Signs displayed during an August 2019 protest call for the removal of Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and school board Chairman Jason Esteves. The protest was organized by the Georgia Federation of Teachers. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

Opinion: APS board’s action lacks accountability, transparency

In the Atlanta Public Schools’ board policy manual, a statement of values includes these words: “Accountability and transparency are driving forces of our success.”

That’s just one reason it’s so hard to stomach what happened at Monday’s board meeting, when the public learned that Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract will not be renewed. Chairman Jason Esteves read from a statement that did not explain what motivated the move, and he declined to say which board members endorsed or opposed the decision.

Board members are elected officials, accountable to the public, students and other school stakeholders. Choosing and retaining a superintendent is arguably their most important job.

It’s unacceptable – and certainly not in the spirit of open government laws – for them to privately decide such an important issue. Officials said that allowing Carstarphen’s contract to expire does not require a public vote.

The law governing meetings of public bodies in Georgia allows for private discussion of limited personnel matters, but all votes must be made in public. If we take the board at its word, there was never a formal vote, in a three-hour closed session, to renew her contract. But of course there was a head count, and we know from AJC interviews of board members that at least four opposed and three supported the renewal. In fact, heads were apparently counted back in July, but that was hidden from the public too, so as “not to disrupt the start of school.”

This is not how an accountable and transparent board behaves.

Each member should go on record with a statement of why they support or oppose renewal. And the board should take a public vote and explain the decision.

The Editorial Board

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