Hard Lessons to Create a Better Future

By Courtney EnglishEnglish
Educational reformer John Dewey once said: “Schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

There are few institutions as important in our society as our public schools. There remains an essential compact between a community and its public schools that helped make America what it is today. And this mutual pledge demands that our schools teach every child, whether they are poor or rich, black or white, to the best of their ability. It demands that our teachers possess tools needed to be successful, and entails a guarantee to parents that their kids’ interests always come first.
That trust was broken in Atlanta when it was discovered that widespread cheating on annual state exams occurred, robbing students of promised education and learning.
That scandal and subsequent trial have been a sad, painful and tragic chapter for Atlanta Public Schools and our community. Its impact will be felt for years to come.
As the trial ends, close observers of APS must know that efforts to restore the integrity of the system began three years ago and accelerated more recently with the election of a new board and appointment of a dynamic superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, in 2014. We are working hand-in-hand, focusing on high student outcomes to implement reforms and to ensure that a scandal like this never happens again.
We’ve set a strategic course for a new direction of improved instructional quality and systemwide efficiencies with a goal to regain the trust of our community, parents and students through hard work, integrity, transparency and leadership.
We are making progress.
A senior cabinet chief accountability office has been created, and we have built systems and procedures to ensure data integrity. It’s working to continually review recommendations to improve data monitoring and controls.
An ethics program was launched in 2011 that includes ethics advocates at each school and a mandate for all employees as a condition of employment. It also:
› Installed automatic triggers for test scores that rise or decline sharply;
› Created an anonymous hotline to report unethical behavior;
› Instituted automatic investigations of schools with unusual gains in test scores;
› Created stronger safeguards related to the handling and storage of test materials;
› Suspended incentive or bonus programs;
› Replaced 60 percent of the district’s principals.
As a result of these reforms, APS was recently recognized by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for significantly improving auditing and test security procedures.
For students who needed additional academic assistance, our district launched a comprehensive remediation program. In fact, structured remediation is now mandatory so that we can meet the specific needs of all struggling students, not just those caught up in the scandal.
Dr. Carstarphen, the board and I have made a vow that together we will create a new culture at APS, one of trust and collaboration where every student graduates ready for college and career. This will be a culture where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system.
Courtney English is chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education



Are Politicians Role Models?

BowserThis week, Washington D.C. elected Muriel Bowser as the Democratic nominee in the race for the next mayor. She defeated first term Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) who federal prosecutors have accused of allegedly having knowledge of a campaign scheme by one of his donors. The ‘shadow campaign’ and accusations of quid pro quo put Mayor Gray under significant scrutiny as he sought to be reelected. The Mayor has denied having any knowledge of a shadow campaign to help him win in his 2010 race.

Another DC candidate lost his seat after his colleagues cited him for ethics violations.  The fifth-term councilmember, Jim Graham lost to first-time council candidate Brianne Nadeau. Councilman Graham was the subject of several investigations involving code of conduct violations.  His colleagues subsequently reprimanded him in February 2013. The investigations found that he tried to bargain with bidders for a lucrative contract and attempted to use his power for personal gain.

And in San Francisco Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) was the subject of an investigation of public corruption and arms trafficking. Federal agents this week continued to search his office.

Even in Atlanta, Georgia’s former state ethics commission director, Stacey Kalberman is in the courtroom where she has alleged in a lawsuit that commissioners retaliated against her and she lost her job for pursuing an investigation into Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign spending.

Are political leaders role models? Of course they are.  While that may be an unwanted and reluctant role, there is no question that voters have an expectation of trust in those who choose to serve. Ethics and politics are inseparable.  The cost of political office is often microscopic scrutiny and persistent challenges to the public’s trust. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property.”

“It’s Borderline”



I learned a general ethical principle in politics nearly 40 years ago–if it’s borderline then don’t do it. If the ethics decision compromises your reputation, implies a conflict of interest or causes public suspicion–Don’t consider it. Stay as far away from it as humanly possible. Don’t get involved publicly or privately. Stay the heck away.

