Atlanta School Board again delays vote on Supt. Davis

The Atlanta School Board on Monday night delayed again a vote on whether to renew the contract of Superintendent Erroll Davis.

The decision to postpone the vote came after Davis supporters lost a key procedural vote that means it will take only three votes on the nine-member board to block the extension of Davis’ contract, which expires in June.

The board met in executive session for more than three hours before emerging around 11 p.m. and approving a motion by District 4 board member Nancy Meister to require a supermajority of seven votes to extend Davis’ contract instead of the usual simple majority of five votes.

Meister said the policy change would help keep the board in good standing with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting agency, which recommended the board decide by a supermajority when it hired Davis in 2011. The board then voted unanimously to hire him. Meister’s motion to require a supermajority passed 5-4 over strong objections by board chairman Reuben McDaniel.

The board then voted 8-1 to appoint a search committee in January to look for a new superintendent. But Davis opponents couldn’t get enough votes to defeat a motion by vice chairman Byron Amos to delay the vote for the second time. The board first postponed the vote in October. Amos’ motion to delay passed 5-4.

The board will meet 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, to decide Davis’ fate as superintendent. That gives supporters a week to try to corral seven votes on a board that seems deeply divided.

District 6 board member Yolanda K. Johnson asked Amos how he expects “anything will change between now and a month of Christmases” that will alter the outcome of the vote. “We seem to have had a fair amount of discussion,” she said. “How do you anticipate change will happen?”

Amos responded: “I think we’re almost there, but we’re not quite there.”

The exchange drew sighs and moans from members of the audience who had stayed late expecting a vote on an issue that has impassioned supporters on both sides. Almost a dozen speakers addressed the board over Davis’ leadership before the board went into executive session. About half spoke in favor of extending his contract while half spoke in favor of searching for a new superintendent.

One of Davis’ loudest critics, parent Cynthia Briscoe Brown, told the board he is a destructive force in the school system and should not be renewed because “he has lost our confidence” over actions such as removing six administrators from North Atlanta High School.

Parent Suzanne Mitchell said the board should renew Davis for two years to carry out the five-year strategic plan he and the board just completed after a year’s work. “We must give the plan time to take hold,” she said.

Davis, a former University System of Georgia chancellor with the support of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Gov. Nathan Deal, came out of retirement in to take the job in July 2011 knowing the state was about to announce the revelations of an investigation that implicated about 180 Atlanta Public School educators for cheating during the administration of the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

The next week, two days after the state released its report, Davis moved for the dismissal of all the educators named in the report. Some are still fighting those dismissals through tribunals. Last year the board extended Davis’ contract another year. He has since come under increasing criticism for his handling of the redistricting of schools, and, on the first day of school this year, enforcing new bus routes and procedures.

Parents claimed the new routes and policy forced children to walk to school through dangerous downtown neighborhoods. Davis and the board moved swiftly and fixed the problem. About the time that furor subsided he kindled another when, on Oct. 5, he removed six administrators from North Atlanta High, sparking protests from parents and students.

When he addressed the school to explain his decision, he said the school was on the verge of being taken over by the state because of poor academic performance.

The next day a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education denied that the state was planning to take over the school.

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