Parents’ Group Calls on El to Resign as APS Board Chair
(APN) ATLANTA — On Friday, March 18, 2011, a group of Atlanta Public Schools parents called Step Up or Step Down–which was formed after AdvancED/SACS CASI put APS on probation in January 2011–called upon Board of Education Chairman Khaatim El to step down as Chair.
Among their concerns are recent revelations that El flipped Board Member Lachandra Butler-Burks the bird, that is, gave her the middle finger, at a closed-door executive session meeting.
“Can you imagine if one of my children did that to their teacher, do you know what the consequence of that would be? What if he [El] were the student council president? He would be stripped of his title,” Julie Davis Salisbury, SUSD founding member, told Atlanta Progressive News.
The allegation first surfaced in an email originating from Butler-Burks to El, which was somehow leaked to the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper’s Get Schooled blog.
“Our group has attended every public session held by the Board since January 24 and has logged countless hours of notes and observations,” the group wrote in an open letter to El.
“We have grown increasingly concerned over the past few weeks that the progress made by the Board is not the substantive change SACS is requiring as you move through the process necessary to remove our high schools from accredited probation,” the group wrote.
“The substance of the e-mail communication from Ms. Butler-Burks, released by the AJC yesterday, confirmed our worst suspicions — that the public face of the Board’s work is merely superficial window dressing,” the group wrote.
“At this time, we implore you to relinquish your role as Chair — to step down immediately and call for new elections of officers with a two-thirds vote. We ask that both you and Ms. Butler-Burks recuse yourselves from candidacy in this election, as you suggested you would do in your November interview with 11-Alive News,” the group wrote.
Indeed, El did state in an interview with 11Alive in November 2010 that he was open to resigning.
11Alive News asked El, “If necessary would you be willing to step down as chair if that’s what it took to keep accreditation?”
“Yeah, in fact, that was actually my suggestion very early on, is that both myself and my predecessor, Ms. Burks — we bring some baggage in governing this board, and providing leadership. And it would be great if we both just step aside, and allow mediation to work its course and from that emerge with new leadership.”
It is unclear what became of El’s offer.
“We began this process with optimism and with good faith that your leadership could move the system in the right direction in the best interests of its students. As it is apparent that the factionalism and distrust continues amid your important governance processes, we believe it is imperative that the Board move forward with new leadership and that both you and Ms. Butler-Burks agree to put the children first and step aside as leaders on the Board,” the group wrote.
The letter is signed by the founding members of SUSD including Yvette Boulware, Dawn Brockington-Shaw, Alka Citrin, Salisbury, Nicole Foerschler Horn, Anne McGlamry, Leslie Myers-Joseph, Kandy Outlaw, Mary Palmer, and Lisa Weldon.
Butler-Burks raised several concerns in her email to El.
“As I reflected on our upcoming SACS report this past weekend, I am concerned about some of the items that will have to be included. As a result, I think we need to be prepared to provide information on the following,” she wrote.
“Required Action 1: It is difficult to regain stakeholder’s trust with the comments that were made by Mr. El on V-103. I have received several concerning phone calls about the interview. Also, all Board members were not aware of this planned interview,” she wrote.
“The information reported in Mr. El’s interview with WABE on March 10th is misleading and false. If it is not false, it proves that all Board members are not included in communication. Mr. El stated, ‘We’re already in the process of coordinating schedules so we can have that first meeting where we will do some one on one sessions with Fanning and some small group sessions with Fanning and have those facilitated conversations as a group.’ I am not aware of any sessions being scheduled. We have not been provided information on Fanning since we took the vote at our last meeting/work session,” she wrote.
“Based on recent news stories, we know that confidential information from Executive Session is being leaked to the media and the public,” she wrote.
“Required Action 3: Mr. El’s inappropriate behavior of ‘shooting a bird’ at me during Executive Session in front of outside counsel and other witnesses. No action has been taken by the Board or Mr. El to appropriately address this situation,” she wrote.
“Mrs. Burks. Thank you for raising these concerns,” El replied by email. “I do believe that in the spirit of genuine progress SACS will be looking closely at how we respond to issues like what you enumerate below, in addition to the occurrence themselves.”
“Can I suggest that in addition to flagging these items for consideration in the report, where appropriate, that you also refer these items to the mediator to help us formulate the proper resolution? The only other recourse I know to be available to us at this point would be to propose some action for the Board’s consideration or formally submit a complaint to the Ethics Commission,” El wrote.
Salisbury says her group’s number one goal is to preserve accreditation and that, at this time, El should step aside as Chair to allow a new consensus chair to be chosen by a supermajority.
El is also currently the subject of an ethics investigation, and his leadership of the APS BOE was heavily criticized in the AdvancED/SACS report in January 2011.
Salisbury said she believes APS has been making progress on the six SACS recommendations related to Board governance.
“I think absolutely there’s progress. As a group, we’re very pleased with the Superintendent search firm. They hired a very solid mediation firm, the Fanning Institute from the University of Georgia is above reproach,” she said.
Upon recommendation by APN’s editor, the present writer, the APS BOE began taking public comment at all of its meetings, including the Monday night special meetings where the Board addresses the SACS issues; and the Ethics Commission began taking public comments at its meetings as well.
APS has improved how it communicates with the public: there is a community newsletter sent out by email, the website has more information and videos from meetings, APS sent out two surveys, including one on desired characteristics of a new Superintendent.
Yet, Salisbury and others have raised concerns that Board Members are still operating in two factions when it comes to certain issues.
“Amid that time, as we’ve watched the meetings unfold, we continued to watch the debate and sideline discussion of the five and the four. That’s not what SACS is looking for, genuine progress and collaboration among all nine, and not superficial,” Salisbury said.
Specifically, Salisbury noted that five still appear to be operating as a unit in regards to pushing for outside counsel and pushing for an interim Superintendent, even thouh the search firm believes it is unnecessary.
“Our group, we have tried to be as apolitical and objective and positive as possible. The events over the past week or ten days have caused us as a group collectively to feel we have no choice to but to ask Chairman El to resign as Chair. Hopefully a need leader could be selected that could guide us from this morass.”
(END / 2011)