Board politics are the least of Atlanta schools’ problems

You may be familiar with the biblical admonition against looking at the speck in your brother’s eye when there’s a log in your own. But what about ignoring the log in his eye, yet obsessing over his speck?

That’s what seems to be happening with some do-gooders’ narrow focus on the Atlanta school board.

The log in the eye of Atlanta Public Schools is a pervasive cheating scandal being probed by local, state and federal law enforcement. It’s a scandal that might lead to criminal charges for some educators.

It has raised questions about the Atlanta schools’ backers in the business community, who endorsed nearly all school board members and then coordinated an inadequate inquiry into the cheating allegations.

It has tarnished the woman who was once said to put the “super” in superintendent, Beverly Hall. She not only accepted statistically improbable gains in test scores and disputed graduation rates — and the trophies and grant money that came with them — but, an AJC investigation found, she tried to suppress the scandal.

Yet, Hall is being allowed to serve out her contract, with no known attempt to rescind financial bonuses she received for bogus improvements.

Worst, the cheating robbed maybe half a generation of Atlanta students of educational opportunities they deserved.

All of that constitutes the log in the eye. The speck? School board politics.

Shortly after the cheating scandal exploded, a board that previously acted in relative harmony began to splinter. In a series of 5-4 votes, the board tossed out its chair and vice chair and elected new ones.

And it’s this factionalism, not the cheating, that is the focus of the system’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS is shocked — shocked! — to find elected leaders being political.

The divide has also prompted city leaders to talk openly about taking over APS. That’s probably the worst idea to be floated during this saga, given the many problems Atlanta’s government already faces.

I have a personal stake in all this because I live in the Atlanta school district. But I take neither side in the school board fight. In fact, I wouldn’t balk at recalling all nine members and holding new elections.

Still, it’s strange that SACS investigators, in a report they issued last month putting APS on probation, didn’t address the root of the board’s friction: the cheating scandal, and specifically the allegations that the former board chair kept board members in the dark about the subsequent investigation.

The report mentions the cheating scandal only in passing, as if it were a coincidence.

The investigators also misrepresented the legal argument at the heart of the board’s split. The four-member minority insisted for weeks that the board’s charter prohibits members from removing officers the way the five-member majority did in September.

The SACS report notes that lawyers, including the board’s in-house counsel and the state’s attorney general, advised the five members against the move.

Anyone who read that report alone might conclude that the majority had gone rogue. Only if you’d also read a state judge’s November opinion declaring the move “was lawful and did not violate the 2003 Charter” would you know better.

If the board members are misbehaving — SACS also reported one member’s misuse of a school-system credit card and another’s steering a contract to a relative — they certainly should be held accountable. That’s why we have elections and the justice system.

But it would be more convincing if SACS and the city were outraged at the board’s kid-gloves treatment of Hall and failure to question the unbelievable success she claimed. That’s the real story here.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook

56 comments Add your comment

Jeremiah

February 2nd, 2011
7:18 pm

God article Kyle, this is another example of many issues with Public Education throughout America. The entire system is broken, and this further proves that like most things the “Government” touches, they are awful at it! The education system in America needs to be completely reformed, and in my opinion, the only thing that will fix it is to privatize it, providing competition and better success for the best performing schools and teachers. Issues like this, combined with the brain-washing that occurs, are why I feel that if you have a choice and still send your kids to Public schools, you are committing child abuse. That may sound harsh, but is a fact. That is why I don’t care if I have to work 3 jobs, my children will have a private education.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

February 2nd, 2011
7:36 pm

Has anyone ever thought about writing a musical comedy based on Atlanta governance?

BAD DEAL

February 2nd, 2011
8:52 pm

Hey Wingnut, when are you going to write about Deal increasing the payroll of his closest staff by 30% when Georgia is facing at least a $1 billion budget shortfall? Or are you just going to ignore that?

DJ

February 2nd, 2011
9:34 pm

BAD DEAL. . .can you not read. . .or did you read only the AJC headline on the gov. . .logic dictates if an office previously outside the gov’s office is brought under the gov’s office, then total pay is naturally go up! So the real issue then is what happened with the posts resident to the gov’s office prior to the merger. I hope you’re not a financial analyst, because if so, then you would be dispensing crappy advice.

