By John Schaffner
Two Buckhead residents who are parents of students enrolled in the Atlanta school system, have filed formal ethics complaints against five school board members.
In a Nov. 4 letter to Board of Education Executive Director/Administrator Howard W. Grant, Kim Kawach and Allison Adair charged the ethics violations are “related to the lack of adherence to the APS board’s charter, its policies and its protocols commencing on July 12, 2010.”
The letter asks for a waiver of the ethics board’s 60-day requirement for conducing and concluding ethics investigations, “due to the urgent and damaging nature of these ethical violations.”
The request is for the investigation to be conducted and concluded by Nov. 19.
This action by Kawach and Adair represents a new round in the struggle between the majority and minority factions on the Atlanta Board of Education.
It joins a legal suit by the four-member board minority against the five-member majority, appeals from government officials and parents to board members, and a threat from AdvancED and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that APS might lose its accreditation.
The ethics complaints – filed against board members Nancy Meister, Khaatim Sheerer El, Yolanda Johnson, Brenda Muhammad and Courtney English – were made against members of the board who took control of the board in September, replacing former chairwoman LaChandra Butler Burks and vice chairwoman Cecily Harsch-Kinnane with new chair El and vice chair Johnson.
Kawach, who has children in APS schools in Buckhead, owns Basil restaurant and is an active member of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, as chair of its public safety committee. Adair has been active in the community and PTA for years and her children attend Jackson and Sutton schools.
One violation of the school board’s charter claimed against the five board members by the two residents deaos with holding discussions “or otherwise communicated with vendors, or groups who are soliciting business from the school system” regarding that solicitation or matters related to the solicitation.
The complaint says the five violated the charter by “the employment of legal representation that also represents charter schools.”
That legal counsel is Glenn Delk, also an active member of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, who represented the five at a Fulton County Superior Court hearing on Oct. 29.
Judge John J. Goger on that day said he was not persuaded “at this time” that he should immediately act to reinstate the former board chairwoman and vice chairwoman. He set a Nov. 23 court hearing on a suit filed by the four members of the board minority.
The request for the ethics investigation of Sherrer El also claims he violated a section of board policy that states: “Any board member who has a financial interest in any contract or matter pending before the board shall disclose such interest, in writing, and such disclosure shall be entered on the records of the board. The board member also shall disqualify him/herself from participating in any decision or vote relating thereto.”
The letter says evidence for the violation is “El’s sharing the same household with State Rep. Rashad Taylor, who actually facilitated the legislative decision that was used to promote the changing” of the board’s policy that allowed a mid-term majority vote to change the chair and vice chair.
Taylor apparently helped the five get the interpretation of the legislation for the school board’s charter which is cited by the five-member majority.
That interpretation was not agreed to by Georgia’s Attorney General , the school system’s attorney and outside lawyers who reviewed it at the request of the school system’s counsel.
The ethics complaints from Kawach and Adair followed threats by AdvancED President and CEO Mark Elgart informed members of the school board on Nov. 1 that their capacity to govern is “in serious jeopardy” and that staff from one of the nation’s top accrediting agencies will be in the city school system Dec. 6 and Dec. 7 for a formal review.
SACS has the power to revoke school accreditation, which can impact scholarship money, including Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, federal funding, college acceptance and property values throughout Atlanta.
The team visiting Atlanta will be empowered to recommend a change in the school system’s accreditation status, up to and including probation or dropping the system altogether, Elgart said.
In a letter to Atlanta schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall and Burks on Oct. 26, Elgart wrote: “The board’s continued failure to adhere to its policies, as well as state and local laws, clearly supports a determination that the Board of Education of the Atlanta Public Schools is not meeting AdvancED Standard 2 concerning Governance and Leadership.
“If the board does not take corrective action to come into full compliance with AdvanceED Standard 2 by December 1, 2010, the Accreditation Division of AdvancED will make a recommendation to the AdvancED Georgia Council and the AdvancED Accreditation Commission concerning the accreditation status of the Atlanta Public Schools.”