By John Schaffner
A variety of elements apparently coming together in the next two to three weeks could have a major impact on the Atlanta Public Schools system and the Board of Education.
On Nov. 23, the five-member majority of the Atlanta Board of Education, which wrested leadership of the board from the other four members in September, will appear before Fulton County Superior Court Judge John J. Goger and defend themselves against a lawsuit brought by the other four members of the board.
The minority filed the lawsuit Oct. 28 seeking to overturn the actions of the majority that resulted in unseating board chair LaChandra Butler Burks and vice chair Cecily Harsch-Kinnane and replacing them with Khaatim Sheerer El as chair and Yolanda Johnson as vice chair
Meanwhile, AdvancED President and CEO Mark Elgart informed 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, the agency, 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 the midst of all that, two Buckhead women with children in public schools, Kim Kahwach and Allison Adair, filed ethics complaints Nov. 4 against the board majority. The Board of Education’s Ethics Committee was to have met on Nov. 18 (the day after this paper went to press) to decide whether to launch an investigation into those allegations of ethics violations. (Check www.reporternewspapers.net online for updated news.)
All of the controversy centers around actions taken in September, when the majority, in a series of 5-4 votes, changed board procedures and replaced board chair Burks and vice-chair Harsch-Kinnane with a new chair, El, and vice chair, Johnson. Board members Nancy Meister, Brenda Muhammad and Courtney English round out the majority.
In addition to Burks and Harsch-Kinnane, the minority includes Reuben McDaniel III and Emmett Johnson.
The question of the legitimacy of the way the board leadership was changed has raised questions about the board’s ability to effectively run the school system and whether or not decisions made by this board are valid.
That is partially what may be decided in Fulton Superior Court Nov. 23. However, either losing side in the court’s decision could appeal that decision and the appeals could go on for a year or more. The board members are elected to four-year terms.
El and others in the majority went before Judge Goger on Oct. 29 in a face-off with the minority. Goger declined that day to temporarily reinstate the board’s former chairperson and vice chairperson, saying he was not persuaded “at this time” that their replacement was illegal. Thus, the final hearing in the case was set for Nov. 23.
Amid all the legal actions, ethics complaints and threats from SACS, there seems to be a possibility that El may just step down as board chair and bring a halt to the wrangling.
In an earlier Reporter story, Kawach, who is a member of North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools (NAPPS) said she heard that Board Member Meister said at the group’s Oct. 27 meeting that El would be willing to step down “without conditions in order to save the school system.”
Since then, NAPPS member Judy Bozarth sent an email to the Repoter stating: “I was there and also heard her (Meister) say that to the entire group.” She said El also confirmed that.