APN Endorsements Pt. 3: Muhammad APS D1, Simama S7, Briscoe-Brown S8


(APN) ATLANTA — The Board of Directors of Atlanta Progressive News is pleased to announce our third round of endorsements for Atlanta Municipal Elections 2013.



Previously, we have endorsed for City Council races: Rev. Darrion Fletcher (District 3 – incumbent Ivory Young), Natalyn Archibong (District 5), Felicia Moore (District 9), Ron Shakir (District 11 – incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms), and Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large).



Today, we are pleased to announce endorsements in the races for Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education: Brenda Muhammad (District 1), Nisha Simama (At-large Seat 7 – incumbent Courtney English), and Cynthia Briscoe-Brown (At-large Seat 8 – incumbent Reuben McDaniel).






While Muhammad may not be an ideal progressive candidate, there are several good reasons to reelect her, starting with the fact that her opponent, Leslie Grant, is a charter school cheerleader.



Experience matters.  And with all the current open seats for the term starting in January 2014 on the APS BOE, Brenda Muhammad, if reelected, will be the only School Board Member to have served more than one term.  We do benefit from some continuity and institutional knowledge on the Board, so that we don’t feel the need to reinvent every wheel.



Brenda Muhammad understands the issues.  She understands the dynamics of gentrification and privatization that have changed so many Atlanta neighborhoods, especially in APS District 1.  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.



To be sure, Muhammad participated in the so-called Gang of Five Board Members who changed the rules regarding the ousting of a Chair and then ousted LaChandra Butler-Burks as Chair of the Board in 2010.  She does not regret her decision.



With that being said, even during the divisiveness of the 2010 and 2011 period, Muhammad was seen as the more moderate member of the Gang of Five.  After all, the two sides, the five and the four, voted to make her Chair as part of their court-ordered mediation.  



Also, Muhammad is the only member of the Gang of Five who did not receive services from Alisias group, the pro-privatization public relations firm and think tank that advances charter schools and public housing demolitions.  She also got her own attorney during the Gang of Five legal dispute, instead of relying of the services of Glenn Delk, the pro-privatization attorney who was once banned from APS.



APN specifically asked Ms. Grant about her position on the changing of the rules in 2010, and she indicated that she does not know how she would have voted.  So, on that issue where Grant could’ve easily drawn a contrast with Muhammad, she failed to do so.



Previously, APN reported that Muhammad said she voted for every charter school proposal that has come before her – that’s scary – although she does seem to understand the impact on the neighborhoods in terms of public school closures, etc.  However, Leslie Grant is a huge charter school supporter, probably even more so than Muhammad; so, again, no improvement there.



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.






Nisha Simama served as Interim Board Member in District 2 following the resignation of Khaatim El in 2011.  Byron Amos is currently serving out the remainder of the District 2 term and is seeking reelection.



Simama is running for Seat 7, currently held by Courtney English, who is seeking reelection.



English, one of the Gang of Five members, is a strong supporter of charter schools and has the worst ethics record of all sitting Board Members.



English misused an APS credit card on multiple occasions; he deceived his constituents about his misuse of APS credit cards; he paid his fine late; he received pro bono PR services from the Alisias firm while Alisias was seeking a contract with APS; and he promoted his own employer for partnerships with APS.



Simama, on the other hand, 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.



As for charter schools, 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.”



“APS has very good schools within the system that aren’t charters,” she said.



“What I think we’re saying is, we’ll try everything.  Charter schools have the same progress and achievement as do public schools,” she said.  



“I’m very clear on one thing: education is not a place where people need to start thinking about starting to make a profit.  It is not a profitable venture.  It’s a venture we have to give resources to because every child deserves the best,” she said.



“One of the things that has to happen is, we’ve got to take the good models we have in our system, and make those our primary models,” she said.



“Some schools went charter because that’s where they see the money coming in at – you’ve got all these business partnerships,” she said.



“We can’t do it in totality, because once you turn it all into a charter system, you have the same problem as a public school system.  I’m not for having us taking public taxpayer money and paying for private education,” she said.



“A lot of the charter schools are paying so much money to these private firms that are siphoning off indirect costs,” she said, noting also that the turnover rate at charter schools is also high.



“We can’t leave some people out because they can’t afford it, can’t get in, they don’t fit, they don’t learn the same way,” 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.”



Simama also stated that she would not have supported the rule change in 2010.






Cynthia Briscoe-Brown understands some of the problems with charter schools.



In a July 2013 interview with APN, she said, “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.



In our endorsement, APN would have generally tended to have supported Reuben McDaniel, seeing as how he is the only member of the minority of four seeking reelection, and there ought to be some counterbalance to any of the remaining members of the Gang of Five (possibly Nancy Meister, English, and Muhammad).



However, McDaniel does not seem to care too much about the Gang of Five, or about ethics, as he gave a 250 dollar campaign contribution to Courtney English.



In his communications with APN, McDaniel was often unresponsive and did not keep his promises.  We are concerned that with his full-time work as CEO and President of RM Capital Management LLC he apparently does not have time to run a campaign or respond to constituents.



McDaniel came on the Board groomed by EduPAC, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee; and he expressed his interest in serving as Chair from the beginning, even offering himself as a replacement to Butler Burks.



Later, when Muhammad was serving as Chair, McDaniel began spreading an unfounded rumor that Superintendent Erroll Davis could not work with Muhammad, in an effort to replace Muhammad as Chair.  



During his initiative to replace Muhammad as Chair, McDaniel said this to Briscoe-Brown.  Briscoe-Brown later filed an ethics complaint against McDaniel, after she went to Davis and Davis denied saying anything about not being able to work with Muhammad.



In an interview with APN, McDaniel said he could not recall how he couched his comment about Muhammad to Briscoe-Brown.



Briscoe-Brown has been volunteering in the APS school system for several years, and will be an asset to the Board.



Mark Riley and Tom Tidwell are also seeking Seat 8.  Riley previously held Seat 8 for two terms, was an EduPAC candidate, and supported the minority of four.  Riley would bring experience to the Board, but, like Tidwell, would pursue a charter school agenda.



We believe 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.




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