Atlanta Council Opposes APS Board Replacement Law

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(APN) ATLANTA — The City Council of Atlanta voted Monday, May 02, 2011, to express their opposition to SB 79, which Republican Governor Nathan Deal has signed, and which gives Deal the power to recommend removal of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education members.

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The resolution states that the Council is not supportive of the law and asks the Governor not to implement it, in other words, not to carry it out, even though he already has signed it.

The Council voted thirteen to two, with Howard Shook (District 7) and Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11) opposed to the resolution.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Council Members CT Martin (District 10), Felicia Moore (District 9), Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large), Ivory Young (District 3), and Joyce Sheperd (District 12).

Mayor Kasim Reed supported SB 79, so he may veto the resolution.  If that occurs, there appears to be enough votes to override his veto.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, SB 79 states that there shall commence a hearing if, after July 01, 2011, a school system such as APS has not come off of probationary status.

It is clear that APS will not be off probation by then; and it is not widely understood that this means there will definitely be a state hearing regarding whether to recommend removal of all nine members to the Governor shortly after July 01, 2011.

APN has also obtained clarification that the Governor’s understanding of the law is that he can either remove “all” Members, or none at all, because the law says “all,” not “all or some.”

If the Governor removed all nine members, he would appoint interim replacements.  Meanwhile, each of the nine could appeal to be re-appointed individually to their seats.  And in 2012, voters would get to elect Board members again, a year earlier than would otherwise be the base.  [Presumably, there would be another regularly scheduled APS BOE election in 2013]

Of great concern is whether the Governor would appoint nine members with a radical pro-privatization agenda.  Beth Beskin, one of the Governor’s liaisons to APS, is a likely candidate to replace at least one of the members; Beskin is a strong charter schools advocate.

“It’s regretable the rights of the elected school board members are being put in jeopardy in this manner,” Councilman Martin said.

Councilwoman Moore said she was concerned about what she sees as a nationwide problem of states taking away power from localities.

“This is not an isolated incident… In the State of Ohio, the Governor has been given authority… to dismantle school districts entirely if he so chooses,” Moore said.

“In Michigan, and this is where the slippery slope starts… they have passed what’s called the emergency manager law.  That governor has been given the authority to take over cities.  And they have taken over Benton Harbor,” Moore said.

“If the Governor in Michigan deems that for whatever reason a local city or system is not fiscally responsible or not fiscally viable, he has the authority then to go in, take over that city, appoint one person… that person would essentially run the City,” Moore said.

“Citizens, while I understand people are concerned, but sometimes the cure that you’re trying to have can actually kill you,” Moore said.

“Do you want the ability to elect the people to serve you?  And do you want to be able to exercise that ability to remove the people whom you have elected to serve you either by not voting for them or going through the process of a recall?” Moore asked.

“Or, do you want another elected official to appoint an unelected official with no checks, no balances, maybe no connection to you or your interests… to take the place of your representatives?” Moore asked.

Shook said he voted no because he promised to represent his constituents, and he was certain the people he represented in Buckhead were in support of the Governor having the ability to appoint APS Board Members.

“This is one of those few times when I am frankly not in sync with the people I swore to come here and represent.  I’m gravely concerned by what I view as a hostile takeover of a democratically-elected body,” Shook said.

Former Councilwoman Gloria Tinubu, who is now a Democratic State legislator in the Georgia House of Representatives–having been elected to former State Rep. Georganna Sinkfield’s seat–spoke at the Council meeting to urge Council Members to support the resolution opposing the bill.

AdvancED/SACS CASI opposed SB 79, arguing that it was counterproductive.  The agency argued during the State legislative session that replacing APS Board Members would only cause further disruption and set back the clock for coming off of accreditation probation even further.

Dekalb County also passed a resolution opposing SB 79 prior to its passage.  The County was particularly concerned by a provision which would reduce the size of the Dekalb County School Board from nine members to seven.

(END / 2011)

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