Donors will pay for transition in Atlanta school leadership

Private donations will pay for incoming Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to begin working immediately, though she doesn’t officially take over the city school system for two more months.

The Atlanta Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution allowing Carstarphen to form a transition team and prepare for leadership of the 50,000-student district.

Board Chairman Courtney English said he plans to raise between $500,000 and $1 million from business and philanthropic organizations to compensate Carstarphen and her team for their interim work.

He said soliciting outside contributions will prevent draining money from Atlanta Public Schools’ $658 million general budget for next school year.

“We want to make sure that every taxpayer dollar possible is spent for student improvement,” English said after the vote.

Safeguards will be put in place to ensure Carstarphen isn’t beholden to private donors, he said.

Donations would be held by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, an organization that supports philanthropic work in the region, before being distributed to Carstarphen and her team. About $40,000 in external money has been raised separately through the Community Foundation to fund the school board’s professional development, English has said previously.

“We definitely want to make sure folks know where the ultimate responsibility lies and that there are no strings attached,” he said.

Carstarphen will be paid a daily rate in line with her previous $283,000 salary as superintendent in Austin, Texas, English said. Her last day in Austin was April 22. The rest of the contributions will compensate her transition team for their work and expenses.

She’ll work with Superintendent Erroll Davis during the transition period before she becomes superintendent July 7. Once she’s solely in charge, she’ll earn a $375,000 base salary.

Until then, Carstarphen will recruit her senior leadership team, work with Davis to hire school principals, learn about Atlanta Public Schools and collaborate with existing staff, board members said.

“We are talking about transforming Atlanta Public Schools,” said board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown. “She is ready to work and ready to make positive changes for kids.”

Carstarphen met with the board Monday and Tuesday during a retreat at the High Museum of Art, where they discussed their goals and working relationships. They didn’t set priorities, but they talked about efforts such as raising the city’s 59 percent graduation rate, improving pathways toward college and giving school principals more authority, English said.

“I’ve never been around someone who thinks so deeply about what can happen,” said board member Leslie Grant.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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