Enter subhead content here

Atlanta:  A "Gangsta" School System!

May 30, 2004

Mr. Michael R. Holiman, Chairman
Atlanta Board of Education
1147 Zimmer Drive, NE
Atlanta, GA 30306

Dear Mr. Holiman:

For anyone reading the recent articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution which has laudably detailed the woeful and flagrant squandering of the public monies (an obscene $73 million), one would hope that this financial fiasco, laced with bidding/non-bidding improprieties, is finally the full revelation of the sorid corruption of the Atlanta Public Schools (APS). But, the person would be sadly mistaken. This financial cesspool is only one layer which has been exposed to the public. To be sure, APS spent $45 million on a Taj Mahal-type central office which, at a glance, presents an air of professionalism. But, as the Deloitte report detailed, APS is mismanaged, over-staffed, and flawed with disorganization. APS spends close to $14,000 per student -- about twice what Georgia’s other urban school systems spend per student. Something is broken. This spending does not translate into academic success.

Most of the reports on APS focus on the financial mess, the bottom-of-the-barrel academic performance of the students, and the bureaucratic labyrinth which makes it more difficult to determine who is in charge of APS than who was in charge of the old Soviet Politburo. But, there are two areas which not even the most enterprising investigative reporter deigns to tackle: (1) the horrendous lack of student discipline and (2) the horrific manner in which APS treats its classroom educators. Without belaboring the all-important first issue, I must state that there is a fundamental and systematic lack of administrative support for teachers who attempt to establish order in their classes by disciplining the handful of defiant, disrespectful, and disruptive students who are determined to disrupt the learning processes of the students who want to learn. To allow such disruptive behavior to become contagious, to spread, and to become the norm is unconscionable. But, the unwritten but inexorable rule is that the disruptive students are always right, the teacher is always wrong, and the irate and irresponsible parents are to be appeased at all costs. This is the fundamental reason that you have chaos (and, a lack of learning) in APS. The mantra goes forth from the Taj Mahal on Trinity Avenue: Coddle the disruptive students and cater to the irate and irresponsible parents. This leads to the second issue...

APS cannot retain teachers (another issue of concern which was recently the subject of a news article in the AJC) because of the manner in which APS treats them. APS treats teachers as if (1) they are expendable and (2) they are the enemy. Instead of respecting and esteeming the classroom educator for the tremendous task that he/she undertakes, the myopic and mean-spirited administrators (the norm rather than the exception) treat the teachers as if they are interned in a Soviet Gulag. The administrators talk down to the teachers, constantly question their motives, "write them up" for every innocent mis-step (instead of using these mis-steps as opportunities to help), and take the word of a single chronically-misbehaving student over the word of the teacher. The teachers are not trusted. The teachers are not treated as professionals. Consequently, at the first opportunity, the teachers (especially the younger ones) leave APS for other systems. There appears to be a complete lack of understanding in APS that there is an inextricable link between a good teaching environment and a good learning environment. The latter is dependent on the former. You can’t have the latter without first establishing the former. Otherwise, you are just "playing school," with the schools performing a custodial function of keeping children off the streets.

Statutory due process appears to be a foreign concept to APS. Located a couple blocks from APS’s Trinity Avenue headquarters is the state capitol. In this building, laws are passed for the citizens of Georgia -- and for school systems like APS to follow. But, instead of abiding by these laws, APS acts like a "gangsta" school system. The "rule of law"? No, in APS, it’s the "rule of the strong man." For example, a teacher at Turner Middle School resigned in the early spring, effective at the end of the school year. A little while later, this teacher was served with a "charge letter" which outlined APS’s attempt to terminate his services before the end of the school year. The teacher chose not to attend the hearing (considering it a "Kangaroo Court"). This teacher was suspended, and APS immediately stopped paying the teacher in contravention of O.C.G.A. 20-2-940(g). The law states: "During the period that the teacher or other employee is relieved from duty prior to the decision of the local board, the teacher or employee shall be paid all sums to which he is otherwise entitled" (emphasis added). Not only did this teacher not get paid for several pay periods "prior to the decision of the local board," this teacher has not been paid the pro-rata pay that he already earned and to which is "entitled." Several calls were made to APS staff attorney Kim Royal. She did not return the calls. Ms. Royal and the other staff attorneys need to (1) learn the Georgia due process law and/or (2) comply with this law. [Since writing this letter on May 30, 2004, this gentleman has received part of the earnings owed to him.]

