Scandal and a Schism Rattle Atlanta’s SchoolsATLANTA — Did any school district in the country have a tougher week than the one in Atlanta?
First, criminal investigators began digging anew into accusations of widespread cheating on state standardized tests that had been plaguing the district for two years. The allegations, which center on dozens of employees who are suspected of changing test answers to improve scores, have already been the focus of investigations by the state and the Atlanta school system that have cost more than $1 million. The new investigation led an influential group of black pastors to call a news conference to denounce what they say is a “witch hunt” on educators who — however misguided — were just trying to help children....
The Atlanta school board, meanwhile, is in such disarray that a team from the regional agency that provides accreditation for the 49,000-student district showed up on Wednesday for its own investigation into whether infighting was keeping the board from governing properly. ...Mr. Reed [Atlanta Mayor] said that he planned to stay “very involved” in the oversight of the schools and in the selection of the superintendent. He is determined, he said, to make sure that advances in student performance, graduation rates and support from corporations and community groups during Dr. Hall’s tenure were not lost because of the cheating scandal or the board’s power struggle. The nine-member school board is locked in what appears to be a battle of egos and factions. One group is a majority that worked well with Dr. Hall. The other faction often found itself shut out of the decision-making process and became concerned about how the cheating scandal was being handled.
In the fall, a coup of sorts occurred. After a series of complicated procedural moves, the group once in control found itself out of power, and those board members filed a lawsuit claiming that the leadership takeover was illegal.
The two sides appeared to solve their differences after meeting late last month with a Fulton County Superior Court judge, but the struggle remained apparent at a board meeting on Monday, with one of the members suggesting that the new chairman, Khaatim Sherrer El, was a dictator.
The board’s conflict is at the center of whether the district can keep its accreditation, said Mark Elgart, president of the regional accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. A team from the agency arrived here on Wednesday for three days of interviews throughout the district.
“They are in a state of paralysis,” Mr. Elgart said of the school board. “They are lining up on ideological and philosophical difference, and that is no way to govern.”
The district will learn in January whether it will face sanctions or lose its accreditation, which could hurt students’ chances for getting into certain universities and securing scholarships.
Dr. Hall came to Atlanta with a reputation for solving tough problems after working as the superintendent in Newark and as a deputy chancellor of schools in New York City. ...