Georgia PTA ousts president who led Opportunity School District fight. Is group imploding?

In a vote Saturday spurring a statewide backlash, the board of directors of the Georgia PTA ousted its popular and highly visible president Lisa-Marie Haygood and board member Lisa Martin, who represented District 10, which encompasses all of Fulton County, including Fulton County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools.

When I reached out to Haygood, she said: "I was removed from the position of state president by vote of the board. I cannot speak about that action, due to board confidentiality."

The removal of Haygood was even more confounding after her success in defeating the Opportunity School District.

It doesn't appear her role in fighting the OSD contributed to the board vote; Georgia PTA opposed the state takeover plan put forth by Gov. Nathan Deal.  In fact, a board member said some colleagues initially doubted Haygood, a conservative from Cherokee County, could effectively challenge the OSD, but she emerged a fiery and often-quoted adversary to the governor.

So, why did the board force Haygood out?

After talking all morning to insiders, it appears Haygood never won the support of the immediate past president Rita Erves, who remains on the board.  For reasons unclear -- and Erves has not responded to my request for a comment -- Erves was at odds with Haygood.

Haygood also brought a reformer's zeal to Georgia PTA, adding a fraud specialist who referred nine cases for criminal prosecution. The fraud expert has also been let go.

"This has been brewing for a long time," said John Palmer, a teacher adviser to the board and spokesman for the Georgia teacher group TRAGIC, Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes.

Haygood tried to limit perks, including the number of people attending the National PTA conference on the state group's tab.

"With Lisa-Marie, the Georgia PTA was in the best position it has been in years to help influence education debate in the state and put parents back in the conversation because parents have been out of it for some time. Frankly, that’s gone," said Palmer, who resigned his non-voting board role to protest Haygood's dismissal. "Most parents won’t even know this is going on as some of those local units will still continue to be very active in education debates surely coming up, but their state voice has now been cut off at the knees."

I understand political disagreements but this Georgia PTA coup risks inflicting lasting damage to the organization. As one commenter on AJC Get Schooled Facebook -- where there is active discussion underway of Haygood's removal -- noted, "If this decision is not reversed, I suspect many local units will pull out of Georgia PTA and form other parent teacher organizations."

"We are saddened by the recent events at the state board. Lisa-Marie Haygood, our state president, and Lisa Martin, our district director, have worked tirelessly for the children of Georgia," said Vickie Riccardo and John Martin, co-presidents North Fulton Council of PTAs. "Our council, which supports nearly 50 local PTA units in North Fulton, has lost its representation on the state board. We are concerned about the leadership vacuum that remains at the state board. We are monitoring this situation, and we will reach to all our local units when we know more."

I have reached out to the Erves and the entire board. Here is what I sent them:

  1. Why was Haygood removed?
  2. How does the Georgia PTA plan to respond to the growing outcry over her removal?
  3. Why did you remove the fraud investigator Haygood put in place given the referral of nine cases of fraud for criminal action? Wasn't that a relevant and necessary position given those findings?
  4. Do you have concerns about a loss of public confidence in Georgia PTA?
  5. In light of the pending battles over public education at the state and federal levels, why did the Georgia PTA choose to create dissension at this time? Haygood's tenure was up this summer. What was pressing enough to warrant action now?
  6. Haygood played a key role in leading the fight against the OSD. Did her prominent role factor in her removal?
  7. Should the National PTA intervene, as many Georgia PTA members are urging?
  8. Several PTA leaders said this would push PTAs to move to become PTOs. Does that concern you?

I only heard back from one board member Sunday. I received this email from the new Georgia PTA president Tyler L. Barr.

However, I did hear from former board members and chapter leaders, all of whom cited issues with trust,  cronyism, bullying and leadership, so Barr has his work cut out for him. '

Here is what Barr sent me:

As president-elect, I would like to introduce myself to you on behalf of the board of directors. In respect and fairness to the association, the removal of the president was a mutual decision. Furthermore,  this is a sensitive and confidential matter.  We regret that we are not able to comment further but I am happy to assist you as we continue today as a strong and leading advocate for every child in Georgia.