‘Have Your Say’ — School system not so open with SPLOST ‘public’ records

Tue, 08/26/2008 - 6:53pm
By: The Citizen

On Aug. 4, a story in The Citizen indicated there was considerable disagreement between Fayette County Board of Education members Janet Smola and Dr. Bob Todd.

Dr. Todd seemed troubled by the crash program to put a SPLOST referendum on the November general election ballot only after the re-election of a majority of the Board of Education was assured.

Mrs. Smola vigorously disagreed, remarking that county staff had spent “hundreds of hours” this past year coming up with ESPLOST cost justifications and proposals.

This seemed to surprise many people since the school board had never made a motion or voted for the school administration to investigate a SPLOST prior to the election.

In order to find out whether Dr. Todd or Mrs. Smola was correct, I made an Open Records request on Aug. 18 to Melinda Berry-Dreisbach, the public information officer for the Fayette County school system.

I asked for all documentation and emails regarding the proposed SPLOST between the board, five senior staff members and any outside consultants.

I was surprised to receive a reply NOT from Ms. Berry-Dreisbach but instead from school board attorney Phil Hartley.

Mr. Hartley informed me that providing me with documentation of the ESPLOST proposals would require the equivalent of two full-time employees for one solid week at a cost of $22.50 per person per hour, and therefore would cost me approximately $2,000 if I wished to continue my inquiry.

Two thousand dollars is a lot of money to pay for something that should be readily available to the public.

I find it very hard to believe that a simple request that should be easily accomplished by typing in the key word “SPLOST” would require 80 man-hours of labor to complete.

But even the information that supposedly was readily available is still to be received. I have paid more than $40 for copies of materials which, as of Aug. 26, have not been given to me.

Perhaps the school board is not aware of how this looks and how it will be interpreted by the community. I have spoken to numerous people about this and the consensus is that the school board members have opted to hide behind their attorney and are not being entirely truthful with the public about either the planning or the necessity for the proposed SPLOST.

The impression is that the school district’s historic and continuing lack of candor goes a long way towards explaining why Fayette County is one of the few counties in Georgia unable to pass a SPLOST.

T. Morris

Peachtree City, Ga.

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Submitted by Tami Morris on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 1:14pm.

Within the last few days nearly 40 comments have been posted in response to my letter about the SPLOST open records request. Obviously there is a lot of frustration in the community with the Fayette County school system.

Please be assured that my request was not unreasonable. I simply asked for electronic records related to the development of the SPLOST from 5 key people so that I could determine whether all the options and consequences had been considered. This was after I attended meetings, reviewed minutes, and talked and corresponded with board members. I now find myself in a situation where I appear to be in negotiations with the board attorney over alternatives that would “cost less” but might not yield all the requested records. Shocking, isn’t it?

I have heard from many people who have had similar open records request problems. Most people are afraid to come forward for fear that there will be consequences for their children who are enrolled in the system. For many years parents have worked hard to work within and support the school system. We have volunteered at the schools, worked on committees, donated money and provided time, resources and labor to make sure our children have the best learning experience possible. We love our schools and our teachers. It is exactly for these reasons that sending a public letter about my difficulty in obtaining open records was a difficult choice.

Seeing the response to my letter has convinced me that it was the right choice and that it is vital that we all demand that the school district operate within an open and respectful environment.

I appreciate all the comments and will keep you all updated as to whether the FCBOE fulfills its legal and ethical obligations of this SPLOST open records request.

T. Morris

Tug13's picture
Submitted by Tug13 on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 8:41pm.

Thank you!!!

Submitted by notjustcomplaining on Thu, 08/28/2008 - 3:07pm.

"Clayton County schools are the first in the nation in the last 40 years to lose accreditation, failing to meet eight of nine improvement mandates.

The action came a few hours prior to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s announcement that he was immediately removing four school board members found to have flouted the law. A state administrative judge had recommended their removal."

Watch out Fayette BoE.....guess what the findings were about the school board members? They were being investigated for failure to fully comply with the open records act? Hummmmmmmmm.......sound familiar?

Submitted by Bonkers on Thu, 08/28/2008 - 4:15pm.

Unless I miss my guess these Jokers will be pensioned off at full pension!
That is what they held out for: to be fired!

Submitted by Tombo100 on Thu, 08/28/2008 - 10:59am.

Now I have figured it out. With Fayette hitting slow growth and the bureaucrats at the school board needing to fulfill their building jones, they have decided to be education arm for Clayton County.

With 700 empty seats for elementary students next year you do not think that their will be a move to fill them. And once the floodgates open, you can not put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Now where is my Realtor's number...