A.T.

February 2nd, 2011
9:39 pm

@Bad Deal: of course wingnut will ignore it. The same way he ignored the party affiliation of everyone involved in the Florida court ruling on the health care law.

Intown

February 2nd, 2011
10:35 pm

Kyle – keep the pressure on APS! You may not have kids, but I do. And I’m unfortunately counting on APS to educate them. thankfully I’m in a “good” cluster. Also, for you it is important for your property values.

JJ

February 3rd, 2011
12:28 am

Spot On Kyle! To steal the futures of thousands of children is a truly sad state of affairs. It does not take much to QUICKLY explain why education in GA is 1st in The Worst.

rant and roll

February 3rd, 2011
1:43 am

After we privatize the schools – we should privatize the police, the fire and the military. Competition will bring us the best schools, fire, police and military. Sure, their loyalty will be to profits first, but that’s ok because we can trust Blackwater to keep us safe. After all the government can’t do anything right.

Grob Hahn

February 3rd, 2011
6:08 am

Oh come on now. We KNOW why there aren’t any REAL investigations going on. It’s simple really, the bulk of the people who cheated these children are black. As such the very idea of prosecuting them for these crimes will be labeled as racism. Hall should be in jail right now sharing a cell with Salters. What they did to so many black children is the purest form of racism there is. And it was delivered by people of their own race!! Still, no uproar from the “community”. Only a circling of the wagons to protect black criminals just because they are black. Good luck with that black America!
Grobbbbbbbbbb

Here Spot

February 3rd, 2011
7:03 am

Bev “Cupcake” Hall, The Jamaican WonderGirl should be terminated immediately and the remainder of the board dissolved. Have a special administrator take over until and acceptable board can be implemented.

Churchill's MOM

February 3rd, 2011
7:16 am

WillieRae

February 3rd, 2011
7:26 am

The APS is a mess.
There are many urban school districts that have tough challenges but the APS willingness to perhaps cheat on a massive scale and certainly to commission a coverup is unique. Kyle raises a very important point as the members of the Atlanta business community seem to have been complicit in the crime. The go along to get along attitude in the business community might let them make a few bucks but has not been for for Atlanta or for business in Atlanta.
Beverly Hall has been a coward.
The idea of giving the mayor control over the schools is a terrible idea. Reed seems to be doing a good job. Would we be happy with Franklin or Campbell running APS? I don’t think so. A couple of years of a decent mayor does not mean that the Mayor’s role can be counted on as a island of sanity, honesty and competence in a sea of contentious, lying boobs.

seabeau

February 3rd, 2011
7:46 am

It is liberals at the state and national level who wish that this whole situation would simply go away. The very need for this cheating and its coverup speak volumes as to the liberals thoughts and motivation. The very facts that we allow young black females to reproduce on the public dole and raise their children to be as irresponsible as they are continues this debacle generation to generation. At this rate Black will never catch up. In fact they are falling farther and farther behind. Taxes can only go so far,it is time to put an end totally to this unmerry-go-round.

MiltonMan

February 3rd, 2011
7:50 am

…and the clowns in Atlanta wonder why Milton residents want to break away from the cesspool known as Fulton County. Let Atlanta & South Fulton merge to become one dysfunctional family.

The people of Atlanta deserve this with all the corruption they kepp re-electing (Campbell) or the racists leaders like John Lewis & Franklin

MiltonMan

February 3rd, 2011
7:52 am

Please remind us how much the taxpayers spend to “educate” an APS student compared to other parts of the state. My guess is that it would be double. Keep your liberal crap in Atlanta & South Fulton.

