A new school board in DeKalb County has a new philosophy on taxpayers paying for doctoral programs for administrators: No.
Eight DeKalb school administrators began a three-year doctoral program last year, with taxpayers covering the first year’s expense of $135,000 with funds from the district’s federal Race to the Top education grant.
But late Monday night, a majority of school board members rejected a proposal to spend an additional $118,616 for the second year of a doctoral program for the eight, including a regional superintendent and at least four principals.
The current school board members weren’t in office when the program was pitched by then-School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, and a 5-4 majority didn’t agree that it should be a priority.
“All money should be appropriated for the purpose of educating the boys and girls,” school board Chairman Melvin Johnson said. “It should not go to helping people receive doctorate degrees when they could pay for them on their own.”
Atkinson, who abruptly left DeKalb County Schools early this year, was widely criticized for pushing to commit a total of about $353,000 in Race to the Top money for the doctoral program.
At the time, the district was reeling from $78 million in budget cuts that resulted in fewer teachers, classroom aides and other educators. Parents also were calling for reductions to central office staff instead of classrooms. Since then, there’s been a total turnover on the school board, with three new elected members and six others appointed by the governor.
David Schutten, the president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, said killing the program was probably a good thing.
Too many employees were upset that the the program benefited so few, Schutten said.
“A lot of concerned citizens felt it was inappropriate to use the funds in [this] manner,” Johnson said.
The state rewards educators who receive job-related advance degrees, meaning the eight administrators would be in line for hefty and automatic pay raises if they completed the program and their dissertations and receive their doctorates.
School board member Joyce Morley voted to retain the program, saying it was unfair to the eight administrators to pull the plug after a year.
The program is based at the DeKalb campus of Mercer University and tailored to meet the leadership needs unique to the district, top administrators said last year. They told school board members Monday that measures are in place to assess the quality of the program and that one participant has already been promoted from assistant principal to principal.
They also said program participants agreed to work in the district at least three years after obtaining their doctorates.
Twenty-six of Georgia’s local school districts are receiving Race to the Top grant money, some of which is earmarked to improve the quality of school leadership. But DeKalb was the only one to commit grant money to adding to the 1oo-plus holders of doctorates the system already has in leadership roles.
Jon Rogers, a spokesman for Georgia’s Race to the Top program, said Tuesday that state officials had not seen any request from DeKalb officials to change their grant plans and could not comment.
“We just have to look at the whole proposal,” Rogers said. “Districts are able to amend their scope of work, just like we’re able to amend the state scope of work.”
The final year of the doctoral program for the eight was slated to cost $99,680, administrators said Monday.
Tracking tax dollars
Since Georgia was awarded a $400 million Race to the Top grant, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been following the money trail. Last year, the newspaper detailed a move by the DeKalb County school district to use some of its grant money to put eight administrators who aspire to central office jobs through a doctoral program at the local campus of Mercer University. The costs were estimated at about $345,000. Then-School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said the program would help the district build a bench of qualified leaders. Residents questioned the decision.
Monday night, when a new school board with three new elected members and six others appointed by the governor had to decide whether to pay for the program for a second year, a majority voted it down.