The chairman of Buckhead’s largest neighborhood group has a radical response to what he says is a racially and politically motivated decision to remove leadership at North Atlanta High.
He says Buckhead should become Georgia’s newest county.
“This is a fairly radical idea and I’ve not brought it up because I didn’t want to disrupt the community and I didn’t want to disrupt the politics of the community, but I think at this point it’s time has come. It needs to be vetted and it may be a solution and solves a lot of problems,” Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods Chairman Jim King said during the council’s regular meeting on Oct. 11. “I think based on the Milton County legislation … we could create a county of Buckhead.”
King said Atlanta Public Schools’ recent decision to remove North Atlanta High School’s leadership team prompted him to dust off the idea he said he’s had for several years. He said it would allow Buckhead to have its own police force and, more importantly, its own schools.
King said the new county would still be part of Atlanta and he said removing Buckhead’s tax money from Atlanta Schools would make the school system more efficient.
But it would also carve off another part of Fulton County, creating political boundaries around wealthy and white residents. After Republicans took control of the state Legislature in 2005, Sandy Springs was the first community to break away from Fulton. Others quickly followed, with the most recent addition being the City of Brookhaven. A federal lawsuit brought by minority voters seeking to revoke the charters of these new cities has so far been unsuccessful.
New counties are a different matter. A similar proposal to resurrect the former Milton County in North Fulton has stalled.
State Rep. Edward Lindsey, the Republican majority whip, attended the meeting and told King that a majority of voters in the entire county – the predominantly white north and the predominantly minority south – would have to approve any new counties. He said only north Fulton voters would be likely to vote for a new county and any attempts to exclude other voters would run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act.
“It’s the same problem with Milton County,” Lindsey said. “In other words, we’re taking away their right to vote. Given the fact the area losing its right to vote is largely a minority population it would be construed as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
Lindsey proposed an alternative he called a “parent-trigger” solution. He said he plans to introduce legislation that would make it easier for parents to convert their public schools into a charter school, a model that allows for more local control while demanding higher accountability. Lindsey said he is also considering legislation that would allow residents to vote to turn the entire North Atlanta cluster of schools into charter schools
Glenn Delk, an attorney representing ousted North Atlanta High principal Mark MyGrant, attended the meeting and proposed another alternative. He said community members should work to elect five school board members who will transform APS into a portfolio model. The plan would essentially outsource operation of the schools, allowing private companies to bid on contracts to run them. The model is being pursued in different cities around the country, including New Orleans and New York.
Lindsey said he is concerned by Atlanta Schools’ decision to overhaul North Atlanta High. Superintendent Erroll Davis has said his decision was based on the school’s academic performance, but new data has called his claims into question. Specifically he said the state was threatening to take over the school under provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. The state Department of Education has disputed those claims.
The changes enraged the community and Lindsey said parents need more local control over their schools.
“I keep trying to impress this on the Atlanta School Board, folks in north Atlanta by and large have a choice,” Lindsey said. “Most of the people who live in north Atlanta could chose to send their children to private schools. But fortunately a large number have chosen to send their children to public schools.”
King said the APS decision requires a strong response from the community.
“This community you can’t ignore,” King said. “They’re thumbing their noses at us and from everything thing I can tell by what went on the other day, it’s driven by race politics and class. Does that sound like Atlanta? It sounds like Atlanta. It sounds like the bad characteristics of Atlanta, the city. And our city is supposed to be past that. And there’s also some political ambition driving some of this nonsense, and I think people are just tired of it, absolutely tired of it.”