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Monday, August 16, 2010

Atlanta school board meeting is scene of coup attempt — UPDATE

Dr. Beverly Hall
  • Dr. Beverly Hall
Over the weekend, CL was alerted that certain members of the Atlanta Board of Education were planning to take a surprise vote at today's meeting to overthrow Chairwoman LaChandra Butler Burks. After making a few discreet calls, we weren't able to independently verify the planned coup, which is why you didn't read it here earlier today.

As it turns out, the tip was solid. There was a heated debate at today's work session over whether a simple majority of the nine-member board can legally oust its chairman, who's elected by internal vote for a two-year term, or whether a super-majority is needed. In other words, are five votes enough or do they need six?

From what insiders tell us, the potential coup was weeks in the making and had been the subject of numerous behind-the-scenes discussions and memos between school system lawyers, outside legal counsel and the state House legislative counsel, which wrote the ABE's governance law.

If all goes as planned (the board is in executive session as I write this), Burk will be voted out later on this evening and a new chairman installed. No prediction as to who that will be.

There's a bitter division among board members over the CRCT cheating scandal. A bloc of four members, led by Burks, is chomping at the bit to accept a report of the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission that largely vindicates Superintendent Beverly Hall and lays the blame for the cheating on the proverbial "few bad apples."

Here's Hall's own interpretation of the report:

The Blue Ribbon Commission Report makes it clear: "The investigative team did not find any data or other evidence, nor were there qualified allegations made, that there was any district-wide or centrally coordinated effort to manipulate the 2009 CRCT scores and outcomes of students at 58 APS schools."

If we are guilty of anything, we are guilty of demanding high standards of our students, teachers, and principals — and unfortunately in any large organization, a few people may cheat to try to meet those demands.

We will ferret them out and the consequences will be severe.

The other five ABE members are skeptical of the report and recently voted not to accept its findings. We're told they want to replace Burks as chair in order to delve further into the issue and, frankly, make preparations for Hall's replacement. The superintendent's contract expires next summer and it's difficult to imagine she'd be re-upped after this fiasco.

But the most-pressing question is whether Hall will be asked to step down. If the five skeptical board members are able to take control, the fur could really start flying.

UPDATE — An earlier version of this article mistakenly said the state Attorney General's office had been asked to render an opinion about the ABE's governance rules.

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