by the superintendent. Good points no doubt and the charter cluster has/had dozens of other committee heads and hundreds of volunteers that would have been great to have been able to weigh in here, as they did in developing the Charter petition proposal, but the superintendent picked who he wanted to hear from and sounds to have had a clear message he wanted reported back to the parents and teachers that supported the cluster – it’s not happening.

  • Guest2

    Mr. Thurmond has told the DHCC what is wrong with their proposal. They will hear none of it. The response they are making to their disappointment is to destroy rich educational experiences for hundreds of students in the Druid Hills cluster who will be left out of the Atlanta annexation. What kind of school superintendent would negotiate with that? I’m surprised he even met with them after the letter that he received from the leadership of DHCC. They have burned their bridges.

  • Hear, hear!

  • Peavine Observer

    Good points. But the suggestion that we “just fix Dekalb” is only wishful thinking without a plausible proposal to change the political forces that got our county into this mess.

  • DecaturNotDecatur

    Matt Lewis – leader of the DHCC and now a leader in the Together In Atlanta annexation movement has burned so many bridges. He’s become the problem in a lot of this. Couple his ego with Thurmond’s and we are all doomed to fail with any constructive effort.

    • Guest

      If you are going to attack someone personally you should at least have the courtesy of posting under your name. You are talking about someone with humility who has sacrificed to help his community and helped uncover a deeply biased school. If you are in the area I hope you realize but for people like Matt Lewis and the hundreds of charter cluster volunteers like him our schools would marginal at best. The cluster lead by Matt sought only to expand that success to the refugee and larger minority and underprivileged.

      • atlfc

        Now THAT is an ironic first sentence!

  • DHH

    Why are we rehashing all of this anyway? The Druid Hills survey indicated that roughly half- perhaps 45-55% of their population was interested in annexation to Atlanta, and that the primary motivator was not the school district. Support for annexation may increase or decrease depending on what happens with the other cityhood proposals and annexation. My prediction is that over time as more areas pull out of Dekalb, there will be more support to go somewhere, and the logical place for Druid Hills would be Atlanta. If you look at the ARC heatmap of percent support for the TSPLOST from 2012, Druid Hills was the only unincorporated area to have 60-70+% support for the TSPLOST, mirroring what their adjacent Atlanta counterparts felt. Druid Hills is effectively an in-town neighborhood and is aligned with other neighborhoods in terms of what it wants: zoning, NPUs, transportation, etc. We can debate the merits of this neighborhood annexing, but it does seem reasonable that at some point Druid Hills will go to Atlanta.

    If no bill gets introduced in this legislative session (and I doubt one will get dropped), then great –nothing happens this year. But that is just a one year reprieve. Eventually a bill gets dropped, and eventually Druid Hills goes to Atlanta. So now is the time to have constructive discussions with the school board about how to make the best out of this situation. I have no idea who is deputized to strategize with school board, but they do need to come up with a set of guiding principles such that as much of the cluster gets maintained as part of intergovernmental agreements.

    So there are burned bridges, rings did not get kissed, some feelings were hurt. What is the level above first world problems? Get over it, and come up with a decent workable plan B.

    • RAJ

      Druid Hills and Emory Campus(?) go to Atlanta, the rest ,including Druid Hills High stay in some other juristiction.

    • Tom Doolittle

      DHH–no area can “pull out of DeKalb”. Your misconception indicates a lack of understanding regarding the shallowness (lack of depth) of the new cities. Even Sandy Springs leaves libraries, courts, water/sewer and many specialized police functions.
      Unfortunately most voters are under the same illusion as you. It is so tiresome to continue to remind people that only between 6% and 10% of budgeted services are involved in the transaction.
      Also–Annexation into Atlanta only means you are in “Atlanta in DeKalb”, rife with confusion.
      This is a meaningful distinction. We have witnessed a complete evacuation of responsibility for DeKalb with regard to participation in DeKalb issues in Dunwoody and Brookhaven. You cannot escape–perhaps that will be made clearer when you forma city or get annexed and things in DeKalb continue to get worse.
      This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t advocate for being included in another jurisdiction, new or annexed into old. It means we need to understand what we’re voting for so if and when you are served by two governments, you aren’t disappointed in the outcome.

