My former AJC colleague Maria Saporta reports increasing pressure from the business community for mayoral or state intervention in APS schools, and the parent group Step Up or Step Down wants the APS board chair to resign his chairmanship in the wake of the e-mail exchange I printed a few days ago. In the exchange, former chair LaChandra Butler-Burks accused Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El of shooting her the bird in an executive session.
In its petition for El to step down from the chairmanship. Step Up or Step Down says: “Given the seriousness of the accreditation issue facing Atlanta’s public high schools, we are appalled at the open displays of animosity and lack of professional leadership by the Atlanta School Board. Board Chair Khaatim Sherrer El should immediately step down from his leadership post and move for the Board to hold elections for new officers. A 2/3 vote should select the new leadership and both El and former Board Chair LaChandra Butler-Burks should recuse themselves from election.”
So, nothing has changed for APS. The craziness of adults is still overshadowing the education of the children.
I don’t quite get what exactly business leaders want the state or Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to do, short of a mayoral takeover. Nor do I quite understand how state involvement would be a boost. I am not sure it can be argued that the state of Georgia has proven itself an engine of educational innovation. Right now, the state is under funding its share of education and still debating what math should be taught.
As I have noted, takeover of a troubled school system by a new mayor with his own challenges doesn’t seem a sensible move, at least to me. The city of Atlanta, like every other city, is struggling with the sour economy and the demolition of the real estate market. I think Mayor Kasim Reed has enough to do without taking on the schools.
Our new law on state intervention in warring and dysfunctional school boards does not quite allow a “takeover” in the sense of the state running a system. What the law does allow is the state to find citizens to serve on school boards when existing members fail to serve the interests of their students.
Atlanta can turn around its schools. Baltimore is doing it. Hire a great superintendent. Elect a responsible board. Let them work. Stop the cheating on tests. Focus in one goal: educational excellence.
Here is what Saporta is reporting:
A broad-based coalition of business, civic and community leaders are urging Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to do everything he can to prevent the Atlanta Public Schools from losing its accreditation.
The blue-ribbon Atlanta Committee for Progress (ACP) told Reed March 14 that the school system must become his top priority and that he should explore every avenue available — including state involvement — to break the governance logjam that currently exists on the Atlanta Board of Education.
While leaders fell short of calling for a state takeover of the school system, many said it’s time for the mayor and state leaders to develop a plan of action to prevent Atlanta’s public schools from losing accreditation.
“This has to be dealt with as a crisis,” said Phil Kent, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System Inc. who is chairman of the n Atlanta Committee for Progress. “The idea of Atlanta losing its accreditation is intolerable. I don’t even have kids, but I’m outraged by this.”
In an interview after the meeting, Reed said he had hoped that the city could have worked with the existing school board to come up with a resolution. But there’s been little progress, and now there’s little time to act during this state legislative session.
“That path is not yielding results,” the mayor said. “I’m talking to legislative leaders about a remedy that you can put in place.”
Reed, however, did not offer specifics on what the state and the city could do to solve the APS board governance issues.
“Whatever move I would be involved in would be temporary,” Reed said. “There needs to be some temporary power given to resolving this issue because the city and state can’t take failure of the path we are on.”
The mayor said the message he heard at the ACP meeting was that “this problem has to get to the center of your plate.”
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has placed the Atlanta Public Schools on probation because of its governance issues. The most significant factor is that the board is split into two opposing groups with the current chairman — Khaatim Sherrer El — holding a 5-to-4 majority. If the board fails to resolve its governance issues, APS likely would lose its accreditation in the fall.
Several community leaders described the situation as a crisis.
“We don’t want the schools to lose accreditation,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader who has been meeting with members of the black clergy on this issue. “I think we’ve got to have some action. I had hoped that the board would act on its own, and there wouldn’t have had to be the kind of action that might be necessary. But it doesn’t look promising.”
Lowery said APS board members “haven’t done anything” to resolve their differences. “I’m very disappointed that there seems to be a little more concern for power than for merit and integrity,” he added.
Foundation leaders, who have invested millions in Atlanta’s public schools in the past decade, also expressed great concern.
“There’s frustration; there’s a sense of urgency; and there’s a sense of helplessness,” said Curley Dossman Jr., president of the Georgia-Pacific Foundation who is the interim chairman of the Atlanta Education Fund, an entity that had been raising private support for the public school system. “People are wringing their hands to find out what is a reasonable outcome to avoid the devastating loss of accreditation.”
The Atlanta Education Fund had been in the midst of a $19 million fundraising campaign, and it had received pledges and gifts of $15 million.
“It has been very difficult to raise funds in an environment with such uncertainty around it,” Dossman said, adding that the foundation has “suspended” its fundraising effort. “We are unable to get new money coming in.”
Dossman added that he believes the mayor is “looking at every option to bring some sanity to the situation.”
Lowery, however, said he believed that the “last resort” should be a state takeover of the school system. “The mayor ought to use all the influence that he can use short of intervention by the state,” he said. “We all need to put more pressure on the board.”
“There was a unanimity at the ACP meeting that the civic leadership and the mayor need to do whatever it takes to get this on track,” she said. “I think the ACP really pushed the mayor.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog