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Governor authorizes hearing for Clayton BOE
BOE to answer charges of violating Open Meetings Act, SACS policies

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Gov. Sonny Perdue has cleared the way for the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) to conduct a hearing, which could result in the removal of the entire Clayton County Board of Education.

Perdue forwarded a complaint he received on June 25 from four Jonesboro attorneys, and one retired school teacher, to OSAH on Wednesday. In forwarding the complaint, the governor asked for a state hearing to look into its claims.

Clayton's school board is accused of violating Georgia's Open Meetings Act on several occasions; engaging in micromanagement; seeking to "advance their own personal agenda," and allowing outside groups and individuals to influence the board.

"The unique facts of this case, as well as the detailed and diligent efforts of several independent, non-parties to the complaint, support my conclusion that review is necessary," Perdue wrote in a letter to OSAH Chief Judge Lois Oakley.

The hearing will take place on Thursday, July 17, at 8 a.m., at the OSAH office, 230 Peachtree St., Suite 850, in Atlanta.

The Clayton complaint was filed against the six people still sitting on the board, and former board member Norreese Haynes. David Ashe, one of the board members listed in the complaint, will step down from office on July 16. He announced his resignation date after Perdue received the complaint.

Under O.C.G.A. 45-10-4, the governor, or a designated agent can conduct a hearing "for the purpose of receiving evidence" when someone charges a member of an elected board with misconduct. "If such charges are found to be true, the governor shall forthwith remove such member from office and the vacancy shall be filled as provided by law," based on the Georgia code.

In his request for a hearing, Perdue cited the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) Feb. 16 report on the school system; the possible effects of a loss of accreditation on Clayton County students, and state Board of Education members Brad Bryant and James Bostic deciding that the Clayton board was too dysfunctional to work with.

SACS has said it will revoke the district's accreditation, if nine mandates for improvement are not met by Sept. 1.

Albert Wallace, one of the residents who filed the complaint, said the group went to Perdue for help because they felt not enough action to punish the board was taking place at the local level, and removing the board from office en masse might help the district retain its accreditation.

"If SACS says 'We're not going to let you keep your accreditation because the board of education is dysfunctional,' then the first thing you are going to do is kick out that board of education," said Wallace.

The complaint alleges that the board violated the state's Open Meetings Act several times by not announcing a reason for an executive session before going into one. The complaint also includes accusations that board members "tolerated" alleged problems with student attendance records.

Wallace said it does not matter if the board claims it is improving, because "they have no credibility left." He also said the upcoming elections would not help matters because Board Chairperson Michelle Strong, and board member Sandra Scott, are not up for re-election until 2010. "A recall election will take too long," he added.

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Perdue, stopped short of calling the governor's action a last-ditch effort to save the school system, but he did say Perdue was "frustrated" by the "troubling and disturbing" situation in Clayton County.

"There seems to be some progress going on down there, but it's like you take a couple of steps forward, then you take a couple of steps back," Brantley said. "To even be in this situation in the first place is not something we want to see from one of our school systems."

Strong said she could not comment on the matter because she has not had an opportunity to review the complaint.