Ex-Atlanta schools chief Beverly Hall posts bond on cheating charges

Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall is seen April 2, 2013, in this booking photo provided by the Fulton County sheriff. AP Photo/Fulton County Sheriff

Updated at 10:56 a.m. ET

ATLANTA Former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall was released from jail after posting bond on charges associated with her alleged involvement in a standardized test cheating scandal.

Hall left the Fulton County jail just before 11 p.m. Tuesday after posting bond of $200,000. The 66-year-old didn't speak to reporters as she arrived at the jail around 7:30 p.m. flanked by her attorneys. A grand jury had recommended a $7.5 million bond for Hall, but that was reduced after negotiations with prosecutors.

"Seven-point-five million? No! I haven't seen that in cases of genocide," Hall attorney J. Tom Morgan told reporters. "The bond that we have now that the D.A.'s office agreed to is very reasonable considering there's been no violent crime."

Lawyers for some of the other defendants also said their bonds were unreasonably high.

Hurl Taylor, who represents test coordinator Donald Bullock, said his client's $1 million bond amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Bullock was among the first defendants to surrender at the Fulton County Jail early Tuesday.

Warren Fortson, who represents testing coordinator Theresia Copeland, described her as a 56-year-old grandmother. Fortson said her $1 million bond was unnecessary. As CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, the lawyer for teacher Tameka Goodson also complained about the bond.

"It's a way of punishing people so they can't bond out. She doesn't have $200,000," Ray Lail told reporters.

Hall and 34 subordinates were indicted Friday in the test cheating scandal that rocked Atlanta Public Schools. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard had set a Tuesday deadline for the educators to surrender at the jail.

All but a handful of them met the deadline to turn themselves in. According to CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV, police Wednesday morning were still waiting on Luscious Brown, former principal of Kennedy Middle School, Clarietta Davis, former principal at Venetian Elementary, and Lera Middlebrooks, former testing coordinator at Dunbar Elementary School.

Jerome Harris, Hall's friend and former boss when the two worked together in Brooklyn, N.Y., was outside the jail Tuesday among a group criticizing the high bond amounts for the indicted teachers, principals, administrators and other employees.

Harris recalled asking Hall to take over as principal of a troubled elementary school in Brooklyn. She cried, he said, because she didn't want to leave her beloved students at the magnet school where she had been assigned at the time.

"People don't have integrity like that," said Harris, who was then superintendent of Brooklyn Community School District 13. "I honestly believe Dr. Hall wouldn't tolerate cheating. She has that integrity. She wouldn't tolerate it."

Hall garnered a reputation as a fixer who could turn things around. After beginning her career as a classroom teacher in Brooklyn in 1970, Hall worked her way up to the No. 2 position in the New York City schools system.

In 1995, Hall was called in to take over as superintendent of the Newark, N.J., school district, which had been seized by the state because of low test scores, questionable spending practices and high dropout rates.

Almost immediately, she set about cleaning up school buildings, even declaring a health and safety emergency to speed up repairs in time for fall classes.

She criticized the old school board for losing its way and making it difficult for educators to concentrate on what was important — something Hall's critics say happened to her years later in Atlanta.

"Somewhere along the way, this system focused more on the adults than on the children," Hall said in September 1995, during her time in Newark.

In Newark, Hall made changes that drew the ire of some employees and others in the community. Within a year, nearly a quarter of the district's 82 schools had new principals and hundreds of workers were laid off, including custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Hall said the cuts were designed to free up money for more teachers and funding for full-day kindergarten, but critics complained she should have sought more input before making the decisions.

It was her work raising student attendance and modest test gains in Newark that made her an attractive candidate for Atlanta, and she was hired in 1999. From the beginning, her salary included a big financial incentive — 30 percent of her annual salary — for meeting certain performance objectives that included test scores and attendance.

Her contract was renewed a few years later, and Hall was credited with making sweeping changes to the system's academic and business operations.

In recent years, however, her achievements crumbled. A state audit suggested tests were altered, and then-Gov. Sonny Perdue said "any reasonable person can see that cheating occurred and children were harmed." Detractors criticized her use of a driver who shuttled her around the district, while others said she was unapproachable and ignored cheating allegations.

District officials challenged the audit and defended the district's dramatic turnaround, saying there was no concrete evidence of cheating.

"There is a wanting to believe sometimes that poor minority children cannot achieve at high levels," Hall told reporters at the time. "When you begin to see the kind of change we've seen in Atlanta Public Schools, you have to constantly prove the progress is real."

Further investigations revealed more anomalies in test scores, and calls for Hall's resignation mounted. A 2011 state investigative report said administrators under pressure to maintain high scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law created a culture of "fear, intimidation and retaliation." Hall resigned that year.

Hall has consistently denied being involved in or having knowledge of any cheating. However, after the state's investigation was made public, she said: "If I did anything that gave teachers the impression that I was unapproachable and unresponsive to their concerns, I also apologize for that."

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, a longtime Hall supporter, wrote in a blog posting Tuesday that people should wait to pass judgment on Hall and others until they have their day in court.

"Yes cheating is awful," Franklin wrote. "And so is conviction before a fair trial."

Harris, who spoke with Hall a few days ago, said he worries about the long road ahead for his friend. He sighed as he gestured toward the tall, imposing walls of the Fulton County Jail.

"This will almost kill her," Harris said.

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