By Curt Yeomans
Two liaisons-advisers to the Clayton County school system, sent by Gov. Sonny Perdue, believe the county's embattled board of education has a lot of work to do to meet nine mandates from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) by a Sept. 1 deadline.
James Bostic and Brad Bryant, both members of the state board of education, were appointed by Perdue on Feb. 22 to offer assistance and guidance to the county's board.
The two are also charged with making regular progress reports to Perdue, so the governor can be kept up-to-date on the district's status.
Bostic and Bryant appeared before the eight-member Clayton board during a work session on Monday. The meeting was a meet-and-greet of sorts for both sides, at the request of the board. It was the first time board members came face-to-face with the liaisons.
Until Monday, the only communication between the two and the board was through special attorney Glenn Brock.
"This has to be handled locally," said Bostic after he offered his and Bryant's assistance to the Clayton board of education. "We'll provide help in any way we possibly can ... There's a lot of work that needs to be done to meet all nine requirements."
SACS officials have mandated that the board has to complete audits of finances and attendance reports; verify the residencies of its members; hire a permanent superintendent; strengthen and follow board policies on ethics; review existing board policies; remove outside influences; bring in an outside expert on conflict resolution, and "establish a governing board that is capable of fulfilling its roles and responsibilities."
The district's accreditation will be revoked if the board doesn't meet the mandates by Sept. 1, or at least show that significant progress is being made to fulfill the requirements.
"The board needs to be very sure it is doing what it needs to do," Bryant said. "Otherwise, the board members will take an action that doesn't get them anywhere."
One recommendation Bostic has for the board is to expand its list of candidates for the corrective superintendent position. On March 15, the school system identified Dr. John Thompson and Dr. Santiago Wood as the only candidates for the position.
While Thompson was the superintendent of Warren County schools in North Carolina from 1989 to 1991, he has no recent experience as a superintendent in the Southeast. Wood's only experience as a superintendent was in California.
The board could select a corrective superintendent as early as March 29.
"I do believe they should expand their list and consider former superintendents in Georgia, or even in the Southeast," Bostic said. "There are several, excellent retired superintendents in this area."
"It's important to note this is an area the state has no opinion on," Bryant added.
Another state official had an opinion on the corrective superintendent approach, though. Rep. Roberta Abdul Salaam (D-Riverdale) appeared before the board to offer the assistance of her local group, the Peacemakers Coalition. The group is designed to help improve the quality of life in Clayton County.
During her offer, Abdul-Salaam urged the board to reconsider its decision to hire a corrective superintendent.
"Nowhere in the SACS report does it ask for this," she said. "At no time did the state superintendent [Kathy Cox] ask for this."
Later in the meeting, attorney Brock told board members he and other district officials will meet this week with SACS officials and auditors, who will conduct a forensic audit of the school system, and attendance reports.