I will assume that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has the best of intentions with his recent idea that someone — namely, himself — should be given the power to appoint new members to the Atlanta school board. The board had a controversial change of leadership last year, and the system now faces the threat of losing its accreditation due to this internal politics (although, as I’ve noted before, a 5-4 split among elected officials is hardly the worst problem at Atlanta Public Schools).
That said, and to paraphrase Chief Justice John Roberts, the way to stop political interference in the school system is to stop political interference in the school system.
If the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting agency takes its own warning about board politics seriously, it cannot approve of what amounts to a mayoral board-packing plan — one that would have to be backed by the governor and General Assembly, no less.
Reed’s plan is no less political than a split among board members who were elected to do their jobs and see matters differently. That’s because, if his potential appointees were to have any impact on the problems SACS identified earlier this year, they would have to be tilted toward either the five-member majority or the four-member minority. Otherwise, the same schism would remain. So, one side will get an undemocratic boost at the expense of the other.
How is that any better than the current politicization?
The city and state governments have an interest in seeing APS succeed, but not to the point that they should run roughshod over the established electoral process. If Reed wants to lead a campaign to have all board members — it has to be all of them — recalled and fresh elections held, fine. The Georgia Constitution allows for recalls, and wiping the slate completely clean may not be a bad idea at this point.
What Atlanta needs is a group of strong board members who are independent enough to challenge the next superintendent when necessary, and to stand up to the outside interests that have only exacerbated the APS cheating scandal and the board’s split. It doesn’t need another group of board members beholden to someone other than the voters.
– By Kyle Wingfield