By Trina Trice
A night that began with bickering ended with laughter at the Clayton County Board of Education's called meeting Thursday.
The school board voted unanimously to use the Georgia School Boards Association to help conduct a national superintendent search.
Parents, teachers and taxpayers have been asking the board to conduct a national search since an earlier attempt by the board to conduct its own search failed, and was simultaneously perceived by many as suspicious and fake.
The $26,500 contract would put the GSBA in charge of the board's search.
GSBA duties would include establishing a timetable for the search and developing and mailing brochures and other materials connected with the search.
GSBA will advertise the position for the board in The New York Times Recruitment Package for Education Clients, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications.
GSBA is handling the screening of applicants and will make sure various background checks, such as criminal and credit history, are done on the candidates.
The board will have to attend a half-day workshop on the interview process and contract negotiations before interviewing the top candidates.
The school board has been at odds since a then-majority voted to oust former Superintendent Dan Colwell in January.
Prior to voting on the national search, though, board members bickered among themselves while discussing whether or not to appeal or challenge the probation given to the school system by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Board Attorney Gary Sams said he didn't know of any way to appeal the SACS decision. But Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens said she didn't understand why the school system was placed on probation, a statement that received strong criticism from the audience.
"I would like a copy of standards of accreditation," Kitchens said. "You're asking me to correct something and I don't know what it is. We need clarity on what it is we need to do."
Board member Ericka Davis tried to clarify the reason for SACS placing the school district on probation.
"There were two policies they were looking at," Davis said. "A school board cannot violate its own policies and cannot participate in day-to-day operations of the school system. I don't know how clear that can be."
Kitchens accused board member Barbara Wells of micromanaging while holding up a copy of an e-mail Wells sent to interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis.
Wells denied the charge by saying, "If I were micromanaging the school system, I would not be so stupid as to send e-mails."
A SACS review team found proof that Kitchens and Chairwoman Nedra Ware were meddling in the school system's daily operations by issuing directives to administrators and ordering personnel changes.
In other business:
* The board voted 4-3 Thursday night to approve a 1-mill rate increase.
The mill increase was necessary, said many residents who voiced their opinions about the increase, because the board had already adopted the 2004 budget.
The $327.3 million budget requires a 1-mill increase, from 17.916 to 18.916.
A tax increase is necessary, primarily because the revenue received from the state has been reduced by more than $10 million in the past two years, said Lee Davis, chief financial officer for the school system.
Without a tax increase, Davis said, the school system will most likely be forced to borrow money next year.
One mill equals $1 in tax collected for every $1,000 in assessed value of property.
With a 1-mill increase without a millage rollback, a taxpayer who owns a home worth $100,000 could expect a $30 increase in taxes, from $537 to $567.
* The board voted unanimously to contribute money to the construction of the Clayton County Swimming Pool complex. The school system is paying $3.5 million, half of the cost to build the complex with the county. In return the school system will get priority use during the nine-month school year; the county gets priority in the summer.
Once the complex is built, the county is taking on the responsibility of paying for the equipment and maintenance. However, the school district is paying half the cost for employees.
* The following personnel recommendations were unanimously approved by the board: Dean Willard is assistant principal of Riverdale Elementary School, Valya Lee is the interim assistant superintendent of Area II schools, and Dr. Janice Davis is the director of special programs.