System scraps Philippines recruiting effort

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton County school system decided to cut ties with an international recruiting company under investigation by the FBI.

The school system offered provisional contracts to 14 teachers after a recruiting trip to the Philippines, but has opted to pursue other routes for addressing a shortage in special education teachers, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Ed Scott said.

"The system has decided at this time not to pursue that initiative," Scott said. "We could never bring about the closure to feel 100 percent comfortable with this."

That doesn't mean the school system is convinced of any wrongdoing, he added.

Mt. Zion High School Principal Don Stout and Director of Special Education Tom Erdmanczyk were flown to the Philippines in January to interview teachers through Avenida International. The school system spent about $7,000 in airfare and other expenses for the recruiting trip, but were promised reimbursement for one person's expenses if the system hired 10 or more teachers on the trip.

Mike Helms, a former Oakland Unified School District employee, said that he has been interviewed by the FBI in connection to a trip he took to the Philippines in which he said Ligaya Avenida, head of Avenida International, offered him an envelop of cash as a "finder's fee."

At the time, Avenida denied any wrongdoing and said she has no knowledge of any FBI investigation. She said that Oakland is being investigated by the state of California in connection to its bankruptcy and that Helms is just a disgruntled employee trying to get the school system in trouble.

School officials learned of the investigation through reports by the News Daily after school officials made the trip.

At the time of the Clayton County recruiting trip, the school system had 30 vacancies for special education teachers.

Scott said Avenida asked the school system to make a decision so that she could place the Filipino teachers somewhere if not in Clayton County.

"In the interest of those teachers, it was best as a system that we make a decision," Scott said. "The teachers, they had done nothing wrong. We did not want to put their employment next year in jeopardy."

The provisional contracts offered to the Filipino teachers were contingent on several things, including processing the paperwork to allow the teachers to work in the United States.

Obtaining visas for the teachers posed another obstacle in bringing the teachers to Clayton County, Scott said.

"We've decided to move on because as a system we didn't feel completely confident we could get the visas," Scott said. "If you can't get any visas, then you can't move forward."

The school system is still experiencing a shortage in special education teachers, he said. Erdmanczyk and Coordinator of Recruiting Donald Dunnigan are searching for teachers nationwide.

"There's been a shortage of special education teachers for years," Scott said. "That's one of the reasons the system looked into the Philippines initiative initially. We're just going to continue to look."

As part of the system's recruiting efforts, the school system has been holding jobs fairs during the past few months, including one held Friday.