Atlanta educators to learn their fate

— Since July, Atlanta Public Schools has been spending about $600,000 a month to pay the salaries of educators placed on administrative leave after their names appeared in a 400-plus page report on cheating. The district has been unable to fire teachers because of complicated state employment laws and a lack of access to critical evidence.

Wednesday, Superintendent Erroll Davis said the district worked out an arrangement with District Attorney Paul Howard to view evidence against about 120 accused educators still on the payroll. That means APS can start building cases to terminate those deemed guilty of cheating, and retain those who are cleared.

"My intent is to bring these proceedings to an end as quickly as possible," Davis said. "I am hopeful we can do that by the end of this academic year."

A state-directed investigation found cheating on standardized tests (CRCT) occurred at 44 Atlanta schools and involved about 180 educators. The investigation came after multiple articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution raised questions about the validity of APS test score improvements.

A Fulton County grand jury has been investigating the case to determine whether the educators' actions were criminal, and charges against some are expected.

Fulton prosecutors are preparing indictments with charges such as altering public documents, a felony, relating to the cheating scandal and for alleged kickback schemes involving APS vendors, lawyers familiar with the investigation said.

The district is under pressure to resolve the cases before May 15, the deadline for deciding whether to renew teaching contracts. Non-renewal is tantamount to firing.

Davis said he will not issue contracts to any educators who have not been cleared. He said the district will "make significant progress" on these cases before the May deadline. Cleared teachers and principals will likely be placed in substitute positions until the end of the year, he said.

An e-mail obtained by the AJC was sent to educators on administrative leave Tuesday with the subject line "mandatory meeting." It instructed educators to attend a meeting at district headquarters to discuss "employment status" with APS representatives. Not attending the meeting could be deemed an act of insubordination and could result in termination, the letter said.

School officials did not give details about the purpose of the meetings or say how many educators were sent the e-mail.

Michael McGonigle, legal director for the Georgia Association of Educators, said the district will likely lay out options for the educators -- resign or face termination.

"It’s one step closer to final resolution of these allegations," McGonigle said. "Teachers are looking forward to closure."

Documents show the district has spent at least $6.2 million paying the salaries of educators on leave because of the cheating scandal.

The four outcomes for teachers accused of cheating:

  1. Criminal charges could be brought as result of Fulton and DeKalb DA investigations.
  2. Firing by APS as result of its own investigation. Teachers can appeal such firings.
  3. De-certification by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which is looking at cheating cases.
  4. Cleared of wrongdoing and retained.