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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

School board coup delayed after Kasim sweeps in

The embattled Dr. Hall awaits her fate during Monday's school board meeting
  • Joeff Davis
  • The embattled Dr. Hall awaits her fate during Monday's school board meeting
Monday's marathon Atlanta Board of Education session — one marked by a contentious, hours-long tug-of-war as five members effectively tried to seize control of the board from Chairwoman LaChandra Butler Burks — was capped by a dramatic late-night appearance by Mayor Kasim Reed that quickly defused the insurgency.

As the clock ticked past 10 p.m., board members sat quietly in their seats or milled about, officially in recess, waiting for the mayor to arrive. Although the audience had thinned considerably, operatives representing both sides in the showdown huddled in small groups.

Finally, Reed arrived and approached the podium to talk the five members down from the ledge.

"The brand you have all worked to build is at risk right now," he explained in calling for a "cooling-off period."

His measured words did the trick. The motion to change the number of votes needed to, among other things, replace board officers was postponed pending the request of legal advice from state Attorney General Thurbert Baker. The measure was intended to reduce the number of board votes needed to effect governance changes — such as deposing the chairman, firing the superintendent, etc. — from a super-majority to a simple majority. In the past, six of the board’s nine members would have to vote to boot an officer. Under the proposed rules change, it would take just five.

Opponents of the measure, who included members of the business community and the board’s own legal counsel, feared the rule change would prompt an inquiry from SACS, the accrediting organization that can make or break schools systems (and in the process, local governments and the magnet and anchor for businesses).

State Sen. Vincent Fort, Rep. Rashad Taylor and others, however, had come to support the motion, believing it would send a signal that the school board wasn't willing to allow the developing CRCT cheating scandal to be swept under the rug or blamed on a handful of rogue educators. Taylor had helped board member Khateem El obtain an opinion from the state House legislative counsel that said the governance change was legal.

But Reed explained to CL after the meeting ended just shy of 11:30 p.m. that he interceded in order to prevent Atlanta from becoming another Clayton County.

First off, he said, the vote would've violated the ABE's charter, which stipulates such actions require a super-majority — and which Reed helped author as a legislator. If the board had passed such an illegal measure, he said, it would've had a severe destabilizing effect on the system. Even if Superintendent Beverly Hall doesn't lose her job over the cheating scandal, she's due to retire next year. What qualified, A-list school administrator would be willing to join a system whose board has the power to rip up the superintendent's contract on a simple majority vote?

Reed said his actions were not intended to derail the cheating investigation and, indeed, a few minutes after the governance motion was shelved, the board voted unanimously to accept the white-washy report by the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission. At the last ABE meeting, the five members behind the abortive coup had refused to accept the report.

Although tired board members weren't eager to stick around and discuss their votes, it appears that the acceptance of the report is seen as a necessary step toward getting state investigators to further delve into the details of the scandal. Let the chips fall where they may.

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