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Residents looking for ways to deal with BOE

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Donna Maddox's family tried to sell their home in Lovejoy when the Clayton County Board of Education was put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2003, but couldn't get anyone to buy it.

The Maddox family decided to wait out the probation. Their daughters were doing well in school. One is now at Louisiana State University and the other is a junior at Lovejoy High School.

SACS is now investigating the board of education for the second time in five years, and the school system is facing the prospect of losing its accreditation. Officials from SACS are looking at allegations that board members are engaging in micromanagement of the school system.

"My daughter has a letter jacket that says 'Lovejoy' on it, but she is not going to graduate from Lovejoy High School," Donna Maddox said. "I've spent this week looking at private schools. We really can't afford a private school, but we can't afford to leave her in a Clayton County high school, either."

Maddox was one of about 150 Clayton residents attending public meetings this week to discuss the latest SACS investigation. No one voiced support for the board at the sessions, and many called for a change of membership on the county's governing education body.

Wednesday, a town hall meeting hosted by the District 9 Concerned Citizens group, attracted more than 100 anti-board participants.

On Thursday, the Metro South Association of Realtors hosted a meeting to get public feedback about how to stop the Clayton County Board of Education from being investigated by SACS every few years. David Barton, the association's vice president of government affairs, claimed, during the meeting of 50 people, mostly local realtors, that Clayton County has lost more than $500 million in total equity since 2003, because of the first SACS investigation.

Barton reached that figure by taking the total amount of home sales in the county in that time, $2.7 billion, and subtracted 20 percent from that number. The 20 percent figure represents the amount of growth in property values in Atlanta and Henry County, while Clayton County has been dormant -- sales neither went up nor down since 2003.

"What is it going to take to get citizens to go out and make a difference?" Barton asked. "Is it going to take losing accreditation, or the threat of losing accreditation?"

The options talked about during two meetings this week include recalling the board, demanding resignations from board members, and asking Gov. Sonny Perdue to remove the board -- if wrongdoing can be proved.

Victor Florence, of Rex, was an attendee at the District 9 Concerned Citizens meeting. He believes it's time to "clean the pot" and remove the entire board at one time.

"Removing one person is not going to clean the pot," Florence said. "We need to get rid of all of them."

Margaret McCall, another resident of Rex, attended both meetings. She believes one way to send a message to board members is to get unhappy parents to show up at board meetings in mass. "If we're not willing to do some work, it will not get better," McCall said. "Call your representatives up and hold them accountable."

On Thursday, McCall said she is planning to organize seniors at Clayton County high schools, and get them to start showing up at board meetings wearing all black. "I'm telling them 'Now is the time to stand up for yourself. Don't let them [the board] kill you,'" she said.

Bob Hartley, also a Rex resident, was chosen by the District 9 Concerned Citizens group on Wednesday to lead a committee of nine residents, who will look at options available to the organization, including recalling board member Sandra Scott.

Also, Hartley believes one of the problems facing the board is the involvement of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators (MACE) with board affairs.

Nedra Ware, LaToya Walker and Connie Kitchens were some of the board members who were at the center of the SACS investigation in 2003, and were also associated with MACE at the time. One of the board members currently being looked at by SACS, Norreese Haynes, is the chief executive officer of MACE.

"Everybody, who has gotten this board in trouble, has been affiliated with them [MACE]," Hartley said.