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Clayton BOE split on state takeover issue

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education was evenly split (3-3) on Tuesday over the issue of a state takeover of troubled school districts.

The takeover proposal is one of several recommendations from the Commission on School Board Excellence made last month to the Georgia Board of Education. The state board gave its backing to the takeover proposals earlier this month. A takeover, along with other proposals made, would have to be adopted through state law, and they would result in a dramatic overhaul of local, troubled schools boards, like the one in Clayton County.

The Georgia School Boards Association has asked its 180 members to discuss the commission's recommendations. In response, Clayton held a called meeting on Tuesday to vote on an official stance on the recommendations.

"Originally, I did not think the state could do a better job than local school boards at running a school system, but, I thought maybe there are situations where the state has to come in," said Michael King. He, along with Lindsey McDaniel and Trena Morris support a takeover.

On the side of the issue were Chairperson Alieka Anderson, Vice-Chairperson Jessie Goree, and board member Trinia Garrett in opposition.

"I believe a school system should be able to rectify the situation before the state comes in," said Anderson. She likened it to a state takeover of a school which fails to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). "If the state came in ... everybody from the principal down would be replaced. You would have a whole big turnover of staff that doesn't help anyone."

Board member Mary Baker was not at the meeting, but Anderson said Baker's input will be sought out.

King said he felt residents would want a takeover of Clayton County schools if the district did not regain its accreditation by September 2009. The district's accreditation was revoked by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) last month mainly because of a dysfunctional school board.

King also said he voted for a state takeover because the school board voted 6-1 to modify Superintendent John Thompson's contract earlier this month. King was the dissenting voice in that issue.

Georgia's Constitution currently does not allow the state to takeover a school system, thus, the constitution would have to be changed. A change to the Constitution requires approval by the General Assembly, and a majority approval by the voters in a statewide referendum. Under those rules, the proposals would not appear on a ballot until 2010.

The board unanimously supported recommendations to implement a state code of ethics for school boards, require school boards to regularly seek stakeholder input, mandating school boards develop a strategic plan, undergoing state and local school board training, requiring school board members to sign state ethics and conflict of interest affidavits, requiring school candidates to undergo background checks, and making it mandatory for board members to disclose conflicts of interest.

Also, board members unanimously opposed the barring of employees from one school system sitting on the school board in another, limiting the number of school board members to somewhere between five and seven people, setting per diem compensation for travel at a level equal to the state board of education, and forbidding people who are deemed mentally incompetent from serving on a school board.

After the school boards discuss the proposals, a board officer has to fill out a GSBA survey on the subject. The surveys will shape GSBA's official position on the commission's recommendations.

Other recommendations dividing the board included:

· Raising the number of mandatory training hours for school board members. The board voted 5-1 in favor of this. King was the lone board member opposing it.

· Making school board elections into nonpartisan races. The board voted 1-5 against this. King was the lone board member in favor of it.

· Mandatory drug testing for school board members. The board voted 5-1 in favor of this. Garrett was the lone board member opposing it.

· Requiring school board candidates to hold either a high school diploma, or its equivalent to run for office. The board voted 5-1 in favor of this. Garrett was the lone opponent.