North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools invited the public to Bolton Academy on Aug. 28 to meet candidates for the Atlanta Board of Education, and the room was full of potential contenders.

Candidates for Seat 8 At-Large, and Districts 3, 4 and 5 spoke. Blogger Robert Stockwell was the moderator, and his questions focused on school finances and the selection of a new superintendent.

Buckhead residents are primarily affected by District 4 and Seat 8 races. The District 4 race heated up in recent weeks with the announcement of a challenger to incumbent Nancy Meister. Taryn Chilivis Bowman has launched an aggressive campaign for the seat.

The Seat 8 At-Large is notable because the incumbent, School Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel, has a rocky relationship with many Buckhead residents. Buckhead parents criticized McDaniel’s involvement in leadership changes at North Atlanta High that occurred last year. McDaniel said there were legitimate concerns about institutional racism at the school, but said his involvement has been misunderstood.

So far, McDaniel has three challengers with Buckhead connections: Tom Tidwell, Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Mark Riley.

Bowman was not as confrontational with Meister as she was in a press release announcing her decision to enter the race. Bowman said in her announcement that Meister’s record shows no “evidence that she has been an integral part in moving APS in the direction of excellence.”

Meister didn’t respond to Bowman’s claim. The forum didn’t include any barbs or exchanges between the two.

When asked about the qualities desired in a new superintendent, Meister said, “I definitely want honesty and transparency in a superintendent.”

“We need someone that understands that APS is not a one-sized fits all [system],” Meister added.

“Leadership,” Bowman said. “I want to see an A-team. The things I’m looking for are honesty, transparency, integrity; I want somebody in there who’s an innovative person who can push our cluster, all of APS, to a whole other level.”

Stockwell asked the candidates their opinions of the school’s budgeting process, asking them if they think the system is “broken.”

“The budgeting system is broken,” Bowman said. “Money is going unreported and no one is being held accountable.”

“The budgeting system is very broken,” Meister said. “This year for example, it happened in a very compressed time period, we were given very little information, and it was like a push and pull.”

The Seat 8 At-Large candidates answered a similar set of questions.

A few of the questions Stockwell asked involved reducing the amount of APS bureaucracy. All of the candidates agreed that schools need greater autonomy.

“I’m certainly supportive of more decentralization of the process,” McDaniel said. “[School leaders] also need systems and support in place to help them do their jobs better.”

“I think the board needs to establish policies that push the resources down to the school level,” Riley said. “This centralized bureaucracy is not working.”

“I think having more control in the schools and more decentralization is a good idea,” Brown said.

“I don’t think there’s any question we spend too much money in administrative offices,” Tidwell said. “We need to redirect money into the classrooms, not downtown.”

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