What if

February 3rd, 2011
8:02 am

Hmph. I do disagree with KW a lot even though I consider myself on the conservative side of the middle (NOT to be confused with Republican, which has nothing to do with conservatism these days) BUT I have no truck with mindless name-calling. Bad form, @Millionaire. The man is here to provide opinion, and while I’d prefer he do it more rationally than religiously, I would frequently say the same of most pundits.
At the same time, and while it would appear that the cheating was institutionalized by the superintendent, the abject disfunction of the board is far more than a speck in the mix of things. Both issues need to be addressed. After all, it’s the board that is responsible for rescinding Hall’s undeserved bonuses if that were to happen. Sadly, it is we who elect these incompetents. We might be better off if they were appointed as they are in some states by the county/city supervisors/commissioners, who voters DO pay some attention to at the polls.
Finally, while there can be no leniency on the district and school administrators who acceded to Hall’s pressures to cheat (I’m not sure the teachers ordered to do so should be punished; they need to feed their kids – what would you do?), the real culprit is the worthless and meaningless accountability system forced on today’s schools by the Bush law. 100% proficient, including the poor kid with the IQ of 50? Same standard as for the kid with the IQ of 175? Now THAT’s dumb.

Misty Fyed

February 3rd, 2011
8:30 am

Well Said What If:

The standards set by No Child Left Behind work only in mid to upper class homogeneous areas. They fail to address the root of the problem which I BELIEVE to be the deterioration of parental responsibility. Homes where the expectation is that you will do your homework and behave in class and where the parents actually support their teachers efforts. Too often we see families too accustomed to the gov’t taking care of their needs. They drop their kids off believing it is the school’s job to feed and raise their kids. Any request for assistance from the teacher is an inconvenience. But instead of addressing this problem, they put the burden on the teachers (who have their own share of problems in how they do their job).

@@

February 3rd, 2011
8:36 am

Absent the cheating scandal, Atlanta’s school board is exhibiting the same behavior as was prevalent in Clayton County’s. SACS pinned all responsibility on our members…giving them a BIG FAT “F”.

As I recall, there was a time here in Clayton County when we were paying three superintendents at the same time. Two fired and one sitting.

Hopefully things are turning around here. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to escape the scandalous stench. How long will it linger?

tar and feathers party

February 3rd, 2011
8:39 am

All this lying, cheating, and stealing by black elected leaders in APS, plus the 100 million dollar school building scandal in Dekalb, again by the black leaders involved, yet Kyle and the ajc insist that black leaders are no more crooked than white leaders. Dumb and Dumber…..

Peter

February 3rd, 2011
8:57 am

Come on now folks The Republican’s ignore most stuff, like the fact their party cannot even control it’s own personal spending and is currently in debt.

Funny they now want to tell America how to spend it’s money after the Bush Debacle !

February 1st, 2011
09:11 AM ET

RNC in $23-million hole
By: CNN Political Unit

(CNN) – Newly-installed Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has a $23-million hole to dig out of, according to a year-end report the organization filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

According to the official report, the committee has over $21 million debt with about $700,000 cash-on-hand. But in a statement Monday Priebus acknowledged the RNC’s cash woes are even worse than the report reflects.

“While the year-end FEC report reveals the Republican National Committee is $21 million in debt, I believe it is best to get out all the facts as we know them associated with our financial position. To date, the committee has approximately $23 million in debt: $15 million in loans, and $8 million owed to vendors,” Priebus said in the sobering statement.

Priebus, who was elected by committee members last month largely on his promise to return the organization to a strong financial position, added, “We are focused like a laser on putting together a plan that retires all of our debt as quickly as possible.”

“We have our work cut out for us, but I am confident we will succeed in turning around the RNC through hard work, transparency and honesty with our hardworking grassroots activists and donors,” Priebus also said. “That is why in the first two weeks we have reduced staff from 124 positions to 82, frozen all major contracts until they can be evaluated, and assembled an incredibly strong finance transition team.”

tar and feathers party

February 3rd, 2011
8:58 am

As far as Beverly goes, every black professional woman I have ever dealt with has been a lying self promoter of no substance what so ever.

Peter

February 3rd, 2011
9:04 am

Please read my above Post…..The Republican Party is the Party of DEBT……..Broke, and zero idea about balancing a budget……

“While the year-end FEC report reveals the Republican National Committee is $21 million in debt, I believe it is best to get out all the facts as we know them associated with our financial position. To date, the committee has approximately $23 million in debt: $15 million in loans, and $8 million owed to vendors,” Priebus said in the sobering statement.

