Atlanta school board candidates: Carstarphen decision made, time to move on

The winner of an October runoff election will join an Atlanta school board that's divided over the superintendent, but both candidates said it's time to move on.

Last week, the board announced it would not extend Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's contract when it expires June 30. The board will meet Friday to discuss the search for the next Atlanta Public Schools chief.

Board members later said they were split 5-3 on the controversial decision to not renew Carstarphen's contract.

Some of her supporters have pushed for the board to reconsider, or at least take a public vote on the contract. But the two candidates running in a special election for the District 2 seat said the board needs to press forward, not revisit the decision.

Aretta Baldon and Davida Huntley were the top vote-getters among nine candidates in Tuesday's election. They will face off in an Oct. 15 runoff, and the winner will have a say in who the district's next leader should be.

Baldon, 46, said she does not have enough information to weigh in on the contract decision because she wasn’t part of the board’s discussions in closed session.

She said the board made the decision “in the dark.”

“There was a little bit of pain in the community with how the work was done,” she said, adding that more public engagement would have been beneficial. “I think it’s time to move on. The decision has been made, and now we are in a critical point.”

Huntley, 35, said she did not support extending Carstarphen’s contract because schools in central Atlanta’s District 2 have “been left behind.” She said APS needs to devote more money to low-performing schools in less-affluent neighborhoods.

Huntley said any time spent reconsidering the board’s decision would detract “from the bottom line, which is our children.”

The focus should turn to finding the best leader for APS, she said. She said she’ll be looking for a superintendent who is committed to equity and transparency.

She said the district is still in a precarious position after the massive cheating scandal that unfolded before Carstarphen was hired in 2014.

“We are a very, very fragile district,” Huntley said. “We’ve been tainted and we have a black smear on our reputation as a school system.”

Baldon said APS needs a leader who has experience working with a “challenged” school district. She wants someone who will provide immediate and direct support to the schools that need the help the most, and someone “who is keenly aware” of the district’s diversity.

There are deep socio-economic differences throughout the district, and the next superintendent “needs to be someone that understands that we are not one monolithic group of people,” Baldon said.

The District 2 vacancy was created by the resignation earlier this year of Byron Amos, who left the school board to run for Atlanta City Council.

Baldon led all candidates in Tuesday’s election with just over 30% of the 1,112 votes cast, according to unofficial results. Huntley finished second with 25% of votes.

Baldon also has raised the most campaign cash.

Her donations totaled $37,164, and included contributions from Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland, a former school board member; Arthur Blank and a couple officials who work for his family foundation.

Huntley has raised $10,074 so far.

The school board announced Wednesday it will meet at 1 p.m. Friday to discuss the superintendent search. The meeting will include a presentation from the district’s law firm about the search process.

Board Chairman Jason Esteves has said the board wants to hire a superintendent before the start of next school year.

APS superintendent decision

The Atlanta school board announced Sept. 9 that it would not renew Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract when it expires June 30. Interviews with individual board members revealed five board members opposed an extension and three supported it. The District 2 board seat representing central Atlanta is currently vacant, with two candidates vying in an Oct. 15 runoff election. The board will meet at 1 p.m. today at APS headquarters, 130 Trinity Ave., to discuss the superintendent search.