By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education went back to two candidates it previously looked at for the corrective superintendent position on Wednesday night, and offered a contract to Dr. John Thompson with hopes he will be the school system's temporary leader.
The announcement to hire Thompson left the parents and community members in the audience in stunned silence, as the board voted 5-1 to offer Thompson the job.
Chairman Eddie White voted against the move. Vice chairperson Michelle Strong, and board members Sandra Scott, David Ashe, Yolanda Everett, and Lois Baines-Hunter voted in favor of the former Pittsburgh school superintendent.
Thompson and fellow candidate, Santiago Wood, took their names out of consideration for the post last month after Southern Association of Colleges and Schools president Mark Elgart, and state board of education member, James Bostic, criticized the candidates' ability to lead the district.
White and Strong deferred all questions about Thompson's pending hiring to legal counsel, Dorsey Hopson, who had already left the meeting.
"I'm surprised they hired him [Thompson], but I'm also happy about the board finally taking some initiative and doing something to move this district forward," said Jessie Goree, a mother of a North Clayton High School junior. "Since the recommendation was criticized by Dr. Elgart and the state liaisons, the board really went out on a limb and exerted themselves here. I just hope we can afford Dr. Thompson."
Thompson previously asked for a salary which exceeded $250,000, and requested the board consider bringing in outside consultants, which could cost the district more than $2 million.
Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan -- who has been leading the school system since Dr. Barbara Pulliam's resignation -- attended the early portion of the meeting, but left during the board's one-hour executive session, in which it discussed the corrective superintendent position.
Board member Rod Johnson was also in attendance during the early part of the meeting, but did not join his colleagues after the executive session.
A corrective superintendent was sought to help the school system deal with a possible loss of accreditation, if SACS' nine mandates for improvement are not met by Sept. 1.
Earlier in the meeting, the board also narrowly voted in favor of keeping special attorney Glenn Brock on board to handle the accreditation crisis. The board vote was 4-3, with White, Strong, Ashe, and Johnson voting to retain Brock's services. Everett, Scott and Baines-Hunter voted against keeping the attorney.
Brock will not have a contract, so either he or the board can terminate the relationship at any time.
Brock told board members the best-case scenario regarding accreditation was to be placed on probation in September. He said immediately moving from a loss of accreditation recommendation to being "all clear" was "not going to happen." He said the board has less than 100 days to request a show-cause hearing to avoid losing accreditation, since that move must be taken by Aug. 1.
He also told board members he would consider a loss of accreditation to "be a failure for me, both personally and professionally."
"If they follow my advice, we can keep the accreditation," Brock said during the board's executive session. "We have a lot of work to do, but we are still on a path toward retaining the accreditation ... I call on the citizens of Clayton County to stay involved as this process continues."
The discussion to retain Brock's services did get contentious at times, as board members continued to question the attorney about the format he used for his bills. Board member Everett said she didn't even know how much money Brock's services had already cost the district.
Vice chairperson Strong said the current total incurred by Brock's service was less than $100,000. Brock is being paid $225 per hour, and other attorneys working with him cost $180 per hour.
The contentious nature of the debate over Brock's services led Chairman White to issue harsh words to his colleagues.
"We can fuss all night long, but we're at a point where we have to address these matter," White said. "As I understand it, we have 99 days left to get this done. We cannot let the children suffer, not because of something they didn't do, but rather something we caused. We cannot to let this [a loss of accreditation] happen."
Brock said he believes the board is close to complying with three of SACS' mandates, including one that involves ethics policies, residency verifications and removing outside influences.
Brock said the following actions need to take place to be in full compliance with those mandates:
· Gov. Sonny Perdue needs to sign a piece of legislation which would establish an ethics commission for the board of education.
· The school system needs to see what a Clayton County Superior Court decides about the board's March 3 decision to declare former board member Norreese Haynes' seat vacant. The board based it's vote on a Clayton County Police investigation, which determined Haynes lived in Marietta. An investigator from Secretary of State Karen Handel's office determined Haynes lived in his district, though.
Larry O'Keeffe, the father of a Morrow High School student, said he was pleased to see the board retain Brock's services. O'Keeffe was afraid the district's chances of keeping its accreditation would be slimmer if the attorney was let go. "I think keeping him is a positive step in moving forward," O'Keeffe said. "It would have been detrimental to our efforts to have a change in representation at this point."
John Thompson could not be reached for comment.