      • DHH

        No I get it. No misconception here. I wasn’t referencing any new cities in my comments either. Nor did Dunwoody or Brookhaven get mentioned. My main point is that Druid Hills – which already is partly in Atlanta has a strong affinity for the major city that it is literally adjacent to. I get that Atlanta/Dekalb folks pay into both entities just as Atlanta/Fulton folks do.

        In terms of annexation my opinion is that it is not a matter of if, but when. Therefore if people are invested in keeping the feeder system into Druid Hills High intact, then it is imperative that the parties on the DeKalb side are talking to each other. My impression is that APS is looking at the Druid Hills school properties as the answer to many of their overcrowding issues. If the superintendent of DeKalb Co. Schools is openly antagonizing residents within the annexation zone, it will hamper any motivation for those residents to put any brakes on APS.

        • RAJ

          Clue? Look at the make up of the DeKalb Delegation and see if you find a majority OR a 2/3 vote to pass an Atlanta annexation bill to the house floor. Now ask how much influence the residents(voters)of Druid Hills have over the DeKalb Delegation!

  • DHer

    Mr. Thurmond’s attitude that no solution/change is needed. He brags on Druid Hills High, but it isn’t even in the top 100 schools in the state. Parents in that cluster want improvements. Governance and leadership in DeKalb – whether we are considering the Board of Education or DeKalb County government – is sorely lacking. Atlanta has turned the corner. It is not the same place when many of us chose DeKalb. It’s trajectory is far better than where DeKalb is headed. People need to take a second look at Atlanta. The Medlock community is now more receptive to Atlanta annexation. That opens the door for Laurel Ridge to consider the possibility.

    • RAJ

      Sorry but Laurel Ridge is IN the LaVista Hills map and Medlock and Laurel Ridge may both be in a new Briarcliff map.

      • Contested

        What Briarcliff map do you keep referring to?

        • RAJ

          New “Briarcliff” map has been distributed to key legislators and lacks a sponsor at this time. The map is not affiliated with “The Briarcliff Initiative”, however I am a former member of that group and as many know Lakeside and Briarcliff never signed paper work to officially merge because of internal disagreement over decision making, hence no published board, executive committee, or bill sponsor at this point. The map includes DHH but excludes Emory Campus and Druid Hills residential. The map is not widely available to the public but Dan has a copy if he is willing to share. Some things I can’t put in a post, but I think TIA is dead and TID is a better choice!

    • DHH

      I could certainly see Medlock and Laurel Ridge in Atlanta eventually. We are on day 13 of the legislative session, and no bills have been dropped for any type of annexation, Tucker, or La Vista. Either legislators are waiting until the last minute, or they understand that sponsoring a bill opens them up to criticism, but not sponsoring a bill has no downside. Let’s see what happens in the next few years as Atlanta’s trajectory climbs upward.

      • RAJ

        Better reasons! No sponsor for La vista Hills bill in the House yet and Atlanta annexation bill depends largely on rules committee in DeKalb Delegation. No sure thing ANY annexation bill will get thru DeKalb Delegation to the House floor this year!

  • Ann Thompson

    “Rich educational experiences”? Are you kidding me? If DeKalb were in it for the kids, they would be IN IT FOR THE KIDS. As it is, they have run our entire county into a ditch via a bottom-feeding, top-heavy school system, and, I hate to break it to you, they ain’t going nowhere. Either the central office runs the schools, or they don’t. Thurmond has made it clear he is not going to cede any power.

