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BOE member files SACS complaints against leaders

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Norreese Haynes, a member of the Clayton County Board of Education, responded to accusations of his own alleged micromanagement by telling the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) that Rod Johnson, the board's vice chairman, and Ericka Davis, the board chairperson, are allegedly guilty of overstepping their authority.

In addition, Haynes asserts that Davis has allegedly committed fraud, while Johnson, is supposedly guilty of assault and battery.

Haynes sent the complaints to Dr. Mark Elgart, the president of SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, on Dec. 21 as part of his response to Johnson's claims that Haynes has been trying to tell employees of the school system how to do their jobs.

In his response, Haynes says it was Johnson who allegedly tampered with the bidding process for an alternative education provider. Johnson, on the other hand, claims it was Haynes who committed that act.

"The matters about which I will briefly delineate in this letter are matters of which I have been aware of for some time, but I was hoping that the school board could resolve these matters internally without involving you or SACS," Haynes says in his letter to Elgart. "Mr. Johnson chose to involve you and SACS, and hence, my complaints to set the record straight."

Haynes told a reporter he could not further explain his complaints against Johnson and Davis, because the law firm of Brock, Clay, Calhoun, Wilson and Rogers -- hired by the board earlier this month to help deal with SACS-related issues -- has told the board not to speak with the media about the SACS issue.

Haynes also claims he witnessed Johnson assaulting a member of the public in July. The complaint, however, doesn't name the victim of the alleged assault, or an alleged "independent witness" to the incident.

The charges against Davis also include fraud for allegedly sending one copy of the contract of the school district's in-house legal counsel, Dorsey Hopson, to board members, and then signing a different copy of the contract, with different terms, after the board approved the hiring of Hopson.

Haynes also charges that Davis provided the media with the social security number of, and committed slander against, a member of the public in January of this year.

Davis, however, said there is no truth to Haynes' claims, and that she will address the charges, if SACS' investigative team asks her about them in January.

"I am deeply saddened by Mr. Haynes' decision to submit a complaint regarding me that is filled with false allegations, complete untruths and misinformation," Davis said Wednesday in an e-mailed response. "Much of the board minutes that SACS already has in their possession will serve as a truthful response to his complaint, including the issue of Mr. Hopson's contract."

Davis also refuted a claim by Haynes that she sent school system-related messages from her state-controlled e-mail address that she uses for her job as a spokesperson for the Georgia Building Authority.

Elgart said it is not unusual to see a board of education member, who has been accused of inappropriate behavior, file complaints against his or her accusers. He explained that everyone at the center of an investigation wants to make sure his or her voice is heard.

Elgart said his office has received about 2,000 pages of documents from everyone involved in the investigation, including the school system, Johnson, and Haynes.

"There are varying perceptions of what happened here," Elgart said. "The same basic events happened in each version of events, but every one has a different interpretation of the events that transpired ... The challenge now is sifting through 2,000 pages of documents and making sure we are focused when we arrive for our on-site investigation."

Five members of the Clayton County Board of Education, more than half of its membership, are now at the center of complaints filed with SACS. The initial complaints to SACS, concerning the behavior of Haynes, and board members Lois Baines-Hunter and Sandra Scott, prompted the accrediting agency to decide to conduct an on-site investigation.

Davis said the complaints being filed by board members against fellow board members, and the public fighting among board members, is going to hurt the children of Clayton County instead of the board members.

"As far as the complaints going back and forth, it makes me sad," Davis said. "At this juncture, it doesn't do any good for our children, and it certainly doesn't do any good for the perception of the board or the district as a whole ... As far as the confidence of the community, that has never left my mind."

A recommendation from SACS' investigative team to do nothing, put the school system on probation, or take away its accreditation will be made public in late February.

If the system loses it's accreditation, it could take up to three years to get it back, Elgart said.

"No lingering issues can remain," he said. "Everything has to be completely and comprehensively dealt with to get the accreditation back.

"The long term effect," he said, "will be the reputation and respect that people in the community will have for the school system. People will remember this for a long time, though, and they will be concerned about this for a long time as well."

Board member Johnson could not be reached for comment.