By John Schaffner
The divided Atlanta Board of Education danced around the issue of compromise at a recent meeting and seemed ready to fight rather than reverse earlier actions that led to a 5-4 vote to change the board’s leadership.
The divided board could be headed toward legal action to settle a dispute between members after refusing to undo the controversial September votes that changed board procedures and allowed for voting out the old chair and vice chair.
Former board chairwoman LaChandra Butler Burks and vice chairwoman Cecily Harsch-Kinnane were replaced by the September vote with new chairman Khaatim Sherrer El and new vice chairwoman Yolanda Johnson.
At the Oct. 14 meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, board members indicted they have been talking to attorneys and likely wil file lawsuits to reverse the vote that changed the board leadership.
In an unofficial opinion Oct. 7, Georgia State Attorney General Thurbert Baker said those actions by the five-member majority on the board violated the state charter that governs the Atlanta School Board.
Board member Reuben McDaniel, an at-large member who lives in Buckhead, said the issue is one of board leadership and “we will work through that in due course over probably the next 45 days.”
“We are not 5-4 on everything,” he said. “Frankly, we as board members want to make sure that citizens, the students and APS (Atlanta Public Schools) runs smoothly, and we are all committed to that.”
Baker’s opinion, issued at the board’s request, essentially said the board’s governing charter, last reviewed in 2003, provides six specific situations when a board chairperson or vice chairperson can be removed in the middle of a two-year term and he felt none of those reasons applied in this case.
The charter required a two-thirds vote to change the officers. However, a five-member simple majority of the board voted to change that requirement and then voted to change the officers in September.
At the board’s Oct. 18 meeting, Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvanceEd, warned that the series of 5-4 votes that resulted in the controversial policy changes and replacement of board leadership “that if you violate the state charter and you stay the course, it will cause problems with your accreditation.”
AdvanceEd is the parent organization of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, through which Atlanta accredits its high schools.
The four dissenting members of the board – Burks, Harsch-Kinnane, Emmett Johnson and McDaniel – have repeatedly called for the takeover of the board by the five-member majority to be invalidated, which was again denied by a 5-4 vote on Oct. 18.
The five-member majority supported on Oct. 18 changes aimed at diluting the power of board officers, which member Courtney English proposed to “move beyond the leadership issue.”
However, the board’s attorney said that action would violate board policy.
English’s requested that the board consider changes that would take much of the responsibility now solely in the hands of the chairman and put them instead in the hands of a three-member governance committee. No votes were taken on those policy changes.