SACS Report Criticizes APS Chairman El, Alisias Contract

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(APN) ATLANTA — AdvancED, the parent company for the K-12 division of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)–the division known as the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (CASI)–released its findings regarding its investigation of Atlanta Public Schools yesterday, January 18, 2011.

The firm has put APS on accredited probation, and has provided it with a list of targets to meet by September 30, 2011, according to a copy of its Report of the Special Review Team for Atlanta Public Schools, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

The review took place December 09 and 10, 2010.

The report focuses on the inability of the APS Board to govern effectively in recent months, a situation the report says is exacerbated by Board Member Courtney English’s misuse of an APS credit card and by Board Chairman Khaatim El’s improper procurement of services by the Alisias PR firm.

The report barely mentions the CRCT cheating scandal that has received the most media attention.  As many sources have told APN over the last couple months, SACS was not interested in the cheating scandal, as it was in the Board’s inability to govern.

Atlanta Progressive News has reported almost nearly exclusively on the numerous irregularities and ethical issues surrounding Alisias’s work for the Board majority and relatedly, for Glenn Delk, a pro-privatization Buckhead attorney who has assisted the Board majority.  This may because other some media outlets in town are entangled with, or afraid of Alisias, or are simply supportive of its pro-privatization agenda.

APN provided SACS with detailed information regarding Alisias via email, which was forwarded to the Special Review Team for APS.

In its report, AdvancED criticized the Alisias debacle, and noted that Chairman El had appeared to approve work done by the agency without approval.

“Although the Board of Education has established policies and procedures to provide for the effective operation of the schools, the Board chair circumvented such policies by improperly placing a procurement item on the Board’s agenda for approval,” the report noted.

“The agenda item was a contract for the development of a communication plan by a communications vendor, Alisias Group, despite the fact that this contract had not been properly vetted according to established policy and procedures.  Additionally, evidence indicates that the chair authorized work to be done by the Alisias Group prior to Board knowledge or approval,” the report noted.

“This issue of not following policy and micromanagement by members of the Board threatens the recognition and preservation of the executive, administrative, and leadership authority of the administrative head of the system,” the report noted.

As previously reported by APN, the Alisias group covertly produced PR materials and press releases for four out of five members of the Board Majority, including El, English, Yolanda Johnson, and Nancy Meister.

Alisias allegedly had a PR contract with Delk, who had represented the Board majority legally in the governance dispute, as well as English in his ethics complaint.

The work for the majority was allegedly being done at the direction of Delk, but also with the knowledge and approval of the Board Members, according to Rick White, CEO of Alisias, who spoke with APN.  Board Members El, English, and Meister, however, denied to APN any knowledge of the work allegedly being done on their behalf.

El had placed a formal contract for Alisias PR on the APS Board agenda, but removed it after controversy ensued.

Alisias had insisted that its work for the Board majority, which had occurred prior to the proposed APS contract, was done pro bono, which in itself raises ethical questions.  But it may not even be true: APN later obtained a copy of an invoice of over 20 pages detailing copious hours of work done for the majority by Alisias.

The invoice was submitted to APS by Delk.  So despite the fact that the formal contract was rejected, and despite the fact that Alisias said its work was pro bono, APS still received a bill for the work.

The report went on to criticize El for running the Board in a near-dictatorial fashion.

“Also impacting the effective operation of the system is the current chairman’s leadership style,” the report said.  “Interviewees stated, ‘The 5, which includes the chairman, have a lack of understanding or willful disregard for good boardmanship.’  Additionally, it was stated that, ‘The Chair is responsible for causing much of the controversy.'”

“Also stated multiple times by various interviewees was the assessment that the chair has personally staged media events, without Board approval or knowledge, and that such media events were willfully designed to promote his personal agenda,” the report said.

“It will be difficult for the APS Board to build public support for the district when board members act in their individual capacity outside of board approval.  The dysfunctional nature of the Board can be seen in behaviors such as in-fighting, bickering, failure to adhere to the system Charter, failure to follow in-house legal advice, failure to follow appropriate procurement procedures, and using valuable board meeting time to promote private agendas.  These actions and behaviors, coupled with its lack of public focus on improving the learning opportunities for students, has resulted in a situation that works against building public trust,” the report said.

In regards to English’s mis-use of the APS credit card, the report reveals that it was the second time he had done it, and that he already knew it was wrong.

Overall, AdvancED said that APS was in violation of its accreditation policies, specifically AdvancED Standard 2: Governance and Leadership.

This standard requires: “The system operates under the jurisdiction of a governing board that: Establishes policies and procedures that provide for the effective operation of the school; Recognizes and preserves the executive, administrative, and leadership prerogatives of the administrative head of the school; Ensures compliance with applicable local, state, and federal laws, standards, and regulations.”

AdvancED requires that APS take the following actions by its next review in September 2011: (1) develop a long-term plan to communicate with and engage stakeholders in working with APS to improve education; (2) secure and use the services of a trained, impartial mediator; (3) ensure all Board member actions are aligned with Board policies; (4) review and refine policies; (5) develop and implement a transparent process for selecting a new superintendent; and (6) work with the State of Georgia to address any inconsistencies with the Atlanta Independent School System charter.

APS must submit a progress report to AdvancED in May 2011, and another two weeks before its next review.

El did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

(END / 2011)

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