Today’s Courier Herald Column:
35 educators are now under indictment as what hopefully will be the final chapter in the cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools. The indictments include the charge of racketeering under RICO statutes. This essentially means that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is charging those in charge of Georgia’s capitol city schools as running a corrupt organization. There is no rejoicing in this fact.
The tragedy of this scandal is that it appears the highest levels of Atlanta’s school administration appear to believe it was more important to project a façade of success via faked test scores than it was to admit that the system was failing some kids. The children who were cheated of the education that administrators apparently decided was too difficult to administer won’t be able to get that time back.
But there is yet another ancillary problem that the legacy of this scandal will continue to contribute toward. The failure of yet another intown urban institution will serve as a battle cry for those who wish to distance the suburbs from Atlanta’s core.
Many pieces of local legislation were aimed at various was to use state legislation to control excesses of Fulton County government during the 2013 General Assembly. DeKalb County has another group of residents in the northern portion of the county studying the idea of forming a new city to change the governance over much of their public services.
The schools in DeKalb are facing loss of accreditation. The DeKalb county government is facing a criminal probe of its own. And Atlanta has a once touted school superintendent reporting to jail to post bond and pose for a high profile perp walk.
The “optics” of the situation are stark. The institutions of the city’s majority minority core are facing various crises of leadership. Suburbanites looking for an excuse to distance themselves from the city’s core have fresh grist for their mill. Those in North Fulton have long sought a divorce from those living in the City of Atlanta and those in the southern part of the county.
Many parents stay together for the good of the children. Despite “for the children” being one of the most deceptive phrases used in politics, perhaps Fulton – and the rest of the Atlanta region – needs to think of the children before making any further plans to balkanize.
Those students caught in the failing school systems are part of the innocent life that so many of the suburban Republicans find universally precious while still in the womb. It is hardly right to then condemn them for the choices of who their parents elect. All Georgians must assume a seat at the table to correct the systemic problems we face in this area.
There must be an acknowledgement of a failure of leadership to address many of the problems faced within the city’s core. This failure should be owned by both local leaders and those further up the state’s political power structure. This is neither a black failure nor a white one. It is a Georgia one, and if allowed to continue all Georgians will suffer.
Suburbanites cannot pretend that removing themselves from government entanglements with others within the region will make problems go away. Likewise, leaders within municipal power structures must be held accountable for decisions made at the local level, as well as the consequences of failure.
In short, each side must find a way to seek common ground and some form of cooperative governance based on the understanding that a metropolitan region containing half the state’s population will not be successful with a thriving suburbs and a failed poverty stricken center. For without a healthy core, those suburbs will not thrive. Despite the wishes of independence, interdependence is the only reality that can serve as the basis for success.
It is easy for suburbanites to point to the failings of those in the core and say that’s why they need to be separated. It’s easy for the leaders within that core to blame the isolation and lack of support from the more affluent areas for failure.
So long as everyone is asserting blame, there is no foundation for success. Both sides must seek understanding of the other, and the need for the other’s cooperation, if the Atlanta region is to be made whole and successful.