His job at risk in a runoff election Tuesday, Reuben McDaniel is fighting the stigma of leading Atlanta’s school board during some of its darkest days.
While McDaniel says he was a force for stability after the school district’s cheating scandal and board infighting, his opponent, attorney Cynthia Briscoe Brown, accuses him of being a big part of the problem with Atlanta’s education system.
Their contest and three other runoffs will determine four of nine representatives who will shape the future of the city’s school district. At least five members of the board will be newcomers.
In all four races, the candidates recognize the need to increase Atlanta Public Schools’ 51 percent graduation rate, hire a high-quality superintendent to replace retiring Erroll Davis, and improve academics in a school district that trailed every other metro Atlanta system in the Georgia Department of Education’s ratings of public school quality.
“The upcoming school board election is critical because the winners set the direction and priorities of the city’s public schools for the foreseeable future. The stakes couldn’t be higher,” said Michael Casserly, executive director for the Council of the Great City Schools, a national organization representing the needs of urban public school systems, including Atlanta’s.
Each Atlanta voter will be able to choose at least two citywide candidates, and residents in south or west Atlanta will be able to choose an additional representative in district-level runoffs. Runoffs were necessary in these multiway races because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.
The winners could be decided by just a handful of votes. In the last school board runoff eight years ago, in south Atlanta, 11 percent of registered voters cast ballots. In last month’s general election, turnout hovered around 20 percent in most races.