Unanimous decision: Accreditation revocation backed

The AdvancED Accreditation Commission spent more than half of its session on Saturday afternoon discussing Clayton County schools during its Chicago meeting.

After discussing the issue for about an hour and a half, the commission unanimously approved a recommendation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to revoke the district's accreditation on Sept. 1.

The accreditation will be revoked if nine mandates for change are not met by that deadline, or if the district does not show "significant improvement," said Dr. Mark Elgart, president of SACS' Council on

Accreditation and School Improvement. SACS officials recommended revoking the district's accreditation

because an investigation of the 52,805-student school system determined board members engaged in micromanagement, unethical behavior and misuse of district funds, and that the school system had

other serious problems.

"They [the 33 commission members] engaged in an extensive review of the recommendation and had significant concerns about the school system and its capacity to meet the nine recommendations -- on its own -- by Sept. 1," Elgart said.

The action did not take school system officials by surprise. Charles White, a spokesman for the school district, said the system saw the commission's vote as a formality and will "move ahead with its

response to SACS as planned."

He said system officials have no further comment on the issue until they receive a formal announcement concerning the decision. Ericka Davis, the board of education's chairperson, said the board was prepared to hear that the commission approved SACS' recommendation. "We respect the commission's decision," Davis said. "We know we have challenges ahead of us. What we will do is continue to apologize to the community for putting the children in this situation. We are deeply sorry for this."

If the system does not make significant progress toward -- or complete -- the nine requirements by Sept. 1, it will have to re-apply for its accreditation. It will have one year to regain accreditation by addressing the reasons why the accreditation was lost, and showing compliance with all nine recommendations. If the district does this, the re-accreditation will be retroactive to Sept. 1, as if it were never lost, Elgart said.

If a year goes by and the school system has still not complied with the nine recommendations, the district will have to start the accreditation process from scratch. School system officials will have

to compile information about the district, and fill out applications. SACS officials will then conduct on-site visits to make sure the system complies with the agency's seven standards for accreditation.

"That process could take two to three years to complete," Elgart said.

Elgart and Davis said It's going to take the assistance of outside agencies, and the community, to help the district retain its accreditation.

"The community needs to not be distracted by anything right now," Elgart said. "They need to focus on taking actions that will affect the [school system's] accreditation in a positive way."

Gov. Sonny Perdue has sent two liaisons from the state board of education to help the school system meet the mandates from SACS.

Perdue has also instructed Secretary of State Karen Handel to investigate the elections of the entire Clayton County Board of Education.

In addition, the state auditor's office will conduct an audit of the district's finances. Interim Superintendent Dr. Gloria Duncan sent a 68-page progress report to Elgart on Friday, and he read the response while he flew to Chicago on Saturday morning.

He said the response is not enough to merit "show cause," which is when the district shows it is making significant progress toward meeting the nine mandates.

Elgart cautioned it's too soon to see the district make any progress toward meeting the recommendations. "No one should think this is going [ to be] a 'check this off and move on to the next recommendation,'" he said. "This is going to take some time. That's why we chose the Sept. 1 deadline."