By Curt Yeomans
Brad Bryant spent 12 years on the DeKalb County Board of Education, and has been on the state board for the last five years, but he has "never seen a remnant board as dysfunctional" as the one leading Clayton County schools.
Bryant and fellow state board of education member, James Bostic, liaisons between the Clayton County school board and Gov. Sonny Perdue, sent a letter to the governor on Wednesday asking Perdue to let them stop working with the troubled school board.
The liaisons want to only deal with Corrective Superintendent John Thompson, students, parents and staff members as the school system struggles to address an accreditation crisis. They will continue to work with the school system while it has audits of its attendance records and finances.
They just do not want to deal with the board anymore, effectively making the school board irrelevant in the eyes of state officials.
"We fully understand that your desired objective, at the time we were appointed, was to do everything in our power to help the Clayton County school district maintain its accreditation," Bostic and Bryant wrote. "We believe that this objective is impossible in light of the remaining board members' conduct, both individually and corporately.
"Because of the board's actions, we believe the system's loss of accreditation is inevitable, and can only hope that revocation for a short period of time will finally lead to a functional group of individuals who have the progress of the system and the students at the heart of their actions."
During a press conference on Thursday at the Georgia Department of Education's offices in Atlanta, Bryant and Bostic said the board is more dysfunctional now than it was two and a half months ago, when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) recommended taking away the school system's accreditation because officials deemed the board to be too "dysfunctional."
The school district is facing the possibility of being the first to lose its accreditation in nearly 40 years. No Georgia school system has ever lost it's accreditation.
Both of the liaisons stressed that it was the "fabric of the entire" board, which led SACS officials to call the board "dysfunctional" in the agency's Feb. 15 report. They said no board member can remain because of that. Bostic said it is the responsibility of Clayton County voters to bring in as many as seven board members, who should be able to function as a group.
"It seems to me, some very good candidates [for the July 15 primary election] need to be found, and they need to be encouraged to run," Bostic said. "They need to be interested in doing what is right for the children of Clayton County ... The public also needs to look at the board members whose seats are not up for re-election this year, and start the recall effort."
One concern is the departure of Glenn Brock, the special attorney brought in to help deal with the accreditation issue. Brock announced his decision to sever his ties to the school system one hour before Thompson addressed the public on April 24. His resignation was in protest over the board's decision to offer a contract to the corrective superintendent.
Bostic said Brock had the school system on track to meet SACS' Sept. 1 deadline to show improvement. Brock's resignation was so significant to the liaisons, they referenced it in the first paragraph of their letter to Perdue.
Bostic said the events of the last seven days, most of which involve the board's decision to hire Thompson, have led he and Bryant to their decision. The liaisons said they are not blaming Thompson for the events, even though he is a central character in the board's actions.
"The board had an understanding of what a corrective superintendent should be," Bostic said. "They were told he or she should be someone who comes in for about six months to help the district retain it's accreditation. They went in a different direction. It's the board's right to make that decision. They need to be held accountable for that by the voters of Clayton County, though."
Thompson was awarded a 14-month contract, which includes an additional 6 months, if the board decides to give him an extension. He will receive a base salary of $285,000 per year; use of a district vehicle; a home fax machine; home internet access; a laptop computer; over 100 days of paid time away from the school system, and a $2,000 per month living allowance.
Thompson was originally hired on Saturday, but board leaders determined that meeting was illegal because it was called by Vice chairperson Michelle Strong, who did not have the authority to take such actions. She is now the acting chairperson because former Chairman Eddie White resigned on Monday.
Bostic and Bryant briefly met with Thompson before the press conference and said they are holding off on making a determination about his abilities to lead the school system, because he only began leading the district on Monday.
Bryant said one clause in Thompson's contract may help the liaisons sidestep the school board during the accreditation crisis. Section 3-B-1 states "In the performance of his duties the corrective action superintendent has authority to implement any lawful action for which board approval is not specifically required by law, regardless of any other board policy to the contrary."
"He may be stepping into Georgia with the broadest powers of any superintendent in the state," Bryant said.
