By Greg Gelpi
A letter from the chairwoman of the Clayton County Board of Education may have deepened the rift dividing board members, but may not have affected the school system's probationary status.
More than six months after SACS placed the school system on probation, Chairwoman Nedra Ware's letter asked where the board could find a copy of SACS policies.
"In terms of the school board, where can I find the policies of SACS governing school boards?" Ware's letter asked. "What are those guidelines and standards?"
Ware wrote the letter to a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools investigative team that visited the school system Oct. 8, but didn't consult with her fellow board members before sending it and didn't even give them a copy until four days after it was sent.
"While we are desperately trying to get off probation, I am disappointed that we are not being consulted because we don't want to do anything that would jeopardize us getting off probation," said board member Barbara Wells.
The Oct. 10 letter, addressed to Peyton Williams, listed five questions, including three that questioned SACS' authority over the school board.
In an informal oral report that followed the visit, the team charged that the board had yet to meet to discuss SACS' initial report, which placed the system on probation.
Although the letter was sent on Clayton County Public Schools letterhead and in Ware's official capacity as chairwoman, board members didn't learn of the letter until Oct. 14.
This follows a pattern in the past by Ware in which board members were not consulted before letters were sent. In this case, she did not sign any other board members' names.
Board member Bob Livingston reserved comment for the letter, but expressed concern.
"I'm going to reserve my opinion for the right time," he said. "I don't think SACS will be happy with this."
Although the letter was an attempt to learn SACS policy, Williams doesn't work for SACS, but rather serves in a voluntary capacity.
Mark Elgart, executive director of the SACS Commission on Secondary and Elementary School, hadn't received a copy of the letter by Friday evening.
"She has a right as an individual to ask questions," he said without having seen the letter. "I don't think she is overstepping her authority."
SACS placed the school system on probation for violating its own policy. The problems are with the board as a whole and not with individuals on the board, he explained.
"I hope people aren't looking for problems where there aren't any," Elgart said.
The Oct. 8 visit at the midway point of the probationary period checked on the board's progress. The team found that little progress had been made and that it still was unsure of its roles and responsibilities.
A written formal report of the visit will be sent to the board in seven to 10 days, Elgart said. One key step to the probation being lifted is the hiring of a superintendent after the completion of a national search by the Georgia School Boards Association.
If the board hasn't corrected its problems when SACS returns in the spring, SACS could revoke the system's accreditation. If this happens, Clayton County students would no longer be eligible for the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship program.