By Curt Yeomans
Mayors from five of the six cities in Clayton County got an unexpected opportunity to meet Corrective Superintendent John Thompson on Friday and express their concerns about the school system's accreditation crisis.
Mayors Evelyn Wynn-Dixon (Riverdale); Luther Maddox (Jonesboro); Corine Deyton (Forest Park); Jim Millirons (Morrow) and Willie Oswalt (Lake City) showed up at the district's Central Administration Complex to hold a press conference to voice a plea to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) for some "mercy."
When they got to the complex, however, they ran in to Thompson, who postponed his schedule for the day to spend approximately 20 minutes discussing the system's situation with the mayors in the lobby of the complex. The municipal leaders expressed an interest to help Thompson. The superintendent said he will take advantage of the offer.
"I think it's really great that they want to help," Thompson said. "They can show the board [of education] this whole thing is affecting all of us."
Thompson told the mayors about a meeting he had with SACS president Dr. Mark Elgart on Friday morning. The superintendent said Elgart believes "there is still a window of opportunity to meet the nine requirements [by a Sept. 1 deadline]."
Thompson wants the district to be in compliance with SACS' mandates for improvement a month before the agency's deadline, so the system will have a month to set up a show cause hearing to explain why a loss of accreditation should not occur.
Still, the mayors are concerned about the impact of the accreditation crisis on their respective cities. The business and residential sectors of their communities are being hit hard by the threat of an accreditation loss, the mayors said.
Mayor Wynn-Dixon said the mayors wanted to make a show of "unity" by addressing the issue as a group.
"When a business considers moving into an area, they are thinking about bringing in executives with families," Mayor Millirons said. "They expect the area to have an excellent school system. Morrow is doing OK right now, but it could be doing better," he added.
"You can't sell a house in Jonesboro right now," said Mayor Maddox, who explained that approximately 10 percent of homes, and roughly 40 percent of rental properties in his city are vacant. "This [the accreditation issue] is the most important thing, right now, in this county."
Mayor Oswalt said the mayors meet monthly to discuss county issues, and school system leaders have been welcome to participate in those meetings. The district has not accepted the offer in recent years, Oswalt added.
"At one time, we were No. 2 in the state when it came to education, but now we're pushing every other school system up the ladder by a rung," Oswalt said.
Mayor Deyton, whose sons graduated from Clayton County schools, said the crisis breaks her heart. "We are concerned about the children of this county," she said.
Maddox and Millirons said they believe board of education members have put their interests ahead of those of the children. Both mayors also said they would have resigned if they were members of the board.
Dixon declined to either endorse or condemn public calls for the six remaining board members to step down, however. She said there "may be a changing of the guard" following the July 15 primary elections.
Seven of the nine board seats are slated to be on the ballot for the primary. Five of those races will be decided during the primary.
The races for the Districts 2 and 5 seats will not be decided until the general election in November.
"We should wait until after the elections and see what happens," Dixon said.