The state liaisons stressed that the school board is the problem in Clayton County, not the actual school system. "There is a sound school district that exists down there, but it is being led by a board which puts its own interests above those of the boys and girls of Clayton County," Bryant said.
Board member David Ashe said he was "encouraged" to hear Bostic and Bryant wanted to work with Thompson on the accreditation issue, but acting board chairperson Strong was not pleased. She was "troubled" and "disturbed" to hear about their request to the governor.
Strong said Bostic and Bryant have "not reached out to the [board]" and board members would have worked with the liaisons, if an offer had been extended.
"To date, they have not provided any assistance," Strong said. "The only time that the BOE met with them, one-on-one, was when we met with Dr. Elgart ... The [board] has been to training in the last months, and the liaisons have not provided any training for us."
Strong was also confident in the board's ability to meet the mandates issued by SACS in time to set up a show cause hearing. Thompson wants the school system to be in compliance with the mandates by Aug. 1, or at least show signs of improvement toward meeting the requirements by that date.
Thompson said he is willing to work with the liaisons, and he plans to meet with SACS president Dr. Mark Elgart on Friday, so he can gain a deeper understanding of what the accrediting agency is looking for. "I think it's possible we will lose our accreditation [because of a lack of understanding about what SACS wants]," said Thompson before the press conference.
The superintendent said he will host an educational summit this weekend attended by several consultants and former superintendents in an attempt to find a way to deal with the accreditation crisis. He would also like to have former Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan work in the district's Central Administration Complex, because she has been working on the SACS issue since November.
If the district loses its accreditation, Thompson said one option available to the school system is to seek accreditation from another agency. He said there are other options available to the district, but he would not identify them.
Board members Sandra Scott, Rod Johnson, Yolanda Everett and Lois Baines-Hunter could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
SideBar: Letter to the Govenor
Here is the letter State Board of Education members James E. Bostic, Jr., and William Bradley Bryant -- appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to help the Clayton County School System deal with its SACS crisis -- sent to the governor on Wednesday, explaning why they believe they can no longer work with Clayton County Board of Education members.
The Honorable Sonny Perdue, Governor of Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
Dear Governor Perdue:
Within the last week, it has become apparent that a majority of the current members of the Clayton County Board of Education continue to value their own personal interests more than the students, citizens, and taxpayers who have repeatedly called for their resignation. With the resignation of Special Counsel Glenn Brock, hired for the sole purpose of maintaing the Clayton County School District's accreditation, the inescapale conclusion reached by us -- your special state liasons -- is that this district will become the first in Georgia to lose its accreditation.
It is clear that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Report of the Special Review Team states that the reason the school district would lose its accreditation rests solely with the board's governance and not the actions of the many wonderful students, teachers and administrators within Clayton County School District. If, as expected, accreditation is lost on September 1, 2008, the citizens of Clayton County and the State of Georgia should look only to board members who are resolved to remain in office.
To that end, we would ask that you allow us to suspend our offer of assistance to the Clayton County school board until such time as the citizens of Clayton County elect a new board that meets the governance expectations of SACS. Any effort on the part of state agents to assist this Board has been unwelcome and disregarded. It is our desire, from this date forward, that the record be patently clear that the actions of the remaining board members are completely their own.
In the meantime, we respectfully ask that you allow us to refocus our mission and offer our direct support and assistabce to the students, parents and staff of the Clayton County School District, including the new superintendent, Dr. John Thompson.
We fully understand that your desired objective, at the time we were appointed, was to do everything in our power to help the Clayton County School District maintain its accreditation. We believe that this objective is impossible in light of the remaining board members' conduct, both individually and corporately. Because of the Board's actions, we believe the system's loss of accreditation is inevitable, and can only hope that revocation for a short period of time will finally lead to a functional group of individuals who have the progress of the system and the students at the heart of their actions.
Once a new school board is seated by the voters of Clayton County, we will recommit ourselves to helping them implement effective governing practices and quickly regaining their accreditation from SACS.
We thank you for the opportunity to serve and, as State Board of Education members, affirm our commitment to the students and citizens of Georgia.
James E. Bostic, Jr.
William Bradley Bryant