By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Education Association's Political Action Committee is helping the campaigns of at least five Board of Education candidates by making financial contributions to their campaigns.
The campaign disclosure forms for District 5 candidate Ophelia Burroughs, District 6 candidate Mary Baker and District 8 candidate Alieka Anderson showed $500 contributions from the Clayton County Education Association's Political Action Committee.
Candidates Blondie Perry-Christian (District 3) and Denese Sampson (District 7) confirmed they received contributions from CCEA as well.
Last month, CCEA endorsed seven school board candidates, including: Burroughs; Baker; Anderson; Perry-Christian; Sampson, and Andre Glover and Lindsey McDaniel (District 2).
The candidates getting the endorsements and contributions promised they will not be under CCEA's control, if they are elected.
"It could be $500, or it could be $1 million, but I am not for sale," Perry-Christian said. "If I am elected, I am going to work for the best interests of the children. Do I sound like someone who can be bought off? The idea that I am going to be under CCEA's control, because they endorsed me and made a contribution to my campaign, is absurd."
Monday was the deadline to file the disclosure forms, but there is a five-business-day "grace period," stretching the due date to July 8.
Only nine of the 34 people who qualified for school board seats in April filed disclosure forms on Wednesday of this week: Baker; Burroughs; Anderson; John Askew (District 6); former District 7 candidate David Ashe; Charles Davis (District 3); Tammie Hardy (District 3); Diana Nicholson (District 5), and Letarcher Prayor (District 2).
The contributions from CCEA come as an accreditation crisis looms over the district with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Removing the influence of outside groups, is one of nine mandates SACS said the district must meet, or its accreditation would be revoked on Sept. 1. However, SACS officials said they are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the ties to CCEA.
"Our main concern is how are they going to act, once they are on the board," said SACS spokesperson Jennifer Oliver. "This election is a separate entity. They can accept campaign contributions if they want to."
District 7 candidate Sampson noted it was board members who were part of teachers associations, and pushed items to help other members of those groups, that caused the concern over outside influences. She stressed she is not a member of any teachers association.
"I believe teacher associations should have only an advisory role when it comes to drafting policies," Sampson said.
Other candidates also receiving contributions vowed not to be influenced by CCEA. "No way am I going to be influenced" Burroughs said. "You can't do that ... It's unethical to do that," she added.
Baker said CCEA officials asked her if she felt they should have a role in the board's policy making process. "I told them that anytime the board is revising or creating a policy which deals with a specific group of people, whether it is teachers, parents or the media, the board should seek input from those groups," Baker said. "Input from a group does not equal influence," she added.
"They're definitely not going to influence me," Anderson said. "It's about the kids and no endorsement is going to change that."
In addition to the CCEA contribution, Baker received $150 from former Board of Education Chair Ericka Davis, and $101 from Clayton County Commissioner Michael Edmondson.
"I have known Ericka since she got on the board [in 2000]," Baker said. "We had a rough period there, but I do not blame Ericka for all that has happened on the board. She said she would like to make a contribution to my campaign and I graciously accepted."
The disclosure forms also revealed:
· Chick-fil-A president Don "Bubba" Cathy, and his wife, Cynthia, made a $500 contribution to Nicholson's campaign. Cynthia Cathy also made a $500 contribution to Baker's campaign. Nicholson, Baker and the Cathys all attend First Baptist Church of Jonesboro.
· Jimmy Sledge, husband of Clayton County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Middle Schools Kay Sledge, made a $50 contribution to Askew's campaign. The contribution was listed as coming from "Jimmy and Kay Sledge," but Askew said that was only because he wrote down the name that appears on the joint checking account.
Officials from the Board of Elections Office said Prayor has withdrawn from the race, but she could not be reached Wednesday for confirmation of the claim.
Glover, McDaniel, and CCEA President Sid Chapman also could not be reached for comment.