I was kind of amazed to tune in recently to a controversy that has apparently been going on for quite a while in Atlanta Public Schools. The city’s nine-member school board has been wracked with infighting and factionalism that culimnated in a kind of a coup late last fall — the Board quietly changed its internal rules that had previously required a two-thirds majority to elect a chair, instituting instead a simple majority requirement.
You might guess what happened next: A five member faction quickly voted in new leadership, and the four members in the minority cried foul. The case went all the way to the state attorney general, with board members asking for a definitive ruling on who actually had the power to chair the board. In the meantime, the district was rocked by a cheating scandal and the long-serving and highly-regarded Superintendent, Beverly Hall, announced plans to retire.
Last week, one of the nation’s largest accreditation agencies threatened to pull the district’s accreditation if the school board could not get its act together and govern the district appropriately. (Read the agency’s highly critical report here).
What is most interesting to me is that board elections have long been influenced by an organization called “EduPAC,” which was begun by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce almost two decades ago. Indeed, eight of the nine current board members were endorsed by EduPAC, which boasts a wide membership of business leaders, civil rights leaders, parents and other active community leaders. In Atlanta, EduPAC is the biggest endorsement there is when it comes to school board races.
But in interviews with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, EduPAC leaders seem floored by the current state of the school board they elected. “We thought we had a great slate of folks,” William “Sonny” Walker, EduPAC’s chairman, told the newspaper. “We thought we had found the answer. But apparently we didn’t have the answer we thought we had.”
There have been times where I have thought our own school board was dysfunctional, but when I read stories like these, I realize that we are lucky here in San Francisco to have missed out on what true dysfunction looks like.