DeKalb Schools: Pay issues, superintendent ouster highlight bumpy 2019

Former Superintendent Steve Green’s departure in November was among several major events in 2019 for the DeKalb County School District. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

Combined ShapeCaption
Former Superintendent Steve Green’s departure in November was among several major events in 2019 for the DeKalb County School District. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

When the DeKalb County Board of Education severed ties with former Superintendent Steve Green in November, it bookended a year punctuated by several highly publicized controversies, including pay scale discrepancies and hiring woes.

Residents also pushed for a forensic audit to detail spending as district officials sought more tax dollars to offset rising costs for capital projects and additional construction needs.

The year started well enough, with officials excited to roll out a new salary scale that included raises for many. When those raises were revealed, though, some educators found themselves earning less than 50 cents more a paycheck.

ExploreThey were fuming.

"I've got a lot of questions," first-grade teacher Cynthia Trapanese said then. "It looks like the money isn't going to teachers."

Trapanese expected a $3,000 raise, but got two cents on her first check.

Superintendent Steve Green said the schedule would be scrapped and the process would start anew. Adjusted raises were received starting in March. Chief Human Capital Management Officer Bernice Gregory resigned amid the scandal. While she said it was unrelated to the salary schedule situation, she raised concerns about how district officials made decisions.

“I wanted to do what’s positive with the district,” she said at the time. “I just don’t see anything getting better, and it’s wearing me out.”

In the spring, Green announced plans to leave the school district at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. His announcement came amid unsuccessful conversations with the DeKalb County Board of Education about extending his contract beyond 2020.

“I’m excited to see what the future holds for our District and our students,” Green said announcing his pending departure. “Both have limitless potential.”

Green currently is under investigation by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission for failing to report teachers to the licensing agency for violating the Educators Code of Ethics. Several teachers left the district under suspicious circumstances, or were allowed to leave after ethical lapses that were never reported to the state by the district, including Michael De'Sean White, a former first-grade teacher currently awaiting trial on double-homicide charges.

District officials also began laying plans to seek additional funding from taxpayers for additional capital projects and to pay for cost overruns. Dan Drake, the interim chief operations officer, said in the spring that the district's Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax IV and V programs were short about $100 million, mostly due to construction cost increases. Officials have suggested asking voters for an additional $265 million.

Proposals include removing some projects to offset cost overruns, adding projects after receiving additional tax funding and possibly moving a popular magnet program from Chamblee Charter High School to the new Cross Keys High School when it’s finished.

Joel Edwards, president of the government watchdog group Reform DeKalb, said outstanding maintenance issues at other schools did not instill confidence in residents as the district sought more money. He and others asked for a forensic audit to see how monies were being spent. At the time, the district was behind in submitting information to state officials for annual audits. It was announced in the summer that 2018 audit information, which was due Dec. 31, 2018, had not been submitted to the state.

“A lot of what was said and supposed to be done has not been done,” Edwards said. “Where is the money? Show us the money.”

Since interim superintendent Ramona Tyson took over, she has announced plans to eventually have a forensic audit done, and said state officials will receive annual audit materials, including 2018 information that was due last December.