Mayoral candidates promise to partner with Atlanta Public Schools

Atlanta mayoral candidates, from left, Antonio Brown, Andre Dickens and Sharon Gay, shown here in file photos taken on Oct. 6, joined an Atlanta Public Schools forum on Monday. (Jenni Girtman/ AJC FILE PHOTOS)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Atlanta mayoral candidates, from left, Antonio Brown, Andre Dickens and Sharon Gay, shown here in file photos taken on Oct. 6, joined an Atlanta Public Schools forum on Monday. (Jenni Girtman/ AJC FILE PHOTOS)

Three leading Atlanta mayoral candidates pledged during a Monday forum to work closely with Atlanta Public Schools to improve a sometimes-strained relationship between city hall and the 51,000-student district.

The candidates spent nearly two hours answering questions from six high schoolers about how they’d support APS, students and their families ahead of the Nov. 2 election.

“I see no reason for mayors to fight with school superintendents or mayors to fight with school boards. That makes no sense to me. We are all trying to achieve the same outcomes,” said Sharon Gay.

APS hosted the event, which it billed as “the only mayoral candidate forum focused solely on education issues.”

Five mayoral candidates, whose campaigns raised at least $200,000, were invited to participate. Three joined the discussion: Gay, an Atlanta attorney; and city council members Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens.

Two of the front-runners — Council President Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed — did not attend because of scheduling conflicts, according to their campaigns. A poll commissioned last month by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Moore and Reed locked in a statistical tie with many voters undecided.

The city doesn’t control the school district or its nearly $1.4 billion budget, but there are occasions where the two must work together. In recent years, the city and APS waged several high-profile battles.

Under Reed’s tenure, they fought over who should control deeds to school properties. Under Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, they clashed over use of school property taxes to pay for a massive downtown redevelopment project at the Gulch.

All three mayoral candidates at Monday’s event promised to partner with APS if elected.

“One of the greatest detriments to our school system has been the relationship between APS and the city of Atlanta, and it’s unfortunate because the only people that truly suffer are our students,” Brown said. “It’s just unnecessary.”

He and Dickens both said they would hire a chief education officer to act as a liaison with the district and other entities, while Gay said she’d convene a regular working group that includes the superintendent.

A city education chief isn’t a new idea. Bottoms also promised to name someone to that cabinet-level role. She then withdrew the job offer with no public explanation after announcing a hire in 2018.

Dickens said he’d strive to be a co-leader alongside Superintendent Lisa Herring, who arrived at APS in 2020.

“The very first thing I’ll do is have her back,” he said. “I want to make sure that I show up as a friend shows up, not giving instructions, not waving fingers, but also giving constructive advice and saying: ‘How can I help?’”

APS students also asked the candidates how they would create affordable housing, address abandoned buildings, support entrepreneurial programs, reduce crime and involve young people in the city’s work.

The forum can be viewed on the district’s Facebook page.

Reed and Moore’s campaigns issued written statements to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution expressing regrets at not being able to attend Monday’s forum.

Reed pointed to his past work to reopen recreation centers and pools to serve Atlanta’s youth and said partnering with APS “will be a top priority” if he’s elected again.

“Atlanta children at every level deserve the support and resources necessary to pursue their wildest dreams and I commit to working each and every day to make that possible,” he said.

If elected mayor, Moore “looks forward to partnering with the teachers, parents, students, and APS school board members to expand programs to protect and enrich all Atlanta youth,” said Kimberly Krautter, her campaign’s communications director.