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Lawyer to Clayton BOE:
Expect probation from SACS

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Glenn Brock -- a lawyer hired by the school board to help it deal with the SACS situation -- left the Clayton County Board of Education in stunned silence on Monday after he gave his report about how an investigation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is expected to turn out.

Brock, a member of the Marietta-based law firm of Brock, Clay, Calhoun, Wilson and Rogers, LLC, said the school system is not going to avoid some form of punishment by the accrediting agency. This is SACS' second investigation of the board in the last five years, and officials from the accrediting agency said the sanctions could be more severe than the [two years of] probation the school system underwent earlier this decade.

"Just so the board, the school system staff and the parents won't be caught off guard, it is our expectation that this school system will be placed on probation [following the investigation]," Brock said. "This is going to be a much shorter probationary period than before, because this is a repeat of a previous problem. This time, the probation could be as short as a few months."

SACS will send a team of seven investigators to Clayton County on Jan. 16 and 17 to interview Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan, all nine board members, school system staff members and members of the community. The investigation team will spend most of its time at the district's Central Administration Complex in Jonesboro, but some schools will also be visited.

SACS officials have received complaints against five members of the board. The majority of the complaints have been filed by members of the board, and the complaints involve allegations of micromanagement, ethics violations, and misuse of district funds.

Brock also told board members to not expect SACS' investigation team to look at "which board member is right, and which one is wrong." He told board members to be "honest, forthright and open" with the investigation team. Brock urged board members to act as a whole, and not as individuals, in the future.

Brock said a loss of accreditation will happen, if a corrective-action plan is not put in place by the board, and adhered to by its members. He also said a loss of accreditation -- if issued by SACS -- will not take affect until the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.

"There have been three school systems that have lost accreditation in the past, and we do not intend to become the fourth," Brock said.

He told board members it is important to move along with it's search for a permanent replacement for former superintendent, Barbara Pulliam, who resigned in July 2007. The board is still in the early stages of its superintendent search.

"Putting a permanent superintendent in place is critical to beginning the district's turnaround," Brock said.

The news that SACS plans to conduct another investigation has provoked outrage from the education community, the realtor community and residents of Clayton County. Clayton County realtors have entertained the idea of asking Gov. Sonny Perdue to remove the entire board, The Clayton County Education Association called for the resignation of any board member found to be violating SACS rules, and a group of parents living in the board's ninth district is seeking to recall their representative, board member Sandra Scott, from office.

Meanwhile, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), with 72,000 members statewide, has joined the voices calling for change on the board. PAGE Spokesman Tim Callahan issued a statement on Monday, on the association's behalf, asking Perdue to get state Attorney General Thurbert Baker to launch an investigation of the board. The association is also endorsing the idea of a recall effort.

"PAGE believes that the facts in this continuing matter clearly indicate that the group most responsible for the ongoing situation is the Clayton County Board of Education," says the statement. "Those board members who have acted inappropriately are certainly guilty. Those who have remained silent, or have acquiesced to the nonsense, are guilty as well, perhaps in lesser measure.

"After the events of the past several years, it is readily apparent that unless serious sanctions are imposed, negative and destructive behaviors will continue ... Enough is enough. It is time for significant sanctions to be imposed to bring this unfortunate chapter to a close. Let the sanctions fall directly on those who have brought the Clayton schools to this sad day."

A spokesman for Perdue could not be reached on Monday.

John Patterson, a parent who spoke during the public comments portion of the board's meeting on Monday, acted disappointed as he addressed the board after Brock's report.

"From everything I'm hearing, I'm beginning to think the board doesn't get it," Patterson said. "I mean the board doesn't understand what it has to do to put the children of Clayton County first."

The board also heard a SACS-related resolution, proposed by board member David Ashe. The resolution asks members of the Clayton County legislative delegation to push for the creation of a state law, which would give the Clayton County Board of Education the authority to create an ethics commission. The board decided to postpone a vote on the resolution until a called meeting, which will take place on Wednesday.

Ashe said the commission would investigate ethics violations committed by board members, and issue sanctions when necessary. He added that the board currently does not have the legal authority to create the commission and issue any sanctions beyond a censure.

"We have an ethics policy, and because political bodies are what they are, we have never enforced sanctions on anyone," Ashe said. "What we have now is a situation where SACS is looking at the ethical behavior of the board. The only sanction SACS can give is loss of accreditation, and that hurts the children.

"This is not anything admitting our guilt," Ashe added. "This is just something to make sure this problem doesn't happen again."

In other action, the board choose to turn to a former vice chairman to reclaim the post in 2008. Board member Eddie White, who previously served as vice chairman in 2005 and 2006, was elected by a vote of 5-3 over fellow board member Michelle Strong.

White, board chairperson, Ericka Davis, 2007 vice chairman, Rod Johnson, and board members David Ashe and Yolanda Everett voted in favor of electing White. Strong, and board members Norreese Haynes and Sandra Scott voted in favor of Strong. Board member Lois Baines-Hunter did not attend the meeting.