Atlanta Progressive News endorses Board of Education candidates Brenda Muhammad (I) (D-1), Nisha Simama (AL-7) and Cynthia Briscoe Brown (AL-8) [Updated]


[Update] APN added additional endorsements in a subsequent report – the information has been added to this post.]

As reported by Matthew Cardinale, Atlanta Progressive News (APN) Board of Directors issued its endorsements of candidates for the Atlanta Public School Board of Education race. APN endorsed incumbent Brenda Muhammad (D-1), film consultant Taryn Bowman (D-4), IT professional Raynard Johnson, retired teacher Anne McKenzie (D-6), private school counselor Nisha Simama (AL-7), attorney Cynthia Briscoe Brown (AL-8) and quality consultant Ed Johnson (AL-9).

As with any candidate endorsement, it is always important to understand the point of view of the endorser and what criteria they used in making their selection. Per the APN corporate website,

Progressive news is news that brings us closer to universal health care, living wages, affordable housing, peace, a healthy environment, and voting systems we can trust…mainstream media presents itself as objective but is actually skewed towards promoting the corporate agenda of the ultra-wealthy. APN, on the other hand, does not pretend to be objective.

And per the article presenting the endorsements, the one criteria focused on in each candidate assessment is their position on charter schools,

A top priority in our endorsement process, then, is to identify people who will provide some counterbalance [to supporters of charter schools].

I think it is also important to note that the APN corporate website appears to accept advertising from two of the three candidates that APN endorsed.

The following are some of the key comments provided in support of the endorsements made in each race.

Brenda Muhammad (D-1) – Incumbent Brenda Muhammad is being challenged by small business owner Leslie Grant. Per the APN article,

While Muhammad may not be an ideal progressive candidate, there are several good reasons to reelect her…

She understands the dynamics of gentrification and privatization…While we are cognizant that Ms. Muhammad is tied into the power structure, and she has friendships and alliances with some of the very actors who have helped precipitate some of those very changes, we also believe that Muhammad sees both sides.

Previously, APN reported that Muhammad said she voted for every charter school proposal that has come before her – that’s scary… When asked about her previous statement regarding support for charter schools, Muhammad clarified that there had, in fact, been instances in which she had voted not to support specific charter school proposals that came before APS.

[Added] Taryn Bowman (D-4)

“As a board member, I would not approve charters that appeared to be profit-driven, with no real educational leadership base. But, most importantly, charter schools need strong fiscal management and an ability to recognize programs that are appropriate for students.  I think it’s important to look at the financial impact of the charter school on the community as well as how the charter school would compliment [sic] the programs that are already in place within the community.”

[Added] Raynard Johnson (D-5)

Neither Lawrence nor Johnson were critical of charter schools.  APN was not particularly thrilled with Johnson’s interview with APN, but we feel he has a stronger track record of community involvement, at least that APN is aware of, than Lawrence.

[Added] Anne McKenzie (D-6)

“I don’t have an objection to charter schools, but I don’t think there is a dime worth of difference in charter and public schools.  The differences might be that they [charter schools] have a full parental involvement.  In some [public] schools, they give second and third chances to students when they misbehave.  Charter schools don’t give students a chance – if they misbehave, they’re out of there,” she said.

Nisha Simama (AL-7) – Simama, a counselor at the private school Paideia, is running against current incumbent and former teacher Courtney English. Per the APN article,

Simama …is progressive; has a balanced view on charter schools; is extremely experienced in the area of educational policy; and promises to live up to a higher ethical standard that Mr. English.

Simama told APN in an interview in August 2013, “Charters are here to stay.  When I was on the Board, we approved the charter of a number of schools.  But I don’t think we need to get into thinking charter schools is the panacea to save public education… I’m not for having us taking public taxpayer money and paying for private education,” she said.

“We’ve got to be concerned about labor practices as well,” she said, noting that APS teachers work from day to night.  “There’s nothing as hard as teaching.”

Cynthia Briscoe Brown (AL-8) – Brown is running against incumbent and BoE Chairman Board Reuben McDaniel, III, attorney Tom Tidwell, real estate developer Mark Riley and concerned citizen Dave Walker. Per the APN article,

In a July 2013 interview with APN, she said, “…There are great charter schools, and there are bad charter schools, just like there are great traditional schools and there are bad traditional schools,” she said.

“I think that any school which has active involved parents will be a successful school, and while there are some advantages to the charter model–mainly that in most cases, charter schools require parental involvement–I am concerned about the tendency, particularly some of the for-profit charter schools, to skim off the active and involved parents, whose children are going to be successful anywhere, and leave the children who have no one to help them bridge the divide at their failing school,” she said.

[APN] believe[s] that the Board already has too many members who strongly support charter schools.  A top priority in our endorsement process, then, is to identify people who will provide some counterbalance. We believe Briscoe-Brown fits the bill.

[Added] Ed Johnson (AL-9)

“Kindly allow me to unequivocally say my overall position is to stop the injections of the pathogen called ‘charter schools’ into the public good called ‘public schools.’  Once stopped, my position would shift to focus on whatever amount of pathogen that was originally injected.”

In addition to the items noted above, the endorsement considerations included the candidate’s position on the “Gang of Five” issue, ethics charges and candidate responsiveness to APN requests.

Additionally, the article notes that the endorsements are made by the APN Board of Directors, but the APN website does not provide any information on who the directors of the corporation are or any information on their backgrounds. By email, I have requested this information from reporter Matthew Cardinale, who also serves as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of the corporation, and will update the report when the information is provided. [Update – Mr. Cardinale provided the names of the Board members of APN. In addition to himself, the two other Board members are Susan Keith and Sarah Epting, who have written articles for APN in the past. See their submissions here and here.]

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

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