By Curt Yeomans
In the aftermath of an accreditation loss, due to a dysfunctional school board, the Clayton County Board of Education moved one step closer to having enough board members to conduct school system business on Wednesday, when Jessie Goree was appointed to fill the vacant District 3 seat.
Goree won an Aug. 5 runoff for the seat, which begins a new, four-year term on Jan. 1, 2009, and was the presumptive board member-elect, since she was not going to face any opposition in the Nov. 4 general election.
She will now serve the remaining four months of the unexpired term of former board member, Yolanda Everett, who was removed from office on Aug. 28 by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) announced on Aug. 28 that the school system's accreditation has been revoked because the board continues to be dysfunctional. Goree's appointment brings the board's membership up to four members. The board needs to appoint at least one more member before it has enough people to constitute a quorum for a business meeting.
"I was hoping they would appoint enough board members so we could have a quorum and hold a business meeting," said Goree. "The board needs to approve the appeal to SACS, so we can show them we have a functioning school board."
The board will meet on Sept. 8, at 7 p.m., at the Central Administration Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro, to swear Goree into office, and to further discuss board appointments.
On Wednesday, the board discussed possible appointments to fill vacant board seats, and chose board member, Alieka Anderson, as a temporary chairperson.
There was so much confusion that the district's legal counsel, Julie Lewis, had to repeatedly come to the podium to explain which seats could be filled. Having so many vacant positions, and in the wake of jolting decisions by SACS and Gov. Perdue, the board finds itself in unchartered waters, and is unsure of how to proceed.
Anderson initially announced that the board could make appointments for Districts 1, 2, 3, 5 and 9. Lewis came up midway through the meeting and said the board could make appointments for District's 1,2,5 and 9. Later, Lewis said she needed to check Georgia code to see if the board could make appointments for Districts 1 and 9, since there are more than two years left in the unexpired terms for those seats.
Meanwhile, about 200 parents who attended the meeting began to get restless, and one member of the audience finally screamed, "This is a mess!"
Including Goree, 10 Clayton County residents expressed an interest in serving on the board. Five of those residents live in District 1, including Peggy Brooks, Dominic Crale, Wendy Labat, Maggie Martinez, and Melody Totten. In District 2, Della Ashley (who is running for a four-year term in November), Valisa Brown, and Beverly Vann Woods threw their names into consideration. Marcellus Jones was the only person who expressed an interest in the District 5 seat.
Lewis later said the board planned to appoint Goree to fill the District 3 seat all along. She also said the board wants to move quickly to obtain a quorum for a business meeting.
"We can't shut down the district," Lewis said. "We have to move forward."
Adding to the confusion, Corrective Superintendent John Thompson opened the meeting, nominated Anderson to serve as the temporary chairperson, and called for the vote to put her in that position. Traditionally, the board's chairperson calls for a vote on any item. Thompson said he was not attempting to run the meeting.
"I did what any other person would have done to help this board move along," said Thompson. "They didn't have anybody to open it [the meeting]." He also compared the board members situation to a football game. "It's like joining a football team, and your first game is the Super Bowl," he said.
Goree said the board members should have opened the meeting, and taken more control over the proceedings. "The board needs to take ownership and run its own meetings," she said. "I don't think Dr. Thompson was trying to run the meeting. The board members were just taking his advice."
Meanwhile, board member, Michael King, did not participate in several votes taken during the meeting, and refused to join other board members in a brief executive session to discuss candidates for the vacant seats. In the case of Goree's appointment to the board, and Anderson's temporary appointment as chairperson, King had to be prodded into saying he was abstaining.
He also abstained from voting to go into the executive session. "It was an illegal executive session," said King. "That discussion should have been open to the public." King added, "I hope we can regroup and get these appointments filled."