Please don’t tell American that the Republican’s are fiscally responsible ever !

sadly in ATL

February 3rd, 2011
9:41 am

Great opinion piece- and speaking of specks and logs being overlooked at APS, the Board and Chamber supporters so this whole issue can go away (the quicker the better), why has no one asked WHAT ARE BOARD MEMBERS DOING W CREDIT CARDS IN THE FIRST PLACE??? i understand that some boards are paid a nominal salary and have no problem with the concept (some could argue the amount is too high or low), but credit cards? what do they have to pay for that couldn’t be charged to the entity itself through a designated administrator? i guess common sense just cannot prevail in government thinking.It seems smarter to avoid the possibility of misuse in the first place. Personally, in the same situation i would rather submit an expense report and front the money so for my own benefit i could segregate personal and business expenses.

Suckers

February 3rd, 2011
9:51 am

APS is a microcosm of the greater Atlanta cesspool of black cronyism and nepotism.

You Got It!

February 3rd, 2011
9:57 am

Kyle…you got it
This has all been cooked up by Sam Williams, Mark Elghart and Bev Hall to discredit the Fab 5.
They (4) couldn’t win in court so the Chamber. SACS and Hall are holding the system hostage to blame this all on the Fab 5. Did you know that SACS is a business partner of the Chamber? What a surpirse…this is big business for AdvancED
It’s widely known that the Step Up group is a front run by Harsch-Kanaee, McDaniel, Riley (you lost-move on) and Patillo.

Springdale Park Elementary Parent

February 3rd, 2011
10:07 am

I am a parent in APS, and I think Bev Hall is the luckiest con artist in the world. If not for the headline-grabbing ineptitude of the BOE, we’d be paying a lot more attention to Hall’s deliberate coverup of cheating reports and her disgraceful abdication of the children who were cheated. It’s not the cheating that revealed Hall’s lack of character, it was her deny-everything reaction to it. I only hope the upcoming GBI report puts our focus back where it belongs–on this overhyped, thoroughly mediocre person.

sadly in ATL

February 3rd, 2011
10:10 am

another pitiful symptom and cause of this whole mess is the fact that parents have not risen up in absolute disgust and protesting, taking to the streets and demonstrating their displeasure.

it appears they don’t really care and are just going to tolerate anything the government and APS does

if you have kids in the system we should be getting folks to rally and loudly protest Beverly, the board and their shameful actions

AT

February 3rd, 2011
10:25 am

@milton man – the irony in your posts is sad but not surprising. Please do not breed.

jconservative

February 3rd, 2011
10:25 am

“…we allow young black females to reproduce on the public dole…”

Actually this is a Republican program, not a Democratic program. The modern nationwide program was started in 1974 under, and at the request of, President Nixon.

And it will never end as long as there is a majority in the US Senate from agricultural states.

seabeau

February 3rd, 2011
10:27 am

So what to do with the basic problem? Simple “VOTE WITH YOUR FEET”,move out and allow Atlanta to achieve what Democratic controlled cities all over the US have achieved,namely financial ruin!!!

carlosgvv

February 3rd, 2011
10:43 am

The Atlanta school board and cheating mess is a witches brew of race, money and politics. When it all finally hits the fan, look for anguished cries of racism.

Halftrack

February 3rd, 2011
10:50 am

The key here as you said in your article; Leadership, of all kinds, needs to be held accountable from the top of the pyramid down to the basic foundation stone.

StJ

February 3rd, 2011
10:50 am

You live in the APS district Kyle? Two words: “private school”. A couple more: “move away”.

Personally, I would not be caught dead sending my kid to a public school in the APS district. Or most other public school districts anywhere in the vicinity of 285. The people in charge appear to be incompetent and corrupt (and the parents who use the school as a free babysitting service don’t help the situation).

[...] I sit next to columnist Kyle Wingfield in the AJC newsroom, and we have been discussing the SACS report on APS.  Wingfield has a post up today echoing a commentary I ran a few weeks ago questioning the focus of SACS on school board politics rather than on the CRCT cheating scandal or the disputed graduation scores. Take a look at his column. [...]

