Sentences cut for Atlanta educators in cheating scandal
Atlanta — A judge sharply reduced the sentences Thursday for three former Atlanta public school educators who received the harshest prison terms in the city's standardized test cheating trial.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter reduced the sentences for Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts. Each was given three years in prison and seven on probation. They were also fined and sentenced to community service.
Previously, each was sentenced to seven years in prison and 13 on probation.
"I want to modify the sentence so I can live with it," Baxter said.
The three former district regional directors were the highest-ranking of the 11 former educators convicted of racketeering. Their original sentences were more than double what prosecutors had recommended.
Each defendant also was given a $10,000 fine, compared to the original sentence of a $25,000 fine. They also must perform 2,000 hours community service — unchanged from the original sentence.
A state investigation found that as far back as 2005, educators from the 50,000-student Atlanta school system fed answers to students or erased and changed answers on tests after they were turned in. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved, and teachers who tried to report it were threatened with retaliation.
In 2013, 35 educators were indicted on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft. Many pleaded guilty before the trial, and some testified at the months-long trial. The jury on April 1 acquitted one of the 12 former educators who went to trial and convicted the other 11 of racketeering.
Ten were sentenced April 13. The 11th recently gave birth and is set to be sentenced later this year.
The original penalties were handed down after Baxter delayed sentencing for a day to give the convicted former educators a chance to try to negotiate deals with prosecutors. He warned that if they took their chances with him, he'd give them prison time.
Only two of the educators took deals and were rewarded with relatively light sentences. A former testing coordinator was ordered to spend weekends in jail for six months and a former teacher must be at home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for a year. They each also got five years of probation.
The other former educators, including the three who were resentenced Thursday, refused to take the deals. They balked at conditions set by prosecutors, including publicly admitting their guilt and giving up their right to appeal.
Aside from the three former district regional directors, the defendants who didn't take the deals received prison terms of one or two years, with the remainder of their five-year sentences to be served on probation. Most sentences also include community service and a fine.