A divided Atlanta Board of Education voted 6-3 to extend the contract of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.
Two newcomers who joined the board in January -- Erika Mitchell and Michelle Olympiadis-- joined board member Leslie Grant in voting against the one-year extension.
Though the superintendent gained a majority of the board’s backing, the dissenting votes represent a crack in what has been solid support for the superintendent, hired in 2014.
VIDEO: Previous coverage on Meria Carstarphen
The previous board twice extended her contract. In 2015, it did so unanimously. In 2017, the board voted 7-0 vote, with two members absent, to extend it again through June 30, 2019.
Monday’s vote lengthens her term through June 30, 2020.
After the meeting, Mitchell said her vote reflects the feedback she’s heard from the District 5 community she represents in west Atlanta.
“They haven’t been satisfied with the state of the district,” she said.
She said her constituents are concerned about school safety, culture, and teachers. She also said people have voiced concerns that the district hasn’t paid as much attention to its traditional schools as charter schools.
Mitchell said she believes parents should be able to choose where to send their children to school, but said: “If we don’t focus on building all of our schools how can we justify just catering to one and not the other?”
“I just think we have to be fair,” Mitchell said.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Olympiadis, who represents east Atlanta District 3, cited changes over the past four years that have affected students “while systems and processes to ensure the district's fiscal responsibility and outcome accountability have been marginalized.”
The statement continued: “The increased dysfunctional spending patterns over this same time are impacting our schools' ability to maintain high quality seats and properly address an increasing concentration of our students most in need and vulnerable to educate: our students with the most severe behavioral and mental health challenges, our underserved students with disabilities, our students who speak little to no English, and families, who given everyday challenges, offer the least parental support. Even with the best efforts of dedicated staff in our schools, we are at a breaking point. In this continued state we are left with difficult solutions for our future.”
Carstarphen came to a district besieged by a test-cheating scandal and struggling with low-performing schools. With the board’s support, she implemented a strategic plan to improve schools. The work has included sometimes controversial decisions such as hiring charter operators to run schools as well as closing or merging some schools.
Grant said she’s “extremely pleased” with the mission, vision, strategic plan and the work APS has done.
“I think it is important that the board starts to understand that we have to think about long-term leadership,” said Grant, who was re-elected in November to represent southeast Atlanta District 1.
Carstarphen referred comment to board Chairman Jason Esteves.
Esteves said the board generally remains pleased with her progress. He said the superintendent and school board have created “long-lasting change” as they work to implement a strategic plan to turn around the district.
“While the work has not been perfect it is undeniable that it has had a positive impact not only on this school system but on our children,” he said.
Esteves said this is “not the time to seek change” in the district’s leadership.
“We need her passion and her focus on Atlanta’s children to make sure that we get the job done,” Esteves said.
After the meeting, Esteves acknowledged that Monday’s divided vote was the “first big vote” that this board has taken but said the contract conflict was not indicative of a larger split on the board. He noted that even the previous board clashed at times over specific proposals.
“It’s just a reflection of transformation being a hard thing to do and there being disagreements about how to do that, but everyone generally agrees that APS has to continue to improve and do it as quickly as we can,” he said.
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