Adding schools to Atlanta mayoral duties a short-sighted solution

If you want something done, assign it to someone who’s already busy.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is certainly busy. When he’s not snowed under by the challenge of reforming a major city bureaucracy, he’s up in Washington trying to arrange federal funding for the Port of Savannah, or he’s over at the state Capitol lobbying legislators as the metro region’s top liaison with Georgia’s Republican leadership.

He’s become a human Swiss army knife — everyone has a job for him.

Most recently, of course, there’s talk of dumping the problems of the Atlanta public school system onto his plate as well, an idea that Reed himself appears to be contemplating.

I’m not at all sure that’s wise.

Yes, the Atlanta school board has become dysfunctional; yes, the district’s cheating scandal has given the entire city a black eye and called into question the integrity of district leadership. But are those problems due to some defect in the district’s governing structure that might be cured by putting it under the control of Atlanta’s mayor? Or are they instead related to the specific individuals who happen to be in charge right now?

Remember, we wouldn’t be giving control of the schools to Reed. We’d be giving it to the mayor of Atlanta, and there’s a difference. Reed has three years left in his first term, and nobody knows where his career might take him or who we might get next in that office. Not too long ago, remember, it was filled by a man named Bill Campbell.

In other words, it’s always dangerous to use a permanent structural change to try to solve what’s really a temporary personnel issue. And I think that’s what we have with the Atlanta School Board.

In its recent report on the Atlanta schools, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools noted that just a year ago, the APS board was recognized as one of the best school boards in the nation. That changed after the 2009 elections, which according to SACS brought a change of membership that “resulted in a paradigm shift in the actions of the board.”

In its report, SACS focused particular attention on the leadership style of current board chairman Khaatim Sherrer El. Last summer, El led a coup against the previous board chair, LaChandra Butler Burks, on grounds that she had failed to communicate and consult with fellow board members. SACS investigators, however, found evidence that El has been guilty of those same failings.

“Stated multiple times by various interviewees was the assessment that the chair has personally staged media events, without board approval or knowledge, and that such media events were willfully designed to promote his personal agenda,” the report found. SACS also criticized the board for apparently trying to conceal and downplay unethical behavior by one of its members, Courtney English. According to SACS, English twice had used his district-issued credit card for personal expenses.

(It’s worth noting that the board’s unwillingness to hold a fellow member accountable unfortunately mirrors the district’s approach to allegations of cheating by teachers and administrators. In both cases, the instinct has been to protect the institution, not those it was created to serve.)

The board now faces considerable oversight and pressure from a variety of sources. SACS has put the system on probation. State, federal and local officials are eying criminal prosecutions. Gov. Nathan Deal has taken a personal interest, naming two people to serve as personal liaisons to the board. The possibility of a wholesale shift of control to the mayor’s office also should help focus board members’ attention on the best interests of the children.

But as board members were no doubt reminded at their marathon meeting earlier this week, their toughest critics and most watchful observers will be the parents of students that the district is supposed to educate. That’s the way the system is designed to operate, so let’s give it a chance to work.

– Jay Bookman

34 comments Add your comment

Real Scooter

January 28th, 2011
8:50 am

Common Sense isn't very Common

January 28th, 2011
8:51 am

The mayor is already overworked, Give it to Josef :-)

Scout

January 28th, 2011
8:52 am

Jay:

Just turn it all over the the federal government. They’ll have it all someday anyway.

carlosgvv

January 28th, 2011
8:54 am

The Atlanta school board crisis and cheating scandals are a witches brew of politics, money and race. Because of this there will be no easy answers or fixes any time soon. The problems caused by these scandals will reverberate for many years to come. Always remember, Georgia is not usually in last place for nothing. We work at it!!!

Peadawg

January 28th, 2011
8:54 am

When the problem gets too tough to handle…dump it on someone else.

Real Scooter

January 28th, 2011
8:56 am

I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with you on this one Jay but we shall see.

Libertarian

January 28th, 2011
8:56 am

We need to clean house. Find the best person in the country for the job (someone who has transformed another major school system) and pay them whatever it takes to come in and reform our system. This person also needs to be able to fire anyone who needs to be fired, including bad teachers/principals.

Peadawg

January 28th, 2011
8:57 am

“I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with you on this one Jay but we shall see.” – Blogs that everyone agrees on aren’t very fun.

