By John Schaffner

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker has issued a non-binding opinion stating the election of new a board chair and vice chair of the Atlanta Board of Education and the policy change that made it happen violate the board’s charter.

New board Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El said the board must discuss as a whole how it will respond to the opinion by the attorney general.

The board could reverse the appointment of Sherrer El or do nothing at all. The board is scheduled to meet Oct. 18. If the majority of the board of education ignores the Oct. 7 opinion of the attorney general, the dispute may end up in a courtroom.

“In the end, state law either supports the concept of majority rule or it doesn’t,” Sherrer El said in an e-mail.

Five members of the nine-member board of education voted to change board procedures and elect a new chair and vice chair in September. In addition to Sherrer El, the five members included Yolanda Johnson, Buckhead representative Nancy Meister, Courtney English and Brenda Muhammad.

But the attorney general said the actions by the five board members in electing a new chair, Sherrer El, and vice chair, Johnson, to replace  LaChandra Butler Burks and Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, leaves the current leadership and entire board presently in limbo.
The five-person majority relied on an opinion from the legislative counsel of the General Assembly, but that interpretation of the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) charter was not shared by the school system’s lawyer or outside independent counsel.
The attorney general’s opinion bolsters the position of board members Burks, Harsch-Kinnane, Reuben McDaniel III, and Emmett Johnson, who contended in a joint statement that the change in policy that allowed the leadership shift “violated the law and is detrimental to the well-being of Atlanta’s students.”

Baker’s opinion essentially said that the board’s governing charter, last revised in 2003 and approved by the state Legislature, provides six specific situations when a local chairman or vice chairman may be removed from those positions and none applied to this case.

(Click to read Guest Column by Khaatim Sherrer El that appears on the Commentary page of the Oct. 8-21 edition of the Buckhead Reporter.)

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.