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SACS chief to announce future of Clayton schools today

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County School System will find out its fate today after nearly three months of investigation and interviews.

The accreditation of the 52,805-student school system is at stake.

Dr. Mark Elgart, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI), will release the findings of his agency's recent probe of the school district and its board of education.

At issue is whether the school system is going to be placed on probation, lose its accreditation, or suffer no sanctions from the governance agency.

The announcement will come during an invitation-only press conference at SACS' office in Decatur.

During the press conference, SACS is expected to present the media with a 25-page report on the findings.

Jennifer Oliver, SACS' vice president of communications, said there will be no representatives from the school system, or the board of education present. Security at the press conference will be so tight that media members who have responded to invitations, will have to show press credentials before they will be allowed to walk in the door.

If the district loses its accreditation, graduating seniors, beginning with the Class of 2009, will not be eligible to receive HOPE scholarships. Seniors also will have an increasingly difficult time getting colleges to accept their transcripts, as products of an unaccredited school district.

Students also may have difficulty transferring to another school district because of the grades they earn in a school system deemed unaccredited.

The investigation began after Clayton County Board of Education member Rod Johnson filed complaints against fellow board members, Norreese Haynes, Sandra Scott and Lois Baines-Hunter, alleging micromanagement, unethical behavior and misuse of district funds.

Kennedy Holt, a former head football coach at Morrow High School, and J. Livingston, Morrow's athletic director, also filed a complaint, against Scott. Holt alleged that Scott had him fired because she didn't think he did enough to help her son, Dexter, who played for Holt during his senior year at Morrow High School.

Elgart warned that the school system was in danger of joining only a handful of districts across the country who have lost accreditation. The last school system to suffer such a fate was the Hartford (Conn.) school district.

"There is enough evidence that the children of Clayton County are being shortchanged because the governance and leadership of the county [school system] is in chaos," Elgart said on Dec. 5, 2007.

Haynes and Scott responded late last year by filing their own complaints with SACS against Johnson and board Chairperson Ericka Davis. Haynes and Scott alleged Johnson and Davis were the board members who were micromanaging the school system.

In January, Elgart said an on-site visit to the district revealed widespread problems throughout the district, which may go back as many as 10 years. At the time, he explained the district - as a whole - was not meeting SACS' standards for a quality education. Elgart also said no single person could be blamed for the district's problems, because they were too widespread.

"This is not just a problem that's isolated to the board level," Elgart said on Jan. 19. "There are problems throughout the school system."

SACS officials also investigated the school system in 2003. The district was placed on a one-year probation after that investigation was concluded. A year later, the school system got a one-year extension on it's probation, so board members could finish working toward correcting problem areas. The district has been off probation since June 2005.