captguitarman

February 3rd, 2011
11:04 am

Great article, Kyle. Thanks to you and the AJC for keeping the spotlight on the real problem and exactly where it belongs — on the APS cheating scandal — not on the Board of Education’s political squabbles. For several weeks there, the school system probation story, and SACS and the city’s focus on the Board of Education, and the grandstanding by Reed, were all taking on “Twilight Zone” characteristics. Why was there no focus on the root cause of the probation? Why wasn’t the real story being printed? I began to wonder if those who worked so hard to cover up the cheating scandal up the first time around had friends inside the SAC — and that is not a farfetched concern based on SAC’s goofy reasons for putting APS on probation. And with nary a word about a system and a culture in which cheating was promoted by the administrators (from the top down) and the teachers to protect their phony good results over the years, and their reputations and careers — at the expense of Atlanta’s school children? So, thanks for setting forth all the facts, and especially the fact that the rift if the Board of Education came about because a minority of its members, including the former chair, appear to have been invested in the cover up and not communicating clearly with the majority. The rift came when the majority said no more cover up, and reconsititued the Board’s leadership, which as you pointed out, passed legal muster. The huge effort to cover all of this up with an internal investigation, and the “Blue Ribbon” investigating committee, in which city leaders and the Chamber of Commerce were complicit, completely backfired because of State Board of Education folks were doing their job. SACS probation announcement, which did not address the root of the problem has provided some cover and some hope for those up to their necks in the cheating scandal, and hopefully, your great column this morning will help to put the focus back where it needs to be. I was amazed how the representative of SACS chastised the Board members for “forgetting why they were on the school board” without directing one word toward the administrators and teachers who up to their necks in creating phony test results through cheating, and who then tried their best to cover it all up for their own selfish reasons — and to the lasting detriment of the Atlanta’s school children. Please keep the lights bright and the heat on. There are still lots of vested interests here who really do want to see all of this just quietly go away.

David Sims

February 3rd, 2011
11:30 am

“The four-member minority [of the Atlanta school board] insisted for weeks that the board’s charter prohibits members from removing officers the way the five-member majority did in September.”

They probably still do insist as much. After all, the attorney general has agreed with them.

chillywilly

February 3rd, 2011
11:43 am

@Milton Man – How many kids have you molested lately? Didn’t I see you on NBC’s To Catch A Predator?

This is not about race. This is about a Superintendent who was placed at APS by the Chamber of Commerce, who heads a school system that is involved in the worst cheating scandal in Georgia history, who looked the other way while her administrators retaliated against employees, & one who participated in a coverup. SACS has no credibility and its only intent is to make money off of APS, satisfy the Chamber of Commerce, protect Beverly Hall, silence the Fab 5 Board members, and keep it business as usual for the business community.

Beverly Hall should be terminated immediately!!

Lake Claire Boy

February 3rd, 2011
11:50 am

I agree with Wingfield’s main point that SACS’ focus on board politics and friction instead of the source of the political tension — the CRCT cheating scandal — is way off base. SACS’ failure to directly address the cheating scandal in its report, or to completely address the history of the 5-4 board split due to disagreements over how to investigate the cheating scandal, is ridiculous — SACS ignores the elephant in the room. The actions of the supposedly “rogue” five on the board are not the problem — the cheating scandal and those who would sweep it under the rug, including the lame “blue ribbon panel” investigation, are the problem.

That being said, posters here who want to construe from this situation that the entirety of APS or public schools in general are a mess are also way off base. My kids attend Mary Lin elementary and Inman middle school which were both untouched by the CRCT cheating scandal, and which continue to provide excellent educations for my children without any effect whatsoever from the supposed dysfunction of the school board. My impression is that the same is true at many APS schools. There are great schools and great teachers in APS which I would bet compare favorably with Atlanta area private schools and teachers. So lay off bashing the entirety of APS and public schools in general.

Grady Parent

February 3rd, 2011
12:01 pm

SACS only accredits the high schools at APS. The CRCT test is only administered in K-8 schools. Also, that investigation is ongoing. The high school graduation investigation is also ongoing. That may be more pertinent than the CRCT mess.

I am losing hope with APS. Considering the school board continues to bicker at the recent board meetings, it does not look good.

Current BOE chair, Khaatim El and Courtney English are hosting an “Emergency Town Hall” meeting tonight. They have not invited other board members to participate. The divisiveness continues.

Candler Park Res.