Submitted by helpful lawyer on Thu, 08/28/2008 - 8:24am.

The answer to this Open Records Act request could have been as follows:

Upon reviewing your request, we found that it might take two employees a full week to put together all the information you requested, and that we would have to charge you $22.50 a hour for their work. For 80 hours, that would represent $1800 and a deposit of that amount would be required before we undertake the work.

If you will make an appointment with So-and-so at the Board of Education office, at no charge but of course for a reasonable time, he/she will be glad to go over your request with you. That person will assist you in identifying the records you might be most interested in and may also suggest more economical ways (such as your looking up certain records yourself) to accomplish your objective.

A good lawyer would have written both paragraphs. A not very good one would have written only the first one.

Government officials have to guard against requests that represent harassment. Those who make requests under the Open Records Act have a duty to help themselves by making requests that are reasonable and by offering to assist by looking up the records themselves.

Quite often public officials would rather fax or e-mail you what you want rather than having you come to the office and disturb their routine by letting you roam through their files.

It has seemed to me that the best approach is to request an appointment for the purpose of reviewing the files which contain the information you want, and then to suggest that if they’ll fax or e-mail you the information it would spare them any inconvenience your visit might cause and be more efficient. Of course, if you ask for a whole lot, that won’t work.

It seems most lawyers have not been trained in the fine art of public relations. Lawyers who work for government entities are often brusque and uncooperative. Those who are paid hourly fees don’t mind if you sue: they’ll simply make more money defending the suit, and the public pays the piper.

I once took a course entitled Trial Diplomacy. Believe it or not, diplomacy is often what wins trials. The lawyers who remember that are better than those who don’t.

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Thu, 08/28/2008 - 7:43pm.

Government officials have to guard against requests that represent harassment.

Where in the Open Records Act is that in any way implied? I went to the State's website concerning the Open Records Act as well as the First Amendment Foundation's site, and neither says anything whatsoever about requests that might be designed to "harass." I can't find any reference anywhere to any case in GA that backs up what you claim. The actual fact is the intent behind the open record request is completely meaningless...if it's a legal request, the government has to comply or face punishment. Whether the government likes it or not or thinks the info will be used for some nefarious purpose is utterly meaningless.

Those who make requests under the Open Records Act have a duty to help themselves by making requests that are reasonable and by offering to assist by looking up the records themselves.

They have no such "duty" whatsoever to do the above. "offering to help...." lol.

Submitted by Bonkers on Fri, 08/29/2008 - 5:09am.

What is this crap about "helping" the clerks look up items?

You want citizens scrounging through everyone's records?

Isn't that what we pay the clerks to do?

It should be simple: fill out a form as to what you want, have the chief executive of the records control sign it as approved or disapproved, and go on with it!

No lawyer writing a citizen!

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Fri, 08/29/2008 - 8:18am.

..but common sense left the Fayette board a while ago, though you have to "admire" how they were able to devote so much time to SPLOST and not have it mentioned at all until post-election.

Another thing about the request their lawyer got involved in: the law states the work performed in gathering the records for the request must be performed by the lowest-paid employee qualified to do the job. According to the attorney, in this case the only employees "qualified" seem to making about $45K a year. I shudder to think what that means: anyone making less than 45K at BOE is incapable of retrieving public records? Somewhere in the BOE are probably more than a few employees who feel insulted by their attorney deeming them too incompetent to do clerical work.

Submitted by Bonkers on Fri, 08/29/2008 - 9:08am.

Well you se NUK the supervisor doesn't want to audit what the clerk does. That would mean work for them on top of their breaks!

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Fri, 08/29/2008 - 8:39am.

"you have to "admire" how they were able to devote so much time to SPLOST and not have it mentioned at all until post-election."

Yeah, that is amazing! Smola and Smith should be ashamed of themselves. They think they are so much smarter and no on will catch on. Smola wallows in the SAT scores as proof she is some super star.

Did she notice the 3 Cowette high schools beat the pants off Sandy Creek, Fayette county high, and White Water? Guess that just kinda slipped her mind. Musta been shopin at the Avenue and lookin at licence plates.

Submitted by Brooks Parent on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 7:34pm.

