By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County school board members have been told there are six things they should do immediately to address the concerns under investigation by the Southern Association of College and Schools.
First, however, the board needs to decide Feb. 4, if it wants to continue using the law firm of Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers P.C., which has guided the body through the investigation since it was launched in November.
Glen Block, lead attorney for the firm, said he expects the process will last through August and costs will not exceed $35,000. The school board's chariperson, Ericka Davis, said $25,000 has been paid to date. "There's no price tag on what we have to do to get through this accreditation mess," Davis said.
SACS has been probing allegations of micromanagement, unethical behavior, bid tampering and misuse of district funds. However, a visit to the school system revealed deeper problems, reaching beyond the board and into every level of the district.
Brock has told board members there are six recommendations necessary to help solve the problems which SACS investigators, based on his discussions with them:
· Adding language to board policies which say board members have no power or authority, as individuals, and cannot tell the superintendent or other staff members what to do. The board members also cannot speak for the entire board, except to reiterate board decisions.
· Put all staff members under the supervision of the superintendent.
· Reassign board office space for staff use only.
· Amend the board's procurement and procedure policy to include language which says, "Board members may not attempt to exercise individual authority over the superintendent or district employees during the solicitation and evaluation of proposals for supplies, materials, equipment, services and construction-related contracts... Offerors (those who attempt to make proposals) are barred from any contact with the board members and district staff during the term of a solicitation and evaluation of a proposal ..."
· Amend the board's work session and meeting policy, to add detail to meeting procedures. Agendas for the next month's business meeting would be set at the conclusion of the preceding work session. Later additions could not be made without unanimous board consent.
· Require board and staff members to adhere to the same expense reimbursement policy.
"Because of the SACS investigation, I would recommend quick adoption of these measures," Brock told board members.
Board members then expressed their pleasure with the work Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers has done to deal with the SACS investigation. Representatives from the firm have interviewed board members, staff members and administrators, held conferences with the entire board and SACS officials.
"I have never felt more safe than I have with Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers," said board member, Michelle Strong. "I hope we keep them on ... We've got to make sure we've got the best on the job," she added.
Board member Lois Baines-Hunter added: "In all of my years on this board, this is the lowest amount of money we've had to spend for the best thing to happen to this school district ... "
Brock had one other recommendation for the board.
He urged the board reject all bids for a privatized alternative education contract, and re-issue a request for proposals (RFP) from vendors seeking the contract. If the board approves the move on Feb. 4, it will be the second time in six months that bids for the contract have been thrown out.
Brock said he is seeking the change because of "problems" with the grading system used to review the vendors who submitted bids for the contract. The grading scale used to evaluate the bids for the contract only allowed the committee designated with reviewing the vendors to give scores of zero, 10 and 20.
Chairperson Davis said she has never seen that kind of grading scale used to review bids, and called the situation "strange."
The discussion about scrapping the district's existing alternative school, and replacing it with a private one, has caused controversy in the past. In August 2007, school system officials told board members the district's alternative school was understaffed and underfunded.
At the same time, the school system was in the middle of contract negotiations with Community Education Partners (CEP) to hire the Nashville, Tenn.-based company to run an alternative education school for the district. Camelot Schools, another company seeking the contract, filed an injunction to stop the negotiations.
Camelot officials believed the bidding process had not been conducted fairly, and the board voted to terminate the negotiations with CEP and re-bid the contract on Aug. 7, as a result.
"I think if we have to keep going through this process, we might need to look at it again and see if we're making the most educated and responsible decision," Davis said.
"Maybe we need to look at the current system and really do an evaluation of what's working, and what's not. We may find what we have now might work better, if we put better resources, both financial and human, into it."