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BOE candidates learn there is no 'I' in school board

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Board of Education members can not make a difference, if they work alone -- or against their colleagues, according to Zenda Bowie, a former member of the Fulton County Board of Education.

Other words of wisdom:

· The superintendent serves the board as a whole, not individual members.

· Individual board members can not determine which curriculum the school system will use, and they cross an ethical barrier which should not be crossed when they try to influence what goes on in particular schools.

· In fact, the only things a school board can do is set policy and act as overseers.

Nine Clayton County school board candidates, and three legislative candidates participated Wednesday in an education policy forum, which was held at Clayton State University. Legislative and school board candidates from Cobb, Douglas, Fulton, Fayette, Henry and Lamar counties also attended the forum.

The forum was one of several organized by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) which will be held throughout Georgia this summer. The candidates learned about education funding; the recent history of education in Georgia; what teachers face in a classroom; the roles and responsibilities of a school board, and why team work is important for board members.

"I wish the section on school boards was longer, because there was so much information available that we need to learn so we can be good school board members," said Diana Nicholson, a candidate for the Clayton school board's District 5 seat. "I just feel like it should be mandatory that everybody who is running for the school board participate in this, because I gleaned so much information which is going to be useful if I'm elected."

Clayton County school board candidates who attended the forum included: Nicholson, Mary Baker, Ophelia Burroughs, Trinia Garrett, Robert Green, Letarcher Prayor, Edward Rigdon, Vernetta Reeves and Jennifer Talley. Gail Buckner, Shegale Crute-Ralph and Ray Johnson were the only legislative candidates who attended.

Team work was the biggest theme Bowie and Tony Arasi, director of professional development for GSBA, stressed through the final hour-and-a-half discussion on the roles and responsibilities of school boards.

"One school board member is not going to change jack! Please don't promise your constituents that you're going to do it alone, because you can't," Bowie said.

"How you work with other school board members -- that is the trick to being a really good school board member," Arasi added.

One example Arasi used to explain how team work is needed in a school system is who a superintendent answers to. "The superintendent has one boss -- the board as a whole, not the individuals," he said.

At times, Bowie and Arasi's presentation on school boards seemed tailored for the current situation in Clayton County. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) called the Clayton board dysfunctional in February, because board members had engaged in a pattern of public fighting, micromanagement and unethical behavior.

The board is now facing a Sept. 1 deadline to clean up its act or the school system will lose its accreditation.

"Politics has no place in public education," Bowie said. "When you talk about education, you're talking about children in public schools. We have children who are in diapers, wheelchairs or have to use computers to speak. School board members are not like legislators, county commissioners or any other elected official.

"School board members do not have the luxury of trying to satisfy only the people who live in their district."

Talley, a school board candidate for District 5, and Buckner, a state senate candidate for District 44, said the entire forum was a helpful experience as they campaign for their respective seats.

"I gained a greater perspective about the state's role in funding, allocating resources, [Adequate Yearly Progress], and No Child Left Behind," Talley said.

"No one is above the need for expanded learning," Buckner said. "If a person doesn't have the approach of a public servant, then they are headed for disaster ... Improving the functions of the Clayton County School Board is one of the critical issues facing our county at this time."