The latest victim of getting too close to the ethical fall line is Georgia Senator and Republican First Congressional District candidate Buddy Carter. He introduced S. B. 408 that would regulate pharmacy benefits managers, impose certain requirements for the use of maximum allowable cost pricing by those managers and quite possibly benefit pharmacists and pharmacy owners like him.

When Fox Atlanta reporter Dale Russell asked Carter about the obvious ethical conflict and whether he should have carried the bill he replied, “Obviously, it’s borderline.”

As a pharmacist and the owner of three pharmacies, the conflict of interest seems obvious. What was he thinking? I suspect he was thinking of himself and not the people of Georgia. The bill failed to make Crossover Day but Carter hasn’t given up on trying to get the bill attached to another bill.

Click here to see Fox Atlanta Reporter Dale Russell’s story

Let the Games Begin

The Olympic flame has arrived in Sochi as the Winter Olympic Games are set to open on Friday. The competition will include alpine Sochiskiing, figure skating, snowboarding, bobsledding and new events like women’s ski jumping and the luge team relay. We are told snow conditions are almost perfect for certain sports. Though star American snowboarder Shaun White has withdrawn due to competition conditions, opening the door for other star athletes to take center stage. It appears we are in for an exciting and let’s pray safe Winter Olympic Games.

The parallel of the Games to Georgia political competition beginning in March is not lost on some of us. Like Sochi, the conditions here in Georgia are almost perfect for the right candidate to upset the incumbent governor who, according to recent polls, has an approval rating well under 50%. Governor Nathan Deal faces serious political challenges including the botching of the recent snowstorm and charges that he influenced the state ethics board investigation into his 2010 campaign.

Even though Georgians overwhelmingly support expanding Medicaid, Governor Deal has refused to consider it leaving Georgia with the sixth highest number of uninsured residents in the United States. Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Reverend Warnock chose the 85th birthday celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. to highlight the Medicaid disparity and income inequality in his comments.  Georgia State Senator and Gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter recently made the point that Georgia families today make $6,000 less than they did 10 years ago. PolitiFact deemed the statement true.

Today, the Georgia graduation rate is below the national average and the per capita spent on education is below the national average. The governor has appointed a task force to assess emergency response and let’s hope they start with reading the current plan (which if my memory doesn’t fail me is submitted to FEMA annually or quarterly) and talking to experts in the field beyond meteorologists. More importantly, Atlanta has a wealth of experts at colleges and universities like Morehouse, Spelman, Georgia Tech and Georgia State who have decades of experience in educating, evaluating and teaching leadership, they should be invited to the table as well

Winning Begins With the Candidate

By Cabral Franklin


I haven’t blogged in a while because I have been slogging through a tough election cycle. I had the pleasure to work for some great candidates and be part of the circus we call Atlanta politics. The Andre Dickens vs. Lamar Willis race was particularly important to me. Andre and I have been friends for almost 25 years. Helping a childhood friend get elected to political office is not something I normally do. But as a friend, it was important to me to be a part of his campaign.

Andre’s campaign was successful for three main reasons:

1. He is a great candidate – Andre has literally talked to me about public service since we met in the 10th grade at Benjamin E. Mays High School. His roots in southwest Atlanta, business acumen, and academic pedigree made him an ideal candidate. His community organizing experience,personable nature and his ability to communicate effectively one-on-one made supporters out of most people he met.

2. A strong campaign strategy – Running against a 12-year incumbent who was backed by a popular mayor meant our campaign strategy had to be nearly flawless to give him his best chance to win. From the start, we decided that we needed to make the race a referendum on Willis. Convincing a first-time candidate to initiate this type of strategy and stick to it throughout the campaign was a tireless challenge.

3. Staying on message – Perhaps the best trait of the campaign was staying on our message. We decided to focus on Willis’ pending disbarment and fake charity very early. We didn’t waver from this message after Willis attacked Andre and his supporters (including my family) even though many people thought we should respond. Keeping the focus on Willis proved successful.

Managing the external issues of this campaign was different than anything professionally I had done. Fundraising was difficult due to the business community passing judgment on the probability of Andre’s success. The side stories in this campaign were numerous and often distracting.

