Carstarphen questions why contract not extended

Elise Isakov


Del Ellerton

Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen said the most likely scenario is that “after spring break we will have to take some time.”

Katherine Esterl

Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen said she was surprised by the Atlanta Board of Education’s decision last week to not renew her contract.

The superintendent said she was under the impression the board was split on an extension of her contract, which will expire June 30, 2020. Board chairman Jason Esteves, the superintendent said, assured her he supported an extension on the night of Sept. 8 before the board held an executive session on Monday, Sept. 9. Esteves did not respond for comment. The meeting’s agenda said that “no action” would be taken, according to the superintendent. 

“That 4-4 split was how I understood it; so, to read that 5-[3] was indeed a surprise to me,” Dr. Carstarphen said in an interview with members of the Southerner’s editorial board.

However, with a vacant seat on the board a 4-4 decision would still have failed to introduce a contract extension, as board member Michelle Olympiadis later clarified.

The million-dollar question, though, remains unanswered: Why did the board opt for non-renewal? 

Dr. Carstarphen said she was confused by the majority decision, having been unaware of specific concerns during her encounters with the board.

“I say, where was the meeting?” Dr. Carstarphen said. “I wasn’t there. I want to know how you got five votes.”

Dr. Carstarphen was notified of a swing vote, which she said she spoke to directly. Without disclosing details of executive session, she said she had “dispelled clearly with evidence” the one issue that arose at the first board meeting on Aug. 5. 

On Aug. 16, following the first board meeting, Dr. Carstarphen said she received emails from Esteves stating that she did not have majority support. They did not, however, state there was a majority opposition, according to the superintendent. She also said he wrote that he did not expect her to deliver a transition plan.

“I thought they were going into executive session to either figure out how to move forward with an extension or not do anything,” Dr. Carstarphen said. 

The board said its decision for non-renewal was not based on Dr. Carstarphen’s performance. The board has not, however, offered a clear public explanation for its decision. 

Individual board members’ responses in the media voiced new, previously undisclosed concerns, according to Dr. Carstarphen.

“All this stuff that I’m reading now, no one was saying that [Sept. 9],” Dr. Carstarphen said.

While the board was initially divided on the vote to renew her contract, Dr. Carstarphen said that that division was not characteristic of recent board decisions, pointing to numerous instances of unanimous decisions or ones with six, seven and eight votes of support. 

In 2015, the board renewed her contract for three years following her success in managing a system in crisis after the largest district cheating scandal in history and the indictment of former superintendent, the late Dr. Beverly Hall. Dr. Hall died Mar. 2, 2015 before going to trial.

In 2018, the board only renewed Dr. Carstarphen’s contract for one year. Dr. Carstarphen said she did not take the board’s decision to give a one-year extension as a vote of low-confidence and accepted it as normal for any other job that analyzes performance on a year-to year-basis. She said she did not have time to make speculations about the board’s reasoning for a one-year contract. 

“If you give into all of that noise, it’s very easy to be distracted in education, and I’ll tell you why: your North Star has to be kids,” Dr. Carstarphen said. 

This is the first time the current board has dealt with a non-extension situation. Dr. Hall resigned in 2010, and her successor Errol Davis retired in 2014.

Contract extensions must be public, giving board members the opportunity to voice their reasons for supporting or not supporting an extension. It is unclear whether contract non-extensions must also be public. 

“The non-extension is a place we’ve never been, so how that is handled is now a new body of guidance that I haven’t seen played out in the district,” Dr. Carstarphen said. 

Dr. Carstarphen said she respects that the board is beginning a search for a new superintendent and will continue doing her job to ensure “APS students are college and career ready.”

“For what it’s worth, [I’m] happy to address it all,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “I think it was a great watershed moment for APS.”

Still, she doesn’t think APS is ready for a transition.

“I love Atlanta Public Schools. I love my job. I don’t think we’re done, and I still feel that way,” Dr. Carstarphen said.