Atlanta school board terms will now be staggered

Atlanta school board Chairman Jason Esteves looks at new superintendent Lisa Herring as he speaks during the swearing-in ceremony of superintendent Lisa Herring on June 30. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Atlanta school board Chairman Jason Esteves looks at new superintendent Lisa Herring as he speaks during the swearing-in ceremony of superintendent Lisa Herring on June 30. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A new law signed by the governor will ensure that the Atlanta school board doesn’t undergo a complete overhaul every four years.

Atlanta school officials pushed for legislation to stagger board terms in an effort to maintain continuity and sidestep the potential for massive disruption.

All nine seats on the Atlanta Board of Education come up for election in 2021 as previously scheduled. But, five of the elected members will serve only a two-year term that expires Dec. 31, 2023, instead of the usual four years. The other four officials elected next year will serve a normal four-year term ending Dec. 31, 2025.

Going forward, a school board election will occur every two years in which residents vote to elect officials to serve four-year terms.

Gov. Brian Kemp late last month signed the bill making the change.

It received widespread support from members of the Atlanta legislative delegation, including state Rep. Betsy Holland, D-Atlanta.

Holland said staggering school board elections creates stability, ensuring half of the board is retained.

“This also means that more institutional knowledge can be transferred to new board members from more tenured ones,” she said, in an email.

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Holland and school board Chairman Jason Esteves, who also supported the change, said the new approach also would eliminate the potential for a lame-duck period during which the board stops making major decisions in the year leading up to an election.

“Board members can be hesitant to start new initiatives or programs if there’s no guarantee that they’ll be around the following year to implement them,” Holland said, adding that staggering terms “alleviates that hesitation when at least half of the board will remain steady to continue initiatives.”

Esteves said delaying big decisions in an election year because of concerns about board turn-over isn’t “fair to the system and it’s not fair to kids.”

He called it “good governance” to make sure there’s stability on the board.

Esteves holds the at-large seat 9 on the board, one of the five seats that will be up for just a two-year term initially. He said he hasn’t finalized his plans but currently expects to run again.

The board spots representing odd-numbered districts — District 1 in southeast Atlanta, District 3 in east Atlanta, District 5 in west Atlanta, and at-large seats 7 and 9 — will be limited to two-year terms in 2021. The four even-numbered districts will be on the ballot in 2021 for four-year terms.

Most of the state’s school boards have staggered terms, including the metro Atlanta districts of Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties.

Atlanta Board of Education members

Leslie Grant, District 1, southeast Atlanta

Aretta Baldon, District 2, central Atlanta

Michelle Olympiadis, District 3, east Atlanta

Nancy Meister, District 4, north Atlanta

Erika Mitchell, District 5, west Atlanta

Eshe’ Collins, District 6, south Atlanta

Kandis Wood Jackson, at-large Seat 7

Cynthia Briscoe Brown, at-large Seat 8

Jason Esteves, at-large Seat 9