By Curt Yeomans
As 2008 comes to a close, 16 people can say they sat on the Clayton County Board of Education this year.
The school board played out as a game of "musical chairs" in 2008, because the board's membership has been in flux since March. Norreese Haynes' removal from office by his colleagues opened a revolving door which led to five special elections -- three of which had to be decided in runoffs -- and four more board appointments over the last five months.
None of the nine people who were on the board at the beginning of the year is still in office. Meanwhile, seven new people have joined the school system's governing body. Two of those people, Lindsey McDaniel and Trena Morris, were only temporary appointments, and will leave office on Dec. 31.
Four new board members will join the board on Jan. 5, 2009, but barring any unforeseen events, the school board's membership is set at least until 2010. That is when the next, regular round of school board elections is scheduled for Clayton County.
"We have a stable group of people, now, who share a genuine concern for the welfare of the children, and who are ready to work hard to get our accreditation back," said board chairperson Alieka Anderson.
Next year, the board will be made up of Anderson and board members, Pamela Adamson (District 1); Mary Baker (District 6); Charlton Bivins (District 9); Ophelia Burroughs (District 5); Trinia Garrett (District 7); Jessie Goree (District 3); Michael King (District 4), and Wanda Smith (District 2).
The first gathering of the board's new lineup is expected to take place at the board's retreat, which will be held from Dec. 12-13, in Peachtree City. It will not be an official meeting of the board, but it will give board members an opportunity to become acquainted with each other.
Until this week, there were still two missing pieces of the puzzle. Adamson and Bivins cruised to victories in Tuesday's runoffs, which allow them to complete the picture. Both won their respective races with 59 percent of the vote.
Adamson said she believes the retreat will give board members an opportunity to work on building a team before 2009 begins. "A retreat is when you begin to lay down a foundation of trust between board members," she said. "If you begin to build those relationships now, you will be able to hit the ground running in January."
Bivins said the board needs to work as a team to avoid some of the problems which plagued former board members. "Civility was such an issue with the previous board," he said. "They couldn't always get along with each other."
The DeKalb County sheriff's deputy also said part of the problem with the board's high turnover rate this year is that it resulted in the"instability in their decisions" and possibly allowed "some bad decisions to be made."
He said over the next two years, the key to making the board work will be board members getting to know each other, including learning the talents and skills each board member brings to the table.
According to Bivins, stability on the board will be crucial in the coming months as board members tangle with regaining accreditation, deciding whether Superintendent John Thompson should be retained by the district after his contract expires in June 2009, and dealing with the still unknown effects the accreditation and foreclosure crises will have on local tax funding for the school system.
Adamson, a former Clayton County assistant superintendent, said the board needs to begin working with school system officials on addressing the financial issue during the current fiscal year, rather than waiting until the Fiscal Year 2010 budget planning process.
She pointed to the state's Full-Time Equivalency (FTE), or per-pupil, funds for one possible solution. The FTE count conducted in October revealed that 3,224 students have left the school system since May. The state will reduce Clayton County's FTE funding as a result, but not until Fiscal Year 2010.
"We're getting money that we're not using right now," said Adamson. "We've got to figure out how we're going to save money this year, so it won't hurt so much next year."
However, Bivins is being more cautious as he prepares to take office. He served as the chairperson for the Concerned Citizens of Clayton County (C4), which worked to educate the public about the school system and the accreditation issue. However, he has never worked for the school system, and therefore does not have the same background as Adamson.
"I have to learn a whole lot of information in a short amount of time," he said.