By Jody Steinberg

Stimulus dollars will fund 35 positions, the board will have final approval of charter schools, two consulting firms will be paid $642,150 to manage the Capital Improvements Plan for six weeks, and recess is back.

Those were just a few of the items on the agenda at the recent DeKalb County School Board meeting.

Following public comments that urged the board renew to their focus on the classroom — and called for increase fiduciary responsibility, accountability and transparency — the board got down to the business of approving policies and amendments that affect the day-to-day operations and spending at DeKalb County Schools.

In a seemingly innocuous vote, board members approved a policy to restore recess. Effective immediately, students from Kindergarten to fifth grade will enjoy a mandatory 15-minute, unstructured break that cannot be taken away for disciplinary purposes. Middle school principals have the option of introducing the breaks in their schools as well.

While the subdued meeting seemed focused on the usual departmental reports, construction funding votes and policy amendments, one amendment – to extend a contract for the Supplemental Project Management Services (SPMS) to the tune of $642,150 for six weeks — raised some eyebrows. Only 2.2 percent, roughly $10.25 million of the five-year, $466 million SPLOST III budget, is earmarked for management. At $100,000-plus per week, additional management services can take a bigger chunk out of the budget.

“These are not additional dollars,” board member Eugene Walker told the audience about the $642,1000 agreement. “This vote is for greater accountability so we know where the money is going.”

A criminal investigation of Pat Pope, Director of Operations, has placed her office under a cloud of suspicion. Following the district attorney’s recent raid of Pope’s office, Superintendent Crawford Lewis removed her from the daily operations of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), handing full responsibility over to Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering, private contractors that were awarded a Supplemental Project Management Services Contract in June.

Parsons project manager Barbara Colman, who has managed DCSS construction projects in recent years, has been appointed Interim Operations Manager. Under the interim arrangement, Parsons assumes responsibility for all DCSS CIP operations, while a number of tasks will be assumed by Jacobs, with close to 20 staff on the DCSS roster.

District attorney Gwen Keyes-Fleming began scrutinizing Pope’s operations last December, although specific allegations have not been lodged. Pope administers millions of dollars in contracts with builders, materials purveyors, engineers, architects and others. Many credit Pope with cleaning up the mess left by SPLOST II managers.