APS Privatization at Stake in Four Board Run-off Elections


(APN) ATLANTA — Eight candidates have advanced into four Run-off races for Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education (APS BOE), Districts 5 and 6 and At-Large Seats 8 and 9.  At least two of those candidates–Eshe Collins (District 6) and Jason Esteves (Seat 9)–appear to be very pro-charter.



With the reelection of Courtney English (Seat 8), and the election of Leslie Grant (District 1) and Matt Westmoreland (District 3), already of some very pro-charter candidates, in Tuesday’s General Election to the BOE, Atlanta voters at are risk of ultimately creating a very pro-charter school board.



Grant, Westmoreland, Collins, English, and Esteves–if Collins and Esteves are elected–would make for a powerful privatization voting bloc, that would have the potential to dramatically re-shape APS, making it a charter system; making charter clusters; or closing more traditional public schools while approving new charters.  



Generally, Atlanta’s public school system is in danger of being transformed into another Orleans Parish school system.



In New Orleans, Louisiana, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, privatization interests capitalized on the catastrophe to achieve a nearly all-charter system.  



Here, a Hurricane has not been required because privatization interests are so entrenched with the Atlanta power structure, and because out-of-state pro-charter money has flooded into the APS races.









In District 1, Brenda Muhammad, who is already pro-charter, was defeated by someone even more pro-charter, Leslie Grant.  Muhammad received 42.79 percent of the vote, while Grant received 57.09 percent, not including provisional ballots.



Muhammad told Atlanta Progressive News that she had considered challenging the election, but has decided against it.



Muhammad said she was concerned about the admission by the Secretary of State’s office that numerous APS District 1 voters were given ballots for APS District 3 at at least two precincts.  



She said she believes she may have won if not for the irregularities, but that she believed the voters wanted a change and that she did not believe her voters, including many Blacks voters, would turn out in a Special Election.






In District 2, Byron Amos, who is pro-charter, was reelected without opposition.






In District 3, Matt Westmoreland, who is very pro-charter, was elected without opposition.






In District 4, Nancy Meister was is very pro-charter, was reelected, over an opponent, Taryn Bowman, whose views were more mixed.  Meister received 65.18 percent of the vote, while Bowman received 34.70 percent.






In At-large Seat 7, very pro-charter incumbent Courtney English, was reelected over Nisha Simama, whose views were more mixed.









In District 5, Steven Lee and Mary Palmer are going into a Run-off.  Lee received 36.87 percent of the vote, while Palmer received 36.34 percent.  Raynard Johnson and Charles Lawrence were in third and fourth place.



American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Network for Public Education (NPE), which is a group led by charter school critic Diane Ravitch, both endorsed Palmer in the District 5 race.  



APN endorsed Johnson; Palmer did not respond to an APN questionnaire.  Palmer told APN today that she would respond to the questionnaire within one week.



APN uncovered the fact that Lee had falsely represented himself to the Atlanta City Council during several board appointments as a PhD.  In fact, Lee had purchased a fake diploma from a diploma mill called Belford University.



Aside from APN, only WSBTV Channel 2 has chosen to cover the story.  Lee told Channel 2 that Belford, being unaccredited, was similar to Morris Brown University, which at one point had lost its accreditation; and said he was offended because he did have a PhD from Belford.  He said one does not stop saying they have a PhD just because their University loses accreditation.



However, Morris Brown is a university that offered real classes that lost its accreditation.  Belford University was never accredited.  It consisted of a guy in the United Arab Emirates, a PO Box in Texas, and the money Lee paid for a piece of paper purported to be a diploma.






In District 6, Dell Byrd and Eshe Collins are going into a Run-off.  Collins received 35.97 percent of the vote, while Byrd received 25.33 percent.  Shawnna Hayes-Tavares and Anne McKenzie came in third and fourth place.



AFT endorsed Byrd in the District 6 race.



APN endorsed McKenzie.  Byrd did not respond to an APN questionnaire.  Byrd did not immediately respond to a voicemail left today by APN.  Collins did not respond in a timely manner to the questionnaire, but did respond late; APN plans to publish the responses in the near future.






For At-large Seat 8, Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Reuben McDaniel are going into a Run-off.  McDaniel received 36.74 percent of the vote, while Briscoe Brown received 25.8 percent.  Mark Riley, Tom Tidwell, and Dave Walker came in third, fourth, and fifth place.



The two most extreme pro-charter candidates, Riley and Tidwell, did not make it into the Run-off.  Both McDaniel and Briscoe Brown are critical of charters.



AFT endorsed McDaniel.



NPE and APN endorsed Briscoe Brown.






For At-large Seat 9, Jason Esteves and Lori James are going into a Run-off.  Esteves received 34.32 percent of the vote, while James received 30.72 percent.  Sean Norman, Ed Johnson, and Eddie Lee Brewster came in third, fourth, and fifth place.



AFT endorsed James.



NPE and APN endorsed Johnson; James did not respond to the APN questionnaire.  James did not immediately return a voicemail seeking comment.



Esteves did not respond timely to the questionnaire before the General Election.  Today, APN sent an email to Howard Franklin of Esteves’s campaign inviting him to respond to the questionnaire before the Run-off.


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