Legislators push for school board election

By Bob Paslay and Justin Reedy

With almost the full four-year term left on the Clayton County School District 8 seat, the county's legislative delegation wants to let voters fill the seat in a special election in coming months.

The delegation is pushing a resolution that asks the school board to hold off on appointing a person to fill the vacancy of Susan Ryan, who resigned this month after starting her term in January.

Meanwhile, the school board has scheduled a special meeting Thursday night to fill the vacancy.

Board member Barbara Wells said Monday she urged members to follow the procedure used in other vacancies n announcing the opening to give residents of the district a chance to apply n and the board has agreed to do this.

District 8 of the school board is in northeastern Clayton County, and includes parts of Morrow, Forest Park, Lake City and Conley. It is bordered on the west by Ga. Highway 54 and partially bordered on the east by Ga. Highway 42, and extends from the DeKalb County line in the north to the intersection of Rock Creek Drive and Fielder Road in the south.

According to a press release by the school system late Monday afternoon, anyone in that district interested in being considered has until noon Thursday to apply. In addition, each board member is eligible to sponsor one candidate for the post.

"Top candidates for the position will be announced and voted upon in an open session at a called meeting of the board at 7 p.m. Thursday," according to the release.

The school board meets at the Clayton County Public Schools Administration Complex, 1058 Fifth Avenue, Jonesboro. Applicants for the school board District 8 seat should submit a resume to Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton at the Administration Complex or by fax at (770) 603-5100.

Horton said he plans to gather the resumes and present them to the board and it will be up to the board to decide how to narrow them Thursday night and make the selection.

As to any delay to allow the legislative action, he said, "The process is under way. It is the pleasure of the board."

Horton said the process won't be advertised but will be publicized by the news media.

State law calls for a special election if 27 months is left in the term prior to the next general election. That means in the November 2004 election, a person will be elected to fill the two years left on the District 8 post, replacing the appointee.

Lawmakers want to push through local legislation calling for a special election this year, presumably in the next several months to fill the rest of the term. State Sen. Valencia Seay, D-College Park, has drafted a resolution urging the school board to delay appointing someone to the District 8 seat until that legislation can be approved.

"At the NAACP educational forum, people wanted to know why they couldn't vote on it, why the member would be appointed (for the next 18 months)," Seay said. "That's what we want to do, is allow the people to vote to fill that un-expired term."

The benefits of holding a special election shortly after a vacancy opens up outweigh any costs of holding that special election by itself rather than in conjunction with another election, Seay said.

"Particularly with the outcry we've had from the public (about the school board)," Seay added.

The deeply divided school board filled the most recent vacancy on the board by appointing Carol Kellam, who had moved into the district five days earlier. No resume was supplied to the board before the vote on Kellam's appointment, nor was any information concerning her qualifications.

Wells said she might push to create a school board policy that requires advertising positions and accepting resumes for any vacancies. Current policy outlines a series of qualifications, but only says that the board will fill the vacancy and doesn't provide for a step-by-step method of doing this.

Advertising the vacancy and interviewing candidates and then voting "is out in the open," Wells said. "It gives the people in that community a chance to submit their names, to let everybody know about."

That way, "whoever comes in can come in on a level footing and hit the ground running," she said.