Pulliam inherits school problems

By Greg Gelpi

The search is over and the ink has dried on the contract.

Clayton County's first female superintendent, Barbara Pulliam, officially begins work today and will join the school board meeting at 7 tonight.

Although new to the system, Pulliam inherits old problems, including a school system that is on probation and suffering from a statewide economic crunch.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed slashing areas of the state budget, including cutting $126 million from the education budget for this fiscal year and $380 million from the education budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July. As a result, Clayton County schools could be out $4 million that the system had budgeted for, Clayton County schools Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said.

Davis said he will meet with Pulliam today to brief her on what he called a "severe" budget cut. He will make a report on the finances to the school board at the meeting.

"We're starting to look at things we can do to offset the cuts," Davis said. "The cuts are severe. They are very severe. I sympathize with (the governor), but it makes it tough for us."

He said a tax increase is an option, but not likely. Instead, the school system will do without the non-essentials.

"Anything that is not essential, we basically cannot buy," Davis said. "We already stopped all travel, except what is required. Anything we can get away without doing we shouldn't do."

Despite the hard economic times, board members made a four-day trip to Washington, D.C. They will make a presentation to the board regarding the trip.

Members Nedra Ware, Connie Kitchens, Carol Kellam and LaToya Walker were in Washington, D.C. from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 for Federal Relations Network Day at the Capitol, a conference of the National School Boards Association. Walker left a day early. The conference focused on accountability, and the board members met for about an hour with U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Atlanta.

Scott's district office in Jonesboro is only about a mile from the school district office.

As of Friday afternoon, only Walker had turned in her expenses for the trip, which included some of the expenses of other board members.

Registration for the trip cost $460 with airfare costing $193.20 for Walker. Her share of a room with Ware was $124.81, and she paid $11.25 as her share of cab fares. Her total for her share of the trip was $789.26.

The total for all four to register for the conference was $1,840.

In other business, the school board will consider recommendations for principal at Mundy's Mill Middle School. Nancy Colwell, the wife of Superintendent Dan Colwell is retiring as principal of Mundy's Mill Middle. Dan Colwell was fired in January 2003.

The board will also consider a recommendation from committee to accept a bid from RBC Centura to handle the system's banking.

Based on the RBC bid, the school system would earn $444,640 for one year of interest through RBC. The next closest bid was SouthTrust, which would have earned the system about $363,771.49, about $80,000 less.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the school system's accrediting agency, placed the system on probation in May for failing to follow its own policies.

A report issued by SACS in October said that the conducting of a national search and hiring of a permanent superintendent is essential to SACS lifting the probation.

Pulliam, only the second black superintendent of the primarily black school system, was selected from a national search that attracted 41 applicants.