Thursday, December 5, 2013

Report Report

The much ballyhooed Dunwoody Independent School District Feasibility Study has finally been made available to the public. You are strongly encouraged to read it and form your own opinions. Though there are plenty of nits to pick this is a look at the bigger picture and what can be learned from this report.

Authorship is clear with specific individuals named and proper consideration given to a Graduate Research Assistant. Sadly the same cannot be said for the commission of the report, research directives or editorial guidance as no individuals are named but instead we are given to understand the report was commissioned by the City and a recently formed community group. It isn't clear what the study cost nor who specifically paid for the effort.

However it is a matter of public record that Representative Taylor was privy to drafts of the document and it is not an unreasonable stretch to assume that he also gave specific research direction as well as editorial oversight. Therefore we shall refer to this as "Representative Taylor's Report." The tone of Representative Taylor's Report is convincingly arrogant[1] and there can be no doubt this work is by and for Dunwoody.

The overarching purpose of Representative Taylor's Report is to support his drive towards an independent Dunwoody school system and to that end his report is largely defensive. Representative Taylor and his entourage have come under fire for re-segregation and questions have been raised about the financial operations of an independent system. A stretch goal is to support Representative Taylor's recent flip flop from "Dunwoody Schools can do a better job with less" to "we're going to tax you at the same rate as DeKalb[2] and spend the money however we want." In effect the politicians behind this effort were safe in saying they can do better with less because they never had any intention of letting that happen. However this preemptive lobbying may draw increased attention to shaky financial aspects that Representative Taylor may wish were overlooked.[3]

It should come as no surprise that Perimeter Center (and other Dunwoody businesses) can finance Dunwoody's Schools. Businesses are already a significant revenue source for the City and the Schools will not share any of the tax revenue with the County. It is notable that a secessionist City School System will mean a dramatic shift from State and Federal revenue sources to local tax revenues and the recent real estate bubble is a warning against operating in this manner without a rate cushion. More troubling is that businesses are the majority funders yet are disenfranchised with regards to governance.

Representative Taylor's Report belabours the point that DeKalb Schools are now and will remain majority black and the same is true of the Dunwoody cluster. The focus is exclusively on race and ignores other demographic issues (e.g., special needs students) that are often a more significant issue in a schoolhouse setting.

The issue that no one on either side seems willing to openly discuss is that this secessionist movement is not about segregation--it is about subjugation. The student body will remain majority black but what about the teacher corps? What about principals and staff? Central office administrators? The local Board of Education? It is a sure thing that the further you move from the students' chairs the larger the proportion of whites in positions of authority. It is all but certain that the Board, the Superintendent and top administrators will be exclusively white. The only people of color Dunwoody Independent School District students are likely to encounter in a school setting are janitors and cafeteria workers. Naysayers need a coherent explanation as to why Dunwoody which is not exclusively white has a Mayor and Council that is and a City Hall staffed disproportionately with whites and provide some plausible reason why Dunwoody Schools would not follow suit.

An independent school system has potential to be a good thing for Dunwoody but advocates must provide some assurances beyond "just believe" to ensure enforceable commitment to responsible system creation and operation is in place.
  • The per FTE expenditures must be capped at the same level as DCSD after Dunwoody withdraws--commit to doing better with less and set the tax rate accordingly. 
  • Representative Taylor's Report touts operational efficiencies [4] that Dunwoody would employ that would result in additional saving--the five year startup plan should clearly show these efficiencies accruing to the taxpayer in the form of rate reductions. 
  • The operational plan should include proportional representation from the business community with Board nominees presented by the business community for approval by majority vote of City Council thereby providing a transparent process for a public-private governance partnership.
  • Transparency in operations must far exceed that of the DeKalb system or the City of Dunwoody with pro-active dissemination of financial data, contract information and employee CV and training. The public must have no doubt that the best and most capable employees are in place and that all facets of District operations are professional and auditable by the public.
Representative Taylor and his supportive colleagues run a serious risk of being outed as just another bunch of tax and spend empire building politicians distanced from their conservative roots and detached from their constituents. If they persist they will paint for the world a picture of Dunwoody where the darkies play in the back yard while the rich plantation owners sit on the porch sipping sweet tea.

[1] We will assume that Representative Taylor is well aware that the DeKalb County School District owns, staffs and maintains all the schools in the Dunwoody Cluster and this far exceeds what his report deprecatingly refers to as "supervision."
[2] In Representative Taylor's Report and his public speeches it is increasingly clear that he advocates a "same tax rate" rather than a "same expediture" models as the former represents more money. Page 12 of his report is a relatively shameless pandering to teachers by suggesting a raise and further implying that given more money teachers will do a job they currently are not doing.
[3] On page 13 the authors mention smaller class sizes in the context of increased spending but cite research showing that smaller class sizes are ineffective suggesting that capital expenditures needed to support smaller classes is politically untenable or seriously undermines the case for financial viability. On page 11 the authors briefly hint at a significant CapEx issue when pointing out they assume that Dunwoody will acquire school properties under the same attractive terms as City Parks.  No substantive information is given in support of this assumption suggesting that it is necessary to support financial viability.
[4] On page 13 of Representative Taylor's Report the authors point to significant savings thru outsourcing and on page 9 they offer an unsupported assertion that resource allocation by principals will provide efficiencies.