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BOE chair: Board has 'obligation to police itself'

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education held a "dialogue" during a budget work session on Tuesday, so it could address possible ethics violations by two members.

Board members Sandra Scott and David Ashe are facing possible sanctions for separate incidents, which took place during meetings on April 23 and 26, respectively. The pair were given opportunities to speak about the incidents, before board Chairperson Michelle Strong asked other board members for their opinions on whether Scott and Ashe violated the board's ethics policy.

The group is under scrutiny right now because of an accreditation crisis which partially stems from alleged unethical behavior by several board members. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) established a Sept. 1 deadline for the school system to meet nine mandates for improvement -- such as strengthening the board's ethics policy -- or the accreditation will be revoked.

"The board recognizes its obligation to police itself," said Chairperson Michelle Strong. "In fact, recommendation No. 3 in the SACS report specifically states that the board must take appropriate disciplinary action when board members violate policy."

Board members, who violate the ethics policy, risk sanctions such as verbal or written reprimands; removal from any board-officer position; loss of district funds for travel expenses; censure, or removal from board meetings.

The board did not levy sanctions against Scott or Ashe on Tuesday, but will take up the issue again at its May 27 meeting.

School System Legal Counsel Dorsey Hopson said it is ultimately up to each board member to decide the matter. "You have to look at the facts as you know them to be, and determine whether or not a board member's actions violated policies," he said.

The issue was addressed, however, because former board chairman, Eddie White, filed a complaint against Scott on May 9. White alleged his former colleague distributed a defamatory letter about him and a school system employee during an executive session on April 23. The information contained in the letter came from an Internet blog.

Scott admitted to distributing the letter, but said she believed it was something the board needed to be aware of. She defended herself by saying she was not the one who took the issue out of the closed meeting. "He [White] took it out of executive session, therefore, he is the one who violated board policy," Scott said.

Scott's actions were met with disapproval by Strong, Ashe and board members, Rod Johnson and Yolanda Everett. "Since we are under a microscope, we have to do everything we can to address these issues," Strong said. "If whatever happens doesn't help the children, then it shouldn't be happening. Bringing up personal issues doesn't help anybody."

Board member, Lois Baines-Hunter, did not object to Scott's actions, however. The District 2 representative also said she did not feel it was appropriate to sanction Scott for her behavior while the school system is dealing with the accreditation issue.

Baines-Hunter and Scott also questioned why the board is suddenly taking an interest in issuing the sanctions outlined in the board's ethics policy, when those actions have not been taken in the past. Strong and Corrective Superintendent John Thompson said the board should have always followed the policy.

Meanwhile, Ashe offered a public apology to a newspaper reporter he verbally attacked at the beginning of a called board meeting on April 26. He asked the board to levy sanctions against him, but board members said very little regarding his actions.

The board also heard a report from Budget and Finance Director Ramona Thurman, who said no new changes are being made to the system's proposed budget for the 2008-09 school year. The budget calls for $418 million in tax dollars to be spent as part of a $612 million total budget, which also includes capital projects, enterprise, fiduciary and special revenue funds.