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Clayton schools expecting 2,000-student drop-off

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

As the Clayton County School System awaits word on its accreditation, Corrective Superintendent John Thompson told the board of education on Monday that he is saddened by a report that student enrollment is currently down 1,944 pupils from a year ago.

The district is awaiting word from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) as to whether its accreditation will be revoked. A loss of accreditation could make it difficult for graduates of Clayton County high schools to gain admission to many private, or out-of-state colleges.

District officials will meet with SACS officials on Thursday to learn their fate.

There are 50,056 students enrolled in Clayton County schools as of Monday, according to the superintendent. There were 52,000 students enrolled at this time last year. Roughly 50 percent of the drop-off in enrollment is at the high school level, with Jonesboro and Morrow high schools taking the heaviest hits, Thompson said.

Jonesboro is down more than 200 students this year, while Morrow lost about 300 pupils. Thompson did not have figures available for the other high schools.

"A lot of our losses are at the high school level, which is disappointing, but the good news is we still have a lot of great students and families in the school system," Thompson told board members. "I hope after Thursday, and in the years to come, our enrollment will go back up."

The district is expecting to gain some more students, but Thompson said he doubts enrollment will surpass 50,700 students during this school year. Last year, the district's enrollment eventually reached a high mark of 52,805 students.

The superintendent hopes changes such as the addition of International Baccalaureate programs in elementary and middle schools; the establishment of career development and adult education programs, and an expanded Advanced Placement (AP) program will lure a few students back to Clayton County schools.

Meanwhile, the board approved spending $31,368 to utilize the services of the Gude Management Group to operate a Geographic Information System (G.I.S.). The G.I.S. will enable the school system to monitor population trends. Thompson said the district will use the G.I.S. to identify schools with empty classrooms, so the school system can do comprehensive redistricting of all schools.

In addition to addressing enrollment and accreditation issues, Thompson also told board members he is recommending they agree to pay members of the seven-person ethics commission, which was set up by a new state law, $50 per meeting. He also recommended they set up a meeting schedule for the commission which includes at least four meetings per year.

The board will vote on approving the requests at its Sept. 8 business meeting.

The ethics commission was established under House Bill 1302, which Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law in May. The new state law deals solely with the Clayton County Board of Education. It also established a new code of ethics, which the board has adopted as part of its own policies.

The commission was established in response to the school system's ongoing accreditation crisis, which began last year when several board members began going to SACS to file complaints against one another. Officials from the accrediting agency decided to investigate the school system as a result, and in February, issued a recommendation to revoke the district's accreditation.

The commission will serve as a body to which board members can bring ethics complaints against their colleagues, instead of going to SACS.