Atlanta school board elections bring heavy turnover

Two-thirds of Atlanta’s school board will be filled with new representatives following a runoff election Tuesday that ousted the board’s chairman.

Reuben McDaniel, an investment banker who led the school board during the last two years, lost re-election to attorney Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who collected 66 percent of the vote.

Brown, an attorney, criticized McDaniel’s leadership of the school system following the nation’s largest cheating scandal, scrutiny from the school system’s accrediting body and an investigation of racism allegations at North Atlanta High School.

McDaniel was the only incumbent facing a runoff challenge. Three other runoff races decided Tuesday involved political newcomers for seats in which incumbents didn’t seek re-election.

In all, six of the school board’s nine representatives will be newcomers when they take office in January.

The incoming board will quickly have to make major decisions on who to hire as superintendent, how to improve academic results and whether to expand school choice options in a district where charter schools have flourished, with 1 in 12 students enrolled in charters.

The board will include four members who participated in the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities, often in charter schools. Their TFA experience increases the number of school board members who have taught in classrooms, but it also calls attention to how they’ll vote on issues concerning charter schools.

The four school board members who are TFA graduates are Courtney English, Matt Westmoreland, Jason Esteves and Eshé Collins. English and Westmoreland were elected last month, and Esteves and Collins won runoffs Tuesday.

Esteves, an attorney, defeated education business owner Lori James for a citywide seat. Esteves won with 71 percent of the vote.

In a south Atlanta district, Collins, an attorney and program director at Georgia State University, prevailed over Dell Byrd, a property manager and former teacher. Collins earned 59 percent of the vote.

In west Atlanta, counseling center director Steven Lee won election with 59 percent of the vote over Mary Palmer, an academic coach.