Film Producer challenges APS Board incumbent

All nine Atlanta school board seats are up for election Nov. 5, and the stakes have never been higher. Seven of the nine races are contested. Two candidates — incumbent Byron Amos and newcomer Matt Westmoreland – have no opposition. One of the first tasks of the new board will be to pick a new superintendent for the 50,000-student district still reeling from cheating revelations. In the coming weeks, AJC reporters will tell you more about the school board candidates and the issues shaping the election.

After a long-time film career, Taryn Bowman is challenging three-year incumbent Nancy Meister for the North Atlanta District 4 post on the Atlanta Board of Education.

Bowman, the mother of three Atlanta school children, said 25 years in the film industry, including the creation of her own film production company, has given her the budget management skills the school board needs now. She also has worked as a first grade teacher, chairwoman of a PTA magazine and a volunteer at Shepherd Spinal Center. Bowman's three children attend W. T. Jackson Elementary.

Meister said her ground-level experience as former PTA president for two schools and former co-president of the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools, as well as her past experience on the school board, contribute to her understanding of the school system. Meister, the mother of two former APS students, also has worked as a member of the Northern Corridor Task Force — a program to improve schools’ recruitment and retention of students.

“The most important thing that I want people to know is that my history, experience and institutional knowledge on the board … gives me a greater understanding than my opponent of the task at hand and the ability to accomplish this mission,” she said.

But Bowman said this is a pivotal opportunity to revamp the entire board, giving it new perspectives and regaining the public’s trust. She has met with many of the challengers in other races and believes they would collaborate well together.

“I feel the momentum,” she said. “The current board has a lot of problems. They almost lost accreditation. That’s a problem, and that cannot continue.”

Even as an incumbent, Meister said, she retains a fresh perspective. When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on wide-spread cheating by APS educators, she says that she stood up rather than sweep the scandal under the rug.

“[The cheating scandal] was a difficult time and we had to pull the band-aid off. … And I would hope that my commitment and my conviction during that time in making those decisions would prove to voters … that I am not afraid of the hard work,” she said. In 2011, during the cheating investigation, Meister was one of the board members that requested an outside review of Superintendent Beverly Hall’s employment contract.

Both candidates also want smaller class sizes and local budgets for schools.

“It’s very important to let the principal who is there on a day-to-day basis use their money accordingly,” Meister said. Meister is also a proponent of teacher raises and no furlough days.

Bowman wants to control expenditures by limiting central office control and removing the unnecessary jobs.

“We need to get control of [how our money is being spent],” she said. “We need to redirect the money to the classroom, which, in turn, empowers principals to hire the teachers of their choosing.”

Both candidates have had tax woes in the past. Bowman had three tax liens in 2011 that have all been satisfied. One was a sanitation tax lien, while the other two were property tax liens. One of the property tax liens was for about $2,000. She said that she was appealing her tax amount at the time and the commissioner filed this lien without her knowledge. Meister had a state income tax lien for about $5,000 in 2007 that was satisfied in 2009.

The winner of this race will help choose the new superintendent. Both Bowman and Meister said they want a communicative and compassionate leader.

“We want to see someone in that position who has the best interest of our city at heart,” Bowman said, “[Someone] who knows Atlanta, who knows who we are as a city, has a common vision and wants our children to succeed.”

Meister is optimistic for the board’s future.

“This board has definitely had its challenges over the past four years,” Meister said. “We are at a point now that is probably the strongest point we have been at.”