Days after announcing new hire, Atlanta mayor takes back job offer

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms last week named 30-year-old Aliya Bhatia as the city’s first chief education officer, but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has confirmed that Bottoms withdrew Bhatia’s job offer within days of the announcement.

Bottoms provided no explanation for rescinding the offer.

The mayor often pledged to create the position during her campaign last year.

"Quality education can transform lives," Bottoms said in a press release on July 9. "Aliya Bhatia's experience, passion and commitment to creating high-quality, accessible educational opportunities will allow her to effectively partner with (Atlanta Public Schools) and other education and industry leaders from throughout the community as we work to improve access to education and training for all of our children and residents."

Bhatia was to have reported to work this week.

Bhatia recently earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, according to the press release last week announcing her hiring. Bhatia is native of metro Atlanta and started her career as a teacher with Teach for America and later joined the Boston Consulting Group as an associate and consultant, the press release said.

Sources told the AJC that Bhatia had already moved back to the area to begin working for the city.

Bhatia did not respond to a voice mail and text message seeking comment.

Although Bottoms campaigned on a promise to hire a city official to focus on education, the idea initially didn't garner a warm reception from Atlanta Public Schools' leadership.

When Bottoms discussed her plans for the position during a December mayoral election forum, Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen described it as “another layer of bureaucracy.”

Two members of Bottoms’ transition team — Bill Rogers, chairman & CEO of SunTrust Banks, and Virginia Hepner, former CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center — oversaw the search for the position.

Bottoms’ administration did not directly respond to questions about the situation, but a spokesperson said in a statement: “There is no higher priority for this Administration than making sure our children and communities have the tools and direction they need to compete in the advanced workforce of today and tomorrow. We have decided to delay the implementation and start-date of this position to further review some of the nuances that will make this nexus between the City and our education partners even stronger. We appreciate Aliya Bhatia’s remarkable talent and energy, and trust that she will be tremendously successful in her future endeavors.”

The decision was so abrupt that not everyone in the administration seemed to know that Bhatia would not be assuming the role of chief education officer.

The AJC requested Bhatia’s employment contract as well as her resume and job application in a public records request on July 12.

On Wednesday morning, a reporter inquired about the status of that records request and asked if Bhatia would be available for an interview this week.

Spokesman Michael Smith responded via email, saying that he would “look into an interview.”

“Her effective date was just yesterday, so we want to give her a little time,” Smith wrote. “Will advise shortly.”