Despite the rhetoric, this race wasn’t about a proxy or one person’s wishes. Rather it was about the Atlanta Way – collective, diverse interests doing what was best for the city of Atlanta. Andre ended up winning between 40% – 60% of the vote in each city council district. This type of citywide appeal makes him someone to watch in the future.


Why the Double Standard?

PHOTO CREDIT: AAbdulRashiphoto

In 1987, Senator Gary Hart withdrew from the presidential primary.

In 1998, Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers’ gubernatorial bid was derailed by revelations about his personal life.

Earlier this year, Democratic Party State Chairman, Mike Berlon, was urged to step down by Mayor Kasim Reed and other Georgians after it was revealed the State Bar of Georgia had suspended his law license.

Yesterday, Willis was banned from practicing law in Georgia after it was revealed that he pocketed $30,000 in settlement funds meant for a child that he represented. His disbarment came on the heels of a laundry list of other ethical challenges – forming a fake charity, allegedly spending taxpayer dollars to fund his campaign for re-election, and using his influence to push through a sole source contract for a company now under a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation just to name a few. His habitual ethical offenses never seem to end.

Why is Lamar Willis’s ethics case different? It shouldn’t be.

Apparently neither his colleagues nor friends have advised Willis to resign from office. His friends are not obligated to be objective, but the public and other elected officials have a responsibility to expect honest, ethical behavior from public officials and candidates. Disappointment is appropriate in this case. Only the fool hearted thinks this pattern of behavior by a sitting member of the Atlanta City Council and a prominent candidate for public office holds promise for a successful city.


Oh the Places You’ll Go!!! In Honor of Senator Cruz

Yes some placDrSeusses are safe, definitely among the safest cities in the country – Austin and New York. Others are grounded in smart city planning and embrace innovation like Portland and Seattle. Some are forward looking and optimistic, Greenville, SC among the best. Some have learned from past mistakes and seized the new day to never ever repeat the mistakes of the past. Try Nuremberg for lessons in human rights.

Sadly not all places understand lessons unlearned repeat generation after generation. Facing the lessons of the past is essential to building a community sustainable for the future. For instance, if Georgia and Atlanta don’t face the lessons of unsuccessful attempts to create great schools then chances are we won’t have great schools for most school-aged children. Or if we don’t understand Ivan Allen’s courage to stand up for civil rights legislation or Robert Woodruff’s courage to celebrate the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. rather than succumb to supporting the prevailing business opinion of the day, then we will fall further behind in developing as an emerging global city of excellence. If we allow missteps in ethics to be a sidebar conversation and honesty to be compromised in our public and private sector leadership we will not gain or maintain the public trust needed to tackle tough 21st century issues. Everyone suffers when we sweep evidence of wrongdoing, lying, cheating and dishonesty under the rug because weak ethical standards, low aspirations and acceptance of less than the best in word and deed undermine the fabric of our communities. People lose faith, lose hope and lose trust in their leadership.

The places we want to go require more than getting along because it is easier or because it is too unpleasant to disclose our weaknesses or to embarrass someone.

The Committee for Better Atlanta ranks candidates and as a footnote mentions candidates’ ethics isn’t considered. Really? Nothing else matters in my book. Ethical behavior and honesty are the first requirements to a healthy democracy.



Who Walks the Talk?

campaign-finance-4In a few days, candidates for local office in Georgia will file their campaign finance reports. Georgia law requires that every candidate for elected office disclose every contributor, contribution amount, loan, and expense on a periodic basis.  The media and political insiders often look at these reports to determine which candidates are viable and which are not. They will scour the disclosures looking for well-known names and large expenses drawing many conclusions that are much too soon to make.

Some candidates will have disappointing fundraising results, while others will have way more money in their campaign account than they need to win uncontested races.  Those with more money will offer funding to their favorite candidates or hoard money for future races.  Those with less money than necessary will sound the alarms and revamp their campaign strategies adjusting it to their financial reality.

