Accreditation officials to visit

By Trina Trice

Officials from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools are visiting the Clayton County school system Thursday as part of an inquiry that could affect the system's accreditation.

SACS accredits more than 12,000 public and private educational institutions from pre-kindergarten to university level in 11 Southeastern states and in Latin America.

During the committee's visit, various school administrators and other personnel will be interviewed to gather information for the inquiry. Board members could also be interviewed.

When asked if he knew the names of those he'd be interviewing, Mark Elgart, executive director of SACS, said Monday afternoon "I do, but at this point, we're not going to divulge that."

Following the visit, Elgart said a full report will be compiled Thursday evening or Friday morning.

The inquiry began after SACS received a barrage of phone calls and letters concerning recent actions of the school board.

In response to residents' concerns, SACS sent interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis a letter asking him to address the alleged mismanagement of the school district.

SACS wanted confirmation that the board is following its own policies and does not have a hand in the daily operation of the school district.

Former superintendent Dan Colwell's ouster, as well as various personnel transfers, sparked suspicion that the board is micromanaging the school district. The school board should function only as a policy-making body, according to Elgart.

Colwell was fired at a Jan. 13 meeting. The board, later, settled with Colwell resulting in a $232,000 buyout of his contract that was scheduled to end January 2005.

Earlier, Elgart said the SACS inquiry is "not an indictment of individual board members. It's how the board has been performing its governing duties so far. When we look at the situation, we're looking to see patterns of behavior, of ways a school or school district works." "We're looking to see" if current problems at a school district are "just isolated or if there is a pattern of neglect or behavior in them not meeting the standards."

In other business, the school board will tentatively approve the 2004 budget at a called meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m., during which the public can offer suggestions pertaining to the budget.

The public is "allowed to speak to different parts of the budget" at the Tuesday meeting, said Bill Horton, acting deputy superintendent. "This is required. In the past I've been told not a lot of people come, but we may have a lot of people this time."

To achieve the $327.3 million budget created by Lee Davis, chief financial officer for Clayton County schools, and the budget committee, a millage rate increase is needed.

Davis recommended the board approve a 1-mill increase from 17.9 to 18.9 at a called meeting last week.

Tom McBrayer, a parent and representative of the Clayton County Council of PTAs, recently asked the board to put a nurse in all the middle schools in the county, saying, "We believe that we have a system-wide need. This is a proactive effort the board can heed."

Only one out of 12 middle schools has a school nurse on campus.

Most of the county's 32 elementary schools have nurses, with some exceptions, said Jean Gaissert, coordinator of school nursing.

Of the 33 nurses currently employed, one is stationed at Adamson Middle School, one at North Clayton High School, and one at the Alternative School. Two elementary schools do not have nurses because they left during the middle of the school year, Gaissert said.

"We just haven't been able to hire anyone" to fill the nursing vacancies, she said.

The 2004 budget provides an increase in spending for nurses' salaries, rising from $1.02 million to $1.08 million.