Chavis fires salvo at leadership

By Bob Paslay

See Chavis letter, Page 3A.

Four Clayton County Board of Education members, angry that Chairwoman Nedra Ware "reprimanded" interim Superintendent William Chavis and tried to block access to him, have fired off a letter in an attempt to rein her in.

Meanwhile, Chavis also fired a smoking missile that hit Ware and Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens broadside Thursday.

Reminding them in a letter that a superintendent search is on-going, Chavis said, "I will go on record by saying that any reputable, respected, responsible superintendent would be out of his/her mind to accept a position in Clayton County with you and Mrs. Kitchens in your present positions.

"Mrs. Ware, you have refused to respond to me or to communicate with me since I told you that I will not be your assassin. I will not be your hit man. I am not your flunky."

Chavis asked if Ware is continuing to try to micromanage the district in direct contrast to what is permitted.

In the letter Chavis disclosed that he had decided to quit the interim position and was talked into staying.

The board members' letter also questions Ware's authority to reprimand anyone and challenges many of the actions she has taken.

"By what policy and or law that has either been passed by this Board or the Georgia General Assembly do you exercise the right to act individually on behalf of this Board to reprimand Dr. Chavis or any employee?" the letter asks.

Board members Linda Crummy, Ericka Davis, Bob Livingston and Barbara Wells signed the letter.

In a wide range of statements about Ware's actions, the board members question whether she has "reneged on the commitment we made to the citizens" to seek the Georgia School Boards Association's help in searching for a new superintendent.

A conference call to the GSBA slated for last Wednesday was canceled by Ware.

The four board members made a formal request to hold a national search for a superintendent and to let the public have input into that process. They asked that the proposal be put on the June 10 agenda for a vote.

Efforts to reach Ware about the letter were not successful.

The members also questioned whether some punitive actions taken against some employees at Ware and Kitchen's request are null and void since they are not supposed to be meddling in daily operations of the district.

"Does that mean that the firing of Officer Hank Derbyshire, the removal of Board Secretary Sandy Languell and the transfer of Paul Kraack are all null and void as those were punitive actions taken without the approval and knowledge of the Board? If not, then were those punitive actions directed by you and why were they executed without the approval and knowledge of the Board?" the board members ask.

Derbyshire provided security at school board meetings until recently when he was ordered fired by Ware and Kitchens. Kraack was director of communications for the school system. He was transferred earlier this year at the request of Ware and Kitchens to another department. Ware and Kitchens had Languell reassigned because they did not "trust" her.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools recently put the school system on probation and gave it a year for leadership to stop meddling in the day-to-day operations and to follow board policy, among other things.

Chavis told SACS investigators that he was instructed by Ware and Kitchens to move specific employees and said he is only a "figurehead" for the board.

Ware, in a Monday letter, said she was "reprimanding" Chavis for not consulting her before distributing the agenda, for not producing minutes of meetings in a timely manner and for not taking notes at all meetings.

"When you requested Dr. Chavis to be in attendance at every executive session, does that override the times that you have requested him to leave?" the letter asks.

"By what policy has this Board passed that Board minutes must be presented to you for review within 32 hours?" the letter asks.

Ware told board members to not talk to Chavis or any other employee and that they must go through Ware or Kitchens.

"Are you aware that you are in danger of violating the civil rights of every member of this Board when you order us not to contact any school system employee about "anything" and that is not within your authority by policy to do? If you feel that it is, please provide that policy," the four board members stated in their letter to Ware.

Barbara Wells said the GSBA would be asked to help the district get off probation in addition to helping in the search for a superintendent.

The seven-page SACS letter cited a series of problems with the way the district is governed. If the accreditation is yanked, it could mean that thousands of qualified students will lose their HOPE scholarships and students going to other districts may not be able to transfer credits. Teachers could also find it harder to find a job in an accredited district.

SACS Executive Director Mark Elgart said he thinks the district has the ability to get off probation and the question is whether it has "the will."