Another teacher was written a letter which stated that Superintendent Hall had decided to terminate her services. This teacher was not provided a "charge letter" which should have included the following: "(1) The cause or causes for the discharge, suspension, or demotion in sufficient detail to enable him fairly to show any error that may exist therein; (2) The names of the known witnesses and a concise summary of the evidence to be used against him. The names of new witnesses shall be given as soon as practicable; (3) The time and place where the hearing thereon will be held; and (4) That the charged teacher or other person, upon request, shall be furnished with compulsory process or subpoena legally requiring the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents and other papers as provided by law" (O.C.G.A. 20-2-940[a][b]). There are other features of Georgia’s due process law for certified educators like manner of service, the right to counsel, the nature of the hearing, the right to appeal, etc. None of these due process safeguards were provided to this teacher. Instead, this teacher was told that if she wanted to appeal the decision to terminate her, then "[t]his appeal must be made in writing, set [sic.] forth the grounds for the appeal and filed in the Superintendent’s office within 10 days from the date of receipt of this letter." Incredible! Either Superintendent Hall still thinks that she’s in New York or New Jersey -- or she’s getting horrible legal advice. This letter flagrantly skipped all of the due process provisions in the Georgia law. Do I need to begin filing complaints against Superintendent Hall with the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) every time she affixes her signature to such poppycock? Do I need to start filing complaints against APS’s staff attorneys with the Georgia Bar?

A head football coach at one of the APS high schools had a complaint filed against him -- based on one student’s testimony. He was removed from his position as coach. Superintendent Hall found that the evidence was "insufficient" to support the student’s claim. (There seems to be a cottage industry among some students for "getting" a teacher by making a spurious claim against the teacher. The teacher’s reputation is besmirched and the student gets off "scot-free.") This teacher/coach was exonerated. Did he get back his coaching job? No. But, apparently, the coach who replaced him also had a spurious claim of the same nature against him. He too was exonerated. And, he kept his coaching job. There’s no consistency in APS. It’s who you know and how well they like you.

Principals apparently think that they can simply dock a teacher’s pay at will. One elementary principal even cited a teacher in an evaluation for being on military leave. Has anyone in APS even heard of O.C.G.A. 20-2-850? The Georgia law says that Georgia teachers "shall be entitled to sick leave with full pay computed on the basis of one and one-fourth working days for each completed contract month..." (O.C.G.A. 20-2-850[a]; emphasis added). What is this stuff about being cited on a "Duties and Responsibilities" instrument when a teacher is absent six days or more? What is this extra-legal mandate about getting a "doctor’s excuse" when a teacher exceeds six days of being absent? Did the Georgia legislature not know what it was doing when it said that a Georgia teacher is "entitled" to 12 1/2 sick days per contract year -- to be accumulated "up to a maximum of 45 days"? APS makes up its own laws.

Is anyone at APS familiar with O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.5 et. seq.? In the past, I’ve addressed the Atlanta Board of Education on two or three occasions concerning APS’s grossly inadequate grievance policy (on its face, it contradicts the state law on this matter) and its even more gross implementation of the state grievance law. This law is not optional. Again, perhaps I need to take this up with the PSC since the APS administration is determined to violate this law. One teacher at Mays High School filed three grievances this past school year. She didn’t get a response on a single one. Of course, we at MACE have a policy that when the administration refuses to hear a grievance as required by state law, then we engage in a public picket. We indeed engaged in a colorful picket at Mays High School.

