As the saying goes, the gloves are coming off in what Atlanta school board Chairman Khaatim S. El describes as a “game of tug-of-war with Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed.”
El, who recently announced that he will resign his chairmanship under pressure from the mayor and others, sent an e-mail Friday about the politics involved. He wrote this e-mail Friday night after interviewing candidates for the news APS school chief, a process that continues today and may result in the release of the names of finalists.
El charges that politics and appeasement of downtown business interests have led to a minimizing of the truly important challenges in APS, including helping students affected by the alleged CRCT cheating.
El points to what he considers the undue influence of business interests on city and school affairs. He cites a Friday story in Creative Loafing about pension plan sparring by the mayor and Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell as another troubling example of what has gone awry under Reed’s leadership.
In this e-mail, El raised issues that I felt were worth discussing here on the blog:
Despite good work and a lot of courage, my time as chairman of the School Board has been mired by a very public, and much more nefarious behind the scenes, game of tug-of-war with Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed. A person, who by the way, I supported heavily in his campaign — asking my colleagues on the Board to endorse him, hosting community meetings for him in my home and leading his election day strategy in my City Council District. So, we’re not strangers.
Sadly, I came home tonight after interviewing candidates for Atlanta’s superintendency to hear yet again that this is how this new mayor plans to do things. It starts with taking your cue from a few leaders in the business community and bullying, berating and maligning anyone who gets in your way. There’s no debate on the issues or room for the kind of dissension that makes good policy.
In my case, no one ever challenged me on whether I should have spoken out about a widespread cheating scandal. No one ever challenged me publicly to a debate about the need to drastically improve the district’s graduation rate, especially for African American males. That a bold plan focusing on grade level reading was a bad idea. Or that I was unqualified to deserve the support of a majority of my colleagues.
No, instead what the public was fed by this mayor and his powerful friends was a contrived notion that I led an illegal coup d’etat. It was a very artful and intentional misdirection that doesn’t acknowledge that the only apolitical bodies — the state Legislature’s lawyers who wrote the bill in question and ultimately a court of law — found the Mayor’s position to be wrong. A judge concluded, in his Consent Order that was signed by all nine Board members and their attorney’s, that the Board “in changing the leadership was lawful and did not violate the 2003 charter.”
And if how I became the chairman was really the issue, that should have been resolved when me, and the vice chair at that time, both stepped down, and the Board held new elections. What perplexes me more is that in the Consent Order we agreed that whoever was elected must serve until December 2011, in an attempt to bring stability to the Board’s leadership. The truth is that at the center of the School Board’s dysfunction are the same special interests who were shamed by my calling out the cover-up into the CRCT investigation
So, what’s my point? We can default to that’s “just” politics or we begin to ask tough questions about the cost of politics being abused in this way. The answer is simple. You lose focus on more than 6,000 + children in 58 schools who were shortchanged out of a quality education from a widespread cheating scandal.
The reason I can’t let this go is because these are the children whose parents cannot afford to send them to a Sylvan Learning Center to get caught up and these are not kids who will stay in school when it’s really discovered that they cannot read in the 9th grade.
My time is up and I’ve already decided to step down as chairman for the good of the school system but look no further than to what’s happening to the Atlanta City Council on this pension reform debate — another one of the mayor’s political stepping stone issues where impacts and people really don’t matter if you’re not in the downtown business district.
Instead of working collaboratively with people who disagree, you attack them publicly to discredit their position. I just hope in the process we don’t lose good ideas or good service from smart, consensus building leaders like Council President Ceaser Mitchell for the sake of personal political agendas. This is a slippery slope to the point where the “people” you know who our government is supposed to serve have no voice. I don’t know if that’s the democracy we should be spreading around the world, let alone be what Atlanta is known for.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled board