By Curt Yeomans
While Clayton County Board of Education members Michelle Strong (chairperson), and Sandra Scott (vice chairperson), take the stand today at a state administrative hearing in Atlanta to defend their actions, the organizers of separate efforts to get them recalled from office will be waiting to hear what is said by both women.
Michael Malihi, deputy chief judge of the Office of State Administrative Hearings, is presiding over the school board hearing, which is now in its third day of testimony. Attorneys for Strong, Scott and board members Lois Baines Hunter and Yolanda Everett will begin presenting witnesses today. Malihi could recommend that Gov. Sonny Perdue remove the board members from office, if they have committed malfeasance.
The leaders of both recall efforts will be paying close attention to Malihi's recommendation. Recall efforts against Strong, who represents District 1, and Scott, the District 9 representative, are on hold as organizers await the results of the hearing and a recent Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) review of the district.
Testimony begins today at 9:30 a.m., at the Office of State Administrative Hearings, 230 Peachtree St., in Atlanta.
"We had to put the recall effort on hold, because what's the use of having a recall if the judge makes a recommendation to the governor that those board members should be removed," said Maggie Martinez, the leader of the effort to recall Strong from office.
The leaders of the recall efforts are hoping to see the hearing have an outcome which, somehow, improves the school system in the eyes of accreditation officials. Bob Hartley, the leader of the effort to remove Scott from office, said it would be difficult for SACS officials to take away the accreditation, if the "fatally flawed" school board was no longer in office.
Four board members have resigned since SACS officials announced a recommendation to revoke the accreditation in February. A fifth board member was removed from office in March by his colleagues.
"What we've been saying to these board members is, 'You've been deemed fatally flawed by SACS. Go ahead and resign, so we can make an argument that we should keep our accreditation,'" Hartley said. "Hopefully, the remaining board members will follow Rod Johnson's lead and show a little integrity by going ahead and resigning."
Johnson officially resigned last week, although he had announced several months ago that he was stepping down, then failed to do so until the hearing started a week ago.
Hartley said his group decided to wait until after the decision about accreditation is announced. The group's decision to wait was the result of an internal debate over whether a recall effort would hurt the district before the accreditation crisis was resolved.
"It wouldn't be good to jeopardize the relationship [Corrective Superintendent John Thompson] is trying to build with the board," Hartley said. "Why sabotage his efforts when we're paying him so much money to fix things."
SACS officials sent a review team to the district on Aug. 14 and 15. The team could ask the AdvancED Accreditation Commission to change the recommendation from "revoked," to "probation," or to "full accreditation" next week.
On June 23, Jonesboro attorneys Albert Wallace, Robert Oliver, George Glaze, George Brown and retired teacher, Dyane Simmons, filed a complaint with Perdue's office against Strong, Scott, Baines-Hunter, Everett and former board members Rod Johnson, David Ashe and Norreese Haynes.
Perdue forwarded the complaint to OSAH, and it was assigned to Malihi. Malihi is charged with listening to testimony, and determining whether board members have committed malfeasance, or if they violated any other state or local laws. The judge can recommend that Perdue remove the members from office, if wrongdoings are found.