When a person or an institution keeps money that is owed to a person, then we rightfully appraise that person or institution is acting like a gangster. Indeed, APS does act like a "gangsta" system. Two or three years ago, APS gave APS teachers two checks during one pay period. One teacher reported that the bank, thinking fraud was involved, kept one of his checks. This teacher reported this matter -- in person -- to the APS administration on more than one occasion. The APS administration kept giving this teacher "the run around" -- a classic case of "passing the buck." To this day, this teacher still has not received his money. Other teachers have reported to us that APS has unfairly and illegally docked their pay. This is how "strong men" act. This is not the "rule of law." This is how a "gangsta" system operates. APS is the only Georgia school system that has a plethora of staff attorneys. You would think that with this legal staff of five or six staff attorneys that APS could get it right -- at least most of the time. Is this a "jack-leg" legal department? Is the legal staff ignorant of the Georgia laws? Are they just trying to be cute? Or, are they ignoring their ethical duties and carrying out mandates which they know to be illegal? I intend to find out the truth to these matters. I don’t intend to let up on this matter -- not one bit. Either APS abides by Georgia law or I’m going to file PSC complaints against APS’s CEO, Beverly Hall, and/or bar complaints against the APS staff attorneys who are members of the Georgia Bar. Beverly Hall and her staff attorneys are not above the law.

Mr. Holliman, when some of my colleagues at MACE and I showed up at the APS central office on March 13, 2004 to attend a "retreat" school board meeting, APS actually, through its police and administrators, attempted to keep us from attending this public meeting -- again, in contravention to state laws. We had a first amendment right (as well as a right under the Georgia’s Constitution and the Georgia Statutory Law [O.C.G.A. 20-2-14-1]) to attend the meeting and to unfurl our placards as long as the placards did not obscure anyone’s vision -- which they didn’t. I told the police officer and the administrators that they were going to have to arrest me to keep me out of that meeting. I’m not giving up any of my rights for anyone -- especially any "thugs" at APS! We watched you, the rest of the school board members, and Beverly Hall kick around high-minded terms like "strategic planning," "reform teams," etc. Such phony posturing was enough to make one sick. You and your colleagues can sip on your mint juleps on the deck of your APS cruise ship all day long, but underneath the deck, your "thugs" are engaging in all types of illegalities, improprieties, and/or bullying tactics. Until you make sure that your "thugs" are abiding by Georgia law, then all your talk about "reform teams" are hollow prattle. I expect the Atlanta Board of Education to direct its Executive Secretary, Beverly Hall, to comply with Georgia law and to send forth a strong message to the APS employees that she expects them to do likewise.


John R. Alston Trotter, Ed.D.,J.D.


c. Dr. Floyd D. Toth, Professional Standards Commission
Jim Wooten, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Ken Foskett, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jeff Nesmith, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta Board of Education Members
Dr. Beverly Hall, Superintendent
David Brown, MACE Network Attorney
APS Legal Department
Glenn A. Delk, Attorney
Gary M. Sams, Clayton and DeKalb School Board Attorney
Randy Reece, Human Resources, Fulton
Dr. Barbara Pulliam, Superintendent, Clayton
Jack Warren, Central Office Administrator, Clayton
Michael J. Vanairsdale, Superintendent, Fulton
Dr. Jim Williams, Associate Superintendent, DeKalb
Dr. Johnny Brown, Superintendent, DeKalb
Kelly A. Sherrill, Cobb and Fulton School Board Attorney
Glenn Brock, Cobb and Fulton School Board Attorney
Joseph J. Redden, Superintendent, Cobb

Enter content here

Enter content here

Enter content here

Enter supporting content here

HomeMagazineHighlightsLion's Roar!MACE TVLegalThe "NI" ListPicketsTestimonialsArchiveLinksMembershipJoin Now!

Enter content here