By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Ericka Davis and Vice chairman Eddie White will resign from their posts on June 15, creating a power vacuum that will likely be filled from among five remaining board members.
Davis and White's decisions come after weeks of public pressure for all board members to resign.
The embattled board has been under fire since the release of a Feb. 15 report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which recommended stripping the school system of its accreditation, if nine mandates are not met by a Sept. 1 deadline.
The AdvancED Accreditation Commission approved the recommendation on March 15.
SACS officials decided to revoke the district's accreditation after an investigation revealed alleged micromanagement, unethical behavior and misuse of district funds by members of the board of education.
"I find myself saddened by the recent events that are occurring in our county," White said in a statement. "I have had to come to grips with the fact that it is not our individual record or service that counts in this matter, but the board as a whole, and the students are being punished for it."
White cited the effects of the SACS crisis on the 52,805 students attending Clayton County schools when he announced his resignation.
James E. Bostic, one of two liaisons from the state board of education sent by Gov. Sonny Perdue to work with the Clayton County board, applauded White and Davis for their decisions to resign.
"It says the children are more important than any one individual," Bostic said.
Bostic said the remaining board members should follow the lead set by Davis and White and tender their own resignations.
"This board is a dysfunctional board," he said. "Our [Bostic and fellow liaison Brad Bryant] purpose for being here is to be assured the district will meet all of the requirements to keep accreditation by Sept. 1. [The resignations of all board members] is what I think it takes for us to have a positive outcome ... Without school board members resigning, I don't think the school system will keep its accreditation."
He said his view of the board is based on the SACS report, and comments sent to him by Elgart on Thursday. In an e-mail, Elgart told Bostic and Bryant a review team from the AdvancED Accreditation Commission has determined "a newly constituted, properly functioning Clayton County [board of education] is necessary for the school system to address its current challenges and retain accreditation."
Davis, the current school board chair, said she hopes "with a new board, SACS gets what it wants, and the community gets what it wants."
Bostic also said "We should expect more board members to resign in the coming days," but added it was "just a feeling" he had about the future of the current board.
The seats occupied by Davis and White become the third and fourth vacancies before the end of the year. Board member Rod Johnson announced he will resign, but has refused to say when. On March 3, the board declared board member Norreese Haynes' seat vacant. Haynes has sued to nullify the board's action. No date has been set for a hearing on Haynes' request.
David Ashe has said he would seek reelection. Lois Baines-Hunter, Yolanda Everett, Sandra Scott and Michelle Strong have not indicated what they will do.
Strong said she hasn't decided what she'll do. Baines-Hunter said she is taking things "one day at a time."
A commitment to education and Clayton County
White said a recent Sunday School lesson helped him reach his decision to resign. He said he was studying Mark 9:42 in the Bible. The passage reads, "Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones [the children] that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."
White said he didn't want "a millstone around my neck for hurting the children."
White joined the district in 1961 as a teacher at the then all-black Fountain High School. He moved up the ranks over the next 35 years, including stops at Forest Park High School, Babb Junior High School, Fountain Junior High School, Northcutt Elementary School and the district's central office.
"He's taught countless Clayton County children, and their parents, over the years, and had an impact on a lot of people in this county," Davis said.
In 2004, White chose to run for the board's District 6 seat because the school system was on a SACS-issued probation, and the community had lost faith in the existing board's ability to lead the district. He was elected by his colleagues to serve as the board's vice chairman in 2005, 2006, and in January of this year.
Since White joined the board, it was named a Local Standards School Board by the Georgia School Board Association.
Meanwhile, Davis, who joined the board in 2000 as a replacement for former member Valencia Seay, cried Friday while discussing White's decision to resign. The pair's first job was to get the district off probation in 2005.
She called White the board's "moral compass."
"When we were first chairman and vice chairman together [in 2005], we made a very good team, and SACS cited our leadership in it's [June 2005] report when it took us off probation," Davis said. "There were two years of peace on the board, but all of that has been forgotten now."
The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce awarded White the Carl G. Rhodenizer Community Service Award in 2007.
"Eddie has been a great leader and has always been able to pull things together that needed togetherness," Rhodenizer told the Clayton News Daily on Feb. 12, 2007.
Twelve months later, the chamber ran a full-page advertisement in the Clayton News Daily calling for the resignations of every board member, though.
"I felt like I could make a difference and help our school system get off probation, and restore it to the days when we were envied by surrounding counties for a superior academic program," White said. "This was successfully accomplished within six months of my serving on the board ... I believed then, as I believe now, that student learning should be primary in our lives as teachers, administrators and school board members.
"The improvement of student achievement was my Number One goal. I put forth a genuine effort to be a good school board member ... Personally, I feel my work on the board is not finished. However, considering the call for my and the entire board to resign by many in the public sector, SACS officials and our attorney, I find myself having to make a decision in the best interest of the almost 53,000 students in our school system."
White had said he would not seek re-election. He previously told the Clayton News Daily that his post-board-of-education plans included working with officials from Morris Brown College to help the school regain its accreditation, which was revoked by SACS' Commission on Colleges in 2002.
"I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve my county over the years," White said.
Board watcher Larry O'Keeffe called White a man of integrity. "I personally will be sad to see Eddie White leave, but I most certainly understand and applaud his decision," O'Keeffe said. "From a man of his caliber, I would expect nothing less."
What happens next?
Ashe, Everett, and Scott couldn't be reached for comment on Friday. If the remaining board members don't resign, two of them will end up becoming the board's new leaders.
Remaining board members will have to figure out how the selection of new board officers will be handled, Davis said. She said those remaining will continue to receive leadership training from the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, and the Georgia School Board Association.
