By John Schaffner
Buckhead’s representative on the Atlanta school board apparently is being pressured by the parents of the children she represents to do whatever she must to ensure the accreditation of Atlanta Public Schools is not jeopardized by the political split on the board.
According to more than one parent active in the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools organization, which represents the Buckhead schools in board member Nancy Meister’s district, Meister told the group at its Oct. 27 meeting that Khaatim Sherrer El will step down from the position of board chair if that action will preserve the accreditation of APS.
One member of NAPPS, Kim Kahwach, said that the possible loss of accreditation is the topic of discussion among all parents who she knows.
Kahwach said Meister is being counseled to act to ensure that the system does not lose its accreditation, as has been threatened by the CEO of AdvancED, an accrediting agency, if the board majority does not reverse its actions of September and reinstate the original chair and vice chair of the board by Dec. 1.
A lawsuit one group of board members filed against the other faction over control of the board “will certainly be appealed and could continue for a year or more,” Kahwach said.
“In the meantime, the school system is in jeopardy,” she said. “We need to make sure Nancy and the other board members take whatever actions are necessary to stabilize the situation right now.”
Meister did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.
Kahwach, who was at the Oct. 27 meeting of NAPPS, said several members of the organization told her that Meister said El would step down in order to preserve the school system. That, however, is not in line with statements by El. Following the Oct. 27 meeting, El said he was willing to continue the fight in court to retain control of the board chairmanship.
According to NAPPS president Cynthia Briscoe Brown, “Each board member committed individually to using his or her best efforts to resolve their differences before Dec. 1 in order to satisfy SACS’ concerns. Our minutes do not reflect, and I personally do not recall, any board member making any promises on behalf of any other member.”
As far as a NAPPS position on the board fight, Brown said, “NAPPS is a forum to support and promote the North Atlanta District schools and their administrations, teachers, families and students. NAPPS does not fill a political or partisan role. NAPPS has three BOE members who represent our constituents — LaChandra Butler-Burks, Nancy Meister, and Reuben McDaniel — and NAPPS has not discussed their individual positions in the current board dispute with any of them.”
In an email to the Buckhead Reporter, Brown wrote, “Personally, I hope and expect that all the BOE will resolve their differences and refocus their energies on ensuring that our children, and children throughout the city of Atlanta, receive the best possible education, and I think the NAPPS community would agree.”
El and others in the five-member board majority were in Fulton Superior Court on Oct. 29 in a face-off with the four-member board minority before Judge John J. Goger. 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. The judge set a final hearing for Nov. 23. Four members of the school board filed a lawsuit Oct. 28 seeking to overturn the appointments last month of a new chair and vice chair.
“We filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court seeking to return the Atlanta School System to compliance with state law,” board members Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, LaChandra Butler Burks, Reuben McDaniel and Emmett Johnson wrote in an open letter to the community Oct. 28. “We deeply regret having to take this action, but we believe that it is imperative to do so, given our responsibility to the students of Atlanta Public Schools.
“Three different legal entities – the system attorney, an outside expert whose opinion was attained by the system attorney, and the state Attorney General – have all advised the board that the recent actions taken to repeal board policy and replace the chair and vice-chair were in violation of the state charter governing APS. We were also informed by SACS, the agency that accredits APS high schools, that the enactment of board policies not in compliance with our state charter could have a negative impact on our accreditation status.”
In September, a majority of the school board, in a series of 5-4 votes, changed board procedures and ousted board chair Burks and vice-chair Harsch-Kinnane with a new chair, Khaatim Sherrer El, and vice chair, Yolanda Johnson. Meister was among those voting with the majority.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also stepped into the fray on Oct. 28 and told school board members they should act immediately to reinstate the original board chair and vice chair and stop “undermining the best interests of our students by risking the accreditation of the entire school system.”
He told the board members, “Enough is enough.”
His statement had come after two days of actions in which AdvancEd CEO and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, known as SACS, warned Atlanta’s public school system that it risks losing accreditation if its bickering board cannot comply with the law.
Following the court ruling, AdvanceED 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 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.
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.”