Voters say they sought change in ousting Atlanta school board chairman

When voters threw out Atlanta’s school board chairman this week, some said they did so because they held him responsible for problems in the city school system.

Reuben McDaniel, an investment banker, lost a runoff election Tuesday to attorney Cynthia Briscoe Brown by a lopsided 2-to-1 margin, bringing an end to his two years leading a board that sought to move past a cheating scandal and accreditation controversy.

In an election with low turnout, voters in the northern part of the city apparently were motivated to oust McDaniel. Turnout in north Atlanta’s District 4 was 9.8 percent compared with 6.2 percent across the whole city — and 93.4 percent of those north Atlanta voters backed Brown.

“I voted against the incumbent chairman just because of everything that has happened,” McKee Nunnally said after voting at Morris Brandon Elementary. “We need change. We need to try new people.”

North Atlanta parents got out the vote through mass emails, Facebook posts, text messages and phone calls in the days leading up to the election, said Angela Boardman, who supported Brown. On Election Day, Brown walked through carpool lines at several schools, asking parents for their votes.

“It was just time for a change, time to get in new and fresh ideas. It’s time to take the politics out of school policy,” said Boardman, a board member of North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools.

Brown rallied parents who blamed McDaniel for the removal of North Atlanta High School’s principal last year amid an investigation of alleged racism. A report released in September found “racial tension” at the school, but said educators didn’t discriminate by race.

McDaniel said he had a responsibility to report allegations of racism at North Atlanta High to the school district’s administration, even though doing so created opposition that led to his political downfall.

He said he was unfairly linked to widespread cheating that occurred in Atlanta schools before he took office in January, 2010. A state investigation found that 185 teachers and administrators were involved in changing students’ grades on standardized tests in 2009.

McDaniel also said he worked to move the school board past the squabbles and factionalism that led to the school system being put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

He said voters in predominantly white north Atlanta neighborhoods showed up at the polls to oppose him, while voters from majority black communities in the central, southern and western parts of the city stayed home.

“The piece of this that has been so disheartening to me, it has nothing to do with North Atlanta High or SACS. It had to do with having such apathy around the voting process,” McDaniel said. “In the African-American community, having fought so hard to get voting rights, we don’t take that right seriously.”

Christine Carter, parent of a second-grader in north Atlanta, said she supported Brown after hearing from other parents.

“The community seems to have gotten really involved in this election,” Carter said. “The election is important because of the state of the schools and the need for strong, responsible leadership.”

Voters said in interviews that they wanted to give the school board a new start, and that meant kicking out those who were in charge.

“The school board, like most things, needs shuffling occasionally. It needs new blood,” said Dinah Moog, whose grandchild is a student at Morris Brandon Elementary.

Voters like Moog got their wish. Two-thirds of the school board will be first-time representatives when they take office next month, with only three of nine incumbents keeping their jobs.

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