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Homeowners group seeks lawyer to deal with schools

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The leaders of the Clayton County Wide Homeowners Association (CCWHOA) say they are tired of playing "musical superintendents."

The group pushes civic literacy, which means knowing what is going on in, and caring about, the community. However, in just a short span of time, the group's leaders have had to speak to three superintendents and one high level staff member about their school system-related concerns.

In July 2007, they met with former superintendent Barbara Pulliam about the state of the school system. Pulliam resigned the next week. The homeowners next began talking with former Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan, and then Val Lee, Duncan's chief of staff. They are now meeting with Corrective Superintendent John Thompson.

The game has become a nuisance to CCWHOA leaders, because, they say, they want to help the district deal with its accreditation crisis. They are wondering how much talking they can do with a person when they do not know how much longer that person will be around.

They are now asking for donations to hire an attorney, who will deal with the school system on their behalf, and they say, and on behalf of taxpayers.

"Everybody seems to be represented, except the homeowners," said Synamon Baldwin, the founder of CCWHOA. "You have the board [of education], which has its own attorney. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has their own attorneys. We feel we should have our own attorney to represent us at the table."

A special fund was established at Wachovia Bank, so taxpayers could contribute $1 for the attorney every time they go to any branch of the bank. There is no set amount of money the homeowners are seeking to raise before they select an attorney, Baldwin said. She also said CCWHOA is not planning to file a lawsuit against the school system, or the board of education.

"We're at a loss of how to navigate this maze," she said. "It's extremely confusing and that's why we're getting an attorney."

The fund is set up in the name of the "Taylor Commission," which was established three months ago by CCWHOA members to identify school board candidates whom they deem best qualified for public office. The commission is named after the late Pastor William Taylor, who let CCWHOA hold its meetings at his church, Trinity Community Church, earlier this year. Taylor passed away in April.

Baldwin said the community must bear some of the responsibility for the school system's current situation. The actions of the board have led SACS officials to set a Sept. 1 deadline for improvement. The district will lose its accreditation if nine mandates for improvement are not met.

The CCWHOA founder said the community should have been more involved in the affairs of the school system and the board. She said the situation has turned into a "quagmire," and it has been a wake-up for many homeowners. CCWHOA leaders now want to get involved to help the district find a resolution to its accreditation woes. "We want to develop a strong relationship with the school system, which benefits us all," Baldwin said. "Everybody has got to take ownership and resolve this situation."

Julie Lewis, the school system's legal counsel, said Monday she was puzzled by the group's decision to hire an attorney, and would like to find out more information about the reasoning. She also said the school system would treat any attorney hired by the homeowners with the same respect and dignity the school system would show to any other person.

Still, she was a bit leery about the rationale of hiring an attorney to make sure the homeowners get more information. "It doesn't make a lot of sense," Lewis said. "If what they want is more access and open records requests, they really don't need an attorney to do that ... But, it's certainly their prerogative to hire an attorney, if they want one."