School board riff widens

By Trina Trice

For a complete copy of the SACS letter see today's edition of the News Daily.

Four members of the Clayton County Board of Education walked out on a meeting Tuesday night in protest amidst cheers from a packed audience.

Members Ericka Davis, Linda Crummy, Bob Livingston and Barbara Wells left the school board meeting hall after their attempt to add a national superintendent search on Tuesday night's agenda failed.

At the beginning of the meeting, board Chairwoman Nedra Ware asked all board members to show their commitment to fixing the school system's problems by standing.

All stood to enthusiastic applause from the audience of parents, educators and students. Despite pleas from students for the board to put them first and encouragement for the board to go to retreat from civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, board members continued to disagree with each other on the search for a permanent superintendent.

The four protesting board members who walked out, did so, they said, as a result of a letter sent to interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis from the executive director of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

SACS is a nonprofit organization that accredits more than 13,000 schools and colleges in the Southeast.

The letter chastises the board leadership for sending correspondence to SACS that did not appear to represent the opinion of the entire board.

Ware and Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens sent a letter to SACS outlining what the board would do to adhere to the accrediting agency's recommendations for getting off probation.

One of those recommendations included conducting a new national superintendent search.

"Although the views of the chair and vice-chair are clearly stated in these communications, they do not appear to represent the consensus of the board," the letter states. "The process described in the recent communications ? regarding the search for a new superintendent does not adequately address the intent of the recommendation in the (report) dated May 15.

"A legitimate national search should ? have the full support of the board. The process should be open and provide for involvement of the school community."

Mark Elgart, SACS director, later said the organization remains "concerned with (the school board)."

"We encourage the board to act as a unit, not as individuals. We are very committed to helping the school system to take the right steps to keep its accreditation."

Davis made a passionate request to board members, on behalf of all of her constituents and because of the SACS letter, that she would not vote for an agenda that did not contain an item that clearly states the board would make a commitment to start its superintendent search from scratch.

Davis told board members, specifically Ware and Kitchens, that Clayton County residents continually appear at board meetings and have asked her to assure them that the board will conduct a new national search for a school chief.

"You cannot ignore the stakeholders of this (county)," Davis said. "All you had to do was put it on the agenda."

Ware told Davis and Livingston the item was not placed on the agenda because the board had previously agreed at a June 16 called meeting to discuss the superintendent search at the two-day retreat in Lawrenceville with the Georgia School Boards Association. The retreat starts today.

Chavis asserted that he had placed the national search item on the agenda, but says Ware had it taken off.

"I didn't know it wasn't on the agenda until (Tuesday) night," Chavis said.

Member LaToya Walker defended Ware's explanation for the missing item, saying, "I agree that a national search is important. We wanted to make sure that we do what was right. Why rush it today? I want to make sure that we do not act in haste. Let's give GSBA a chance this time ? let's get help from the GSBA."

The audience unleashed its disapproval of Walker's statements, verbally and with the raising of signs that clearly asked for a national superintendent search.

"We're asking (Tuesday night) that you make a commitment to do a national search," Crummy said. "We want the best possible process. I'm asking you to bring about some healing."