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Community speaks out on possible SACS probation

By Curt Yeomans

An audience of parents, teachers and community members were left as silent and as stunned as school board members on Monday when an attorney representing the board, Glenn Brock, told the school district to expect to be placed on probation.

The Clayton County Board of Education's meeting room was nearly packed by onlookers anxious to find out what the school board will do about an investigation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

The agency will visit the school system on Jan. 16 and 17 to conduct an on-site inquiry into allegations of micromanagement, ethics violations, and misuse of funds by members of the school board. The accreditation, and the immediate future of the 52,805-student school system, is at stake.

Now that the shock of a possible second probation in five year has sunk in, board watchers are talking. "I thought it [Brock's statement] was very honest and forthcoming," said Sid Chapman, the president of the Clayton County Education Association. "It seemed to me like he was trying to remain cautiously optimistic, although he did mention the worst case scenario several times. My concern about a short-term probation is it doesn't give the board a whole lot of time to fix it's problems."

Chapman was one of several community members who wasn't surprised to hear SACS would issue some form of sanctions against the board. Many of them felt the agency would not waste it's time with an investigation if some violations of SACS' standards for accreditation have not occurred.

"To be honest, I was relieved when he [Brock] said it would probably only be probation," said Bob Hartley, president of the Concern Citizens of District 9, a group seeking a recall of board member, Sandra Scott. "I don't want to see the school system lose it's accreditation," he said.

Meanwhile, other Clayton County residents aren't sure a period of probation will be the end of SACS' punishment of the board.

David Barton, vice chairman of governmental affairs for the Metro South Association of Realtors, said Brock may have experience dealing with SACS, but he "doesn't have a crystal ball" to tell him what will happen after the investigation is finished. He hopes the district doesn't lose it's accreditation, but fears the worst.

"It's almost as if they [SACS] are going to have to take it away to show they mean business," Barton said.

While Brock doesn't think the school system will lose it's accreditation, it may not be enough to save its nine-member board. Some residents are not going to change their minds about the board if SACS issues probation, instead of a loss of accreditation.

Hartley said his group's recall efforts against Scott will continue. She is one of five board members at the center of SACS' investigation. On Tuesday, the Concern Citizens of District 9 filed a recall application with Clayton County Director of Elections Annie Bright. The group's leaders plan to register with the State Ethics Commission today, so they can raise funds for the recall effort.

"The voters, in the last election, thought they had gotten rid of this [SACS] problem," Hartley said. "We elected people who we thought were going to turn things around, only to have things come full circle."

Five seats on the board, occupied by new board vice chairman, Eddie White, and board members Lois Baines-Hunter, Rod Johnson, Yolanda Everett and David Ashe, are up for election this year.

"I don't think some of them can regain the confidence of their constituents," Chapman said. "One of the biggest problems we have right now is no one seems to have any authority over the board," he said. "The only person who can remove the board from office is the governor, and that's if a law has been broken. The governor's office has been silent on this matter, though."

The board will meet again tonight at 6:30 p.m., at the Central Administration Complex in Jonesboro, to vote on a proposed resolution asking for legislative assistance. The resolution asks the Clayton County delegation to the General Assembly to push through legislation allowing the board to create an ethics commission to oversee board members.