Live Blog: Board of Education Meeting – January 13, 2014

Thank you for following our live blog from the January Board of Education Meeting for Atlanta Public Schools.

View today’s agenda here:

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The meeting will begin at 2:00pm.

Meet the 2014 Board of Education:

Atlanta Board of Education Elects New Chair and Vice Chair
The Atlanta Board of Education has voted unanimously to elect Courtney D. English as its new board chair and Nancy M. Meister as vice chair, each of whom will serve in their leadership position for two years.  The elections were held this afternoon during the board meeting, where six new members and three returning members were sworn into office to serve four-year terms. The new and returning members of the Atlanta Board of Education are:

  • Leslie Grant, District 1
  • Byron D. Amos (incumbent), District 2
  • Matt Westmoreland, District 3
  • Nancy M. Meister, Vice Chair (incumbent), District 4
  • Steven Lee, District 5
  • Eshé P. Collins, District 6
  • Courtney D. English, Chair (incumbent), At-Large Seat 7, Districts 1 and 2
  • Cynthia Briscoe Brown, At-Large Seat 8, Districts 3 and 4
  • Jason F. Esteves, At-Large Seat 9, Districts 5 and 6

The Atlanta Board of Education plays a critical role in governing Atlanta Public Schools (APS) – from adopting districtwide policies and approving the annual budget, to appointing and evaluating the superintendent. This new board also brings unique perspectives to the school district.  Many are themselves former teachers, APS alumni, parents of APS students and/or community leaders.

The BOE has taken a 10 minute recess.

3:00pm – The BOE is now back in session.

Our first and only community speaker asks that Dr. M.L. King’s beliefs be woven into the curriculum of APS.

Consent Agenda:

Item 2.01

THE SUPERINTENDENT REPORTS: The calendar development process for 2014-15 included feedback from a representative district-wide calendar committee and a community-wide survey with approximately 2,000 respondents. The survey indicated that 58.3 percent of respondents preferred the calendar option that has been recommended (Option B). A summary of the survey data has been attached for informational purposes. This calendar features a start date on the first Monday in August and three day October and February breaks in 2014-15. After further study, the superintendent plans to bring calendars for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years for the board’s consideration in March.

With this recommendation, the superintendent proposes the discontinuation of the year round school calendar. This action will affect Boyd and Hutchinson Elementary Schools. The district has been exploring the benefits of consolidating the school calendars for 18 months, and the 2013 survey data revealed that respondents from the Boyd and Hutchinson communities were not in favor of continuing with the year round model, on average. Centennial Place Elementary School has also been on the year round calendar, and, as a conversion charter school, has the ability to choose its own school calendar.

RECOMMENDATION: The board should adopt the recommended calendars for students and staff members.

REASON: To set the student and staff calendars for the 2014-15 school year.

View data from the calendar survey here:$file/20131205%20calendar%20survey%20data%20overview.pdf$file/20140113%20calendar%20students.pdf$file/20140113%20calendar%20staff.pdf

THE SUPERINTENDENT REPORTS: Policy GAEB has been revised to expand the district’s definition of harassment and reporting requirements to include all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on the following protected categories:  race, color, religion, sex, citizenship, ethnic or national origin, age, disability, medical status, military status, veteran status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, ancestry, or any other legally protected status. The purpose of this revision is to meet legal compliance requirements and to enhance the district’s culture of ethics.

RECOMMENDATION: The board should accept the revision of policy GAEB for first reading.

REASON: To expand the definition of harassment and reporting requirements to include all forms of discrimination, harassment and retaliation to meet legal compliance requirements.

Item 2.03:

THE SUPERINTENDENT REPORTS: The legislative priorities for 2014 have been developed to support Atlanta Public Schools’ commitment to student success. These priorities permit staff to advocate for or oppose legislation based on a clear, concise, consistent framework. The superintendent delayed the usual timeline for the approval of the legislative priorities (November-December) to ensure that the board members who will be in office for the 2014 legislative session have reviewed and approved the Atlanta Public Schools legislative priorities. As the legislative session begins today (January 13, 2014), the superintendent recommends that the board waive first reading and approve the 2014 legislative priorities.

RECOMMENDATION: The board should waive first reading and approve the attached legislative priorities for the 2014 legislation session.

BOE member Esteves has asked that this agenda item be removed for further discussion and revision.  View the proposed draft of legislative priorities here:$file/APS%20Legislative%20Priorities%202014_DRAFT.pdf

Item 3.01:

THE SUPERINTENDENT REPORTS: The Atlanta Public Schools procurement services department solicited vendors to provide Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE program) lab equipment and supplies.  Four (4) proposals were received and evaluated (list of bidders attached).

