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Meeting SACS standards tops BOE's agenda

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education will take steps to save its accreditation and deal with an alleged ethics violation when it meets tonight for its monthly business meeting.

There are three major issues on the board's agenda, and all have some link to the school system's efforts to regain its accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) revoked the district's accreditation on Sept. 1, because the system met only one out of nine mandates for improvement.

Tonight's agenda includes a vote on approving a plan to regain the district's accreditation; amending Corrective Superintendent John Thompson's contract or firing the school chief; and the board considering a resolution of censure against board member Michael King, for representing a former teacher in a lawsuit against the school system while serving on the board.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m., at the district's Central Administration Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., in Jonesboro.

The plan to regain the district's accreditation includes 46 action steps, including: hiring two parliamentarians for the school board, and an internal auditor for the school system; including an ethics clause in all staff contracts; requiring board members and district employees to annually sign ethics affidavits, and undergoing training for parliamentary procedure, conflicts of interest, and board policies.

The action plan was created through a collaborative effort involving Thompson, SACS President Mark Elgart, and state Board of Education members (and state liaisons) James Bostic and Brad Bryant. Officials hope to get the district's accreditation restored by the end of the school year.

Another action step is resolving issues surrounding Thompson's contract. A SACS review team decided the superintendent's original contract, which allowed him to circumvent the board, and board policy, was an example that the district did not have a fully functioning board.

Tonight, the board will vote on adopting amendments to Thompson's contract, which remove the phrase "Corrective Action" from his title, as well as any "unusual powers" that were given to the superintendent when he was hired in April. The amendments are designed to bring Thompson's contract into compliance with SACS mandates regarding the hiring of a permanent superintendent and the establishment of a fully functioning school board.

However, board member King will try to convince his colleagues to adopt a resolution that would remove Thompson as the superintendent, and re-instate Gloria Duncan as Clayton County's interim Superintendent, while a national search is conducted for a permanent superintendent.

Parents who addressed the board during an Oct. 2, public participation meeting, urged board members to keep Thompson, and to approve the amendments to his contract. The superintendent previously told the Clayton News Daily, "My work here won't be done until we have the accreditation back, and our seniors can matriculate to the college of their choice."

The other issue, which touches upon the accreditation crisis, is the resolution of censure for King. The board member, who is also an attorney, is being recommended for censure because he continued to represent a former teacher in a lawsuit against the school system after he was sworn in as a board member on Aug. 25.

King has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong. He also maintains he told his client about the conflict of interest shortly before he took office, and advised the former teacher to hire a new attorney. However, King remained the attorney of record for the former teacher until a U.S. District Court judge threw out the case on Sept. 30.

"I just cannot abandon her," said King in the Sept. 30, edition of the Clayton News Daily.

One of the mandates for regaining accreditation is developing a strong ethics policy for the board and showing a commitment to follow it. Julie Lewis, the school system's general counsel, said the board needs to address the first mandate from SACS -- the establishment of a fully functioning school board, to meet the other mandates.

"If the board is able to police itself in this issue, it will be able to show it is on its way to meeting that first mandate," said Lewis.

Before the meeting begins, the district will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at 5:45 p.m., for the renovated board room. The system will then hold a reception for the seven people who have joined the school board since July, as well as the members of the 2007-08 Jonesboro High School Mock Trial team. Both events will be held in the Central Administration Complex.