Board waits to fill vacancy

By Trina Trice and Bob Paslay

Residents in Clayton County School District 8 might get the chance to vote on a member to represent them, rather than the board filling the vacancy.

The Clayton County Board of Education voted to postpone the appointment of a school board member to replace former Board member Sue Ryan at its meeting Monday night.

Members also heard pleas from representatives of three organizations, including the president of the County NAACP, imploring that the board conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent and not rush to judgment.

Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County NAACP, told the board that unless this search is conducted, the citizens, both black and white, will not support the new superintendent.

The speeded-up process "does not look or smell right," Matthews said to thunderous applause from the several hundred attending the meeting. The board members did not comment on those urging the national search.

Later in the meeting, the board received applause from the audience when it voted 5-1 to wait and see what will come of a bill introduced by State Sens. Valencia Seay, D-College Park, and Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro.

The bill calls for any school board vacancies that occur with more than 180 days left in the term to be filled with a special election. The bill would also require the election to be held shortly after the vacancy opens, rather than in coordination with the next scheduled general election.

The bill recently passed in the Senate and is on its way to the House, according to Board member Ericka Davis who asked the board to table the appointment until the legislature session ends April 24.

Davis asked the board to "consider postponing ? to allow" Clayton County residents in that district "to choose their own representative."

The school board began taking applications in late March to fill the District 8 vacancy left by Sue Ryan when she resigned March 17.

Davis' first motion to table a vote on a new member failed n Board members Carol Kellam and LaToya Walker abstained, while Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Board Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens, and Board member Linda Crummy opposed waiting.

Board members Bob Livingston, Barbara Wells, and Davis voted in favor of postponing the appointment.

Kitchens said she had heard "every time you have to have a special election, you have to spend thousands and thousands of money ? to me it's just nonsense."

The board proceeded to vote on its top three candidates for the vacant seat n Darryl Mosh, Mary Mallory, and Oscar Blalock.

Mosh received no votes, Mallory received one vote from Crummy, and Blalock received votes from Kellam, Kitchens, Ware, and Walker.

Although Blalock got most of the board's vote, he failed to get a majority, said Gary Sams, the school district attorney.

Davis made a second and more passionate plea to the board, "I talked to Sen. Seay," who assured her the cost for a special election would be minimal. "This would be the first thing we've done of late that would be money well spent."

Livingston agreed by saying, "This would be good public relations, and we need all that we can get."

More support nationwide search

During the public speaks session, Bob Boyer, a Georgia PTA director and an outspoken critic of the board's recent actions, said it is "imperative that you honor our promise of a nationwide search. Every student of this district deserves this."

Gail Hambrick, of the Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education, listed a series of qualifications she said the new school chief needs and said, "We ask you to earn our respect. Please take the time to do a nationwide search to get a quality Superintendent for Clayton schools."

The News Daily reported last week that an assistant superintendent in DeKalb County, Lonnie Edwards, has emerged as the leading contender for the post as talks have been going on behind the scenes by some board members.

The board initially said a nationwide search would be conducted for a new superintendent in a process that would draw in teachers, parents and citizens. But the board reversed course, saying it would only be a local search and a new superintendent could be voted on later this month.

The board has been split since the ouster of Colwell at its Jan. 13 meeting, drawing the residents into two camps, those supporting the board actions and those opposing them.

Matthews went beyond the superintendent search, questioning what he called the "questionable contract for legal fees" in ousting Colwell and a question of whether the taxpayers and parents are getting their money's worth in the school system.

Boyer told the board there is "no reason" to give the public less than 24 hours notice and meetings held in the afternoon when people are at work.

Recently, Ware, Kitchens, and Kellam, held a press conference to blast the media for its coverage of the school controversy. They pointed to race as one main issue.

Boyer said Monday night, "What we don't need are press conferences of a handful of board members at which the public was not allowed to attend."

Board members later sparred over this press conference.

Bob Livingston said, " Mrs. Kitchens said I was on TV too much because it was upsetting her constituents. But you set up these press conferences and dig a deeper hole," he said.

Ware countered that this was not on the agenda and he would have to put it on the agenda for the next meeting to have it discussed.

Other business conducted

In a shorter meeting than usual, board members approved a $8,800 contract with Clausell & Associates to perform an audit on the school system's contracts and finance department.

The vote was 8-1.

According to documents obtained by the News Daily, the services rendered by Clausell would include an extensive review of current vendor contracts and their compliance with current Board policy. The contract also states Clausell's services could cost as much as $33,550.

However, when Davis made a motion to accept the contract, she stipulated that there be a $8,800 cap on the cost.

The school board is hoping the auditing firm can save the school system money in the long term by increasing efficiency in various departments.

The following personnel changes were approved: Vivian Anderson, formerly Foreign Language Lead Teacher, is Coordinator of Secondary Language Arts, Reading, and Foreign Language; John Madden, formerly teacher at Haynie Elementary School, is Assistant Principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School; Marcus Fuller, formerly Instructional Technology Specialist at Morrow Elementary School, is Assistant Principal of James A. Jackson Elementary School; and Patrice Williams, formerly Instructional Technology Specialist at North Clayton Middle School, is Assistant Principal at Kilpatrick Elementary School.