Clayton BOE narrowly approves SACS response

By Curt Yeomans


The Clayton County Board of Education argued over, and nearly rejected, the district's response to the ongoing accreditation crisis on Monday.The response, which won wide community backing July 25, must be in SACS' hands by Friday, in order to impact the decision by the accrediting agency.

Julie Lewis, the district's general counsel, said the response will be hand-delivered to SACS officials on Thursday.

The trouble over the district's response began during the monthly work session when Board Chairperson Michelle Strong called for a motion to approve the response to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and no one said anything. Eventually, Strong moved approval and board member Sandra Scott seconded it. Then came criticism and opposition.

Board members Scott and Yolanda Everett pushed to get their colleagues to postpone a vote a week because of alleged discrepancies. "I can't support this report because I just got it on Sunday, and I see several discrepancies in the report, which I feel should be addressed before we send it to SACS," said Everett. Scott called the report "biased."

Despite the opposition, the board voted 4-2-1 to approve the report. Strong, along with board members, Lois Baines-Hunter, Alieka Anderson and Trinia Garrett supported the report. Scott and Everett opposed it, and board member, Rod Johnson, abstained.

SACS has said it will revoke the school system's accreditation if nine mandates for improvement are not met by Sept. 1. A team of SACS investigators will visit the district on Aug. 14 and 15, to check on progress.

The documented evidence in the school system's response includes minutes from board meetings; residency affidavits; a residency investigation conducted by Secretary of State Karen Handel's office; a new state law that established an ethics commission for the board, and the results of financial and attendance audits.

Scott said she was opposed to the district's response, because of an audit which was performed by an official from the state auditor's office. The official included a disclaimer on the front of his audit which stated he did not verify any of the comments he gained through interviews. "We need to be able to submit a report that is unbiased and not one-sided, and right now this report is biased," Scott said.

Lewis said the district had to include the results of the audit to avoid the notion the school system was trying to hide the results from SACS officials. Everett said she was not happy with the forensic audit, and felt there were discrepancies about the amount of training the board had undergone, as well as the district's assertion that hiring Thompson fulfilled the mandate dealing with hiring a permanent superintendent.

Strong and Anderson urged approval so the school system could move forward. "I don't agree with everything in the report, but I'm not going to tank the whole thing as a result," said Strong, as the audience erupted into thunderous applause. "To me, that would hurt more people than it benefits ... We've come very far, and the people are counting on us."

Corrective Superintendent John Thompson told board members, "If we pull this item from the agenda, then the response is doomed ... I don't think SACS will take a response from the school system if we don't have the support of all of the board members."

After the meeting, Baines-Hunter, who cast the fourth vote for the measure, said, "I sacrificed myself for the children of Clayton County." Thompson said he was shocked and disappointed in the closeness of the board's vote. He left the session without elaborating on his comment.

Larry O'Keeffe, president of the Morrow High School council, said he was not surprised to see a close vote. He tried to get a large number of people to attend the meeting to pressure board members to approve the report.

"This report is the single best hope for retaining accreditation," O'Keeffe said.

The board also approved a plan to merge two teacher's rights policies into one at the monthly work session.

The idea of merging the policies is not a new concept. In April 2007, board member Rod Johnson, who was also a member of the board's now-defunct Policy Committee, urged former board member Norreese Haynes and Clayton County Education Association (CCEA) President Sid Chapman to sit down and merge the two policy proposals into one.

Johnson's argument at the time was that the proposals were too similar, and only one, combined teacher's rights policy was necessary. Haynes, who is also the executive director of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators (MACE), said he would meet with Chapman, but CCEA's executive board voted unanimously against any plans to merge the proposals. Both policies were eventually approved.

The board unanimously approved extensive revisions to the Teacher's Bill of Rights, but Everett abstained from a vote on repealing the Memorandum on Educator's Rights.

The board also selected Scott to serve as its new vice chairperson, although Johnson abstained from the vote.