Yes, a SPLOST is a good thing when we have good stewards managing the public money. But we don't!!! We have the 3 amigos that have spent OUR money like crazy. There needs to be accountability! They are using scare tactics to get us to vote for the SPLOST. But, we as taxpayers need to ask questions:
1. Why did the board participate in land speculation with school purchases? (this violates Ga law) By of course, Smith is writing a new BOE policy book to allow this. hummmm......
2. Why are the certain teachers in this county that are from the old guard that are protected? Teachers that are paid (very well paid) and do not even teach classes? hummm
3. Why are administrators coming back after retiring and working part time (49%) and making more money (combined retirement pay and halftime pay) to be part time administrators of the Open Campus high school that has 40 students and 4 academic teachers?
4. Why did we spend thousands of dollars on a middle school math program that none of the teachers wanted. These books are sitting on the shelves and teachers are creating their own lessons.
5. What about this magnet school that a certain PTC board member promised would be built? Must be buying votes....
6. Why are certain board members demonized just because they are asking questions?
I could go on and on.....

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 7:27pm.


suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 7:25pm.


Submitted by lizzieb on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 1:56pm.

Why not have all of our out of county shoppers at the Pavilion, etc. help fund our schools? We have one of the lowest sales tax rates in the area. When we go to other counties, we pay a higher sales tax also. It seems that we need to think about what will help our schools and kids and not about how much we dislike the BOE.

Submitted by Dondol on Thu, 08/28/2008 - 1:19pm.

Only about 20-30% of the sales tax will be paid by out of county shoppers, the rest will paid by us. You all need to think of it this way, you can not write off sales tax on your taxes. If it is attached to your property tax you can!
And you are right, it is not about how much we dislike the BOE, It is about how much we distrust them with OUR MONEY!

Submitted by wheeljc on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 1:52pm.

Judge: Yank Clayton school board members today


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A state judge has recommended Gov. Sonny Perdue remove four Clayton County school board members today.

Judge Michael Malihi of the Office of State Administrative Hearings said Michelle Strong, Sandra Scott, Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett should be removed for violating the state’s open meetings act and the ethics code.

“The probative evidence shows that the respondents have violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act, have violated the board’s code of ethics for board members, and have engaged in conduct unbecoming of a board member and in breach of the public trust,” Malihi wrote today in his ruling to Perdue.

Perdue is expected to make a decision today.

Perdue asked the judge to get involved after five Clayton residents filed a complaint, alleging the four violated state law when they put the school system’s accreditation at risk.

The decision comes several hours before the national Accreditation Commission is scheduled to vote whether Clayton remains accredited. The 40-member commission will vote tonight and announce the results on Thursday.

Submitted by PTC Dawg on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 9:17pm.

Write in Nicole File against Smola in Nov!

Submitted by notjustcomplaining on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:57am.

Thank you Mrs. Morris! Well-written.

Let the BOE show us where the state-mandated
positions are in their budget. Guess what?
Almost 1/2 of the salaried budget for Fayette
County is made up of non-teaching staff.
What are they threatening to cut - - teaching
staff! 2 admin positions at county - - that's

I voted to replace the incompetents, but unfortunately
we re-elected BoE members who are not good stewards
of our money. It is appalling to me that they have
not scoured this budget for opportunities to consolidate
and improve. Look at maintenance costs...look at outsourcing
functions, shut down a school. Times are hard.
Get creative. No, it's far easier to threaten to
cut little Johnny's parapro or band teacher.
Those who don't pay attention to the details
will run, not walk to the ballot box to make sure that
doesn't happen.

Wake up Fayette County! Talk about the details
with your neighbors who might not have school aged
children. Get people good and riled that no one
has held this group of yahoos accountable for
fiscal responsibility with our money.

Ironic that Dr. DeCotis is up for Superintendent
of the Year. Spend less time filling out paperwork
to pat yourself on the back, and more time digging
into the details of running a fiscally-responsible
organization. In corporate American, they FIRE
CEO's who can't do this, not reward them.

Submitted by heatjam on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 12:15pm.

Thank you T. Morris and Notjustcomplaining!

Well written!

eodnnaenaj1's picture
Submitted by eodnnaenaj1 on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 7:13am.

That comes close to $46,800 a year - gee, any administrative support/clerical position I've ever seen advertised with FCBOE was just above poverty level wages. I'd like to know more about that $46,800 a year job, I'd sign up today!

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 9:22am.

When Ms Smola first took office on the BOE, she was appalled that it had no debt. Guess she fixed that.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 6:53am.

It seems evident from so much back and forth between certain individuals, that it requires $2000.00 from Mr Morris pocketbook and a U-Hall to drag it all home, that some have really been planning this for a long time.

Why were we, as well as some on the BOE, not kept informed of what was going on? Why was this not mentioned before the elections?

To say there was no transparency is a joke!

1and1isnt3's picture
Submitted by 1and1isnt3 on Tue, 08/26/2008 - 10:14pm.

T. Morris for trying to keep this board honest, and sharing the results of your efforts with the rest of us. Good luck.

1and1isnt3's picture
Submitted by 1and1isnt3 on Tue, 08/26/2008 - 9:40pm.