Some candidates, let’s hope not too many, will not file their reports on time, file incomplete reports, or not file at all.  These will face small fines and potential embarrassment by the press.  Nevertheless, these transgressions happen every disclosure period and some candidates are repeat offenders.

The administrative side of politics isn’t glamorous. It takes time and attention to detail if not by the candidate certainly by his or her team.  The details matter. As a candidate, I had to face the consequences of good and bad staff work. It’s one thing to preach transparency, but practicing it is much harder.

Raising money is nearly every candidate’s least favorite chore and every consultant’s best advice. The truth is most candidates have to spend more time fundraising than friend-raising because campaign literature, television and radio advertising, professional staff and operation costs can mount quickly.

Most voters don’t know or don’t care about campaign finance reports.  Except for the media coverage of the reports, voters generally aren’t interested, even though the candidates they learn the most about usually have well-funded campaigns. Very few candidates can win elections without spending more than half their campaign time fundraising.

As the campaigns, even those in which candidates are unopposed, get rolling here are other factors I consider before I vote:

1.            How do you rate the candidate on intelligence, integrity and grit?

2.            What does he or she stand for?

3.            Can you count on the candidate to live up to his or her commitments?

4.            Can he or she make a case for gaining your trust?

5.            Is the candidate a leader or a follower? How do you know?

The candidate’s life experience, how they have faced adversity, or how they have taken advantage of opportunities all are factors I consider.  Also, whether or not I believe the candidate cares more about the city more than their political future.  Lastly, does he or she walk the talk or just blow hot air.

New Website Coming Soon

scf website

Blogging regularly on topics from national politics to aging as a baby boomer has made my acquaintance with social media and the Internet a lot smoother than I anticipated. In the very near future, I will launch www.Shirley-Franklin.com.

I am proud of the opportunity I was blessed to have as Atlanta’s mayor and the website will help tell the story of that service. When I left office in 2009, the following was true:

  • The city’s budget was balanced, furloughs were over, and City Hall was open 5 days a week
  • The city established its first real cash reserve in decades and a formula for calculating future revenue projections that would yield at least $100 million in cash reserves over four years – where it is today
  • The implementation of the $3 billion Clean Water program was nationally recognized and more importantly acknowledged for its accomplishment by the presiding federal judge
  • The Atlanta Beltline was launched to great fanfare
  • Nearly $4 billion in airport upgrades and a new International terminal was financed and under construction
  • The Regional Commission on Homelessness was underway and the city and private donors had raised $50 million to tackled chronic homelessness in the city by creating over 2000 new beds and vastly expanding regional cooperation and moving thousands from street and shelters to homes
  • Minority and female businesses benefited from record levels of business opportunities throughout government especially in the billions of dollars spent on water and airport infrastructure
  • Hundreds of the city’s lowest paid employees had their pay increased to living wage and hundreds of seasonal workers had pay increases and many were made permanent job offers

The majority of the Council and I did what it took to put the city on the course it is today. The city’s finances are faring better today because we took swift action when it was necessary and unpopular.

There are dozens of topics that will be covered on the website starting with the creation of the city’s public art program and the Atlanta Jazz Festival 30 years ago to story behind the acquisition of the Martin Luther King Papers, the development of the Atlanta Beltine and the creation of Office of Sustainability, the Mayors Youth Program, the Regional Commission on Homelessness and much more.  Stay tuned.

A Done Deal?

Better-Georgia-LogoBy Don Weigel

Most of the political talk for the last few weeks has centered on the US Senate seat now open in 2014 – and for good reason. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ retirement is an important moment in Georgia politics.

But let’s not lose sight of another vulnerable seat, which could be, were the right stars to align, a fight just as important as the open Senate seat: Governor.

That’s right, Governor Deal shouldn’t be sitting as comfortably as Georgia’s politcos and mainstream media would want you to believe.

Hear me out.

Better Georgia recently conducted our fifth statewide issues poll in a little over a year. There’s a lot of really interesting data in the toplines and I encourage everyone to download them read them for themselves.

Download here at: BetterGeorgia.com/2013Q1

But here’s what we know about Deal’s re-election chances: [Read more…]