It shouldn’t be so stunning, but it is.
Former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall — a one-time national superintendent of the year who ran the Atlanta school district with an authoritarian hand — has been indicted on racketeering and other charges, as have 34 other administrators, principals, teachers and others, in the Atlanta cheating scandal.
If convicted, Hall faces as much as 45 years in jail, and the grand jury has recommended that bail be set at $7.5 million. Given that Hall is not a great threat to flee the country and poses no danger to anyone, that bail recommendation sounds exorbitant. Frankly, it sets off warning signals that the case itself may be an overreaction, but we will see.
I’m not trying to defend Hall by any means. If she did do the crime, she should do the time, although it is possible that the charges will be bargained down if she admits guilt and returns the bonuses “earned” through cheating. As it is, the charges imply that Hall took an active and knowing role in the scandal or in the coverup. That is certainly plausible, but I’m not aware of any evidence to that effect.
On the other hand, I also didn’t sit on the grand jury.
In that light, it’s interesting that Hall’s top assistant, the much-feared Kathy Augustine, is not among those indicted, suggesting that she may have agreed to testify for the prosecution. To borrow the cliche, Augustine had the reputation as an administrator who knew where the bodies were buried because she had put them there.
There is certainly a lot of evidence — overwhelming evidence, to my mind — that Hall willfully chose to ignore proof of cheating because it served her purposes to do so. I vividly remember two telephone conversations with Hall in which I hung up the phone startled by the degree of denial that she demonstrated. It was also troubling to see the lives and careers of underlings being ruined in the scandal while Hall, the person who had previously made no bones about being in charge, looked to be walking away scot-free.
But again, we’ll have to see how this plays out in the judicial system. At the very least, we’re going to learn a lot more about how the mess went down, and perhaps about how it can be avoided not just here in Georgia but around the country.
– Jay Bookman