    Also, to the writer of this letter, I don’t think any of the annexation actions qualify as “first available exit”. Do you even know how long that community has been working within established and appropriate channels to improve things? Years and years and years and years and years. They have tried everything to no avail, strong parent volunteerism and activism, strong parent council, foundation that raises money and pays for extra staff, a community parent elected to the board of education, DHCC petition with every i dotted and t crossed.

    Thurmond and the rest of the central office are not going to work with any “uppity” white people. Period. If the exact same charter petition had been submitted by McNair High School cluster, it would have been fast-tracked and praised to the high heavens by Thurmond and his cronies. Thurmond is embarrassed that this group showed the entire county how they mismanage money and live on a constant power trip.

    • DecaturNotDecatur

      The board DID approve the McNair charter!!! And it was nowhere near as buttoned up as the DHCC – by letter of the law.

      Not only that, but Thurmond is on the McNair charter’s board AND recommended using Dekalb district money to fund this sham. Can anyone say “conflict of interest”. The current board currently pits black against white when in truth those doing so have never set foot in our schools. If they did, they’d realize that the schools making up the 7 DHHC have about a 62% black population and are throughly diverse. Not exactly the lily-white havens they’ve been made out to be.

      Last – WHERE IS THE GOVERNOR IN THIS MESS!!!??? It’s not like he has a re-election to worry about and Thurmond is HIS appointee!


      • Susan In NoMansLand

        Thurmond was not appointed by the governer. Deal removed Board members & appointed new Board members. The Board then fired Atkinson & hired Thurmond.

        McNair High School may be a charter school (there are lots of charter schools in DeKalb), but there is NO “charter cluster” anywhere in DeKalb. The Druid Hills Charter Cluster was the first proposal of its kind.

        • gurulikedrucker

          Your timing is off a bit. The ousted board members voted Thurmond in shortly before the governor removed them from their positions. Thurmond and Eugene Walker (the board president at the time) have a relationship that goes back decades. The selection of Thurmond and Atkinsons dismissal were obviously well timed by Eugene and several other board members to keep an advocate in the position that could help them to maintain control. Thurmond should have been removed from his position as soon as the new board was put in place.

    • Jim Henderson

      This is spot on. Have you forgotten Crawford Lewis? Near
      loss of accreditation? Removal of elected officials by the state?
      Let’s not act like this occurred overnight. The DH Charter Cluster was the result of years
      of corruption and mismanagement by the Dekalb Board of Education and DCSS
      administration. A last ditch attempt by parents to make changes the
      county is unwilling and unable to make. Then interim Superintendent Thurmond
      dismisses the DHCC effort (comparing his actions to the march on Selma no less)
      in the wake of this incompetence? Anyone
      who tried to work (and it is work) with the Dekalb BOE and DCSS administration
      quickly learned of the futility of the effort. Together In Atlanta may well have its roots
      in discontent with the school system but it was only after a true effort to
      work with them to make real change.

      Regardless, where is the
      plan to fix all this? Dekalb county,
      particularly Thurmond, is indignant, playing the same tired race card they
      always play. This is Dekalb’s substitute
      for vision. Is this all we have? All we will ever have? Mr. Thurmond, have you looked at the racial
      makeup of the Druid Hills cluster? I
      guess it’s not racist so long as all students in Dekalb are disparaged.

      First available
      exit? Have you been asleep? This is our last, best hope for change. My child is in 7th grade. Am I supposed to sacrifice her education and
      her future and keep my fingers crossed Dekalb will wake up and get it right?

  • Guest

    Guest2 what exactly was wrong with the DHCC proposal? Was it the part where the kids in failing Avondale and Mclendon would readily be able to attend Fernbank briar vista or Laurel ridge meeting criterion? Or the part where each kid could take an IB Montessori or science/technology track designed by the teachers. Or the part where classroom funds currently siphoned off to the central office would go to the classroom and end pay freezes? If the notes are correct Matt Lewis was not even at the meeting but you cannot resist taking a shot at him anonymously? These are parents and volunteers and teachers who created a great proposal on their own dime because it was the right thing to do. They could have left out the poorer performing schools and easily passed a charter as well as easily met academic criterion (much more rigorous for a charter). Mike Thurmonds job is to serve all of DeKalb and he is paid handsomely for it – six figures. If he cannot simply set a process follow it and take the high road then he is not fit for public service. Dan your down arrow buttons are stuck or something might want to check that.

