Atlanta board of education candidates list is final – 27 candidates qualify

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, the list of candidates qualifying for the Board of Education is final with 27 candidates vying for the nine seats on November 5th.

Let me be one of the first to congratulate incumbent Byron Amos (D-2) and newcomer and teacher Matt Westmoreland (D-3) on their likely victories in November – both are running uncontested races. You both can now relax and enjoy the show!

On a personal note, I will add that my wife (who is a very smart lady) said that Matt was the “clear winner” at the NAPPS candidate forum this past Wednesday. Keep an eye on this young man – he is an impressive individual.

The rundown on the rest of the districts, with some thoughts on how they are shaping up, are as follows:

District 1 seat – Incumbent Brenda Muhammad, who has served for 14 years on the BOE and is also the executive director of the Atlanta Victims Assistance organization will face off against Leslie Smith Grant who is a small business owner, volunteer and education advocate.

My sense is that this race will come down to the voters evaluating Ms. Muhammad’s experience and record on the BOE versus Ms. Grant’s connections with the local organizations in the community she is running in.

District 4 seat – This will be a two-way race between realtor Nancy Meister and film consultant Taryn Bowman.

  1. Nancy Meister is the incumbent finishing up her first term and it is likely that Meister will tout her record on the Board including her strong advocacy for smaller class sizes and greater fiscal restraint.
  2. Taryn Bowman, who has prior experience as a film production accountant will likely focus on the many financial issues the BOE will face and her commitment to work on Board of Education issues full time.

My sense is that this race may focus on the many budgeting and financial issues that need to be addressed and ultimately frame the dialogue for the upcoming budget discussions in FY14. This race will be hotly contested and the future candidate forums that include Meister and Bowman will be fun to watch.

District 5 seat – This is a four way race with information technology professional Raynard Johnson, business owner and community advocate Steven Lee, information technology professional Mary Louise Palmer, real estate broker Charles Lawrence and new entrant Kathy Green.

  1. Raynard Johnson is a fiery and entertaining speaker – he knows his positions on issues and states them strongly.
  2. Mary Louise Palmer, who initially filed for the At Large 9 seat, has now qualified for the D-5 seat. Ms. Palmer has worked with large organizations (IBM, Coca Cola and Siemens) and has been very active in the community. Her presentation is clear and very professional.
  3. Steven Lee clearly has considered the issues the BOE will face in the future and presents his case well. Whether his problems with using a diploma mill credential in the past will hurt him is yet to be determined.
  4. Charles Lawrence is a very recent entrant into the race and made his first public appearance at the NAPPS candidate forum this past Wednesday. At this point, his campaign themes and position on issues are still in the works.
  5. Kathy Green filed and qualified to be a candidate yesterday. At this time she has not presented any background information or additional information on her candidacy.

My sense is that this race has a ways to go before we see a clear front runner emerging; however Ms. Palmer’s strong presence may be a deciding factor. Also, with both Johnson and Palmer having IT backgrounds, we will likely learn more about their views on how APS is using technology now and what should be in store for the future.

District 6 seat – Four candidates qualified for the seat.

  1. Eshe’ Collins, is a former attorney and teacher and now is project director at GA State for an early education non-profit organization. She is a strong candidate with inside knowledge of APS and early education issues.
  2. Dr. Dell Byrd is currently a property manager, but has long experience as an educator and taught business education for many years and is certified to teach gifted students and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). She is a very recent entrant into the race and has yet to make a formal announcement on her candidacy or establish a campaign website.
  3. Ms. McKenzie is a retired APS English teacher. At this stage she does not have a campaign website up and running and her platform at this time is not well defined.
  4. Shawnna Hayes-Tavares is a community activist and well known in her district and at the Board of Education meetings. She has strong supporters for her candidacy, however, recent disclosures may have a negative impact on her candidacy.

My sense is that if Tavares can overcome the issues from her past, she will be a formidable candidate because of her name recognition in her community. However, both Ms. Collins and Dr. Byrd present strong resumes and qualifications for the position and state their case for election well. And while Ms. McKenzie has been in the race for some time, she does not yet have a campaign website establishing her campaign theme and positions on issues. This will be an interesting race to watch – and there may be some fireworks as it develops.

At Large 7 – This will be a two way race between the incumbent and former teacher Courtney English and educator Nisha Simama.

  1. Courtney English is a former teacher and is now finishing up his first term on the BOE. While a times he pushes the envelope a bit on his claims on his accomplishments during his first term, he has strong convictions and presents them forcefully. It is likely that he will have to defend his record and then focus on how his agenda going forward will be an improvement for APS.
  2. Nisha Simama has a long career as an educator and currently serves as a counselor at the Paideia School in the Druid Hills area. Several years ago she was appointed to the BOE for a period of five months prior to the results of a special election (she did not run). Simama has strong backers and she presents her case thoughtfully and clearly.

My sense is that both candidates will run campaigns that are based on their experience as educators and their knowledge of how APS works.

At Large 8 – This is one of the more crowded races and is likely setting up as the most hotly contested with five candidates vying for the seat.

