By Curt Yeomans
Facing questions about her personality during a state administrative hearing in Atlanta, Clayton County Board of Education Vice chairperson Sandra Scott occasionally flashed a smug smile to members of the audience as she defended herself against accusations of being belligerent and aggressive toward other board members and school system employees.
During the first two days of the hearing, which is being held at the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH), witnesses portrayed Scott as someone who was rude and aggressive toward other people. She was also portrayed as someone who had a former head football coach at Morrow High School fired because she did not like the way he ran the team, on which her son was a member.
"I don't think I'm aggressive," said Scott, who served in the U.S. Army for five years, and has spent the last 12 years teaching in DeKalb County schools. "I just speak loud, and with authority ... People say 'Oh, she's loud. She's angry.' They get offended by the way I speak, but it's just the way I talk."
Scott is one of four school board members who fought for their political lives during the third day of the hearing, which is scheduled to conclude today. The board members spent more than nine hours on Tuesday offering testimony.
In July, Gov. Sonny Perdue sent OSAH a complaint from five Jonesboro residents against Scott, Michelle Strong, Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett. OSAH Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi could recommend that Perdue remove the board members from office, if he finds evidence that they have committed malfeasance.
On Aug. 12, Morrow High School Athletic Director Jay Livingston, former Morrow head football coach, Kennedy Holt, and SACS President Mark Elgart testified that Scott had an aggressive and boastful nature. Elgart said Scott was "belligerent" toward staff members during board meetings that he attended, and refused to listen to other people's ideas.
Holt testified that Scott never liked his being the football coach at Morrow. He said she used her position to have him fired, once she joined the school board.
Those are charges Scott denied on Tuesday.
During cross examination, Albert Wallace, a Jonesboro attorney who was part of the group which filed the complaint, aggressively questioned Scott about a variety of issues. "Did you ever take an anger management class?" asked Wallace at one point.
"I taught an anger management class," responded Scott in a cavalier tone of voice.
"You taught anger management?" asked Wallace in disbelief.
"To soldiers," said Scott.
Scott said she did not consider resigning from the board, despite calls to do so from several members of the community, state liaisons James Bostic and Brad Bryant, and former school system special attorney Glenn Brock.
"I'm an advocate for kids and I felt -- if I left -- I would be doing my voters a disservice," Scott said. "My pastor and other people, who supported me, asked me to stick it out."
Earlier in the day, Board Chairperson Michelle Strong said she and other board members occasionally had dinner after board meetings with John Trotter, the controversial chairman of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators (MACE). Strong and Trotter were joined by then-board members, Rod Johnson and Norreese Haynes, at some of those dinners.
Strong said she attended "less than five" of these dinners with Trotter since she joined the board in January 2007. The influence of outside groups, particularly teachers associations like MACE, was one of the main concerns listed in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) Feb. 15 report. The removal of those influences is one of nine mandates the accrediting agency said needed to be met to preserve the school system's accreditation.
Strong said she has known Trotter for about two years. She also said she was a member of MACE, but left the organization over the summer because she had transferred to another school where she felt more comfortable with the administrators. She said she could not recall what the attendees talked about during the dinners, but she was "pretty sure" the affairs of the board were not discussed.
"I don't go out and discuss board business unless I'm at a board meeting," Strong said. "I don't even discuss things with my husband, so I'm pretty sure I didn't discuss it with Dr. Trotter ..."
Other testimony on Tuesday came from Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett.
Everett said she was a member of MACE from March 2003 until January 2007, when she was thrown out of the organization for asking the board for permission to hire legal counsel to get a restraining order taken out against Trotter.
Baines-Hunter referred to SACS chief Elgart as the district's "god;" described SACS as "our bible," and called former Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan's leadership "weak."
Baines-Hunter also said Rod Johnson's getting a former Jonesboro police officer, who was under investigation for alleged child molestation, hired as a body guard for Duncan was a sign that the school board was dysfunctional. Johnson, who was the board's vice chairman at the time, did not consult other board members beforehand, she said.
The hearing will continue today at 8:30 a.m., in suite 850, courtroom 1 at the OSAH office, 230 Peachtree Street, Atlanta. Malihi will rule later this week on whether Perdue will have to testify about the instructions he gave to Bostic and Bryant when they were assigned to be the school system's liaisons to the state.