Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, left, and former Atlanta mayoral candidate and City Councilwoman Mary Norwood spoke at a Wednesday meeting of the Northwest Community Alliance. AJC file photos.

Norwood praises APS superintendent at community meeting

Former Atlanta City Councilwoman and two-time mayoral candidate Mary Norwood praised Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen during a Wednesday community meeting they co-headlined.

During her remarks at a Northwest Community Alliance event, Norwood told the audience she’s a “big Meria fan.” Before the meeting, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Norwood said she hoped the school board would keep Carstarphen as the district’s leader.

The board announced in September that it would not extend Carstarphen’s contract when it expires June 30. The board has begun looking for a new superintendent, and last week selected a search firm to help recruit candidates.

Norwood said she hopes that search will end with the school board deciding that Carstarphen should finish the work she started.

“Nothing is done until it’s done. I’ve run for office too many times to not know that. Nothing is over until it’s truly over,” said Norwood, when asked about Carstarphen’s future. “It would be the best of all possible worlds if there is a way for her to stay.”

Carstarphen has not announced what she plans to do when her contract ends. She has repeatedly said she’s committed to finishing the work that she was hired in 2014 to do.

She and Norwood drew an audience of about two dozen people to Wednesday’s event at Northside Church of God. There was big competition when it came to drawing a crowd: The meeting started just two hours before the Democratic presidential debate began across town.

Carstarphen took the opportunity to reiterate her frequent call to protect school tax revenue by paying more attention to public financial incentives awarded to development projects. Those incentives limit the school district’s ability to give bigger tax breaks to homeowners and to provide services aimed at closing the academic gap between white students and students of color, she said.

Carstarphen said it’s legal and in some cases appropriate for school property taxes to be used to spark development but she said more thought should be given to where those developments are located.

Construction projects in thriving areas such as Midtown and Buckhead don’t need public funding the way that projects on the city’s south side do, she said.

“What we’re trying to get people to talk about is, ‘Would these developments happen without the abatements and the incentives?’” she said. “Why would we give an abatement on something that would happen anyway?”

Norwood followed Carstarphen’s remarks with a short update on her work as chairwoman of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. She took on the role after losing the 2017 mayoral race to Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Norwood identified Buckhead’s top issues as crime, traffic, the loss of the tree canopy, development within neighborhoods, street conditions and taxes.

The Northwest Community Alliance consists of a coalition of northwest Atlanta neighborhoods as well as businesses and developers.

In introducing Wednesday’s two speakers, the group’s chairman, Mike Koblentz, said Carstarphen took over a school district “that became infamous for all the wrong reasons” and likened the district-wide cheating scandal to an ongoing federal corruption probe of Atlanta city hall.

“We see how that deeply hurt Atlanta just as the current investigation into city hall continues to hurt us at all levels,” he said.

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