By John S. Sherman,  Fulton County Taxpayers Association

There is much misinformation about the Atlanta Board of Education and the fact that the nine-member board is divided 5-4.

On Jan. 17, the divided board caused the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACS) to place the Atlanta Public Schools under probation. On May 14-15, the board held a two-day retreat at which state mediators attempted to overcome the divide. On May 15, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an editorial headlined “Timeout Over; Time For Change is Now.” The state Legislature recently authorized the governor to replace all or part of the board.

The Taxpayers Foundation has been carefully following the origin of the 5-4 split in the Atlanta Board of Education, attending most board meetings since the massive cheating was announced.

In fairness to the five-member majority, the taxpayers should be informed of the true facts :

1. On Feb. 10, 2010, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement announced that 256,779 wrong-to-right erasures occurred in 58 Atlanta schools in the 2009 state achievement tests known as “CRCT.”

2. On Feb. 23 and Feb. 24, then-Chairwoman LaChandra Butler Burks – without the knowledge or approval of the Atlanta Board Of Education – met privately with Sam Williams, President of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and John Rice, Chairman of the Atlanta Education Fund, to plan and implement a course of action that is solely the function of the Atlanta Board of Education.

3. On Feb. 26, Butler Burks was appointed by the Metro Atlanta Chamber as a member of the Chamber’s Blue Ribbon Task Force formed to investigate the massive cheating. The task force’s first meeting was March 3. Butler-Burks attended without the knowledge or approval of the Atlanta Board of Education.

4. On March 3, Butler Burks voted to commission the firm of Caveon Testing to investigate the massive cheating. This was done without the knowledge or the approval of the Atlanta school board.

5. It was after Butler Burks met with the chamber and the Atlanta Education Fund, after Butler-Burks was appointed by the chamber as a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force and after the first two meetings of the task force that Butler Burks finally informed the school board. By that time, it was too late for any input from the board.

6. During the investigation by Caveon Testing, the Atlanta school board was not kept informed in any manner. It was only after the Blue Ribbon report was completed that the members of the board were informed.

7. In the words of one of the five-member majority, “In an effort to achieve honesty, transparency and accountability, it was deemed necessary to initiate a leadership change. Decisions were being made without the knowledge of the entire Board.”

These facts are confirmed in a Feb. 26 email from Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta chamber, that was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Aug. 18. The email concludes: “We will let the facts from this investigation guide us in our support of Dr. [Beverly] Hall.”

As a direct result of the duplicitous actions of Butler Burks, the five-member majority of the Atlanta Board of Education – Khaatim El, Yolanda Johnson, Brenda Muhammad, Nancy Meister and Courtney English – voted on Sept. 13 to remove her as chairwoman, electing Khaatim El in her place, with Yolanda Johnson as vice-chairwoman.

The reaction of the five-member majority of the board was expressed by Khaatim El: “I was shocked and floored to find out about the decision that had been made before this board had a chance to formulate a plan about how we wanted to move forward.”

I interviewed each of the five-member majority, each assuring me that they were unaware at the time that Butler Burks was meeting with Williams in February to develop a response to the massive cheating and was appointed by Williams to be a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

On Aug. 20, the governor rejected the chamber’s Blue Ribbon Task Force report as “inadequate and incomplete” and authorized a state investigation of the 256,779 wrong-to-right erasures in 58 Atlanta schools. On Oct. 7, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a federal probe.

In a lawsuit instituted by Butler Burks and her three colleagues, Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, Emmett Johnson and Reuben McDaniel, Superior Court Judge John J. Goger, at a hearing on Oct. 29, declined to reinstate LaChandra Butler Burks as chairwoman.

Since Oct. 29, Butler Burks and her three colleagues have been obstructing, impeding and hindering the progress of the majority at every meeting.

They have charged the five-member majority of violating school ethics, but the School Ethics Commission dismissed the charges. The Taxpayers Foundation feels that the five-member majority of the Atlanta Board of Education should be commended for its courageous leadership. The foundation urges the governor to remove Butler Burks and her three colleagues from the Atlanta Board of Education for unreasonably obstructing, impeding and hindering the board’s progress.

John S. Sherman is president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation.