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SACS seeking 'first-hand knowledge' of alleged BOE violations

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is going to give Clayton County residents one more week to file complaints before its pays the school system a visit.

For the next eight days, the accrediting agency will accept documents that can support, or discredit, allegations five board members engaged in violations of SACS' standards of accreditation. Board members are accused of violations, ranging from micromanagement to breaches of ethics policies, and misuse of school district funds.

The SACS Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) is scheduled to conduct it's on-site investigation next week. Its interviews will be based on documents reviewed beforehand by SACS officials.

"We're specifically looking for people with first-hand knowledge," said Dr. Mark Elgart, president of SACS CASI.

The board is scheduled to address the SACS issue tonight when it meets for its January business meeting, at 7 p.m., in the Central Administration Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.

Glenn Brock, from the law firm of Brock, Clay, Calhoun, Wilson and Rogers, LLC, will provide the board with an update on the district's response to the investigation. The firm was hired to handle the response to SACS.

The entire school board, Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan, district staff members and members of the community, who have either filed complaints with the agency, or have ties to the investigation, will be interviewed during the SACS visit, Elgart said.

Duncan will give a "State of the District" address at tonight's meeting, before Brock gives his firm's SACS update.

Dorsey Hopson, the board's legal counsel, will also lead the board in a discussion of Board Policy BBD-CF. The policy deals with the superintendent's responsibility for "carrying out [the board's] policies within established guidelines."

This is the second time in five years SACS has visited Clayton schools with the threat of a loss of accreditation.

"Most of [the team's] time will be spent at the central office, but they will be visiting some schools as well," Elgart said. "We have not determined how many, or which schools will be visited at this time."

The investigation team will issue its written report no more than 30 days after the conclusion of the two-day visit. This means the report will be finished by the end of the second week of February.

The SACS visit has produced nervous parents, anxious residents and business representatives.

Over the last month, several groups, including concerned citizens and realtors have had public discussions about how to deal with the board and the SACS issue. Suggestions include asking the governor to remove the board, holding recall elections to remove board members from office, and asking the county's legislative delegation in the Georgia General Assembly to create a state law governing the board.

"We're anxious to find out what the facts are, but cautious about what to do until then," said David Barton, the vice president of governmental affairs for the Metro South Association of Realtors. "We're hoping the investigation identifies what the problems are, so we can address them, and make sure they don't come up again," he added.

"We need to know [what is found]," said Anthony Williams, a member of a group known as the Concerned Citizens of District Nine. The group is seeking to have board member Sandra Scott, one of the five board members involved in the complaints to SACS, recalled from office.

"They [SACS] are going to come up with something in their investigation, and we want to know what that will be," Williams said.

Meanwhile, at the school board meeting, the board will vote on Duncan's personnel recommendation for a coordinator of elementary math position, a proposed policy dealing with tax allocation districts, a bid to build the district's ninth high school and third stadium, and recommendations for the 2008-2009, and 2009-2010 school calendars.

The board also will vote on accepting the November financial report, SPLOST revenue and construction reports, the purchasing report and the personnel changes report.

Brock, Duncan, Hopson and board chairperson, Ericka Davis, could not be reached for comment on Friday. Elgart's office can be reached at (404) 679-4500.