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Divided public shows support, contempt for BOE

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

After hearing much criticism from parents, and demands for resignations, members of the Clayton County Board of Education heard something on Thursday they had not heard a lot lately -- words of support from the community.

The board held its first public participation meeting at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center. Three of the six speakers addressed its handling of the district's response to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which board members had narrowly approved on Monday (4-2-1) after much debate.

In February, SACS officials called the board "fatally flawed" because of alleged micromanagement, misuse of district funds and several public fights among board members. However, two speakers on Thursday said the board was anything but flawed.

"I say the board was functional when it approved the SACS response," said Rose Marie Greene, a resident of Jonesboro. "There is nothing which says the board's vote must be unanimous. You did get a vote, and thankfully, you made the right decision ... I say we have a fantastically functioning board ... We need you now more than ever."

SACS has given the school system a Sept. 1 deadline to meet nine mandates for improvement or its accreditation will be revoked. The 2,300-page response, which is larger than initially reported, because additional letters of support and evidence have been collected, was sent to SACS officials on Thursday afternoon.

Ahmad Mousse, another resident of Jonesboro, approached the podium during the public participation meeting and told board members he was proud to say he was from Clayton County. He then thanked the board for approving the SACS response, but also gave a warning to board members, Sandra Scott and Yolanda Everett, who voted against the response.

"To those who opposed the response, history will judge you for your actions," Mousse said. He also asked board members to embrace a spirit of teamwork. "I urge you to cooperate with each other, and work together," he said. "You have come a very long way."

There was one voice of contempt for the board members, however. Larry O'Keeffe, president of the Morrow High School Council, criticized Scott and Everett, and board member Rod Johnson, who abstained from the vote, for not approving the response.

O'Keeffe accused them of not voting in favor of the response because they were allegedly afraid it might contain accusations which could have portrayed them in a negative manner.

"A major factor leading to the current crisis was the inability of individuals to place the welfare of the whole above the welfare of the one," he said. "If this school system is to progress and move forward, we must all be willing to sacrifice for the good of the children. We must give up our displays of selfishness."

Other speakers addressed the board about gang activity in the schools; open records requests, and explaining policy revisions to the superintendent's key communicators group.

While the meeting was announced at the board's work session on Monday, and publicized in local newspapers, there was still a low turnout. Only about 25 people attended the meeting, and only half of the 11 people who signed up to speak actually showed up.

"For a first-time meeting, I think people were still finding their way around," said Corrective Superintendent John Thompson.