A divided Atlanta school board extended superintendent Erroll Davis’ contract by 18 months after protracted public and closed-door debates Monday.
The board, which began its deliberations in the afternoon, voted six hours later to add 18 months to Davis’ contract, which now goes through June. The contract contains two trigger clauses that allow the school board to fire Davis with 90 days’ notice.
The Atlanta school board had been considering offering Davis a contract that added two years to his tenure but settled on 18 months after several rounds of convoluted and terse discussions punctuated by closed door sessions.
A thread throughout the debate was that Davis was originally brought on board as an interim to steady Atlanta schools and was never meant to be their long-term leader. At one point, board member Brenda Muhammad asked Davis, “But I want to know if anyone has ever asked if you were interested in the permanent position?”
“No one has asked me,” said Davis. “Permanent is a difficult word. The average life of an urban superintendent is 2.9 years. If you are asking if I want to make this a career, the answer is no. I’ve had enough careers. Are there things that remain to be done? The answer is yes, specifically with career academies. I don’t have aspirations or desires, but I appreciate your asking.”
The board vote to retain Davis occurred after he left to catch a flight at 8 p.m. so he was not on hand to see the conclusion of the arduous process, which began at 3:20 p.m. with public comments, most in support of keeping him at the helm of APS.
Among the comments: I know Superintendent Davis has made some mistakes. I think the North Atlanta High School situation was handled clumsily but I know that North Atlanta has some of the same problems high schools across the city have with graduation rates. But I watched him go through the redistricting process and he was transparent and it was probably the best thing that has happened to this school district. It had great results. We have seen much positive academic and personnel movement in the Jackson cluster and this is not because of the board’s actions, but because of Mr. Davis’ action.
The 9-member board has been sharply split since it delayed a vote to extend Davis’ contract last October, weeks after the superintendent stirred an uprising of Buckhead students and parents by removing six administrators from North Atlanta High.
Motion after motion to extend Davis’s contract with two trigger, and various extension clauses, failed by 6-3 votes. When the contract passed 7-2, Nancy Meister and board member Brenda Muhammad voted against it.
Chairman Reuben McDaniel, who had campaigned publicly and behind the scenes for a 2-year extension of Davis’ contract, said afterward he was happy with the process. He said Davis, who was not available for comment after the vote, “is fully on board with” the 18-month extension.
About a dozen speakers urged the board to extend Davis’ contract before the board went into executive session behind closed doors to debate the fate of the superintendent who has steered the district for 18 months in the aftermath of a cheating scandal.
Many supporters were disappointed by the outcome. “It’s a 90 day contract,” said supporter Abby Martin. “If they don’t like him he’s gone in 90 days.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog