By Curt Yeomans
Glenn Brock, attorney for the Clayton County Board of Education, told board members during a work session on Monday they need to search their hearts and do what they feel is the right thing for the 52,805 students who attend public schools in the county.
The board unanimously adopted a corrective action plan to address nine areas of improvement, which were outlined in a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) report that was released on Feb. 15. The board's adoption of the plan means the work to retain accreditation for the district will begin immediately, but changes in board member behavior need to begin without delay.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, without immediately regaining public confidence, your continued service on the board is the biggest obstacle to maintaining accreditation," Brock told the board members.
The attorney gave board members two choices: Resign, or continue on the board. The more than 200 parents and students in the audience made their feelings known to the board.
"Resign! Resign! Resign!" the mothers, fathers, and students in attendance exclaimed.
Brock recommended a review of parliamentary and personnel procedures, as well as recent changes to board policies. He also suggested obtaining consultants from the Justice Center in Atlanta, Matthews Consulting, Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers, and Gov. Sonny Perdue's liaisons (named last week) to help board members gain a deeper understanding of conflict resolution, governance and organizational effectiveness.
Board members agreed to develop a protocol, which allows constituents to address complaints and concerns to board members, and establish a 10-member community oversight committee. Groups of parent volunteers will be established to transmit information from Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan to other parents.
Other moves included forbidding vendors from contacting board members; ending favoritism toward outside individuals, and getting board members to stop holding press conferences, or sending press releases, without permission from the rest of the board. Brock also said the use of the district's e-mail system by employee groups, such as teachers unions, will no longer be a problem.
"This never should have happened, but it did, and it has been stopped," Brock said.
Board Chairperson Ericka Davis, and Vice Chairman Eddie White, are expected to enforce policies and remove violators from meetings. Brock also said board members must report unethical behavior. "It is the responsibility of each of you to speak up when you see [policies] being violated," Brock said.
Auditing the school system
An accounting firm will be hired to conduct a forensic audit. Advice from neighboring districts and Dr. Mark Elgart, president of SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, will be sought in choosing the firm. "This is one thing that jumped out at us during our meeting with [Elgart]," said board attorney Dorsey Hopson. "He expressed an unequivocal need for this."
Duncan said the school system will have an extensive audit conducted to look at the district's student services department. Attendance records, special education and truancy data will be examined in the audit.
Board members will have to sign legal affidavits of residency before the March 3 board meeting. The residency of at least one board member, Lois Baines-Hunter, was called into question by fellow board member Rod Johnson in December 2007. Brock told board members they need to be honest when they sign the affidavits.
"It's very important you realize this affidavit does carry criminal penalties, so I caution against false swearing," Brock said.
Desperately seeking superintendent
The final recommendation pertained to the search for a new, permanent superintendent. This part of the discussion was handled by Dr. Richard Green, a representative from the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. Green presented the findings from two days of meetings in the district in late January.
Some of the characteristics which will be sought in the new superintendent include: The ability to unify the board and staff members while providing professional leadership; a "firm" decision maker; effective communicator; fiscally astute; a media relations "guru;" exhibits integrity; not aligned with any board members; shows respect toward members of his or her staff, and has experience running a large urban school system. The SACS report will be included in the report, so candidates will understand what the district is currently facing.
Green said his firm received more than 1,200 responses to the leadership survey that was sent out in mid-January. He scolded the board members for poor performance in the process, though. Fewer than half of board members showed up for a meeting with the firm's representatives in January.
"I am shocked, and appalled, angry and ticked off that only four members of this board met with members of our team," said Green, whose scolding of the board was supported by thunderous applause from the audience.
Protecting board members
There were more than a dozen officers from the Clayton County and Jonesboro police departments present at the work session. The Clayton County Police Department also had its helicopter circling the district's Central Administration Complex, and a mobile command unit was parked at the adjacent alternative school. Two police cars were parked along the side of Jonesboro Road, at the intersection with Fifth Avenue.
Meanwhile, community members wishing to attend the meeting had to pass through a newly installed metal detector. Charles White, a spokesman for the district, had earlier issued a press release to announce the new security measures.
"The district is taking this step to ensure a safe working and meeting environment for board members, district employees and visitors," White said.