I am a parent of 2 children who have and are attending Atlanta Public Schools. I am a big supporter of public education, and therefore I follow what is going on at APS very closely. When I received a robocall that Mark Riley had decided to run for school board, I asked myself why, and I started to investigate.
How can we trust Mark Riley’s judgment? One of the first and most important decisions the new Board will make is who to hire as a new superintendent. Given his track record of poor judgment, why should we trust Riley to make better decisions this time than he did when he was on the Board the first time? Riley was on the Board when widespread and rampant cheating took place. After the cheating scandal broke, in late 2008, Riley stood by Beverly Hall. In fact, he continued to support Beverly Hall throughout his time on the Board, even after it was clear to anyone without a vested interest in covering it up that there was rampant and widespread cheating. Does Riley still support Beverly Hall, who is now indicted for her role in the cheating scandal? I have not seen any statement from Riley repudiating Hall or explaining why he supported her in light of the overwhelming evidence of cheating. We cannot afford such poor judgment involved in choosing our next superintendent. We cannot afford another cheating scandal or any other type of misstep.
Another example of his poor judgment - Riley cut a secret deal with the current board member, Reuben McDaniel, in which Riley agreed to step aside from his at-large seat so McDaniel could have it. This was reported by the Atlanta Progressive News back when it happened. Mark held the seat; why not force McDaniel to face a contested election, either in his own neighborhood or city wide? This is clearly politics at play in an arena where there should be no politics at all. Now Riley is running against McDaniel, who has the seat solely because Riley stepped aside. How can we trust someone with such poor judgment?
After talking with some neighbors and other elementary school moms, my understanding is that Riley's main (and perhaps only) campaign platform is that he has experience running city-wide campaigns. First, being a professional candidate is not a reason to vote for anyone. Second, why did Riley give his seat to McDaniel in 2009? Was he afraid he could not win a city-wide election? In my view, Riley is NOT electable to a city-wide race. What Riley neglects to tell anyone is that he lost the most recent election for school board in 2009 to Nancy Meister in his own neighborhood. If Riley cannot win a majority of votes in a 2 person race in the area where he lives, why should anyone think he can do better in a city-wide election? Riley's loss in 2009 was the result of changing dynamics in the neighborhoods (including those around his home) and in APS. Riley's inability to recognize these changes, and his dogged reliance on what happened in the distant past, suggests that he is out of touch with today's school system and the needs of today's students.
Speaking of students, Riley does not have any children in public schools from what I know. This may explain why he seems out of touch with what is going on today. While this is not the only criteria, having a board member with children who currently attend public schools is important. It gives the Board member a better understanding of how the Board policies are being implemented at the school level.
In my opinion, Riley is NOT a viable candidate. He was part of the problem that we are trying to dig ourselves out from. Given his track record of poor judgment, why should we trust him to make better decisions today than he did when he was on the Board the first time. A vote for Riley is a vote backwards. There are a lot of young, energetic candidates running for seats across the City, Riley is not one of them.