RECOMMENDATION:  That the superintendent be authorized to enter into and execute contracts with Camcor, Inc., Learning Labs, Inc. and Moore Medical LLC, to provide Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE program) lab equipment and supplies. These contracts shall be for one (1) year with four (4) one-year available options to be exercised at the discretion of the superintendent.  These contracts are conditional upon the firm’s ability to comply with requirements set forth in the solicitation document.

REASON:  To provide Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE program) lab equipment and supplies.

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS:  The estimated annual cost of this contract is $500,000.

BOE Representative Grant asks how this grant aligns with previous CTAE contracts.  Associate Superintendent Smith explains that this is in line with previous contracts.  View the bid here:$file/CTAE%20Bid%20Tab.pdf

Item 3.02:


Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, four Atlanta Public Schools were awarded Georgia Title IV-B 21stCentury Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Program grant funds to support after-school program initiatives. The 21st CCLC Program Grant, designed to target students attending Title I schools, was awarded to Burgess Peterson Elementary School, Dobbs Elementary School, Dunbar Elementary School and Sylvan Middle School. Each school received a minimum of $1,100,000 to support their after-school initiatives over a three year period.

The state recently provided an opportunity for local LEAs to participate in a new five year grant entitled Georgia Title IV-B 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Program. Each district submitting grant applications has the potential to be awarded five (5) grants with each grant totaling $1,750,000 over a five year period. As a part of the grant requirements, LEA School Boards are required to provide approval for schools who submit a grant application. The following schools will be submitting grant applications to the state by the January 29, 2014 application deadline:  Bunche Middle School, Benteen Elementary School, Dobbs Elementary School, Dunbar Elementary School, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy Middle School, Coan Middle School, Perkerson Elementary School, Forrest Hills Academy, Burgess-Peterson Elementary School, Brown Middle School, Cleveland Avenue  Elementary School, D.H. Stanton Elementary School, Boyd Elementary School, Adamsville Elementary School, Gideons Elementary School, and Sylvan Middle School. Grant notification will be provided by the state in July 2014.

View the FULL agenda here:

Item 4.03:

THE SUPERINTENDENT REPORTS:  The Atlanta Board of Education approved item 13/14-4306 to negotiate and enter into a ground lease with Sheltering Arms at the D.H. Stanton Elementary School property. The terms of the agreement as stated in the legislation include a 20 year lease with two (2) five year renewal periods.  Sheltering Arms is now requesting a fifty (50) year term for the ground lease.  The lease can be terminated by either party with 180 day prior written notice to the other party.  The lessee, Sheltering Arms, will be responsible for the construction costs as well as their operating expenses, maintenance, utilities, and insurance requirements.  Sheltering Arms is also requesting the right to assign and sublet to a successor entity as a result of a merger, consolidation, or reorganization of Sheltering Arms, Inc.

RECOMMENDATION:  That the Superintendent be authorized to include the requested provisions in the ground lease agreement with Sheltering Arms.

REASON: To allow Sheltering Arms, Inc. to build and operate an early learning program on the D.H. Stanton property.

BOE Representative Collins asks if the item will come back to the Board after negotiations are complete.  General Counsel explains that the BOE approved this item at the end of 2013 however the Board of Sheltering Arms has asked for a longer term agreement.  The BOE has previously authorized APS to enter into the agreement and if approved today it will not come back to the BOE for discussion.


Discussion and Action will now begin.

Representative Westmoreland has asked that he abstain from the vote on gains and losses, due to the fact that he is listed.  Mr. Westmoreland was a teacher at Carver High School prior to joining the BOE.

Board is now discussing the Legislative Priorities document.  Esteves asks to include “funding for early childhood education.”

Grant suggest that the BOE puts together a task force to look at the pension issue and the relationship between traditional and charter schools.

Representative Brown asks about the House Bill that is scheduled to be taken up that speaks to spreading revenue across all schools, traditional and charter.

Smith:  I believe the bill you are referencing is HB 680.  To your point, we have the ability, based on what is in front of you, to take your input and make the appropriate changes.  This document does represent the BOE’s priorities so we will adjust to your wishes.

Esteves:  I want to be clear that just because we remove a sentence, this is just a statement of our priorities.  As legislation pops up we can still dedicate energy to other issues.

Learn more about House Bill 680 here:
Summary:  A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend of Code Section 20-2-2068.1 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to charter school funding, so as to clarify certain funding of charter schools to ensure that local revenue is allocated equally as to all schools in a district; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Collins:  I move to adopt Jason’s change to priority #2.

Motion passes unanimously.

Representative Grant has now been asked to elaborate about the task force previously mentioned.

Grant:  I feel like we have been a very reactive position (as it relates to the unfunded pension) instead of a collaborative position.  I want to make sure that as we look at this we do so very mindfully.  We should look holistically at how we can support each other better.

