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Embattled BOE
trying to find its way

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Who will be the corrective superintendent?

Will there be a corrective superintendent?

Who will lead the board of education since Chairperson Ericka Davis is stepping down this week, and Vice chairman Eddie White is planning to resign in June?

How is the board going to solve the SACS issue?

There are a lot of questions circling the board right now, and every day presents the governing body with a new set of circumstances to address.

"We're going day-to-day right now," said board member David Ashe on Friday.

The most pressing issue facing the board is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' decision to revoke the district's accreditation, if nine mandates are not met by a Sept. 1 deadline. SACS officials reached their decision after an investigation revealed alleged micromanagement, unethical behavior and misuse of district funds by board members.

The clock is ticking on the board, which now has fewer than five months to satisfy SACS' mandates. The school system sent Dr. Mark Elgart, the president of SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement a 68-page progress report in mid-March, but the accreditation leader said the district still has a long way to go to meet the requirements for retaining accreditation.

To hire a corrective superintendent -- or not?

Beyond the accreditation issue, the board has to decide whether to hire a temporary, corrective superintendent. The board decided on March 15 to suspend a search for a permanent superintendent so a corrective leader could come in and fix the problem areas cited by SACS.

The board interviewed two candidates, Dr. John Thompson and Dr. Santiago Wood, for the position, but both decided to pull their names out of contention after Dr. Mark Elgart, president of SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, and James Bostic, one of two liaisons sent by Gov. Sonny Perdue to assist the district, made comments about their abilities to lead the school system.

Wood charged Elgart and Bostic were pushing a particular candidate to fill the position. Bostic denied the accusation, and Elgart couldn't be reached for comment.

The board issued a statement claiming Elgart's and Bostic's statements have "significantly hampered the board's efforts to find a superintendent."

Former Superintendent Barbara Pulliam's name has shown up in recent media reports as a candidate, but Ashe said Pulliam is only one of several people, including other former Clayton superintendents, Dan Colwell and Bob Livingston, who have been suggested in casual conversations.

The names of some current district employees also have been brought up, but Ashe declined to say which ones.

Bostic said he has heard several people mention Pulliam as a possible candidate, but he "didn't think they were serious."

Ashe believes recent comments from Bostic may be fueling speculation Pulliam will return to lead the school system again. Bostic has repeatedly told the media he believes the board should look at a former superintendent in Georgia, who is familiar with Clayton County.

"People assumed it meant [one of the] former Clayton County superintendents, because they know the district, it's history and it's problems," Ashe said.

He added that the board is still looking for someone to be the corrective superintendent.

"It is my desire that we continue searching for a full-time superintendent, while letting" Interim Superintendent Dr. Gloria Duncan "continue leading the district, but I've found out my wishes are not to be," Ashe said.

Who's in charge here?

Another issue is who will lead the school system's governing body. Three board members have announced their plans to resign, while the seat of a fourth member, Norreese Haynes, was declared vacant by his colleagues in early March.

Chairperson Davis originally planned to step down on June 15, but told the Clayton News Daily on April 2 that she will step down by the end of this week. The board will vote during it's April 14 board meeting to declare Davis' seat vacant.

Board policy states tat the vice chairman ascends to the chairmanship if that position becomes vacant. However, Vice chairman Eddie White announced he plans to resign on June 15.

White's plans to resign have begun to draw a crowd of former teachers, residents and business leaders, who believe he should stay on the board. Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy offered his own pleas to keep White on the board, calling the retired teacher the "last green leaf on a dying tree."

"It would be a great tragedy to the community to let him resign," Cathy said in a letter to the Clayton News Daily. "He is a people person, always demonstrating a servant spirit and a willingness to serve others. Eddie always treats others with love and respect. He has a real heart for what's best for the children. He is invaluable to the school system. He has definitely been a positive influence on my personal life."

Will the others resign?

The community, Elgart, Bostic and fellow liaison, Brad Bryant, have called on all nine board members to resign. Ashe said he plans to run for re-election this year, however. Board members Lois Baines-Hunter and Michelle Strong have said they haven't made a decision about resigning. Board member Rod Johnson announced his resignation on March 3, but he refused to say when he will step down. His action has led to some confusion among his fellow board members, who aren't sure how to proceed when they don't know how much longer Johnson will remain on the board. Once Johnson resigns, the board will have five members left, barely enough to have a quorum for a meeting.

How is the board responding to SACS?

On April 2, school system spokesman Charles White issued a release on the board's behalf listing the progress the board has tried to make.

In an effort to meet SACS' standards, the board has adjusted its policies and procedures; participated in several training sessions on effective governance; adopted a corrective action plan; passed a resolution to accept help from Gov. Perdue's office; scheduled a forensic audit of the school system's finances as well as a state audit of attendance records, and passed a resolution which forbids teacher organizations, such as the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the Georgia Association of Educators, the Clayton County Education Association and the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, from using the district's e-mail system as a recruiting tool.

The board has also shown frustration with Elgart, too.

Davis and Ashe have said the board has to do what Elgart tells them to do, including Ashe's joke that he'd buy a pink shirt if Elgart told him to wear one.

The board's April 2 statement took the comments against Elgart a step further.

"From the outset of this process, it appears that SACS president and CEO, Dr. Mark Elgart, has rushed to judgment about this board and its ability to maintain its accreditation," the statement read.

The board members claim Elgart doesn't think they can meet the nine mandates by Sept. 1, even though the accreditation leader has repeatedly told the media his agency picked the deadline because SACS officials believes the board could meet the requirements by that date.

On the same day the statement came out, Davis was quoted in the Clayton News Daily as saying there was a communication problem between the board and SACS.

"Ideally, I'd like to see the board sign a memorandum of understanding with Dr. Elgart," Davis said. "There are too many conversations going on. The district is saying one thing and SACS is saying something else, but it's all in the media. We aren't doing a very good job of communicating with each other."