Taxpayers foot travel bills

By Greg Gelpi

Three school board members flew to sunny Florida last week to interview one of the candidates for superintendent, but no one opted to go to cold Minnesota to interview another candidate.

Taxpayers footed the bill for board members Nedra Ware, Connie Kitchens and Carol Kellam to spend three days in Orlando to see Roy Brooks.

School officials said Tuesday they could not provide a full accounting of the cost of the airlines and hotel and other expenses associated with the trip.

Brooks is area superintendent for the Orange County Public Schools system, and the reason given for the trip was to meet with his co-workers and members of the school system community.

Less than two months after first seeing the list of applicants, the Clayton County Board of Education is tentatively scheduled to select who it wants as superintendent at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Friday, board member Allen T. Johnson said Tuesday. If so, that vote would come less than 48 hours after the public gets their first look at the finalists.

The board decided not to visit finalist Barbara Pulliam in St. Louis Park, Minn. Instead, a conference call was held with her by three members.

The school system finance department is still processing paperwork to determine the cost of the Florida trip .

"That is why I chose not to go," Johnson said, explaining that the cost didn't support the reasons for going to Orlando and a trip to St. Louis Park would be too expensive as well. "First of all, the weather was pretty bad up there, and the other reason is that it would have been too expensive to go up there."

Ware, Kellam and Kitchens volunteered to spend three days in Orlando, while no one volunteered to go to St. Louis Park because of the cold weather and the expense of such a trip.

"I don't think anyone wanted to brave the weather," Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton said, adding that a teleconference with members of Pulliam's school system and her community was held instead.

Since the third candidate is from DeKalb County, that trip by board members only involved the cost of driving.

The board decided behind closed doors to split into three groups and take action regarding the trips.

State law requires that any decision made in executive session be voted on in open session. No vote was taken.

When the three-member committee made up of Barbara Wells, Ericka Davis and Bob Livingston visited Stanley Pritchett, the associate superintendent of DeKalb County schools and third finalist for superintendent, the school board members found Ware already there visiting Pritchett.

In a superintendent search, prior to the current search, Ware and her board supporters handpicked Lonnie Edwards of DeKalb County schools to be the new superintendent.

That search was thrown out when some board members complained of never seeing a complete list of applicants. The Clayton County NAACP, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the public called for the current national search, and the board yielded to pressure.

The board also paid for the finalists to visit for interviews

Nov. 20.

Ware also took a trip to San Francisco in March, charging a plain ticket of more than $600 to the school system. She also incurred a $100 fee for changing the name on her ticket.

Ware's hotel room was $721 for a three-night stay. She also incurred a $205 fee for canceling a room at the Argent Hotel on the same trip.

Last week, the board voted to help fund the crossing guards, but only after expressing apprehension about the $20,000.

PAC to be Packed

Senior school officials are concerned that tonight's public form may not be able to house the public.

The public forum will be held in a smaller auditorium at the Clayton County Public Schools Performing Arts Center at 7 tonight.

The facility where the forum will be held holds 350 people, Horton said. When the board fired Dan Colwell in January, kicking off the search for a new superintendent, board meetings were packed with more than 700 people at times.

The PAC is at 2530 Mount Zion Parkway in Jonesboro. The Clayton County Board of Education will begin with an executive session meeting at 6 p.m. to screen the questions members of the public submitted to be asked of the finalists.

Double Security

The forum will be under double security tonight.

Ware insisted that two Jonesboro police officers be hired for security in addition to the PAC's existing Clayton County police officers.

Ware replaced Clayton County officers with Jonesboro officers for security at board meetings earlier this year, saying that the county officers didn't control the public at meetings.