By Gracie Bonds Staples
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Fulton County parents, disappointed over recent decisions to end programs in their children’s schools, have begun efforts to remove six of seven school board members.
“They have chosen to dismantle key programs that are of value to the public,” said Bob Sieling, a parent of two district students. “We chose to dismantle the board. That’s our right.”
Allison Toller, spokeswoman for the Fulton schools, said on Saturday the board is not aware of "any effort of this nature" and would not comment further.
Sieling gathered signatures on a recall petition on Saturday at a meeting attended by more than 60 parents, who despite a 6-1 school board vote last month to approve recommended budget cuts by Superintendent Cindy Loe, are still hoping the board will reinstate the district’s popular elementary band and orchestra program.
The parents met for two hours at the Roswell Recreation Center to hatch out a game plan to make their case once more to the board when it meets Thursday at the Dunwoody Springs Charter Elementary School.
Loe recommended additional cuts last week to shore up the system's $120 million budget shortfall. Loe also recommended the board raise the millage rate by one mill, which would bring in an estimated $28 million more in revenue.
The board will consider the newest recommendations at its meeting on Thursday. However, the district is moving ahead with its plan to convert the elementary school band program into a fee-based after-school program and has asked local contractors to submit proposals to run the after-school program.
John Benham, a nationally known music consultant who has fought to save school arts programs in 47 states, including Georgia, was hired by some Fulton parents to help make their case to keep the program.
To do that, Benham said he needs additional data that the district has refused to give.
He told parents Saturday the only way for them to save the program is to turn out at Thursday’s board meeting, ask for the data he needs to finish a study of the program, and urge the board to rescind its decision until the study is complete.
Benham said board members “could turn a deaf ear but I doubt it.”
Meanwhile, Sieling circulated a petition asking for a recall of board President Linda Bryant and members Linda Schultz and Gail Dean.
He said parents also intend to mount challenges against members Katie Reeves, Catherine Maddox and Julia Bernath in the next election.
Ashley Widener, who cast the lone vote against the band proposal, would not be challenged, Sieling said.
Recall is a procedure that allows citizens to remove a public official before the end of a term of office. It is used most frequently at the local level.
According to Fulton school board attorney Glenn Brock, the group would need the signatures of 30 percent of people who were eligible to vote in the past election (about 14,000) for each board seat. The group must also have a valid legal reason to recall the board members.
Sieling says he has collected more than 100 signatures.
“The board is in a tough position, but rather than focusing efforts on dismantling programs for our children, they need to focus on the Legislature and fight for our children,” he said.