Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes is representing Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. The school board this week announced it would not extend her contract when it expires June 30. AJC file photo Hyosub Shin/AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Roy Barnes says APS board should vote publicly on superintendent contract

Former Gov. Roy Barnes criticized the Atlanta school board for not voting publicly on its controversial decision to not extend Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract.

Barnes, an attorney representing Carstarphen, said Friday the board did not act transparently when it announced Monday that a majority did not support renewing the superintendent’s contract and that the board would begin a search for a new superintendent. Carstarphen’s contract expires June 30.

The board met in closed session, as state law allows, for three hours Monday before making the announcement. The board has said a vote is not needed because no action was taken.

Barnes called for a public accounting, especially given Atlanta Public Schools’ history of broken trust because of a district-wide test-cheating scandal before Carstarphen was hired in 2014.

“When you take official action then it must be done in public, and official action is ‘We are not going to extend this contract,’ ” Barnes said, in a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

District attorneys assured the board “multiple times” that the issue was best handled in executive session, said Chairman Jason Esteves. The board meets in closed session to talk about all personnel matters, and previously has deliberated superintendent contract extensions in closed session, Esteves said.

The board had voted in public to extend Carstarphen’s contract on three prior occasions. This time, the board announced it would take no action, thus allowing her employment to end in June.

“Following our announcement and after concern from community members related to this process we asked our legal counsel to independently review the matter, and they reaffirmed that the board followed the law,” Esteves said.

Nothing in the state’s open meetings law “requires a board to vote to approve their action of not taking a vote,” said the Open Government Mediation Program in the state attorney general’s office, in response to a similar complaint lodged this week by a watchdog group.

Ed Williams of Concerned Citizens for Effective Government filed a complaint with the agency alleging the school board violated the state’s open meeting law.

In an email response, the open government mediation program said the law “does not require that a vote be taken on an employment matter; the act only requires that if such a vote is taken, that vote must be taken in public.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said Williams’ complaint is the only one it has received regarding the APS board’s decision.

Barnes said he’s not considering legal action at this time.

He said he did, however, write a letter to school board members this week on behalf of Carstarphen citing provisions in her contract the board must follow.

Barnes said he still doesn’t understand why her contract wasn’t renewed.

“If it was politics, just say it was politics. If it was a specific thing, they never told her,” he said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.