Smith:  The superintendent has given Allen Mueller, who heads up our Office of Innovation, specific tasks as it relates to sharing best practices, reducing costs, etc. That mandate has come from the superintendent.  We appreciate Ms. Grant and her suggestion, we will work with any task force formed.

Board Chair English asks Smith to give an update on the unfunded pension issue.  Smith defers to CFO Burbridge.

Burbridge:  Pension liability has been a challenging one for a variety of reasons, the basics are that there is approx a $550M liability that the district is responsible for.  The origins of that liability, per a former State Rep, is that in 1978 when teachers were offered the opportunity to join the teachers retirement system, part of the deal was that the state would be held harmless and made whole.  Since ’78 all the assets of the district went to the state.  We find ourselves today paying out benefits to about 2500 pensioners for whom no money was set aside to pay.  We have an annual pay out of over $50.  For those retirees, we are on a pay as you go basis.  Annually we put in…well this past year we contributed about $48M to the district’s pension system.  We paid out a little bit more than that.  We are looking at a system where we are pay as you go for those retirees.  There are also a small group of active employees in our pension system for about $2M.  We are putting aside the appropriate money for those who are active.  The question we have been dealing with is how do you mandate and fund that liability?  Is it only something that traditional APS bears or all schools bear?  Hypothetically, if 100% of our students went to charters, then 100% of taxes would go to charters, yet we would still have this annual $50M liability.  Someone has to pay this, you just can’t walk away from it.  The answer is that it almost has to be all schools because technically all schools could be charters.  As you see a growth in the charter school population, there are more issues around this liability.

English:  Is there a point of no return?  A point in time where we must make a decision?

Burbridge:  The BOE adopted an amortization schedule that showed the payments increasing significantly over the next few years.  Putting aside that increase, the fundamental issue is how do you distribute the payment.  Is it $50M a year?  $60?  But as the charters rightfully point out, there are things on the other side of the ledger that need to be discussed.  The task force is probably a wise recommendation.  You asked for a timeline, well the time is now.  It is only going to get worse.  Only going to get harder.  The bigger the gap grows, the harder it will be to compromise.  I would do this earlier in your term as opposed to later.

Smith reminds the BOE that 2015 is the year by when districts must decide if they will be charter or not.


Next item up is the reorganization of the Superintendent Search Committee.

English:  There are 3 board appointments I would like to make to this committee.

Ann Cramer (Chair of the Supt. Search Comm): What we would like to recommend is that we ask Ms. Kinanne and Mr. Johnson (former BOE members) to continue on the committee with our BOE chair and community members.  We would also like to present the notebook of the names that have been in process.  We think you will be very pleased with the people who have indicated that they would like to be a part of our district.  The spirit of hope is in this city.

English states that he will make the appointments after Executive Session.  The BOE will now move into a private session and report out later this afternoon.  Tune back in at 5:00pm for updates.

(Back row from l-r): Atlanta Board of Education Members Steven Lee, District 5; Jason Esteves, At-Large Seat 9;
Byron D. Amos, District 2; Leslie Grant, District 1; (Front row from l-r): Matt Westmoreland, District 3;
Nancy M. Meister, vice chair, District 4; Courtney D. English, chair, At-Large Seat 7; Eshé P. Collins, District 6;
and Cynthia Briscoe Brown, At-Large Seat 8.


5:20pm – The BOE continues in Executive Session.

6:05pm – The community meeting will now begin.

First speaker asks that the development of the Jackson cluster as whole should be the main focus for the area as the district discusses options surrounding a K-8 model.

Speaker:  My family has been in Atlanta since 1847.  I am here to talk about Grady High and what is happening with Grady and the number of students who don’t belong at Grady, most of them minority students.  Most of them feel the need to falsify information on affidavits in order to get a good education at Grady High School.  It has resulted in the removal of the coach.  What you can do about this, you do not run the school system but you oversee it.  As I see it, you have a moral and legal obligation to make sure one person, the coach, does not be made the scapegoat for a problem that is endemic throughout the school district.

Booker T. Washington neighborhood leader asks why school leaders are still in charge of the school even after all of the outcry from the community.  “Why is there so much disrespect for the Washington cluster?”

Speaker:  I am here for the citizens of the Grady community.  We are here to support our football program, the student athletes and our school.  It is a critical time for college recruitment.  Without our coach, these boys’ futures are up in the air.  This is big business.  This is big money.  These scholarships are given to these boys and they can be taken away or never given.  These kids have to be able to play football safely.  They need to be supervised.  We have to have a coach on campus for academic monitoring.  We know that if this were a science or math class no one would say you can’t be in this class because you are not on our roll.  We need our coach back, our students’ futures are in the balance.

