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Realtors to gauge public, governor's office on SACS

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The news that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) decided on Friday to conduct an investigation of alleged micromanagement by the Clayton County Board of Education did not sit well with the Metro South Association of Realtors.

The group, which has a membership of 3,000 realtors in Clayton and Henry counties, had been considering asking Gov. Sonny Perdue to step in and remove the entire board from office, but first wanted to see what SACS was going to do.

The association's board of directors responded to SACS' decision on Monday by unanimously voting to ask the Georgia Association of Realtors (GAR) to intervene on the local association's behalf. GAR would approach Perdue's office, and gauge the governor's thoughts about the possibility of Clayton County schools losing accreditation.

SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) will be investigating Clayton County's Board of Education for the second time in five years. The last investigation, in 2003, resulted in the school system being on probation for two years.

"The Board of Education and the school system are two entities, but the actions of one are hurting the other," said David Barton, the Metro South Association of Realtors' vice president of government affairs.

The association will also gauge the thoughts of the community on Thursday, when it hosts a public meeting from 7 p.m., to 9 p.m., at its office, at 1671 Adamson Pkwy., Morrow. The meeting will give residents an opportunity to tell the association if they want to see the Board of Education removed from office.

The Metro South Association of Realtors' meeting will be the second gathering this week to address the SACS issue. The District 9 Concerned Citizens Group will host a meeting at 7 p.m., on Wednesday, at the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center, 3499 Rex Road.

Barton said his association is working on getting representatives of Karen Handel, Georgia's secretary of state, and Annie Bright, Clayton County's director of elections, to attend the meeting on Thursday to answer specific questions about removing the board's nine members from office.

The association is concerned about what effect a loss of accreditation will have on both the school system, and property values in Clayton County.

If SACS takes away the district's accreditation, Clayton County's more than 52,000 students would be ineligible to receive the HOPE scholarship, would have difficulty transferring to another school system, and would also have a harder time getting in to colleges with competitive applicant pools.

More than 8,000 employees of the school system, meanwhile, could face trouble if they decide to transfer to another school system, because other districts may not recognize years spent teaching in an unaccredited school system.

Barton said the housing market entered a three-year "stable" period in 2003 when the school system was put on probation by SACS, because of similar issues.

While property values in Clayton County remained stable, values in the areas served by the Atlanta and Henry County school systems have increased by 12 percent since 2003, Barton said. He added many realtors have given up on trying to do business in Clayton County as a result, and now focus solely on Henry County.

Barton said his cell phone has been ringing constantly since Dec. 14, as people called to offer support. He typically receives three or four calls a day, but he said he received roughly 100 calls over the weekend. None of the calls have been from people opposed to removing the board from office, he said.

He added the public can force board members to change their attitudes, rather than letting SACS take away the school system's accreditation. "If there is enough pressure from the community, I hope they [board members] would see the pressure is something they need to act upon themselves," Barton said. "The number of calls makes you wonder how many more people there are out there who want to see this board removed from office."

Barton said several of the people who have been calling him are in positions, such as teachers, where they can't publicly call for the removal of the board.

Sid Chapman, the president of the Clayton County Education Association (CCEA), said teachers are mainly concerned with the welfare of their students. He explained the National Education Association, and SACS CASI President Mark Elgart have re-assured CCEA officials that years spent working in Clayton County will still be recognized by the Georgia Teacher Retirement System.

Last week, the executive board of CCEA, which has a membership of 2,800 Clayton County educators, voted unanimously to call for the resignation of any Board of Education member who is found guilty of micromanagement by SACS.

Ericka Davis, the chairperson of the Clayton County Board of Education, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for Perdue's office could not comment on the issue.