The change means the board will barely have enough members to hold a quorum in late June and early July.
However, board member Baines-Hunter was optimistic about the board's future. "We just have to rectify some things," she said.
Davis said the personalities of the remaining board members make it hard to predict which direction the diminished board will take.
"Mr. Ashe and Mrs. Everett are more quiet, while Mrs. Baines-Hunter and Mrs. Scott are more vocal and Mrs. Strong can be vocal at times and quiet at other times," Davis said. "It's an interesting dynamic."
Davis said she and White are asking the Clayton County Board of Elections to immediately appoint whoever wins the July 15 elections to replace them. Annie Bright, the county's director of elections, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
"I think the community forgets that the district still has to be run ... In order to do that without any significant interruption, the board can ask for that person [who is elected in July] to be appointed immediately. They'd take over in August if that happens ... You want to talk about a baptism by fire ..." Davis said.
Board Attorney Dorsey Hopson, special attorney Glenn Brock, and SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement President, Dr. Mark Elgart, could not be reached for comment.
While Bostic said he doesn't know what will happen, since there will be only five members left on the board, he is renewing calls for an expanded list of candidates to fill the district's corrective superintendent position.
The board has interviewed only two candidates for the position - Dr. John Thompson, formerly superintendent of the Pittsburgh and Tulsa school systems, and Dr. Santiago Wood, formerly the superintendent of districts in Fresno and San Jose, Calif.
"They are from places that are far away and they bring a lot of baggage to Clayton County that the school system doesn't need to be dealing with," Bostic said. "There are plenty of qualified superintendents here in Georgia who should be considered."
In other news, the board has decided to postpone a meeting on its fiscal year 2009 budget, which was going to take place Saturday at the Central Administration complex in Jonesboro. Davis said the meeting will likely be rescheduled for Wednesday evening.
"We should be able to get it [approval of a new budget] done on June 2," Davis said.
Additionally, school system spokesman Charles White said the board will hold a called meeting on Monday, March 31, at 6:30 p.m., at the district's Central Administration Complex. The only item on the agenda will be an executive session, he said.
SideBar: Board member, Eddie White's resignation letter
In the summer of 1961, I made a decision to enter the teaching profession. I was eager and excited as a young man to make a difference in the lives of boys and girls in Clayton County. I was honored to teach students at Fountain High School, Forest Park High School and serve as an administrator at Babb Junior High School, Fountain Junior High and Northcutt Elementary. I ended my career as an administrator in the Central Office in 1996. I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve my county over the years.
A little over three years ago, I made the decision to run for the District 6 seat on the BOE. I felt I could make a difference and help our school system get off probation and restore it to the days when we were envied by surrounding counties for a superior academic program. This was successfully accomplished within six months of my serving on the board and notably the leadership of the board (Ericka Davis as chair and I as vice chair) was commended in the final report. Six months following that accomplishment, our board was named a Local Standards School Board by the Georgia School Board Association. I believed then, as I believe now, that student learning should be primary in our lives as teachers, administrators, and school board members. The improvement of student achievement was my Number One goal. I put forth a genuine effort to be a good school board member.
Today, I find myself saddened by the recent events that are occurring in our county. I have had to come to grips with the fact that it is not our individual record or service that counts in this matter, but the board as a whole -- and the students are being punished for it. That is not right! We have some of the best students, best teachers, best administrators, and best programs of any county in the atate of Georgia. It is not FAIR what is happening to the students at this time in their lives.
Personally, I feel my work on the board is not finished. However, considering the calls for me and the entire board to resign by many in the public sector -- SACS officials and our attorney -- I find myself having to make a decision in the best interest of the almost 53,000 students in our school system. Recent comments in the media by our attorney, the State Board liaisons and others have rendered this board ineffective to serve, regardless of the desire to meet the nine recommendations handed down to the system on Feb. 15, 2008. While I feel we can meet the recommendations before Sept. 1, I do not wish to place additional stress on our students and their parents.
Our children are precious, and we must help them to be the best they can be. I cannot contribute to the stress placed upon them by this situation. As I was preparing for my Sunday school lesson, I read in Mark 9:42 that "Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones [the children] that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea." I don't want a millstone around my neck for hurting the children.
I come today, asking Dr. Mark Elgart and the SACS Committee to reconsider the punishment placed upon the system, which is unfair to the boys and girls, citizens, and the Clayton County community at large. Our attorney, Mr. Brock, stated in the media on Wednesday of this week that "the entire board should resign." If our attorney feels that this is the appropriate action to take, along with Mr. James Bostic, State Board of Education member appointed by Gov. Purdue, as well, I tender my resignation effective June 15th to permit my seat to be filled immediately after the July 15th primary, along with our chairwoman.
I ask Mr. Elgart and the SACS committee to modify the punishment placed upon the school system to a warning and/or probation with ample time to meet the recommendations. I ask the remainder of my fellow board members to resign for the good of the school system, if this request is granted. The resignation should be no later than June 15, 2008 to permit the citizens in the nine districts to elect a new board on July 15. This action will meet recommendation Number One. It would be helpful to our district, that as we make this very difficult decision, members of the public and media allow us to complete our service on matters of great importance to the district, such as selection of the Corrective Superintendent, administrative re-election and finalizing the budget, without distraction, so that we may focus on those decisions with due diligence.
Finally, please know that these suggestions have come after much prayer for a solution to the problems facing us at this time. As a board, we must move cautiously and expeditiously to bring closure to the concerns facing our students and the community. We can do no less!!!!