By John Schaffner

The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods struggled at its Sept. 9 meeting with what its role should be in trying to improve the Atlanta Public Schools system and making school management more accountable for “poor student performance,” test-score-cheating scandals, and the system’s costly operations, largely paid for by Buckhead residents.

Buckhead attorney Glenn Delk, who represents Brookhaven at BCN and heads the council education committee, urged passage of a resolution that could allow taxpayers to pressure Atlanta school decision makers into considering that the management and operations of local schools be bid to outside contractors.

It was a continuation of a discussion that began at the organization’s August meeting about what the BCN should do to address the allegation of widespread cheating at Atlanta Public Schools on the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).

At the end of a somewhat long and at times heated discussion, the BCN members voted to approve the creation of an education roundtable that would seek participation and input from residents across the city in how to address seeking positive change in the school system.

Delk wanted the BCN to pass the resolution and a motion to send the resolution on to school board members Nancy Meister and Courtney English for them to present the resolution to the school board. Ultimately, anything recommended by the local council would need to be approved by the school board.

Delk, who said he simply copied a resolution that was passed by the Los Angeles school system, said forcing the APS board to put out for bid the operation of Atlanta’s schools could produce $200 million to $400 million annually in taxpayer savings.

Delk said the APS presently spends more than $13,000 a year per pupil and $888 million a year on facilities. Thus, the public is spending essentially $18,000 a year total for each student.

Delk told the group the two main reasons for doing this are: fairness and equality, because parents need the right to choice, and to “save a whole lot in property taxes.”

But not every one of the 40 or more people attending the three-hour meeting at the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Buckhead bought into the concept of Delk’s resolution.

Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association and secretary of BCN, said he thought this action would move beyond the mission and purview of the organization because most of the schools in the system are not located within Buckhead and none of the 58 schools cited in the cheating scandal were in Buckhead.

He suggested BCN could partner with other groups in various parts of the city in an effort to improve the city’s public schools, but should not attempt to dictate to other parts of the city how the schools should be run.

Some BCN members said Buckhead residents should be concerned about the issue not only because of the inequity of education at 58 Atlanta public schools implicated in the cheating scandal, but because the community’s property taxes foot the largest portion of the bill for the system.

“From a fairness and quality standpoint, parents of children forced to attend the system in which there’s widespread cheating, need the opportunity to choose someone else if they want,” Delk said. “From a personal, selfish perspective, you guys could save a lot more in property taxes.”

Kim Kahwach, who represents the Buckhead Forest neighborhood, agreed something needs to be done to improve the management of Atlanta Public Schools, but she was not convinced that the program used in Los Angeles or proposals out of Chicago are the answer for Atlanta.

“APS has not shown us any sign that they are able to show any leadership in what they are doing,” said Kahwach. “We can go in a lot of different ways into governing our schools. But the leadership at this time is not working.” “The tax dollar is relevant since $900 million is being spent on these students and you could argue that 45 to 50 percent comes out of Buckhead,” said BCN president Jim King.

In a related matter, Zone 2 Community Prosecutor Hannah Chung reported that Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard had decided to wait and see what Gov. Sonny Perdue’s special investigators determine about the APS cheating allegations before determining whether to have his office investigate possible criminal violations.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.