February 3rd, 2011
12:22 pm

While Kyle has some good points that we not forget that there is an elephant in the room concerning the cheating scandal, the do gooders he refers to are not ingoring the problem. We have an immediate problem since SACS has said that we will be losing our accreditation by Sept. 30. We have been put in the position of putting out that fire first so that our junior class will not graduate from an unaccredited high school limiting colleges, universities and scholarships they could apply for. This is a major distraction we must deal with.

dylandawg

February 3rd, 2011
12:28 pm

wow, there sure are a lot of racists on here today…wow

tar and feathers party

February 3rd, 2011
12:48 pm

If you catch a thief in your house, call the police and have the man arrested, and it turns out the man is black, does that make you a racist? Just asking…..because that is what happened in Dekalb with the 100 million dollar school building disaster. Now the taxpayers have to pay for lawyers for the crooks, cause they were employed by the school board at the time.

Intown

February 3rd, 2011
12:56 pm

@Milton Man: the Atlanta school system is independent and does not impact any residents outside the City of Atlanta directly. This has nothing to do with a future Milton County born of unilateral secession with unprecedented boundaries (i.e. – inclusion of Sandy Springs which has ALWAYS been part of Fulton County and Roswell which was once part of Cobb County).

TruthBe

February 3rd, 2011
12:58 pm

The real problem of Atlanta and the school system is a very long time ago they stop hiring people based on qualifications at being the best suited for the jobs and hired for skin color only. That’s why almost ALL heads of departments in Atlanta are Blacks. Where is the diversity that most of the Black Politicans and Black Leaders talk about? Atlanta has become one of the most Black Racist Cities in America. After all during the Mayor’s Election Mr.Reed and the Black Community refer to Atlanta as a “Black City”. The schools are not interested in education they are mostly interested in teaching liberal progressive political correctness BS.

Kyle Wingfield

February 3rd, 2011
1:01 pm

Intown: I do have a 2-year-old, who obviously isn’t in school yet. Whether he attends an APS school, and for how long, will depend heavily on what happens in the system over the next few years. I attended nothing but public schools and would like my child to do the same. But APS has to shape up.

Candler Park Res.: You’re right about the system being on probation, but let’s not forget that it is on probation due to the report that focused only on the school-board politics. So, even if APS does what is prescribed by this report, the system itself still will not have addressed the real problem(s).

It's Obvious

February 3rd, 2011
1:12 pm

Nice coverage of a horrible political situation – the cheating has been rampant and any serious educator has figured the scores were inflated for all of Hall years ! The solution is for Chamber Williams, Annie Cramer, John Rice, Mark Elghart to get out of the APS schools business and let the parents of the system fix their problem with Hall and others ! This Board seeems to have it’s hands around the problem and it begins with Hall and all of her wrong doings.

chillywilly

February 3rd, 2011
1:20 pm

@TruthBe – You are sadly misinformed. The CFO at APS is WHITE. So is the Deputy CFO, the Controller, Accounting Manager, and the Grants Manager. NONE of them live in the City of Atlanta and their are some very shady things going on in Finance because of these WHITE folks. Many people believe that the WHITE CFO hired these folks because they are WHITE. It may also surprise you that the head of Employee Benefits & Director of Technology are also WHITE. Lastly, the investigator that Beverly Hall directed to conduct a secret investigation into cheating at two schools is also WHITE. I suggest you do your homework before posting garbage on this blog.

tar and feathers party

February 3rd, 2011
1:54 pm

Kyle, the best elementary schools in the state are within four miles of my house, Eastside Elementary, Mount Bethel Elementary, and Sope Creek Elementary – All are in East Cobb County. Most of the kids from those schools will go to Dickerson Middle School and Walton High School. You choose poorly when you purchased a home in the city of Atlanta. Check out the academic success of those five schools vs the schools in your current school district, just for laughs at your poor decision making skills.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

February 3rd, 2011
3:21 pm

The log in the eye of the APS is not board politics or the pervasive cheating scandal. Rather, it is the widespread academic underperformance characterizing many of its schools and many of its students.

Unfortunately, APS’ eye problem is not unique. Many of our state’s public school systems suffer from the same affliction.

jm

February 3rd, 2011
4:43 pm

Putting APS under the mayor is a fantastic idea…. it has worked miracles for other major city school systems. Education needs executive leadership to get it fixed. It will not happen at all, as with most things, when done by committee (APS BOE).