Bosch

January 28th, 2011
9:01 am

Here’s a thought — why not hire someone who can do that job? I have learned in my 42 years that you have to delegate sometimes.

Paulo977

January 28th, 2011
9:04 am

Only Atlanta School Board Dysfunctional? What a joke …The WHOLE Education system is!!!!

Real Scooter

January 28th, 2011
9:04 am

Common Sense isn’t very Common

January 28th, 2011
8:51 am

I hope josef sees your post.We are bound to get an eyeful ! :grin:

Real Scooter

January 28th, 2011
9:08 am

Peadawg

January 28th, 2011
8:57 am

You are right Peadawg! If Jay had just said it is all Bushs fault………

stands for decibels

January 28th, 2011
9:11 am

I’m going to give this one about as much thought as the typical contributor, and say that since I just heard an episode of This American Life describing a K-12 school in Brooklyn that allows students to self-manage literally everything through an open democratic process, and since it seems to work incredibly well there, that every school in Atlanta should follow their model.

So that’d make whoever-we-put-in-charge-of-APS’s job a lot easier.

(just to give everyone something utterly contrary to think about.)

Gotta produce. Later, all.

Redneck Convert (R--and proud of it)

January 28th, 2011
9:12 am

Well, I’ll go along with giving APS to josef. He’s got a dim view of the leaders there and seems to me he’s got alot of ideas about how to fix things. Besides, it’s about time people on this blog could be listened to and there’s nothing like shooting the bull right to the top. Let’s face it, the people here know how to fix everything, only nobody’s listening to them. A blog member at the top would straighten things up lickety-split.

Have a good Friday everybody.

jm

January 28th, 2011
9:16 am

Disagree. There are circuit breakers available. It is the only way to get momentum on school reform. A committee of self promoters is dysfunctional. We need Mayor Reed to take the bull by the horns.

When it is put under control of the mayor, THE CITY can elect someone who it thinks will do a good job on the education system. As it is, power, authority, and legitimacy of purpose is disaggregated between unaccountable people since voters don’t educate themselves on BOE candidates.

Jay, I highly disagree with you on this.

jm

January 28th, 2011
9:20 am

Jay, voters don’t educate themselves on the quality of BOE candidates anymore. I cannot say this enough. However, they can see, educate themselves, on the plans a mayor has for the education system. Putting it under the mayor makes sense.

Just like putting Insurance Commissioner (and other positions) under the Governor would make a lot of sense.

Adam

January 28th, 2011
9:21 am

“Stated multiple times by various interviewees was the assessment that the chair has personally staged media events, without board approval or knowledge, and that such media events were willfully designed to promote his personal agenda,”

Kind of off topic, but this sounds an awful lot like what Bobby Jindal did with his sand berms.

Some politicians think all it takes is tons of positive media exposure to make an idea look good, and some sheeple go along with it. Sadly it does work sometimes.

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)

January 28th, 2011
9:22 am

I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with you on this one Jay but we shall see.

I was gonna say wait until jm posts, but I see he has already thrown a yellow card at 9:16.

:)

jm

January 28th, 2011
9:24 am

SoCo – I’m that predictable, eh? :D

jm

January 28th, 2011
9:25 am

Jay – also of note, Reed can do all this in part because he has a great COO, and has filled other top level positions with top level talent. The guy can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)

January 28th, 2011
9:27 am

When it is put under control of the mayor, THE CITY can elect someone who it thinks will do a good job on the education system. As it is, power, authority, and legitimacy of purpose is disaggregated between unaccountable people since voters don’t educate themselves on BOE candidates.

You’re giving too much credit to the very people who elected Bill Campbell to not do the same thing again. I can’t go with you on that one. The BOE should be an extension of the school system itself and not something pieced together to try to function as a part of the system.

The best way to fill those positions with someone who has the school system’s best interests at heart would be to rotate spots on the board with faculty and staff members from the school system itself. If there’s someone who should be self-serving on the BOE, I think it should be teachers. They are the one’s who bear the burden of the workload in schools anyway. They would have a better grasp on what’s working and what is not working in the systems.

Southern Comfort (B.P.O.I.B.W.)

January 28th, 2011
9:27 am

jm

You’ve stated that position enough, that I think Reed probably got that idea from you on this here blog. :)

jm

January 28th, 2011
9:36 am

SoCo – putting teachers in charge of the school board would, frankly, be insane. Wonder what they would do when it came time for a pay raise…..

