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BOE requests more time before state hearing

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Julie Lewis, legal counsel for Clayton County Schools, is asking a judge from the Governor's Office for State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) to honor a state statute by postponing next week's hearing to determine whether her clients -- members of the Clayton County Board of Education -- should be removed from office.

Under Georgia Code 45-10-4, OSAH can conduct a hearing, on the governor's behalf, to investigate allegations that a board or commission engaged in unethical behavior. However, the statute also says OSAH has to notify the person being investigated at least 30 days before the hearing takes place.

Last week, OSAH Chief Judge Lois Oakley set July 16 and 17 as the hearing dates for the Clayton Board of Education. Lewis filed a motion on Tuesday, asking OSAH Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi, who will preside over the Clayton Board of Education's hearing, for a later hearing date.

"This is about ensuring members of the board receive proper notice as allowed under the statute," Lewis said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue sent a letter to Oakley on July 2, giving OSAH authorization for the hearing. Board members also received copies of the letter. The next day, OSAH officials set the mid-July dates for the hearing. Lewis is arguing Aug. 5 is the earliest date the hearing can be held under the state statute, because the board members did not receive their copies of Perdue's letter until July 5.

The complaint was filed by four local attorneys and a retired teacher, against board Chairperson Michelle Strong, and board members David Ashe; Lois Baines-Hunter; Yolanda Everett; Rod Johnson, and Sandra Scott. Former board member Norreese Haynes also is listed in the complaint.

The board members are accused of several actions, such as micromanagement and mistreatment of staff members, but the chief complaint revolves around several closed meetings which may have violated the state's Open Meeting Act.

Lewis had no comment about the allegations.

The board has been under fire since November 2007, when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) announced it had received complaints about the actions of board members, and would likely conduct an investigation. The accrediting agency previously looked at the board in 2003 for similar reasons. The school system was put on probation as a result.

In February of this year, SACS president Mark Elgart announced the agency will revoke the district's accreditation on Sept. 1, if nine mandates for improvement are not met by that date.

In his letter to Oakley, Perdue cited as his reasons for forwarding the complaint to OSAH: SACS' findings; the possible effects a loss of accreditation could have on Clayton County students, and a determination by his liaisons, state Board of Education members James Bostic and Brad Bryant, that the Clayton school board was too dysfunctional to work with.

If Malihi finds the board members did engage in unethical behavior, Perdue could remove the entire board from office.

One of the board members beat the governor to the punch, though. On June 23, Ashe announced his plans to resign from office, effective July 16. Even if the hearing proceeds as scheduled, Ashe will no longer be a board member by the time it ends, which means the claims against him are irrelevant, Lewis said.

Albert Wallace, one of the lawyers who filed the complaint, and the group's designated spokesperson, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.