Column: Black business leaders meet over APS school closing plans

By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 6, 2012

The Atlanta Business League called an “urgent meeting” of its members on April 3 at the headquarters of Atlanta Life Financial Group to talk about the redistricting plans of the Atlanta Public Schools.

But what began as an informational meeting of business leaders talking about the situation turned into a passionate, and sometimes heated, plea by members in the community to the APS board members present to not close any schools.

One of the community leaders, “Able” Mable Thomas, talked about how her community went into decline when the decision was made to close the English Avenue School.

“We don’t need to close any schools,” Thomas said. ”I’m appealing to you, don’t let them kill the heart of the African-American community.”

Several speakers were upset that virtually all the schools slated to be closed were in African-American neighborhoods, and that schools on the north side of town were being spared.

Developer Egbert Perry, who has championed the renaissance of several central city neighborhoods, said that people want to live near good schools, and that has led to an overcrowding on the northern part of Atlanta.

The Atlanta Business League’s chairman, Tommy Dortch, appeared to be swayed by some of the arguments made by community leaders.

“We want equity,” Dortch said, addressing his comments to Reuben McDaniel, APS’ board chair. “What is the rush? I know you need money. It appears to me there needs to be a little more time. Once the damage is done, you can’t repair it.”

Several people mentioned the fact that there is new investment slated to come to key communities where there are proposed school closures.

“With all this economic development going on, we want that economic development to spill over in the community and to improve our schools,” Dortch said. “We are ready to roll up our sleeves.”

McDaniel then came to the podium to say that the board will decide on April 10 on the redistricting and possible school closures. “This is not something any of us are taking lightly,” he said. “We are trying to create and invest in the best quality education that we can.” Then he told the group: “Unfortunately, we are going to have to close some schools.”

“No you don’t,” someone shouted from the audience.

“We want to make sure every school has the resources to be successful,” McDaniel continued. “We are listening.”

Red Carpet Tour

The 2012 Georgia Red Carpet Tour kicked off April 4 with a dinner at the Governor’s Mansion.

This year, the tour has 28 guests who are top business prospects looking to invest or expand their operations in the state. They represent a variety of industries — manufacturing, insurance, gaming, logistics and technology.

The highlight of the tour is a visit to Augusta National Golf Club, where they were to attend the first round of the Masters Tournament. The group is spending Friday, April 6, in Atlanta, and then it will return to Augusta on Saturday to witness that day of the tournament.

Chris Clark, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said the Red Carpet Tour is responsible for bringing in more than 15,000 jobs to Georgia in the past 15 years. He said the Tour has become “one of our state’s most important vehicles for economic development and job creation.”

The Georgia Chamber has been involved with the Red Carpet Tour since its inception in 1959.

“Every year the Tour continues to be a unique and memorable experience for everyone involved,” said Margaret DeFrancisco, Georgia Lottery Corp. president and CEO, who is chairing the 2012 Red Carpet Tour.

U.S. Chamber coming to town

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Business Civic Leadership Center is holding its 2012 National Conference in Atlanta during the week of April 16.

The conference will highlight the Atlanta-based Points of Light organizations — “A Billion + Change” initiative.

That is a national campaign that seeks to mobilize billions of dollars worth of pro bono volunteer skills and services from corporate America.

Points of Light, in partnership with Deloitte and McKenna Long & Aldridge, will hold an April 16 morning panel discussion on how skills-based volunteer service is improving Atlanta’s communities.

Nobis Center now Nobis Works

The Tommy Nobis Center is changing its name after 35 years.

The new name is Nobis Works, but the organization said that it will continue to have the same mission — to help people with disabilities find employment.

“As we go forward under the name Nobis Works, we plan to help even more individuals with disabilities and other barriers to find meaningful work,” said Connie Kirk, the organization’s president and CEO.

Breakfast of Champions

A similar organization — the Bobby Dodd Institute — recently held its Breakfast of Champions event, where it honors individuals who have helped realize the nonprofit’s mission.

Jerry Weiner, an Atlanta volunteer leader and philanthropist, was honored with BDI’s Circle of Excellence Award for his support of the Bobby Dodd Institute, Jewish Family and Career Services and Amit Program.

Convergent Outsourcing was recognized as the Employer of the Year at the March 23 event for its leadership in creating job opportunities for people with disabilities. In the past year, Convergent has forged a collaboration with BDI.

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