By Trina Trice

Reading from a prepared statement, Nedra Ware, chairwoman of the Clayton County Board of Education, blasted the media, made accusations of racism and attempted to defend recent school board actions at a press conference she led Wednesday afternoon.

The only other board members present were District 7 representative Carol Kellam and Vice chairwoman Connie Kitchens.

"There are and has been racial tension in our school district for many, many years," Ware read from the statement. "With the forced resignation of Dr. Joe Hairston (Clayton County School Superintendent from 1995-2000), an African-American superintendent, our community became very divided racially."

Ware insisted Clayton County's student population is 88 percent black, but according to statistics released at the beginning of the 2002-2003 school year African-Americans make up 69 percent of the total student body.

Ware also noted that of the 78 central administration jobs 17.9 percent are held by blacks and 82.1 percent by whites.

Problems facing the school board, such as the ongoing grand jury probe and an inquiry from the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools, an organization that grants accreditation to elementary and secondary schools in the Southeast, are leftover results from the previous school board, Ware suggested.

"The new board has only been in office since January 2003, less than three months," Ware said. "If the SACS committee" evaluates the school district "and determines that there are indeed problems, then this was a carry-over from the previous board and administration. Again, I say to you that the current board has only been in office for three months."

In accordance with leftover issues, Kitchens said she is bewildered why the current school board has to deal with as many probes and controversies as it has since removing former Superintendent Dan Colwell from office earlier this year.

Colwell was asked to resign at a Jan. 13 meeting. The school board later agreed to suspend him with pay during an investigation. He and the board finally reached an agreement that included a $232,000 settlement.

When Ware finished reading her statement she agreed to answer five questions. When asked by a reporter if Colwell's firing was racially motivated Kitchens suggested, inadvertently, that it was.

Board member Carol Kellam defended Kitchens' comments, yet offered some clarification as to whether or not the board decided to remove Colwell from his post because he was white.

"On the board's part, he was removed because of allegations" brought against him, Kellam said. "It had nothing to do with" Colwell "being Caucasian and a predominantly" black school board.

"What we don't understand is three years ago ? the system had its first" black "appointed superintendent" removed from office, Kitchens said. "There was an outcry from the community. We're trying to understand here if it happened three years ago, there was no grand jury investigation, no SACS inquiry ? why is there one at this time? Why now ? is it because" Hairston "was black?"

While addressing other concerns, Ware told reporters the school board welcomes the grand jury probe. Ware is considering sending a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concerning recent allegations brought to her attention about possible corruption in the school system.

"I am not at liberty to discuss these allegations," Ware said. "Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. So, please understand I will not discuss allegations with anyone."

In Friday's edition we will publish the complete test of the statement read at Wednesday's press conference.