Recap of Meister/Bowman District 4 candidate forum at Buckhead Republican Women meeting

Yesterday evening the Buckhead Republican Women group hosted a candidate forum for incumbent Nancy Meister and challenger Taryn Bowman for the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education District 4 seat. Each candidate was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and then answer a series of questions. The following is a recap of the event (candidate responses are shown in the order they answered the questions).

Opening Statements

Nancy Meister opened by vigorously defending her record on the BOE over the last four years. She stated that at the beginning of her term, she voted to not accept the Blue Ribbon Commission report on the cheating scandal and supported an investigation that resulted in 185 teachers, principals and administrators being accused of cheating. In addition, she was a supporter of bringing in Superintendent Davis “on an interim basis to clean up the mess” and stabilize the school system. However, she voted against extending his contract and wanted to bring in a new and permanent superintended to “move APS forward”. In addition, Meister stated that during the recent budget discussions, she had “strongly advocated for smaller class sizes” and had voted against the FY14 budget due to the deficit spending and the inclusion of furlough days for teachers.

Taryn Bowman stated up front that she “has lost confidence in APS” and that “financially, APS should be ashamed.” She stated that the “budget is in shambles,” spending was not being adequately tracked, there was extensive deficit spending and that “APS has to live within its means.”  She wants to “work hard to reduce the budget” and pointed to the example of 26 people in the communications-external affairs department as an indicator of the administrative overspending problem. Bowman stated that “there is no accountability for the tax dollars being spent” and said that she would use her “strong financial background” to provide “greater accountability of where our tax dollars are being used.”

How should the outstanding pension liability be resolved?

Bowman stated that it was likely that a bond to cover the pension liability was the way to address the issue, but that she would not let the pension liability hurt other activities going forward.

Meister indicated that additional study was needed, however issuing a “bond was probably the way to go.” In addition, it was also necessary to “take money out of the central office” to lessen the impact on classroom spending from the pension liability payments.

Do you support for additional charters schools in APS?

Meister stated that the approval of new charter schools “would be dependent on the applicant”, but  was in favor of charter schools with unique models that offer options and that are supported by the community. She cited the Atlanta Classical Academy charter school, which she strongly supported, as an example. In addition, Meister was also open to considering conversion charters and charter cluster models as well. She also considers it necessary to make a decision on the underlying future structure of APS.

Bowman said that she does support additional charter schools in APS as “it provides additional choices for parents.” Bowman also said, “I believe we need to look at every charter school on an individual basis and ask the question of how it will financially affect the community and how it will complement the rest of the system.”

Why are there 400+ buses and only 279 bus drivers?

Meister said that she has posed the question to the administration. Additionally, she  said that in retrospect, when the issue regarding bus schedules has come up in the past, it appeared as if all the information received from the administration was not fully complete.

Bowman indicated that she does not have sufficient information to answer the specific question. However, she did state that “the bus schedules have been a mess” and this was an example of the “poor information flow” coming from the administration. She also stated that the recent approval of the $300k computer systems for the buses was a waste of money and that the “bus drivers were never asked if the [new system] was what they needed” implying that the current BOE is not conducting a thorough assessment of spending.

What is the status of North Atlanta High School investigation and when would a report be released?

Bowman did not have any information as to when the report would be released.

Meister stated that Internal Compliance was pursuing the investigation, and that the initial indication was the Report was to be issued several weeks ago. However, she did not know when the final report would be released and that, as a Board member, she is not provided details of internal investigations until they are complete.

Closing Statements 

Meister concluded with the statement that “experience matters,” that APS is “on a trajectory for positive change” and that if reelected, together “we can make a difference”.

Bowman focused her closing on financial matters and said that if elected, “I would want to weed through the budget and hold APS accountable.”

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

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