9:27 – I’m 99.99999999999% sure Reed doesn’t have time to futz with JB’s blog, and wouldn’t consider a bloggers ideas anyway….. now on the other had, if I had the dough to rent a billboard….

N-GA

January 28th, 2011
9:40 am

homeschool everybody!

BlahBlahBlah

January 28th, 2011
9:44 am

APS just needs more money. More money for education is the answer to all the problems. Just keep spending and we will be awesome.

Bosch

January 28th, 2011
9:47 am

” More money for education is the answer to all the problems. Just keep spending and we will be awesome.”

Yeah, because taking resources away to help form a solution to a problem works so much better. You can’t take away money from the schools and then gripe and bitch because they aren’t working.

Common Sense isn't very Common

January 28th, 2011
9:49 am

A Board of Advisors made up of teachers, administrators and parents from across the school system would help.

jm

January 28th, 2011
9:51 am

Bosch – I will say financial “crunches” of whatever sort can tend to concentrate the mind…. sometimes less is more. Stop using computers so much, and instead get the basics correct. Considering how poorly kids are performing, and how low tech teaching something as basic as math can and should be, there are savings to be had.

The more important thing is to get the operations straightened out. Toss the BOE. Get a new superintendent. Have the state act as a check/balance on any corrupt future mayor, and then get our school system in high gear.

Common Sense isn't very Common

January 28th, 2011
9:55 am

Bosch@9:47 am

You can’t take away money from the schools and then gripe and bitch because they aren’t working.
——————————————————-

Sure you can, It’s easy to do, you betcha

kayaker 71

January 28th, 2011
9:56 am

Interesting to note that in 2009, the APS system was one of two finalists for the Council of Boards of Education 2009 CUBE (Council on Urban Boards of Education) award for Urban School of Excellence. CUBE represents 110 urban school districts nationwide in 35 states. It has a budget of 99B dollars from the Federal Government. They have been highly critical of Michelle Rhee, the DC school chief, and advocate of the establishment of charter schools all over the country. Another Bozo organization which has little to nothing to do but to spend the taxpayer’s money on the same old drivel that got Atlanta in the shape that it is in today. I cannot imagine how Atlanta could have been a finalist in this nationwide competition one year and be on probation the next with a school board that is suing each other over control and teachers who help students fake answers on tests. Quite a credible organization, Bozo. A credit to your progressive agenda.

Jay

January 28th, 2011
10:02 am

kayaker, your facts are gloriously twisted.

CUBE doesn’t have a budget of $99 billion. All of its members’ school districts combined have a budget of $99 billion.

Nor is that federal money. It’s total spending, most of it from state and local sources. It’s not a federal organization and has nothing to do with the federal government. It’s an association of local school districts.

Fresh sheets upstairs.

mike "hussein" smith

January 28th, 2011
10:05 am

Shame! Shame! Jay for reporting the canard that the Atlanta school board “has become” dysfunctional. Last year’s coup put the board on the road to reality by overthrowing the leadership of longtime members who were so wrapped up in Beverly Hall that they seemed to swoon whenever she came into a room. It was only after Mr. El and others took over the board that the public was finally able to get the truth about the district cheating scandal, which Hall and her minions had suppressed. SACS is doing the city and the current leadership a disservice by claiming the board “has become’ dysfunctional. Its investigation looks like nothing more than the late arrival of the cavalry to protect Hall’s sullied reputation.

kayaker 71

January 28th, 2011
10:12 am

Bookman,

Federal money or no, it is the taxpayer’s money. The organization does not self fund itself. It is a vital part of the NEA, one of the most useless, redundant “education” organizations in the country. The organization is in the back pocket of the teacher’s unions who are hand in hand with Bozo and his agenda. Please address the point about the dichotomy regarding almost awarding Atlanta a CUBE award. It seems like you have ignored the most important part of the post. If you look past your nose, my “gloriously twisted” facts might make more sense.

chillywilly

January 28th, 2011
12:20 pm

AMEN Mike “hussein” Smith, AMEN!! Mr. El discovered that “The 4″ board members were engaged in a coverup with Dr. Hall, the BRC, & the Chamber of Commerce and he exposed them. This is not about a power grab, but about a decent board member (Mr. El) who’s trying to do the right thing. SACS is a joke and its only intent is to protect Beverly Hall, The Chamber of Commerce, and the Dirty 4 by any means necessary. Stand your ground Mr. El.