It looks like the Fayette county school board is taking lessons from the Clayton county school board.
Couldn't this county do better than the group we have now? Oh wait, I almost forgot, the well edukated voters of this county just re-elected 3 of these fine representatives.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 9:30am.

"FCBOE must be out of their minds as one week they claim they need money to survive and the next week they’re breaking ground on another unnecessary new school."

No, the three muskateers think you are out of YOUR mind and will give them the money!

Submitted by heatjam on Tue, 08/26/2008 - 7:26pm.

Are we supposed to be surprised by this reaction by the board and its attorney??? I SINCERELY hope that the citizens of this county vote AGAINST this SPLOST.

Submitted by Keq on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 9:09am.

As frustrated as you may be that you weren't informed about the SPLOST until recently, you would have to be a fool to wish that it would not pass. Do you understand the consequences of this not passing? Evey parapro in the K and 1st grades will lose their jobs. The music, art, one band teacher from each middle and high school, a vice principal from each middle and high school will also lose their jobs. Not only is this terrible for the teachers, but what about the students? You must not have young children in the Fayette County school system. If you are going to be this ignorant, then move to a less fortunate county like Clayton county, where the school system is not the number one priority.

Submitted by heatjam on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:09am.

Clayton County has a SPLOST and look where it's gotten them??? But that's besides the point. Not Every parapro in K and 1st grade would lose their jobs. The BoE has said that there would be job sharing for parapros. Also, WHY pray tell doe we need 4 Asst Principals in each HS? My HS (which had over 2200 students) had 1 Principal and 2 Asst Principal's and it was fine. We also had 1 Band Director and 1 Orchestra Director. There are a lot of cuts that can be made without hindering the day to day running of the schools. Once all of the cuts are made, THEN go the voters if a SPLOST is still needed.

Remember...the fish starts stinking at the head!

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 9:40am.

If "rewarding" the BOE and others in Fayette County for being dishonest and deceitful was what voters should have done in the past, Fayette would be in as bad of shape as Clayton and similar already are.

The "it's for the children" is BS and an attempt to divert attention away from the incompetence of the BOE. Sorry, no blank checkbook for the BOE, it will only encourage in the future more of the below-board and disgusting behavior they have done on this SPLOST issue.

Think about the children entering the Fayette system in the future as much as you do about the ones already enrolled. Oh wait.....that doesn't affect you because they'll be out of the system and it will be someone else's problem!

The draconian cuts mentioned by BOE are purely designed to scare people into approving the SPLOST. There are plenty of other staff positions in the BOE system that could be eliminated before it gets to that point, and the board knows it. They've obviously researched the issue at length in secret and don't want the voters to see detailed information and other scenarios.

I'm sorry, but "TRUST ME" doesn't cut it whatsoever and it needs to go down in defeat.

Submitted by boxwing on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:38am.

I see people commenting at length that there are "plenty of other staff positions" that can be cut to save money. This disregards the fact that many positions are MANDATED by the State and others that are specifically paid for by the state funds allocations. The FCBOE gets wedged into a corner where they can't cut many of the positions due to state rules, so they must choose the cuts from the other non-mandated positions. What are left are those positions in the fine arts, para-pros, etc. that the state does not deem critical.

It is exactly those positions that make the Fayette system exceptional - don't miss the fact that our system was the only one in metro Atlanta to have ALL schools pass the state progress assessments! The bottom line is that we get what we pay for; if we reduce our education spending in the county we will get a poor quality graduate at the end of the process.

I for one don't mind paying an extra 1% on each purchase - and having every Coweta-Clayton-Fulton person who shops in our county do the same - to help pay for the "extras" that make our school system such a success.

Submitted by PTC Dawg on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 9:20pm.

Which positions are specifically mandated?? Are we required to have such a large district staff? Are we required to have so many administrators to supervise the teaching of 40 students (alternative school)?

Submitted by heatjam on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:44am.

You're saying that the state Mandates 4 Asst Principals in 1 HS, 2 Band Directors in 1 HS, at least 1 person in the county office who's sole job is to make copies, etc? Do you know of a website that I can go to so that I can see what positions are Mandated?

Spear Road Guy's picture
Submitted by Spear Road Guy on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 10:02am.

The Fayette County Board of Ed is trying to pull a fast one on us. Janet Smola is a snake. It's too darn bad that only 4 percent of the voters can bother to show up and leave that snake in place.

After I vomitted a couple of times, it didn't feel so bad to agree with Nuk on an issue.

Vote Republican

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:00am.

