By Ed Brock
Clayton County Board of Education Chairwoman Nedra Ware says that she and her supporters on the board "have no intention of resigning."
"We have done nothing wrong or illegal," Ware told members of the Clayton-Henry-Fayette-Spalding chapter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's RainbowPUSH Coalition.
The local chapter of the national social justice organization began forming in November and installed its officers in May. About 10 or 15 people attended Thursday night's meeting of the chapter at the Greater St. Peter AME Church in Jonesboro
Ware, a member of the Coalition, attended the meeting along with board members Connie Kitchens and Carol Kellam. Along with addressing recent calls for her resignation Kellam defended the search for a new school superintendent and her endorsement of DeKalb County Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Edwards for the job.
Edwards would replace former Clayton County Superintendent Dan Colwell who was ousted in early January. Ware also acknowledged that the controversy surrounding the school board started with Colwell's termination and is perpetuated by those who disagree with that decision.
There were 12 applicants for the superintendent job, Ware said, and they came from other states such as Tennessee, New York and South Carolina as well as Georgia.
"There are candidates from five states so when you hear we haven't had a national search that isn't true," Ware said.
Ware also said she invited all the members of the board to participate in the interviews of the applicants but some declined.
"I'm not going to use the selection process as a political football like other board members have," Ware said. "The degree to which this controversy has escalated is unnecessary and not constructive."
Ware said she welcomed input from groups such as the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, which on Thursday issued a statement calling for the resignation of Ware, Kitchens, Kellam and School Board Member LaToya Walker, but she again urged that the input should be constructive.
And she dismissed as a "red herring" a recent report by the Southern Association on Colleges and Schools that put the board on probation and threatens to remove the county school system's accreditation.
That was information RainbowPUSH member Wilson Johnson of Rex wanted to hear.
"I felt that when the report come out ? I didn't see where performance measures (of Clayton County classrooms) were addressed but only board actions and I didn't think probation was appropriate," Johnson said.
Johnson said he has confidence that the board will be able to satisfy the demands made in the SACS report.
In an open letter Gail Davenport, president of the chapter, wrote that the organization would conduct an investigation into the board and urged board members "not to allow political rivalries to overshadow their fundamental responsibility to students."
"We won't get a superintendent until all board members agree," Davenport said. "We urge all board members to get together ? the only way we can solve this problem is to get together and talk."
Ware said that is still possible despite the ongoing divisions inside the board.
"I know we want it to be done, and I hope the other members of the board want it to be done," Ware said. "We have to stay focused on making our schools the best."
State Rep. Victor Hill, D-College Park, attended the meeting and discussed the issue of racial profiling. Hill, who is a freshman lawmaker, is also a detective for the Clayton County Police Department.
The chapter's first public meeting on the school board will be June 30 at the Greater St. Peter AME Church on Ga. Highway 54.
There are other issues that the RainbowPUSH chapter wants to address, Davenport said. The rarity of black department heads in Clayton County's government is one such issue.
"If you have all these departments and no black department heads, that says something about the county," Davenport said.
They also want to encourage the county government to support African American businesses. They're also working to increase voter registration in the black community and on other projects in keeping with their mission to "seek justice for all citizens."
Membership is open to everybody regardless of race or ethnicity.
"It truly is a rainbow," Davenport said.