Atlanta school board runoff candidates clash over funding, literacy

At-Large Seat 7 incumbent Tamara Jones and challenger Alfred ‘Shivy’ Brooks try to draw contrasts
Alfred "Shivy" Brooks (left) and Tamara Jones (right) are competing for Atlanta's At-Large Seat 7 in a Dec. 5 runoff. (AJC file photos)

Credit: AJC File Photo

Credit: AJC File Photo

Alfred "Shivy" Brooks (left) and Tamara Jones (right) are competing for Atlanta's At-Large Seat 7 in a Dec. 5 runoff. (AJC file photos)

The two candidates in Tuesday’s runoff for the last of five Atlanta school board seats up for election this year are sparring over key areas such as teacher pay and literacy.

At-Large Seat 7 incumbent Tamara Jones will try to ward off opponent Alfred “Shivy” Brooks. Neither candidate earned more than the required 50% of the vote in the three-way general election on Nov. 7.

Jones and Brooks have presented different viewpoints about Atlanta Public Schools’ budget. During the first debate in September, Brooks took aim at Jones for voting against the school district’s $1.7 billion budget.

“Every time there’s an opportunity to vote for something that will increase funding for more central office spending, she’s done it, and when there was an opportunity to vote for a (pay) increase for teachers, she voted against it,” Brooks said.

Jones replied she wasn’t voting against teacher raises, but didn’t agree with the overall budget allocations.

“I did vote against the budget because I didn’t feel like enough of the money went into the schools,” Jones said. “We needed to be funding the schools first, making sure they were made whole, making sure that requests for security and safety measures were being honored and I did not feel that our requests (were) honored.”

The budget included employee pay increases between 6.5% and 8.4% and an additional $2,000 state pay bump for teachers.

Jones has a background in architecture and urban planning. She is a longtime APS parent and volunteer and was elected to the school board in 2021. Brooks is running to be the first “active” teacher on Atlanta’s board. He teaches economics and government at Charles Drew High School in Clayton County and has been an APS parent for 13 years.

Brooks is running on raising teacher pay to a starting salary of $65,000 in APS in the next five years. (A school board term is four years.) The starting annual pay for a beginning APS teacher without an advanced degree is $54,735 a year.

“I work in Clayton County and I make less than an APS teacher, and I’m here to tell you, it’s hard,” Brooks said during a recent runoff candidate forum. “It’s a struggle to be able to keep the lights on and make ends meet on a teacher’s salary. Our teachers deserve better, and as a teacher, I can promise you, I will make sure our teachers are taken care of.”

In response, Jones reiterated that she supports increasing teacher pay.

“We did give teachers a raise this year, much needed,” she said. “Not enough. Not nearly enough. We need to keep that moving. We need to increase the compensation (of) all of our staff.”

Jones, who serves on the board’s policy review committee, has made literacy a centerpiece of her campaign. The board is expected to vote on a policy at its monthly meeting Monday. The plan calls for schools to establish literacy goals aligned with evidence-based reading methods.

“When you’re not reading proficiently, you’re going to get to a point where you cannot take those courses that are going to prepare you for college,” Jones said during a recent forum. “Without the ... foundational elements, they’re not going to absorb the subject matter in other subjects.”

Brooks has argued focusing on literacy policy is redundant.

“We’ve had literacy goals and things for many, many years,” he said. “But our board has not done the job that it’s supposed to do in making sure that they are actually putting into effect the policies that we already have.”

Jones maintains the board has a responsibility to set policy, but it’s up to administrators to implement plans.

One of the new board’s biggest responsibilities will be hiring a new superintendent. Brooks has said he will only vote for a candidate with experience teaching and serving as a school principal.

Jones wants a candidate who will engage with PTAs and commit to improving literacy.