17 qualify for two Clayton BOE seats

Accreditation woes loom over special elections

William Callier did not want to sit back and hope someone else would run for the Clayton County School Board.

He wants to be among those restoring the district's accreditation before his son, Khiry, graduates from Lovejoy High School in May 2009.

Callier, 44, is one of 12 candidates vying for the District 1 seat once held by former Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Michelle Strong. He works as a Cobb County firefighter.

Five other political hopefuls have qualified to run for the District 9 seat, formerly held by Sandra Scott, former board vice chairperson.

Special elections have been called to fill those vacant board seats during the Nov. 4 general election.

On Aug. 28, Gov. Sonny Perdue removed Strong and Scott from office, with two and a half years left in their terms. The board members were removed for misconduct and violations of the state's Open Meetings Act.

Qualifying for the special elections concluded on Friday. Here are the qualifiers:

· District 1 -- William Callier, 44; Pam Anderson, 62, retired educator; Cleopatra Ballantyne, 51, teacher; Jean Brown, 57, teacher; Whayne Clarke, 39, driver/recruiter; Dominick A. Crea, 60, executive; Keith V. Horton, 43, director of the state Office of Child Support Services; Wendy Labat, 51, consultant/entreprenuer; Maggie Martinez, 51, teacher; G. Mark Simpson, 42, attorney; Paulette Stewart, 63, pastor, and Melody Totten, 43, accountant.

·District 9 -- Charlton Bivins, 44, DeKalb County sheriff's lieutenant; Ernest L. Donaldson, 44, firefighter; Irene Lewis, 44, process manager; James Searcy, 50, realtor, and Toney Walker, 39, teacher.

Like Callier, several of the candidates cited the district's recent accreditation woes as reasons for seeking the seat. Clayton's accreditation was revoked on Aug. 28 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and district leaders have one year to regain it, retroactively. To do so, they have to meet eight remaining mandates for improvement by Sept. 1, 2009.

"There's a lot at stake, because we need to get our accreditation back for the children," said Callier. "These seniors need to graduate from an accredited school system. It's good that so many people signed up to run," he said. "I think it shows a lot of people are concerned about the kids."

Labat, Martinez and Bivins echoed Callier's sentiments in statements released this week. Bivins said a "a new foundation is needed," while Martinez called for new procedures to guarantee an effective school board.

If the district does not regain its accreditation within the next 12 months, it will have to begin the re-accreditation process from scratch. That is a process that takes two to three years to complete.

"We must regain, and maintain, our accreditation expeditiously to assure the success of our students, and their ability to pursue higher education without limits," said Labat.