Atlanta Public School superintendent transition – what do we know? Not much – limited to no information has been released [Updated]


[Update] Subsequent to publishing this piece, I had a conversation with Chairman of the Board Courtney English. The piece has been updated and corrected based on his statements. The updates are noted in bold below.

On April 29th, the Atlanta Public School Board of Education voted to approve outside funding for a transition team to assist incoming Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen as she develops plans and organizes her new administration. Her official start date is July 7th. The transition team has now been operating for over six weeks – but, other than some specific appointments of key executive staff, we have heard nothing more and no official updates have been released by the Board or Carstarphen’s team.

Unfortunately, the complete lack of publicly disseminated information has resulted in a lot of speculation, but very few facts. The following is what we do know – and some speculation mixed in as well.

Known Facts:

  1. A transition team, including certain Board members and other Atlanta citizens was set up to oversee the transition. At this point, the oversight “transition team” has yet to have any formal publicly disclosed meetings. In addition, there has been no public communication – from either Board members or Carstarphen – on transition activities. [Update] Chairman Courtney English stated that it had been his intention to mimic the normal relationship between the Board and the Superintendent during the transition period and that the initial oversight transition team was not intended to provide detailed oversight during the transition phases, but would instead rely on Carstarphen to bring significant issues to the Board as they arose for their consideration.
  2. The transition team is being funded by outside donations and Chairman Courtney English is overseeing the fund and approving the payments being made (see post on this here). To-date, the names or amounts given by donors have not been released. In addition, the amount raised and the use of the funds has not been released to the public. My concerns that the process would not be transparent remain as they were in my earlier post. [Update] Chairman Courtney English stated that he expected the total cost of the transition team would be in the range of $400 thousand – well below the original estimate. Additionally, he indicated that a full accounting, including the donor list, amounts donated and what the funds have been spent on would be made public early next week.
  3. The Board passed the FY15 Budget that had a record level of spending. A number of Board members expressed reservations on the use of General Fund reserves to balance the budget and on the allocation of spending between the school-house and the administrative functions. However, the budget was passed and there appeared to be an expectation that the budget would be reviewed by the Board with Carstarphen and amendments made. To-date, there is no public indication that this review has commenced.
  4. Carstarphen interviewed all of the final candidates for the 19 new principals that have been selected so far (see more on the principals named here and here) and signed off on all of the hiring decisions. She had indicated that the staffing of the principal positions was a very top priority and in prior statements indicated that she “owned the decision” on the selection.
  5. With the announcement that Deputy Superintendent for C&I Karen Waldon was retiring and that Associate Superintendent Steve Smith was leaving for the private sector (see AJC article here), there are two top executive positions that remain unfilled. Both positions are critical to a smooth transition for Carstarphen and the search continues. It is not clear if either of these positions might be filled by any of the staff already selected by Carstarphen.
  6. Carstarphen has not issued a draft organization chart that she will implement at APS. My understanding is that this information is being withheld pending the notification of all employees that will be affected by any organizational changes.
  7. Glenn Brock is acting as counsel to the transition team (see his bio and law firm affiliation here) and he has not been officially appointed to any position in APS. See more in “speculation” section below.
  8. The Board of Education has approved the appointment of eight individuals that will serve in the Carstarphen administration. However, other than the top two executives that will fill the senior Human Resources and the Accountability positions, no specific job titles or job responsibilities have been announced for the other six positions (see post on the individuals named here). This is what we know about the three most recent individuals named:

    – Jill Strickland is currently serving on the transition team and is responsible for public relations. See her LinkedIn profile here. The Board has approved her appointment effective July 1st as an Executive Officer III and her work background indicates that she will have a senior position in the Communications group.

    – Angela Smith has background in consulting and strategic planning (Accenture and others) – see her LinkedIn profile here. She also has been appointed by the Board to serve in an Executive Officer III position beginning on July 1st.

    – Jodi Lynn Merriday has a background as an academic focusing on African-American studies and also previously worked for APS. She has been appointed as an Executive Officer III, but it is unclear from her background what APS Division she will end up in. It is also interesting to note that her personal website was recently disabled. However, cached versions have a resume and other background – see here and here.

Speculation:

  1. There is speculation that all or a portion of the APS legal team will be outsourced – this is likely to be a topic of for the Special Legislative Meeting next week, but it is not yet on the Agenda. This discussion could all take place in executive session since it is personnel related. APS has not yet published the Agenda (with attachments) on BoardDoc’s yet – likely this will not happen until early next week.
  2. It appears as if Carstarphen wants attorney Glenn Brock (see above) on her team. Brock negotiated Carstarphen’s contract with her attorneys and is now serving as counsel to the transition team. However, the outsourcing of the legal team may indicate that Brock’s firm is slated to get the work and he will remain outside of APS. Brock has encountered some controversies in the past in his representation of school districts (see here).
  3. It is rumored that the entire Communications and External Affairs Department will be restructured; however, no specifics on this have been publicly released.

All of the information above had to be pieced together and as I noted earlier, there is almost a complete blackout on information related to the transition team activities. Unfortunately, this only invites speculation and rumors – which are all over the place in the public domain. This could have easily been prevented with a clear communications strategy that would keep the public up to date.

The failure to do so is, in my opinion, has been a serious misstep by the incoming administration and the Board members overseeing the process.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

 

 

3 Responses to Atlanta Public School superintendent transition – what do we know? Not much – limited to no information has been released [Updated]

  1. Ida Catlin says:

    What’s the deal with teacher raises? I have not received a raise in seven years. It seems as if they can find funds for everything and everybody except us!!! What’s your take?

    • Thanks for the comment. As noted in several prior posts (see here), $15 million was allocated for teacher raises. There have been some changes in how the raise will be allocated and my sense is that the final allocation will result in a raise of approximately 3.9% on average across the board. It is likely that this will be confirmed either at the upcoming Special Legislative meeting next Thursday or at the regular Board meeting in July.

  2. Andrea Knight says:

    Thank you for walking through this.

    In good news, I imagine Cobb spent less on legal with Brock, Clay, Calhoun & Rogers than APS currently spends on attorneys. Brock traded up to Nelson Mullins, but even Nelson Mullins bills more reasonably than the firms APS has relied upon. So perhaps Brock could reign in insane legal spending and get the funding over to doing things correctly instead.

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