Guest column by Former State Senator Vincent Fort
(Note: The views expressed in this column are those of Senator Fort and not those of Jabari Simama Speaks. Fort indicates he is a consultant for the Georgia Federation of Teachers)
Thank you for beginning a thoughtful conversation regarding Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and the future of the Atlanta Public Schools. Unfortunately, I disagree with some of the points you make.
It is important that context be given to the controversy regarding the non-renewal of Carstarphen’s contract. I have not seen a campaign like the one to retain Carstarphen after her contract was not renewed since the Grady Hospital privatization. Then the business community collaborated with what you have termed the African-American “old guard” to control a critical public resource that had the mission of providing medical care to the poor.
The ongoing public relations campaign being waged to pressure the Atlanta Board of Education to retain Carstarphen includes rolling out sitting elected officials such as John Lewis; and former elected officials such as Shirley Franklin; sending out glossy election campaign style mailers; and placing opinion articles in the local media. The leaders of this effort ought to reveal who is financing their pressure campaign. “Someone is “throwing a rock and hiding their hand”. Since the Chamber of Commerce became entwined in the Atlanta school cheating scandal, it has scrupulously kept a lower public profile when it comes to its role in APS.
By the way, former Mayor Franklin does not often reveal her company, Purpose Built of which she is the CEO has a multi-million dollar contract with the Atlanta Public schools to operate privatized schools on the southside of the city.
The question is why does the Chamber of Commerce types and the “Old Guard” feel so invested in Meria Carstarphen, so much so, that it appears they and she believes she has some kind of divine right to the position. A five year tenure for superintendents is very common. For the business community, Meria Carstarphen is just that-an investment. When she was hired in 2014 money was solicited from the business community to supplement her salary. I spoke out against it because I believed that it is a conflict of interest for a public official to have a substantial amount of their salary paid by a private party. A superintendent ought to be accountable to the public not to fat cats.
Carstarphen was brought on to privatize Atlanta’s schools and she has done just that by selling off schools to Purpose Built, Kipp, and Kindezi organizations. Purpose Built and Kindezi will have been paid $62 million over three years. While the public thought Carstarphen was brought on to improve student performance, she gave that job to unaccountable charter school organizations that functioned in private. The money these schools received was public but largely operated as private schools with little accountability. The superintendent also traumatized students and parents by the most difficult of all acts-closing and merging many schools.
At the same time, the large chasm between between black and white student performance remained. Research shows that the academic results of privatizing schools and the turnaround plan for schools still run by APS are decidedly mixed. Generally there was some improvements but science, reading, and social studies performance went down. At the same time, suspensions went up at the schools run by Purpose Built. (https://www.boarddocs.com/ga/aps/Board.nsf/files/B8YVUN7BB05A/$file/2.02%20APS%20Turnaround%20Strategy%20-%20Year%202%20Report.FINAL_revised-2.1.19.pdf)
I am greatly troubled by what appears to be your buying into the demonization of teachers generally and the Georgia Federation of Teachers in particular. I am hard pressed to understand how the 2018 gubernatorial campaign has anything to do with the non-renewal of Cartephen’s contract. (I am doing consulting for GFT.)
It is a common tactic for school privatizers to make teachers the villain. APS teachers were reassigned and forced to reapply for their jobs when schools were closed, merged, or privatized during the present administration. Dr. Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania was quoted in an Atlanta Journal Constitution article saying teachers are “blamed for things over which they have no control…its an untested assumption. The assumption is that the teachers are the problem.”
It is time to move on with an open, transparent superintendent search.