Clayton BOE to discuss school board reforms

By Curt Yeomans


The Clayton County Board of Education will gather tonight for a called meeting to discuss the changes a group of business and education leaders has recommended to state leaders to improve local school boards.

The school board's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., at the Central Administration Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.

The Georgia School Boards Association is asking all 180 school boards, that are members of the organization, to review the recommendations of the Commission on School Board Excellence, which is calling for several school board reforms. The commission was created by the state Board of Education in March to address the issue of problematic local school boards.

After the school boards review, and discuss the recommendations, board leaders are being asked to fill out online surveys which are on the GSBA web site.

"What GSBA has asked local school boards to do is discuss it [the recommendations] as a board and provide GSBA with some feedback," said Julie Lewis, the general counsel for Clayton County schools.

Laura Reilly, a spokesperson for GSBA, said the local school boards have until early November to fill out the survey. Reilly said the survey is to be filled out by the school board leaders after discussing it with their fellow board members, because "school boards, not school board members, are members of GSBA."

The results will let GSBA leaders know what the positions of the school boards are, which will in turn help the organization define its official position on the commission's recommendations, Reilly added.

If they are made into state law, the commission's recommendations would result in dramatic overhauls of troubled school boards, such as the one in Clayton County.

The recommendations include setting the maximum number of positions on a school board at five to seven seats (Clayton County has a nine-member school board); making school board elections into nonpartisan affairs; allowing the state to takeover schools systems with chronic governance issues, and creating a statewide code of ethics for local school boards.

The qualifications for serving on a school board would also be changed to state that board candidates must be U.S. citizens, who are registered voters; must have a high school diploma or a G.E.D.; must be deemed mentally competent; must not be employed by any public or private K-12 school or school system; must sign an affidavit committing themselves to participate in mandatory school board training sessions, and sign statewide code-of-ethics- and conflict-of-interest affidavits.

When the commission presented its recommendations to the state Board of Education in September, commission member Mark Elgart, the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), told state board members that one-fifth of all school boards in Georgia suffer from governance problems.

SACS revoked the accreditation of Clayton County schools in September because of governance issues involving the local board of education.

The state Board of Education approved the recommendations earlier this month. Most -- if not all -- of the recommendations would need to be turned into state law by the General Assembly and Gov. Sonny Perdue before they could go into effect.

Allowing the state to take over a school system would take an amendment to the state Constitution, which is a process that includes legislative approval, as well as the consent of a majority of voters on a statewide referendum. As a result, it could not happen before November 2010, when voters go to the polls to elect a new governor and other statewide officers.

Despite the lack of an official position, GSBA officials are leery of the commission's recommendations. "We have some concerns about the legality of some of the recommendations," said Reilly. "For example, one recommendation is that no one who is employed by one school board can be a member of another school board ... We understand if they are employed in the same school system, but this is saying no teachers can serve on a school board."

Reilly also said GSBA officials are concerned that other recommendations delve into the areas of local control. "Things like the number of seats on a school board, or how much compensation school board members receive ... Those issues should be decided at the local level," said Reilly.

Lewis declined to comment about the commission's recommendations.

In addition to reviewing and discussing the recommendations, the Clayton County school board will discuss a student tribunal appeal in executive session. Lewis said the appeal was filed earlier this month, and the board has to deal with it by Thursday.

Tonight was the meeting time which best fit into the schedules of the board members and Superintendent John Thompson, Lewis added.

The board will meet again on Oct. 27, for its monthly work session.