Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall did not scheme to enrich herself with bonuses by allowing educators to inflate students’ test scores, her lawyers said in a statement issued Monday.
For the second time in a week, Hall’s legal team went public and proclaimed her innocence. This time, the defense attorneys sought to refute an underlying motive in the 65-count indictment: that Hall allowed test-cheating to occur at APS to “obtain substantial performance bonuses.”
Hall, charged with 34 other APS officials and educators, is accused of heading a racketeering conspiracy, making false statements and theft by taking. The theft charges allege that Hall unlawfully accepted APS bonuses based on Criterion-Referenced Competency Test results she knew were false.
In their statement, Hall’s lawyers accused Fulton County prosecutors of overreaching.
“In order to label Dr. Hall a racketeer, prosecutors say that she single-mindedly schemed to inflate test scores in order to pad her yearly bonuses,” her lawyers’ statement said. “… We simply ask that the citizens of Atlanta wait to hear the evidence and accord Dr. Hall the same respect we give all accused — the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.”
Hall collected more than $580,000 in bonuses in the dozen years she worked for APS. For the 2009-09 school year, when suspicions about APS test scores first surfaced, the school board awarded Hall bonus pay of $78,115. Hall’s regular pay and benefits totaled more than $332,000 annually when she left APS in June 2011.
When the board hired Hall in 1999, its members agreed to provide her annual bonuses if certain goals were met. Academic achievement, including test scores, played a large role. Other issues also factored in, such as teacher training, public outreach and reducing student absenteeism, according to APS records.
On Monday, Hall’s legal team said any news media report that says Hall earned more than $500,000 in bonuses based on CRCT test scores alone was “false information or at best misleading since it aggregates Dr. Hall’s approximate bonuses over some 10 years.”
In any given year, the statement added, “Dr. Hall’s bonus was a small fraction of this amount and was tied to 25 or more performance objectives established by the Atlanta Board of Education. The vast majority of these benchmarks had nothing to do with the CRCT results.”
The lawyers’ statement did not specify how much of Hall’s bonus was tied to CRCT test score. Hall’s lead attorney, Richard Deane, declined further comment.
The lawyers’ statement also noted that the governor’s three special investigators who investigated test cheating at APS — Mike Bowers, Richard Hyde and Bob Wilson — determined that monetary bonuses provided little incentive for educators to cheat.
Instead, the investigators found, “fear of termination and public ridicule in faculty and principals meetings drove numerous educators to cross ethical lines.”
Pressure to meet targets and improve students’ CRCT scores was the single most frequent explanation teachers provided to explain why they cheated, the investigators said. “Most teachers, and many principals, described an oppressive environment at APS where the entire focus of the district had become achieving test scores rather than teaching children.”
The investigators’ July 2011 report found that “thousands of school children were harmed by widespread cheating.” Specifically, cheating occurred at 44 schools and involved more than 178 educators, including 38 principals, the report said.
The indictment said if certain school system-wide targets were achieved, Hall received a “substantial bonus.” Targets for elementary and middle school students were largely based on CRCT scores, the indictment said, adding that student attendance was also a contributing factor.
Hall’s legal team said the charges against Hall are unfounded.
“The great misfortune here is that the very real achievements of APS students and their teachers are being disparaged and summarily dismissed in an effort to vilify Dr. Hall,” the statement said. ” … Millions of dollars in precious public funds have been thrown at this effort to re-characterize isolated misconduct into a system-wide criminal enterprise led by Dr. Hall, when that money could have been far better spent.”