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SACS, 2009 budget highlight BOE agenda

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Corrective Superintendent John Thompson will unveil the plan he has been working on for a month to address the nine mandates issued by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) at tonight's board of education business meeting.

The board also will vote on tentative adoption of the $612 million fiscal year 2009 budget. It is required by state law to approve the new budget twice, with the votes taking place roughly a month apart, and the process must be completed by June 30.

Tonight's meeting is scheduled to begin with a 30-minute executive session, starting at 6:30 p.m. The open meeting should begin at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center, at 2530 Mt. Zion Pkwy, Jonesboro.

Noticeably absent from the agenda is a proposed policy to remove public comment from regular business meetings, and establish a separate public-comment meeting instead.

Board Chairperson Michelle Strong said the policy change is not on the agenda, because it was been placed on the table for 30 days following the May 27 work session. All policies go on the table for 30 days after being introduced.

Another item missing from the agenda is possible ethics sanctions against board members Sandra Scott and David Ashe. The sanctions were discussed during the May 5 business meeting, and the board decided to address them at its next meeting.

Ashe asked the board to issue sanctions against him for screaming at a member of the media on April 26, during a board meeting. Former chairman Eddie White asked the board to levy sanctions against Scott because she distributed to fellow board members a passage from an online blog, which alleged that White was having an improper relationship with a school employee.

Scott defended herself during the board meeting May 5, by claiming she thought it was information the board needed.

The issue was not brought up at the work session, though, and some board watchers are left wondering why.

"The implication of this inaction is that some discussion was held in closed session to resolve this issue," said Larry O'Keeffe, the father of a Morrow High School student, on May 28. "This is a violation of the Georgia open meetings law."

Strong said the board has not broken any state laws. "The BOE did not discuss or take care of it behind closed doors," she said. Strong also said there was a reason why the sanctions were left off the agenda for tonight's meeting, but she did not explain what it is.

The public's trust in the board has been shaken to its core since the SACS issue came to light, and members of the community now question every decision made by the board.

Julie E. Lewis, the school system's new legal counsel, said it will take a long time for the board to rebuild public confidence.

"The distrust didn't happen overnight," Lewis said. "It's going to take some faith and willingness on the public's part to come to board meetings. It's going to take both sides coming together."

In addition to the SACS update, and the approval of the budget, more than 40 students and school system employees will be recognized for outstanding accomplishments during the year.