  1. Reuben McDaniel, III is an investment banker, the incumbent and current Chairman of the Board. As a result of his position, he along with Superintendent Davis, are the “face” of APS and the BOE. McDaniel knows the issues and presents them well in his campaign presentations. His task will be to defend his record on the Board and make the case that the future will be different than the past.
  2. Cynthia Briscoe Brown is an attorney and small business owner. She has had significant differences with McDaniel in the past and she has no fear about voicing those differences. Her passion is evident and it is likely that she will focus on establishing a stark difference between her vision of the future and the past record of APS.
  3. Tom Tidwell is an attorney and has been active and vocal at BOE meetings. He is also making the case that a change in leadership is needed if APS is to move forward. Tidwell is tenacious and forceful in his presentations and will not shy away from a strenuous debate.
  4. Mark Riley founded a real estate development company and served two previous terms, ending in 2009, on the BOE. He understands how APS works and is now very critical of the leadership at APS and believes a change is necessary if APS is to move forward.
  5. Dave Walker, who describes himself as a concerned citizen, is an activist in the community and has focused his attentions on the operation of the Atlanta City Council. He does not have a campaign website and it is not clear that he has made any public appearances to discuss his candidacy.

My sense is that this will be a key race to watch. There is no love lost between some of the candidates and they are not shy in presenting their strong positions and how they differ from one another. It is likely that future candidate forums for this group will be lively and with lots of fireworks. I look forward to them as this slate of candidates may begin establishing very clear and distinct definitions on the issues and alternatives facing APS.

At Large 9 – This is another crowded race with five candidates running for the seat. As the incumbent is not seeking reelection, this race will be focused on the future of APS as no one has to defend the past.

  1. Jason Esteves is a former teacher and now works as an attorney with McKenna Long. He is thoughtful in his answers to questions and often looks to his experiences as a teacher in formulating responses.
  2. Dr. Lori James is a special education consultant, former teacher and at one time was coordinator for special education at APS. She brings both inside knowledge and expertise in an area that has often been problematic at APS. Her insights and experience should result in a public discussion about the special need programs at APS and how to transform them.
  3. Ed Johnson is a business owner and quality consultant. He has unsuccessfully run for this seat twice before – in 2001 and 2005. Johnson just recently entered the race and does not yet have a current campaign website running that presents his views on the current issues facing APS.
  4. Eddie Lee Brewster is a community activist and former East Point City Council member. Since serving on the Council, Brewster has run a number of unsuccessful campaigns for various offices. However, his current positions on APS issues are relatively unknown and he has declined to participate in candidate forums.
  5. Sean Norman filed and qualified to be a candidate yesterday. At this time he has not presented any background information or additional information on his candidacy.

My sense is that Esteves and James are the leaders in this race as the other candidates have yet to present their case for election to the public. In addition, the race may establish a much needed discussion on special education in APS and proposals for reform.

In summary, two races are done given that Amos and Westmoreland are running unopposed. However, the wide range of experience and views expressed by the other 25 candidates should present a lively and vigorous debate for the other seven contested seats.

Stay tuned.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

5 Responses to Atlanta board of education candidates list is final – 27 candidates qualify

  1. Andrea Knight says:

    Bob, thanks for this terrific round up and your great work moderating!

    It’s interesting to hear from your perspective who needs to defend their record. There are issues for the 2010-2013 board members, especially SAC and budget process. But the questions for Meister, English, McDaniel & Amos aren’t of international scandal proportions.

    On the other hand, Brenda Muhammad, Mark Riley and Lori James must defend their involvement in the Hall years. While I heard points I both agreed and disagreed with at the forum, the only jawdropping moments for me where when Mark Riley said there is an utter loss of trust in Davis, that the system is in chaos because of Davis, and that this administration was damaging kids. We were all duped by Beverly Hall. We all share responsibility for the damage to our city’s children. But board members like Riley had a better ability and a greater obligation to find the fraud earlier. I don’t want to hear Riley pointing fingers at the chaos of the cleanup without acknowledging the mess was created on his watch.

    • Andrea – Thanks for the comment and I completely agree that the incumbents and former BOE members should have to defend their records, and my sense is that as the campaigns move forward we will hear more on this from the opponents. There is no question that the incumbents or former BOE members should face some tough questions on deficit spending; maximum class size; redistricting (the last round & if there is a need for a new round); the cheating scandal (if they were there at the time); overcrowding at elementary and middle schools; excess capacity at the high school level; disastrous graduation rates; failure to resolve the unpaid pension liability; property tax levels; an inadequate and broken budget policy; compensation structures that are on auto-pilot versus directed towards the needs of the system; the administrative bloat at the central office; the salary increases for some; lack of oversight on many issues; and there are more. As the campaign heats up over the next several weeks, I am sure that the opponents will be bringing these to the voters. Again, thanks for the comment.

  2. nancyjester says:

    Thanks for the recap and your opinions. I look forward to seeing who will run in the DeKalb BOE election in 2014. Should be interesting!

  3. Nikita Samuel says:

    Under the “watchful eye” of the current Board of Education, the school system ended up on academic probation, overpaid a crooked superintendent, allowed Beverly Hall to receive superintendent of the year, underwent a budget shortfall and still has horrible test scores, statewide standing and national standing. I CAN NOT THINK OF ONE REASON ANY OF THEM SHOULD BE ELECTED AGAIN unless we think it’s OK to get screwed over twice. Wake up people, please. Oour youth are at stake.

    Nikita Samuel

  4. M.A. Payne says:

    The community needs a watchdog committee to watch the Board of Education, the incoming superintendent, the ethics committee (lol) and the schools themselves. If you want more for your kids, get off your butt and do something about it. If you want to start one and you will be DILIGENT with it, we will help you. And to be honest, the entire APS system needs to undergo an independent audit as well.

    M.A. Payne
    Atlanta Crime Commission

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