It seems Alison Bartlett has been chasing the title "board maverick" almost as long as she's been on the Cobb County Board of Education. She has become a superstar to those who oppose most of what the board tries to do and has become skilled at finding points of opposition. Last Thursday night, however, she may have solidified her hold on the maverick star as she stoically sat still for harsh criticism from her fellow school board members. She was admonished for falsely accusing five Cobb County principals of coercing their separate faculties into voting for the balanced school calendar.
She claimed she "had spoken in confidence with staff members from at least five different schools who "felt" they were influenced into voting for the balanced calendar option." She refused to provide the names of any of the "cowards" (board member David Morgan's word) who tattled. While that makes her even more of a hero in some people's book, every accused person has a right to face their accusers. Without these names, there is no way of knowing if any accusers exist outside Bartlett's imagination.
I am a teacher, and the issue of the calendar choice was only a blip on my e-mail one afternoon a few weeks ago. I paid little attention to it, as my 15 to 30 e-mails a day usually read like a time-consuming to-do list. There was no calendar discussion with anyone. When I finally found the time to vote, I did NOT vote for the balanced calendar (although I now look forward to it). Over 4,000 other teachers didn't vote for it either. So far, no intimidation or retaliation. If 4,000 of us are fired for voting for the wrong calendar, I'm sure the world will hear all about it.
I went to Glover Street for the board meeting and took lots of notes. Here's what I think happened:
Alison Bartlett got caught in a situation that exploded far beyond anything she had imagined. She had identified the principals at one elementary school, one middle school, and three high schools as administrators who had coerced and intimidated their faculties into voting for the balanced calendar. In the hope of discrediting the survey, she had called into question the integrity of these principals. They were deeply hurt. Their teachers, knowing the charges were completely false, circled around in their principal's defense. At one school a faculty-generated, administration-free petition was signed by nearly all faculty within hours; it stated outrage at the untrue allegations and was sent to all board members. Other schools showed similar acts of support, sending private e-mails to board members, making phone calls and showing up in droves at the board meeting to support their accused principals.
When Bartlett realized the mounting anger that was directed at her, she began rearranging her assertions. "Perhaps there were two schools involved, not five!" "The definition of 'coerce' is really different from what most people think it is; if a principal even suggests it might be nice to have a week off in February, his comment should be classified as 'coercion' because, psychologically, someone overhearing the statement might be intimidated into thinking they had to vote the way the principal suggested." Also, "I'm worried about the 'process' for the future; it's not the individual principals I was going after, it's the process...the process!"
When Bartlett took her board seat, she was face-to-face with a roomful of people she had harmed. No, they weren't happy. And no, the board wasn't happy either. When Dr. John Crooks asked her if she was surprised at the impact her assertions had caused, the obvious answer was "yes." When he asked her why she hadn't talked to him directly since three of the five accused schools were in his district, she replied, "I don't have the answer."
In the battles between the David and Goliaths of this world, everyone loves "David." In many situations, a victory for David is a victory for the common man, and we all rejoice. But those who remember their Old Testament history know that many things David did were deadly and slanderous. Even though he could write glorious psalms, he hurt many good people. These innocent people also deserve their hero; they, too, deserve exoneration.
Editor's note: Donna Douglass teaches ESOL World History and World Geography at Wheeler High School in east Cobb.