Atlanta school board candidates court voters as incumbents make case for re-election

10:15 p.m Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 Atlanta Education News
ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Two dozen candidates for the Atlanta Board of Education gather to participate in an election forum at the IBEW Auditorium on Tuesday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta Board of Education incumbents hoping to fight off a pack of passionate opponents asked voters Tuesday for four more years to finish the work they’ve started. 

More than 200 residents gathered at the IBEW Auditorium to hear from 24 of the 30 candidates who qualified to run in the November election.

All four incumbents battling in contested races showed up to the forum.

“The last time I ran on a platform of innovation, equity, and accountability. I think we’ve made some really good strides in those three areas, but I think we have a long way to go. There’s a lot of things that we have put in place that need to be continued over the next four years,” said Leslie Grant, who seeks re-election to the southeast Atlanta District 1 post. 

Her lone opponent, Ade Oguntoye, a social worker, said the focus needs to be on policy makers to push societal changes. 

“We have one issue and one issue alone: we need to get serious about education,” he said. 

Much of the roughly three-hour forum centered on how candidates would address big-picture educational issues such as equity, teacher pay, and board transparency. Many candidates voiced support for universal preschool and expressed a desire to bring stability to a district that has seen its share of turmoil, including a massive cheating scandal. 

Only two of the six incumbents -- Nancy Meister in north Atlanta District 4, and at-large District 9 representative Jason Esteves -- are unopposed in their re-election bids. 

Esteves briefly addressed the crowd, pledging to focus on implementing universal early childhood education and continuing to guide the district’s turnaround plan. A key part of the district’s strategy has been to embrace a charter-system model. 

“We have worked hard, my colleagues and I, the last three and a half years to bring the school system to where it is today, and I think you have to know there’s been progress in the school system,” Esteves said. “But let me tell you work is not done. If we want more children to graduate from Atlanta Public Schools…, we need to do a lot more.” 

The three most-contested races are for open seats held by a trio of incumbents who decided to seek other elected offices instead of running again for the school board. 

Five newcomers are running in east Atlanta District 3; six in west Atlanta District 5, and five in the race for the at-large District 7 seat, to be vacated by current board chairman Courtney English. English is running for city council. 

 Challengers who face incumbents indicated they’re ready to mount vigorous campaigns, and several in the audience said they were ready for change. 

“I think we need to clean house in the board of education because I don’t like what they did, and I think we need a new superintendent,” said Clarice Mackie, who lives in District 6 and came to hear the candidates. “I think Atlanta needs an overhauling.” 

Byron Amos of central Atlanta District 2 faces two opponents. Eshé Collins of south Atlanta District 6 faces three opponents. Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who holds the at-large District 8 post, faces two opponents. 

Briscoe Brown wants to increase alumni and family engagement and provide every child with what they need to be successful.

“We’ve worked really hard in bringing APS out of some dark times. I think we’ve done a good job over the last four years, but there’s a lot left to do,” she said. “And I look forward to continuing on the board of education as we build on the foundation that we’ve laid over the last four years.”

Charlie Stadtlander, who seeks the District 8 post, called some of what was said during the forum “excuses.”  

“I believe we have a responsibility to provide a high quality of education to every student in the Atlanta Public School system and that is not occurring today,” he said.

Ben Stone, the third candidate seeking that at-large post, did not participate in the forum.

The event was organized by Georgia STAND-UP and Southwest and Northwest Atlanta Parents and Partners for Schools.

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