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New BOE members trying to find their way

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

New Clayton County Board of Education members Alieka Anderson, Trinia Garrett and Michael King did not expect to be the only members left on the board when they took office, but fate has put them in that position.

Already down two members, the school board lost four more members on Aug. 28, when Gov. Sonny Perdue accepted a state administrative judge's recommendation to remove former board members Michelle Strong, Sandra Scott, Lois Baines-Hunte and Yolanda Everett. In addition to losing the majority of its members, the board also lost its leadership -- Strong was the chairperson and Scott was the vice chairperson.

Anderson, the District 8 representative, and King, the District 4 representative, won special elections. Garrett was appointed to her seat after she won the July 15 primary election in District 7. Anderson and Garrett were sworn in on July 19, while King was sworn in on Aug. 25. They have a total of three months and one week of experience on the school board.

"Sometimes, you have to go with the unexpected," Anderson said. "We're fighters and we're going to make sure we do whatever is in the best interests of the children."

Laura Reilly, a spokesperson for the Georgia School Boards Association, said GSBA interprets state laws regarding quorums for public meetings to be a majority of all seats on the board, which would be five members in the case of the Clayton County Board of Education.

A lack of a quorum handcuffs a school board. For example, such acts as approving system purchases over $25,000, and holding student tribunals, cannot be performed.

"In Clayton County's case, we don't know what they will do," Reilly said.

There is one thing the board can do, however.

Georgia Code 45-5-3.1 states if enough vacancies occur on the school board to prevent a quorum from meeting, then "the absence of a quorum caused by any such vacancy, or vacancies, shall not impair the authority of a majority of the remaining members of such body to make that appointment."

The board has 45 days to appoint people to fill the vacancies, or Gov. Perdue will get to appoint new members, according to the same code section. To that end, the board will meet publicly tonight, at 6:30 p.m., at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center, 2530 Mount Zion Pkwy, Jonesboro, to discuss filling board vacancies.

District Spokesman Charles White said the board is meeting in public in case the members decide to appoint someone to fill a seat. On Aug. 29, King walked out of a training session conducted behind closed doors by GSBA because he was worried it might violate the state's Open Meetings law. The session was set up to train board members on how to properly fill vacancies on the board.

A special election is set for Sept. 16, to fill the District 6 seat, formerly held by Eddie White. The governor has directed the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration to hold special elections in November to fill the vacant seats for Districts 1 and 9.

Of the three remaining seats, only in District 3, has it been decided who will take office in January 2009. Jessie Goree won an Aug. 5 runoff for the seat, and is not facing a Republican challenger in the Nov. 4 general election. Districts 2 and 5 have Democrats and Republicans facing off in the general election.

"We've been ready to move forward, even though the governor gave us this break," Anderson said. "If it's something that is going to benefit this school system, you can't afford to sit back and wait. You have to keep moving forward."

Garrett and King could not be reached for comment. A voice mail was left on King's cell phone, but the in-box was full on subsequent calls to that number, and he could not be reached at his home number. Garrett's cell phone would not go to voice mail.