Parents want access to candidates

By Greg Gelpi

The school system's forum for the public to meet the finalists for superintendent is a "sham," one Clayton County resident said, and he is drumming up support to bypass the forum.

The Clayton County Board of Education announced that the public can pose questions to the three finalists for the job, but the board will screen the questions and give them to the finalists before the forum, board attorney Gary Sams said. The forum is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center.

"This is ludicrous. This is a sham," Tom McBrayer said. "We've accomplished very little if they think this is progress."

McBrayer, a father of two Clayton County students and member of the Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education, sent an e-mail to about 60 to 70 people, he said. In turn, those on his list sent the e-mail to their own lists.

McBrayer's letter urges residents to call and write to the three finalists personally, rather than following the process established by the board.

He said he is "encouraged" by the national search used to find the finalists, but "disappointed" with how the board is including the public.

Board member Allen T. Johnson said the nine members of the board were elected to represent the public and make decisions of this nature for the public.

"You can't have 250,000 people selecting a superintendent," he said. "After the smoke clears, we'll have a good person in place."

The board narrowed the list of 41 applicants to Barbara Pulliam, superintendent of the St. Louis Park, Minn., school system; Stanley Pritchett, associate superintendent of DeKalb County's school system and Roy Brooks, area superintendent of Orange County schools in Orlando, Fla.

Sams had said the board would screen the questions for several reasons, including taste, legality and fairness. For instance, it would not be fair to ask someone more familiar with the system a specific question that the other finalists may not be as familiar with.

Michelle Jackson said she is "insulted" by the process.

"It implies that this community is not intelligent," Jackson said.

She faxed a letter to the finalists asking that they insist on more contact with the county residents and encouraging them to be more proactive in taking questions directly from the public.

She sent the letters Friday and Monday, and said she has not received a response.

"I'm just hoping they have sense enough to take questions from the community," Jackson said. "It's an attempt at censorship."

Questions for the finalists can be submitted on the school system's Web site at www.clayton.k12.ga.us, but Jackson said that not everybody has Internet access.

Those who do not have Internet access can visit the site at any branch of the Clayton County Public Library system.

According to the school system, 118 responses have been submitted since it began accepting questions Nov. 26. The questions will be given to Sams Dec. 16.

The announcement of finalists followed a process in which the board agreed to a gag order at the direction of Sams.

The forum will be the public's first opportunity to meet the finalists.

The position came open when the board fired Dan Colwell in January and named William Chavis the interim superintendent. The board later bought out the remainder of Colwell's contract.

An initial search for superintendent was thrown out when several board members attempted to control the process and other members complained of never seeing a complete list of applicants. The Clayton County NAACP, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the public then pressured the board to conduct a national search.