APS Board Chair McDaniel Responds to Challengers
(APN) ATLANTA — When the so-called Gang of Five of members of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education changed the Board’s own rules in order to oust LaChandra Butler Burks as Chairperson, there were four Board Members who opposed the change; Reuben McDaniel was one of the minority of four.
The Gang of Five portrayed the minority of four as disproportionately influenced by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce; however, in reality, nearly the entire board was heavily backed by the Chamber in the 2009 election.
McDaniel was first elected to the Board in 2009 to the seat previously held by uMark Riley (At-large Seat 8), after Riley stepped aside to run for the District 4, Buckhead area seat currently held by Nancy Meister, in order to allow McDaniel to run.
But now Riley says he is unhappy with McDaniel, and Riley is running against McDaniel for his old seat; in addition, there are two other challengers, Tom Tidwell and Cynthia Briscoe Brown. Atlanta Progressive News interviewed Riley, Tidwell, and Briscoe Brown in early July 2013.
McDaniel now serves as Chair of the Board, after Butler Burks was replaced with Khaatim El, who was replaced with Brenda Muhammad, who was replaced with McDaniel.
In interviews with APN, McDaniel defended himself against criticisms from his opponents regarding their perception that he did not do enough to intervene in the ousting of the principal and top administrative staff at North Atlanta High School; that he did not support smaller class sizes; and that he is politically driven.
On North Atlanta High, McDaniel responded in an interview with APN: “I’ve gotten a lot more credit than I deserve around that situation. He, Mark MyGrant [the principal] was retiring. We asked him to come back for a period of time. I received some things from parents concerned about things there.”
“I let people investigate. The [APS] Administration felt a full new staff was the best course of action. I’m not involved in the day-to-day decisions. From hindsight, they had a reason for doing what they did,” McDaniel said.
“I think that there are some issues going on in North Atlanta, being investigated by internal auditors,” McDaniel said.
As for the other top staff that was removed from North Atlanta, “one of them was retired, others were reassigned. The impetus was to create an environment to allow Gene Taylor [the new principal] to build his own team at North Atlanta,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said that it has not been determined that any of the staff or the principal were involved in anything illegal or unethical.
As for the decision to change the leadership at the school, “I fully support it, but I was not involved in making that decision, that’s not my role,” he said.
Briscoe Brown filed an affidavit with the APS BOE regarding what she believed to be unethical behavior on the part of Mr. McDaniel. Specifically, she asserted that McDaniel told her that he needed to replace Brenda Muhammad (District 1) as Chair because Superintendent Erroll Davis told him that he [Davis] could not work with Muhammad. Further, Briscoe Brown said she asked Davis about McDaniel’s statements and Davis denied that there was any truth to them.
“Cynthia and I did have a conversation. She was calling and lobbying me to support Brenda and not run for chair,” McDaniel tells APN.
“I said I was planning to run. I gave her numerous reasons and rationale. Frankly, I wasn’t trying to sway her in any way. I think you’ll see other ethics complaints over the next few weeks because that’s how they play politics,” McDaniel said.
“I don’t recall how I couched the Erroll Davis and Brenda comment, but I did say I believe I would be a better Chair,” McDaniel said.
“I know we [Briscoe Brown and McDaniel] did have a follow-up conversation, I don’t what she and Erroll talked about,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said he believed it was the right thing to do to challenge the Gang of Five in court over their ousting of Butler Burks as Chair.
“I felt it was the right thing to do. At the time it was clear to me there was a dispute over changing the policy and changing the Board leadership,” McDaniel said, calling the litigation “the only way to get an answer.”
As for Tidwell’s charges that McDaniel did not support smaller class sizes in the recent budget negotiations, McDaniel says that the charges are simply factually untrue.
“It’s kind of silly… I advocated having enough teachers to have similar class sizes as last year. It would be nice to have smaller class sizes,” McDaniel said.
“It turned out we lowered it slightly because we have 59 more core teachers than we did last year… 78 more teachers over what the District proposed. To say that somehow that’s advocating for larger class sizes, that’s silly,” McDaniel said.
“What’s happens from a planning perspective, we’re planning for 24 students per class in elementary, 24 in middle, and thirty in high school,” McDaniel said, noting that the class sizes at North Atlanta are higher than the average for the school district.
“Class size makes a difference, but class size is one of the reasons children don’t know how to read… The issue is, we’ve got a very challenging population, we have to work on our early education, we have to make sure they have an effective teacher,” McDaniel said.
As for political ambitions, McDaniel flatly denied he has them. “I do not want to be Mayor or Councilman or State Senator or US Senator. I’m not in this for politics, I don’t plan to run for any other office. I passionately care about public schools,” he said.
As for his position on charter schools, McDaniel said, “I believe good schools serving children should be supported. I think it’s an answer, I don’t think it’s a panacea. My record is clear, I support good schools.”
“Using charter schools for what they were originally designed for… innovation… I fully support– they feed into our thinking at APS,” McDaniel said.
However, he said that some charter schools “have been formed as alternatives to the public schools as opposed to innovation,” adding that he has opposed several specific charter school proposals within APS.
McDaniel said that his opponents have a Buckhead agenda, while he is concerned about the entirety of APS.
“Mark Riley is on the Board of the [proposed] classical charter school [Atlanta Classical Academy],” McDaniel said, something Riley did not disclose to APN.
Riley is on the Launch Team for the proposed new school, according to its website.
“Concern about class sizes was mostly about Buckhead,” McDaniel said.
“If you have a pro-charter [School] Board that thinks charters are the only answer, you risk the least of these in the Districts. If you look at charter schools, the place where charters don’t work well and children get left behind, it’s in the lower socioeconomic parts of the District,” McDaniel said.
Some students have parents who can be engaged and get their children to charter schools. “Some children’s parents are just trying to get basic needs met – when you move to a charter system, that’s what gets left behind,” McDaniel said.