APS Board Prepares for OSD, Declines to Oppose State Takeovers
(APN) ATLANTA — On Monday, August 10, 2015, the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education (APS BOE) voted to hire Gov. Nathan Deal’s soon-to-depart policy advisor, Erin Hames, as a consultant to help prevent a state takeover of schools in the district, a likelihood presented by the legislation of which Hames herself was an architect.
In crafting legislation that actualized Governor Nathan Deal’s vision of an “Opportunity School District” Hames, the Governor’s soon-to-depart policy adviser, effectively designed herself a new job in Atlanta.
Deal’s office had announced Hames’s departure only hours before.
As Atlanta Progressive News previously reported, the Opportunity School District (OSD) is a plan to create a statewide school district, run by a Governor-appointed superintendent who would have the power to take control of so-called “failing” schools and either operate them, hand them over to charter operators, share governance with the local board, or close them.
This unelected official would have the power to fire and hire principals, faculty, and staff; and to control school finances, curriculum, and all other school operations.
The plan is based on a model pioneered in New Orleans, Louisiana, that has effectively privatized that city’s public education system.
In order for the plan to take effect, voters would need to approve a constitutional amendment. In March, The Georgia General Assembly passed legislation to allow for that referendum to take place in November 2016.
Some Georgia school districts have taken a stance against the OSD.
Philip Lanoue, Superintendent of Clarke County Schools and 2015 National Superintendent of the Year, authored an op-ed for Online Athens, the website of the Athens Banner-Herald newspaper, critiquing the OSD proposal.
“To take away democratic principles is monumental and allows Georgia communities to be stripped of their identities as having primary responsibility of educating their children,” he wrote.
Last week, rather than critiquing the policy, APS released a statement that more or less accepted the OSD as an eventuality and prioritized turning around schools so that they are no longer eligible for takeover.
“The Board and the superintendent believe that maintaining local control of education is critical to our democracy. They also have a collective sense of urgency around implementing a strategy for APS schools to improve at a pace that ensures these schools are removed from the potential state take-over list—should voters ultimately approve the OSD,” APS stated.
APS students and their parents, along with members of Rise Up Georgia, attended Monday’s board meeting to demand that APS take a position opposing the OSD.
“Twenty-seven schools under your watch are on the Governor’s takeover list. We need to know what side you all are on?” Nelini Stamp, co-director of Rise Up said to board members during public comment.
“The fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act was yesterday and what is Nathan Deal going to do? He’s going to take away our right to vote for our school board members,” Kimberly Brooks, a parent whose child is an APS student said.
The board went into a two hour executive session and when they re-emerged, it was clear which side they were on.
“I understand that many will disagree with this decision. Now, I think it’s an opportunity to make a bold decision and have someone who’s tough and smart with us, challenging us to redo and do better because she knows the inside of the state,” Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said.
The Board voted to approve the measure to hire Hames, seven to two.
Byron Amos (District 2) and Stephen Lee (District 5) voted nay.
The Governor’s announcement of Hames’ departure stated that she will be hired as a private consultant to the administration.
“As a consultant, Hames will continue to play a leading role for Deal’s education reform efforts,” the notice read.
So, after years of intentionally de-funding public education in Georgia, the Legislature is coming in for the kill with this massive privatization scheme that will require voter approval in a 2016 ballot question.
Instead of expressing opposition to this interference with local control, APS has constructed a revolving door between itself and the Deal administration.