Three Candidates Line Up to Challenge APS Chair Reuben McDaniel (UPDATE 2)
(APN) ATLANTA — Over the last two weeks, the number of candidates challenging incumbent Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Reuben McDaniel (At-Large Seat 8) has gone from zero to three.
Parent activist and attorney, Cynthia Briscoe Brown; and attorney Tom Tidwell have announced their candidacies already via press release. Former APS BOE Member Mark Riley (At-Large Seat 8) revealed his decision to run in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News.
Riley held the at-large seat 8 from 2002 to 2010, having been elected in 2001 and again in 2005. In 2005, McDaniel challenged Riley for the seat and lost.
In 2009, Riley decided to not run for the at-large seat 8, in order to allow McDaniel to run, he tells APN. In turn, instead, in 2009, Riley ran for an open district seat, District 4, which represents the Buckhead area; however, Nancy Meister won the seat.
Riley tells APN that he is disappointed in McDaniel, except for the fact that McDaniel joined three other Board Members in opposing changing the rules in order to oust LaChandra Butler Burks (District 5) as Chair in 2010.
Incidentally, McDaniel is the only member of the so-called Gang of Four, who opposed the governance change that led to the school system’s accreditation crisis, that is running for reelection.
Riley says he believed McDaniel is only advancing his political career, a charge echoed by McDaniel’s other challengers as well.
Riley also pointed to McDaniel’s leadership as Chair during the recent budget hearings and during the recent North Atlanta high school debacle as reasons why he is disappointed with McDaniel.
Riley is a strong supporter of charter schools, although he says he limits his support to non-profit charter schools only.
Briscoe Brown, meanwhile, brings over twenty years of experience as a parent activist with APS to the table.
In January 2012, Briscoe Brown filed an affidavit with APS making accusations of unethical conduct by McDaniel.
At the time, as previously reported by APN, the APS Ethics Commission had been disbanded because so many members resigned that they could not function.
When the Commission re-grouped–with the new members nominated by outside organizations instead of Board Members–it took up Briscoe Brown’s affidavit and determined it was a complaint that they should investigate.
Briscoe Brown tells APN that several months later, after the six month statute of limitations had expired, the Commission told her that it changed its mind and that the affidavit was not actually a complaint; it was merely an allegation of facts.
But by then it was too late to complain. “What they did was hold on to it long enough to deprive me of my right to complain,” she told APN in an interview.
In the affidavit, Briscoe Brown alleged she had a conversation with McDaniel in which McDaniel said he wanted to replace Brenda Muhammad (District 1) as Chair.
According to Briscoe Brown, McDaniel told her that he had to replace Muhammad because APS Superintendent Erroll Davis told him he [Davis] could not work with Muhammad.
Briscoe Brown called Davis to question him about McDaniel’s statements, according to the affidavit, and Davis denied making those statements to McDaniel about Muhammad.
Briscoe Brown also criticized McDaniel in an interview for supporting Davis’s ousting of the Principal, Vice Principal, and top administrators at North Atlanta High School without cause.
“On October 05,  which was the Friday afternoon of a Fall break weekend, just before the end of school, a security detail from downtown showed up at the school, and the only word I can use is evicted, they did everything but march these people to the sidewalk. They were locked out of their offices, their computers were confiscated,” she recalled.
“What this meant was that we had no one who knew our seniors well enough to write college recommendations… Mr. McDaniel, who, because he has been School Board Chair and has been directly involved, has simply refused to give any answers as to why any of this occurred,” she said.
Briscoe Brown has been volunteering with APS since the early 1990s, including a role with a program called Apple Corps “which worked to promote and support particularly the lower socioeconomic schools in APS,” and later a program called Young Audiences of Atlanta, which brought intensive art and reading programs to APS schools.
“My oldest started school in 1997. I immediately began to get involved – you start with the kindergarten classroom, I progressed to PTA Committee, PTA Executive Board at the elementary, middle, and high school,” she said.
In 2009, she and her husband became co-president of North Atlanta Parents of Public Schools (NAPPS).
Briscoe Brown also takes issue with McDaniel’s response to the 2010 ousting of Butler Burks as Chair. “First of all, he was part of the group that sued his colleagues,” she said.
She said she does not know how she would have voted on the Butler Burks rule change had she been on the BOE in 2010.
And unlike most candidates for BOE these days, she takes a critical view towards charter schools.
“My position on charter schools comes from my emphasis in working in the community. As a general rule I don’t see research which indicates that charter schools as a group are any more or less successful than traditional public schools. 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.
The third candidate, Tidwell, Vice Chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, has raised over 40,000 dollars to defeat McDaniel, according to a press release.
“I haven’t been happy with the job Reuben has done. What pushed me over the edge was when he refused to lower class sizes, and he advocated for the state maximum plus five,” he told APN in an interview.
“Our graduation rate is an embarrassment. We need to have smaller class sizes and focus on teaching them [students] to read by the time they leave third grade,” he said.
Tidwell says he is not sure what he would cut from the budget in order to fund smaller class sizes, although he believes it would involve downtown office administrative salaries.
“I can’t answer those questions because APS won’t release a detailed budget,” he said.
“When you get students at seventh, eighth, ninth grade who can’t read, they get remedial services. We’re already spending it. If we teach them to read by third grade, we don’t have to spend that money on remedial education in eighth and ninth grade. We spend more money with less effect by eighth and ninth grade,” he said.
Tidwell says he does not know enough about the two sides of the board governance dispute that led to the ousting of Butler Burks as Chair in 2010 to say how he would have voted on changing the rules if he had been on the Board at the time.
As for charter schools, Tidwell said, “I’m in favor of ‘em. I wouldn’t say I’m in favor of every one no matter what. With Atlanta Classical Academy – I favor the school, but I wouldn’t want to set it up next to Bolton Academy, that’s a school that’s doing really well right now,” he said.
“If I had to sum it up, I don’t think Reuben knows what he wants the school system to do, he relies on the Administration to tell him what to do. We need a leader who has a vision of what APS can be and then take us there. It seems to me this is just a placeholder for him. He doesn’t seem to have the desire to initiate and lead,” he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article quoted Mr. Tidwell as saying that the proposed new charter school was close to Fulton Academy, but it is close to Bolton Academy. Also, an earlier version of this article quoted Mr. Tidwell as criticizing McDaniel for supporting the state maximum, but Tidwell says McDaniel supported the state maximum “plus five.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article quoted Mr. Riley as saying that he had consulted with EduPAC regarding his decision to run for the district seat instead of the at-large seat in 2009. However, although EduPAC supported McDaniel for the at-large seat in 2009, Riley says that EduPAC played no role in Riley’s decision.