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State cranking up Clayton Schools audits

By Dave Williams

dave.williams@graypub.com

ATLANTA - All three state agencies Gov. Sonny Perdue has either asked or ordered to look over the shoulders of the Clayton County Board of Education have begun their tasks.

Secretary of State Karen Handel announced Wednesday that her agency has opened an investigation into whether BOE members live within their districts as required by law.

Whether board members are complying with the residency requirement was among the issues cited when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools notified the school system this month that it could lose its accreditation by Sept. 1, if it doesn't make improvements outlined in a report released by the organization.

"The public can be assured that my office's inspector general will conduct a thorough and expeditious investigation that addresses Governor Perdue's and SACS' concerns," Handel said in a prepared statement.

Perdue stepped into the controversy over the Clayton system last week by appointing two members of the state Board of Education to serve as "special liaisons" to help the district work through its problems and keep the governor informed on their progress.

He also instructed the state auditor's office to review the school system's finances and ordered the state Office of Student Achievement to examine school attendance records. The SACS report also raised those issues as concerns.

Unlike the secretary of state's office, both of those agencies are directly under Perdue's purview.

The governor expressed optimism that, with the help of the state, the Clayton system will be able to get back into SACS' good graces.

But in case the district fails to satisfy the association by the September deadline and loses its accreditation, Perdue said he would ask the General Assembly to pass legislation to automatically trigger special school board elections in any system that is stripped of accreditation.

Bert Brantley, the governor's spokesman, said both the auditor's office and the Office of Student Achievement also have signed on to Perdue's plan and will begin work immediately on their assignments.

Brantley said the governor didn't give either one a deadline for finishing their audits.

"Who knows how bad a shape their records are in?" the spokesman said. "The idea is to get done as quickly as possible and get back to SACS so they can check that off their list."

Handel, however, does have a timetable in mind for her agency's part of the task.

Spokeswoman Whitney Halterman said the secretary of state plans to have the audit on the residency issues completed within 30 days.