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BOE District 1 recall resumes under new leader

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Efforts to recall one member of the Clayton County Board of Education are moving forward again, but a push to remove another may be grinding to a halt.

After a month of uncertainty, former U.S. Senate candidate Maggie Martinez replaced Stephanie Campbell last week as the leader of the effort to recall board Chairman Michelle Strong (District 1). Martinez already is planning a time frame to get the signatures of 10,000 registered voters in the district.

Elsewhere, backers of the recall effort to oust board member Sandra Scott from the District 9 seat are beginning to second-guess their plans.

The two separate efforts are fueled by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) threat to revoke the district's accreditation on Sept. 1, if nine mandates for improvement are not met.

"There has been some debate if we would be doing more damage to the school system by proceeding at this time," said Bob Hartley, leader of the District 9 recall effort. "Should we just hold off since [Corrective Superintendent] Dr. [John] Thompson is pretty confident we can hold onto our accreditation, or should we keep the pressure on them to resign."

However, Martinez argued that voters need to base their decision on what has happened on the board over the last four years, rather than basing their decisions on opinion alone. "We need to go by the facts," she said. "We need to look at the findings of SACS, and we need to put people on the board who are the best choices to occupy those seats."

Meanwhile, the organizers of the movement to remove Strong from office will hold their first volunteers training session on Aug. 11, at 7 p.m., at Ryan's Steakhouse, 11440 Tara Blvd., Hampton. Martinez plans to pick up recall petitions from the Clayton County Board of Elections office on Aug. 15, so the signatures of 10,000 registered voters in District 1 can collected.

State law gives organizers of a recall effort 45 days after the petitions are picked up to get enough signatures from registered voters to equal 30 percent of those who voted in the last election for that office.

Strong said she is concerned about the recall effort against her because she has spent her time on the board working to maintain professional and harmonious relationships with her colleagues.

"Since I have been on the BOE, I have not micromanaged staff," Strong said. "I have tried to work with members of the BOE in a positive manner, and I have tried to do everything possible to keep members of my district informed ... I feel that I am a productive BOE member and I am diligently working to make sure the district retains its accreditation."

Fifty people have volunteered to circulate petitions throughout District 1, but Martinez said more are needed. The Clayton County Democratic Party is helping to find volunteers. Martinez said potential volunteers in District 1 may send her an e-mail at MaggieMartinez2008@yahoo.com.

The signatures of 6,300 registered voters from District 1 are needed to proceed with the recall of Strong. Martinez and others are aiming for a higher number in case some signatures are rejected by elections officials. "The only problem is going to be boundaries, because a lot of people don't know which district they live in," Martinez said. "It's important we go over the amount needed, so we have a margin to work with."

A network of 90 volunteers already has been set up to circulate petitions in District 9, but a debate among the district's recall leaders has arisen. Hartley said the petitions may not be picked up and circulated until mid-September, or later. Even then, it will depend on the status of the district's accreditation.

"If Dr. Thompson's plan is successful, then I guess Sandra [Scott] will get a reprieve," Hartley said.

Scott said she always has spoken the truth, and denies she has ever done anything wrong. "We are going to keep our accreditation," Scott said. "At the end of the day, the children of Clayton County are still going to be enrolled in an accredited school system."