It's an acquired taste Smiling

I can just feel the unity now! Our cause is just when Spear Road Guy and I agree on something.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 9:35am.

It isn't about people not caring about their kids, and it isn't about anyone wanting to see teachers loose their jobs, because neither is the case.

It is about wanting to make 3 people be more responsible with our money. No one is going to let the kids do without or the teachers go. If they have to make do with the left overs of what they squandered, I'm sure everyone will make sure if anyone is gotten rid of, it will be the assistants to the assistants to the assistants.
If they try to do anything else, I'm sure we could get a recall going real easy.

Submitted by Keq on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 10:37am.

I will continue to support SPLOST and if you are unhappy with how they spend the money they have, then move. Also, the new school was passed in the 2008 bond and it is required by law that the money be used for what it was voted on. I am not sure how involved you are in the schools, but I can't name any assisstants to assisstants to assisstants in the schools.

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 10:58am.

I will continue to support SPLOST and if you are unhappy with how they spend the money they have, then move.

I'll tell you what: I'll continue to oppose SPLOST and how they spend the money they have, and if you don't like it, then you move. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na!

There wasn't any school bond passed in 2008. Sure you meant 2004 but it also doesn't require the school board to build schools that aren't needed. They thought the school would be needed because they royally screwed-up. You cannot spend bond funds for other purposes than what is stated in the bond issue, but the bonds don't obligate the BOE to spend all funds immediately either.

Submitted by Keq on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 11:32am.

Wow, you are cool. I am aware of when the bond was voted on, I said a 2008 bond. Which meant it would be used in 2008. It is not the school systems fault that residential areas that were supposed to support the new school have not been built. When the board makes decision they are based on current growth patterns. No one knew the developers of nearby neighborhoods would go bankrupt.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 9:43am.

I'm still trying to understand the logic that we ...must...close one elementary school this year because if we don't, our ratio will be down and we will loose Fed funding, yet, we are building another elementary school for next year. If we are gonna have less kids in school, or about the same number next year, wouldn't that put us right back with a lower ratio that the Feds won't fund?

Or did I leave something out? Like Clayton county kids? or the developers building on those 1/2 lots next to the new schools and filling them up? ???? answers anyone? ?

Submitted by SaveFayette on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 2:34pm.

Please read my letter to the editor if it is published this week. The BOE in each county can admit students from out of county "if there is room". Juxtapose this against the fact that our State Super of Schools has promised to use all state laws to insure attendance for the students of Clayton County in accredited systems, and you can figure the rest out. We as taxpayers will be funding kids who's moms and dads have let this happen to their children at our expense.

James Wingo

Submitted by swmbo on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 3:13pm.

Although I am not one to read liberal literature, a friend gave me a copy of "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein. It details instance after instance in which Republicans (at the behest of their Robber Baron Masters) have manufactured disasters (or merely conspired to neglect the things that prevent them) and then, used the circumstances to pass legislation that favors Big Business. And, to be clear, smaller businesses (like those in Fayette County) NEVER benefit from this stuff.

I predict that Sonny Purdoo-doo is going to use this opportunity to privatize education through a voucher system. He'll have to call the General Assembly back in session to do it. And since the legislators just happen to be there, we'll privatize the projects GDOT can't fund . . . oh, and the state mental health system while we're at it and, rather than waste all that gas the legislators had to use to come back in session we might as well. . . .

As I see it, you have two choices:

1) turn up the heat on Kathy ("oops-did-I-forget-to-mention-the-test-changed") Cox, the Governor, our State Reps and, especially, John DeCotis OR

2) have fun spending your hard-earned tax dollars for out-of-county kids with remedial education needs (that cost a lot of money to fix and drag down our statistics) and behavioral problems (that our well-adjusted children don't have) and who are the victims of parental neglect and bad attitudes that will drive off our great Fayette School System teachers who have been the centerpiece of our educational success.

It's your choice, Fayette County. Don't take too long to make up your mind.

If you and I are always in agreement, one of us is likely armed and dangerous.

Tug13's picture
Submitted by Tug13 on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 8:37pm.

LOL I wish I had thought of that. Smiling I think Sonny will do what benefits Sonny. Kathy Cox, same thing. Remember, Ms. Cox is going to be on Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader. I hope she answers the Social Studies and Math questions wrong. Smiling

Flood all of them with telephone calls, letters, whatever it takes.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 3:04pm.

I think you are 100% right, I just want to hear it out of the mouths of the 3 amigos. So far, they are saying no. I think their only prayer is that the gov tells them they have to take these kids. That saves them from the lower ratio next year, and they can say it wasnt their fault. they made us do it!

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