Speaker:  I am the president of Southeast Atlanta Communities and Schools.  We have high expectations of all of you.  You ran on those expectations and we expect you to make difficult decisions.  We won’t always like them but we expect to be engaged and understand why you are making those decisions and actions…and not just in one school or area.  We expect you to be creative and responsive and to lead by example.  We know you will make mistakes but we want you to be open and honest and ultimately focus on the kids in the classroom.  I look forward to working with you.

Former Washington High School employee says that unethical and unprofessional acts took place at the school while he was there.

Next speaker says that a cookie cutter school system will not work for every child.  Challenges the new Board to look at the graduation rate, special needs and other areas so that parents will receive a different result.

Speaker:  I don’t normally talk about Grady, but I would like to speak a little about the children.  The children didn’t put themselves into the school, the students didn’t register themselves.  At least consider the seniors in these cases.  I know its hard, that they did something illegal, but most parents will agree that they will do whatever it takes to make our kids education better.  Unfortunately there are only a few schools in APS where they feel they can be successful.  We want equity.  There are some schools on the southside that only offer one language.  [Note from @APS as of 2012, all APS high schools offer at least 2 foreign languages]

Next speaker speaks about Washington High School. Says that the school is still full of black mold. [Note from @APS – view the full list of environmental reports, letters and mold updates for Washington High]

More speakers come forward to discuss Grady enrollment issues.

Speaker:  I am representing the Edgewood schools coalition regarding the superintendent’s K-8 proposal.  We are working to talk with current Whitefoord students and perspective parents of Whitefoord.  We are trying to get impressions on what everyone wants.  We support combining Whitefoord and Toomer.  I would encourage you to take your time and make a good decision for everyone.

The community meeting has now ended.  Board is going back into executive session.

Speaker:  We have bullying on two fronts.  One with children, then with administrators on children.  Then you have the Grady situation.  Why would the superintendent single out the football team?

7:35pm – The Board has returned from Executive Session

Representative Amos:  I would like to ask Mr. Smith for an update on the hiring of a new principal for Washington High School.

Mr. Smith defers to Mr. Price, head of Human Resources for the district.

Price:  Where we are with Washington is that the position has been posted and there will be information on meetings between HR and the parents/community available next week.  We want to know what they want from their principal in their school.  We don’t currently have a single school there, we still have 3 schools in 1. We will bring in a principal mentor to pare the school down from 3 to 1.  It is hard to do a quality search for quality school leaders mid-year and most will not leave their current assignments until after the school year is over.

Amos:  You’ve given us no concrete dates.  We knew all of these things you mentioned.  Why is it the same excuse after the Board has passed a resolution.  It has been almost a year now.  I am asking the administration to give me a date of when we will have someone in this building to downsize these schools.  The excuses are very old and we need to do something better to help our kids.

Price:  I will provide you with exact dates of when the principal mentor will be in the school.  The first step is to listen to parents to find out what they want and build the interview questions.  To give you an exact date of when a principal will be seated depends on the candidate.  From an HR perspective we will do a better job.  The principal mentor and the executive director will work to downsize the school and I promise to give you more concrete dates Mr. Amos.

Board makes a motion to have the timeline by next meeting.  Motion passes.  Price interjects and says that the next meeting is a month away and promises that the Board will have a timeline before a month.

Representative Lee:  Why isn’t the executive director already in the school?

Price:  The executive directors are always in the school.  The piece of moving the principal mentor into the school and pairing them with the E.D. is a new strategy we’ve developed over the last few weeks.

Representative Brown asks that previous meetings with the public be added to the timeline to show that they have taken place.

Amos:  The community has given you a short list of people that can get the job done.  The name you just said I don’t believe that person was even on the list.  For Ms. Waldon, why wasn’t the community’s request honored?

Karen Waldon, Deputy Supt of Curriculum & Instruction:  We heard from many community members but that is not the basis we use for placing leaders in schools.  Those people have the opportunity to apply for the position but we have a fair process and cannot simply place a person in a role.

Amos: Fair to whom?  We are quick to relocate football coaches.  Quick to address needs that don’t address our kids. This does not sit well with a cluster that needs help.

Lee:  Mr. Amos has stated that it did not sit well with him for over a year.  It does not sit well with me now.  We must do better.  We must start doing better today.  I stand with Mr. Amos and I would like to something immediately that helps Washington get back to where it needs to be.

English will now read suggestions as it relates to the superintendent search committee.

Suggestion timeline states that BOE announces slate of final contenders in March.  Target date for new superintendent to begin is June.  Three new members will be appointed, Amos, Brown and Estevez.  Choice needs to be made for a teacher representative.  Brown suggests reaching out to Teacher of the Year.  Motion made.

Board passes motion.

This ends our live blog for the evening.  The Legislative Meeting will now begin.  Watch Comcast channel 22 to see a broadcast of the January Legislative Meeting.


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