Gay Atlanta School Board candidate switches from district to at-large race

Atlanta School Board candidate Charlie Stadtlander, an openly gay former teacher, is changing races.

Stadtlander told Georgia Voice on Aug. 11 that he has dropped out of the District 3 race to run for the At-Large Seat 8 position now held by Cynthia Briscoe Brown. Until today, Brown ran unopposed.

Stadtlander said the decision came after meeting with stakeholders in Districts 3 and 4, which are represented on the board by this at-large position, which is elected city-wide. He said those he spoke with were not pleased with Brown’s performance on the school board.

“Even though you’re elected city-wide, you have to come from Districts 3 or 4 and you’re there to support the board members from Districts 3 and 4,” he said. “I don’t think that’s been happening with Cynthia Briscoe Brown. She’s been neglecting District 3, which is heavily LGBT, and has been paying some attention to District 4.”

Prior to announcing his campaign change, Stadtlander met with many of those running for the District 3 seat to make sure his district would be well-represented, and that the person elected stood for the things he stood for.

“They’re all really good. I got commitments from all that I met with that they believe in the three pillars I’m running on,” he said. “Because of that, I felt comfortable moving into the city-wide race to have Cynthia Briscoe Brown held accountable.”

If elected, Stadtlander would also represent District 4, which is held by Nancy Meister. Meister is running unopposed to maintain her seat on the board. He thinks he has a good chance of beating Brown, which would make him not only the first openly gay person elected to the board of education, but the first openly gay man elected to a city-wide position in Atlanta.

“My three main points I’m running on are fiscal responsibility, particularly with the property tax issue; bullying awareness — making sure every student has a safe and welcoming environment; and the third is a high-quality education,” Stadtlander said. “I don’t think Cynthia Briscoe Brown’s record and her complacency on the board of education have done that.”

The Atlanta Board of Education election will take place in November. We’ve reached out to Cynthia Briscoe Brown about Stadtlander’s comments and will update the story should she have a response.

5:22 p.m. UPDATE: Cynthia Briscoe Brown, the incumbent for this at-large position, responded to Stadtlander’s remarks this afternoon.

Brown said comments about the representation in Districts 3 and 4 concerned her.

“I think that reflects a basic lack of understanding of what the job is. This is a citywide position,” she told Georgia Voice. “We all take the exact same oath. That oath is to act in the best interest of every child in the district. … While I am required to be physically resident in District 3 or 4 to run for this seat, I am a true citywide representative and I take that very seriously. I try to visit every school every year. I am deeply involved in all aspects of the board’s work and I am supportive of every single one of our kids. … I certainly don’t think I neglect the schools in District 3 or District 4.”

Brown said she welcomes the opportunity to sit down with those who feel she hasn’t done what she set out to do when she took this position on four years ago.

“Four years ago I ran on a platform of we should run every dollar, every decision, every policy on ‘does it touch a child for good?’ If it doesn’t, we need to throw it out. I think we’ve done that. I’m very proud of our fiscal record,” she said.

She said during the four years she’s been on the Atlanta Board of Education, the board invested $41 million in raising the pay for teachers and staff; brought $29 million of flexible funding into schools; and bought $19 million in new textbooks — evidence, she said, that this school board has been fiscally responsible.

Brown also addressed Stadtlander’s campaign points about bullying and quality of education. She said she was responsible for bringing the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” anti-bullying program to Atlanta Public Schools, and said she believes this is one area where the school system really shines.

“Our social and emotional learning initiative teaches students restorative justice, alternative dispute resolution and peer support for anti-bullying. We are specifically teaching students how to intervene in a bullying situation,” she said. “We passed a resolution in January about APS being a welcoming place for all kinds of students and that includes students who identify a different way.”

When it comes to the issues of gender identity in schools, Brown said Atlanta Public Schools identifies and meets those needs.

“I love spreading the message of all of the great things that are going on in Atlanta Public Schools, and these last four years have been the most significant of my life. The idea that I get to work every day to change the lives of children in Atlanta for the better is just incredibly exciting to me,” Brown said. “I am proud to run on my record. We have achieved amazing things in four short years. Our graduation rate has gone up by double digits. The test scores and all of the measures that the state uses to measure our schools are improving. I think we’ve done a good job of cleaning up the reputation of Atlanta Public Schools … after what were some very tough times.”