    • Mike

      Thanks for calling that out. The same comment has been made elsewhere, but is just baseless rabble from someone who does not know what they are talking about.

    • Fred in DeKalb

      For starters, DHCC asked for more money that they are legally entitled to. This was mentioned in Maureen Downey’s blog by a contributor. I have not seen an argument to that statement or an adjustment by DHCC.
      If DHCC did not adjust their request, that would mean that children not in DHCC would be hurt. Is everyone OK with that?

      • Done

        Fred that is incorrect. The DHCC asked for the 97% that the charter cluster statute specifies. There is a potential conflict with other charter funding law, but the state BOE found the DHCC petition in order the legally sufficient. Even Dr. Boza said the petition met the legal requirements. This was all documented in a presentation given at an ELPC meeting last fall.

        • Fred in DeKalb

          has the discussion I referenced that Maureen Downey shared. Cutting and pasting from it, it says,

          O.C.G.A. 20-2-2068.1 C (4)(c.2) gives the 97% of funding to the charter. This section provides:

          “For newly approved local charter schools, including charter renewals, the local board of education may retain an amount of the charter school’s per pupil share of state and local funding not to exceed 3 percent of the total funds earned by the charter school to reimburse the local school system for administrative services actually provided to the charter school.”

          The DHCC refiled petition has the following, “DCSD Q55- Enrollment Count Determination — DCSD will calculate DHCC’s allotment based on the district’s per pupil revenue and the DHCC schools’ FTE count (school enrollment).” Note what DHCC published regarding funding is not explicit like the charter law. The district’s per-pupil revenue also includes federal dollars.

          See the link for the full context of the comment. In short, DHCC is asking for more than what the law permits. If you disagree, please share your reasons why.

          • Done

            Again, you are incorrect to imply that DHCC was asking for anything more than the law required. The federal funds you mention are specifically designated for the classroom (Title 1, RTT, etc.) and therefore it is legally required that any federal money previously assigned to the schools in the cluster continue to be assigned to those schools.

          • Fred in DeKalb

            I’m merely posting what I read and noticed that no one disagreed. Common sense tells me that the administrative costs for any school system is more the 3% of the total per pupil revenue. The administrative costs will vary based on how many and the types of students the school district serves.
            It takes less money to educate a child from a middle class background from a two parent household where both are college educated than one from a single parent household where the parent works multiple jobs and has a high school diploma. Public schools attempt to educate everyone who comes through the door and not discriminate. The services DeKalb provides from some of its students is really amazing. The neediest students will be likely impacted the most if DHCC were to take more money than it is entitled to.

          • Done

            Given the fact that the charter cluster included 5 Title 1 schools (out of 7) those who stood to gain the most WERE the neediest students. More money going into the classroom would have had a very positive effect on those needy students who form the majority of the cluster. But, the central office had a problem with the money being used in the classroom instead of for central office expenses.

      • Ga

        Fred importantly Dekalb school district wanted to keep 29 cents of every dollar earmarked for students rather than the 3 percent the charter statute specifes. That’s a scary amount of money, 11 million taken from students and teachers Thurmond was not willing to make the central office cuts so the money could go to the schools (which are majority minority BTW). Thurmond could not publicly say he wanted to keep classroom money for central office jobs and perks so he spun it as ‘takes money from the other kids.’ A lot of people not familiar with school finding believed him and he jealously guards the financial information. Has not been an audit in years and try sending an open record request for this info. You won’t get it.

  • Done

    Thurmond is planning a run against Lee May for CEO so he will marginalize Druid Hills as much as he can because he fears the political influence this neighborhood can potentially wield.

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