Board finds support at public meeting

By Trina Trice

Clayton County Board of Education Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens, and members LaToya Walker and Carol Kellam sat in and listened to criticism and praise of their actions at a RainbowPUSH Coalition meeting Monday night.

While many parents spoke on issues concerning their children and problems they are having with school administrators, their support of the four board members who have been asked to resign by various local groups wavered.

Wendell Muhammed, representative of the Nation of Islam and chairman of the Voters Independent Project, attended the meeting to show his "full support for this board."

"Clayton County had problems long before they got here," he said. "Let us not continue to dump on them. Give them an opportunity to do what they were elected to do."

Muhammed suggested the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency that placed the school system on probation because of board leadership misconduct, had violated its own policies by "putting the school system on probation, trying to please some powers that be."

Keith Horton, who recently moved into the county against advice he'd been given, accused the four board members of mismanaging the school system.

"How can you manage a multimillion dollar budget if you cannot follow procedure?" he asked board members who sat together on one of the church's pews. "You can't manage money if you can't manage people. You're not telling us what's going on. I want to know the facts.

"This is an absolute circus," Horton said. "I was told not to move here. My property value is going down."

Horton, while looking at Muhammed, suggested his comments were making a bad situation worse.

"We've already got a problem," he said. "We don't need to enhance it."

Tom McBrayer, father of two Clayton County students, read the audience portions of the board's code of ethics, which he obtained from the school board's online policy manual.

Addressing comments made by some board members who would like the board's policies updated, citing that some had become obsolete, McBrayer said, "I hope and pray there isn't one (line) in (the code of ethics) that is considered obsolete or we're in big trouble."

Points made within the code of ethics suggest the board work in harmony and in conjunction with parents, community and business leaders, and the media with the best interests of students in mind.

Dr. Curtis Thrasher Jr., former president of the Atlanta chapter of the RainbowPUSH Coalition, told the mostly black audience that they should stick together. Thrasher also told McBrayer he didn't care what he thought when McBrayer tried to assert that the problem with the school board isn't a black or white issue.

"You have blacks serving on the board," Thrasher said. "Whatever problems you've got didn't start with just these (four board members). I'm tired of my people being exploited to (the point where) they start to get panicky.

"Do not panic," he said. "You go to your board meetings and ask the questions you need to ask, but do not let anyone tear you apart."

RainbowPUSH Coalition will continue to provide a series of hearings that will encourage residents to ask questions and express their opinions, said Gail Davenport, mediator of the Monday hearing.

The hearings are a part of the coalition's investigation of the school system and school board. Findings will be compiled in a report to which citizens will have access.

Monday night "we got some good suggestions, good recommendations," Davenport said. "The people asked for a town hall meeting. Hopefully, the board will be able to come together."

Ware, who requested a meeting with the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce board of directors, asserted that she still would like to meet with the chamber board as soon as scheduling conflicts are resolved. The chamber board has had a difficult time setting up a meeting with Ware due to her lack of availability, chamber board members have said.

When asked why certain board members attended the hearing, while others, such as Barbara Wells, Ericka Davis, Linda Crummy and Bob Livingston, did not, Davenport said, "I did not call anybody and ask them to come. It is an open forum. We've tried to get the information out."