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General Assembly must
address education issues - Gail Buckner

Educating Georgia's children is one of our most important responsibilities. There are other issues that are equally important, but nothing that is more critical to our future than providing a world-class education for each and every child in Georgia.

When we address education, we are impacting far-reaching, quality-of-life issues and economic development. So far this legislative session, we haven't heard much about education, but that is about to change on all fronts.

Within our great state, there are educational issues that must be addressed. Today, I will speak to only one of our many education concerns, and that is our critical need for school board ethics.

The recent loss of accreditation by the Clayton County School System was clearly one of the lead news stories in 2008 -- both locally and nationally.

Let me be quick to emphasize that the Clayton County School System's loss of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was not a reflection of the performance of our students or teachers. The school system is the home of the Jonesboro High School Mock Trial Team, the back-to-back national champion (2007 and 2008).

Jonesboro High School is only one of two schools in this country to win consecutive titles.

The Lovejoy High School Technology Student Association was state champions in 2007 and 2008. Babb Middle School Family Career and Community Leaders of America ("CCLA") students are gold medal winners. The Clayton County Schools graduating classes of 2008 won almost $14 million in scholarships. The list of all other recent major accomplishments would take several more pages.

Our students, parents and educators had nothing to do with the recent loss of accreditation. They were innocent victims of the fallout from inappropriate and irresponsible actions by a few adults. There were even good school board members, who had much to offer our community, who were impacted by those who pushed the board into disrepair.

As a Partner-In-Education with every high school in Clayton County, I am keenly aware of the anxiety needlessly heaped onto our students and their parents. I also serve on the board of Clayton Youth Leadership. At a recent lunch meeting with the students of this year's class, the accreditation questions asked by the students were riveting.

The truly scary part of all this is that, on a regular basis, between 10 and 15 percent of all school boards are under review for governance problems. No students from any other community should ever be impacted by elected or appointed school board members who either don't understand their purpose, or even worse, choose to pursue their own personal agendas.

It is past time that we address school board ethics. I have submitted Senate Bill 36, a short and simple bill that will mandate that school boards in this state adopt a code of ethics. Then, they are further mandated to review this policy annually and report back to the citizens about their findings.

Many citizen observers are likely surprised that school boards aren't already mandated to operate under a code of ethics. Senate Bill 36 is a good start. However, it alone is not enough to provide a firewall to prevent a dysfunctional school board from causing a loss of a school system's accreditation.

Other school board ethics bills will be submitted, and after fine-tuning, should also be passed into law. A major accomplishment for any community would be to pass local legislation to create a local ethics board empowered to sanction school board members who violate policy. State Representative Mike Glanton's House Bill 1302 from the 2008 session is a good model.

If we -- members of the State Legislature -- are truly here for our children, then we will end this General Assembly by having passed every bill that will assure that no other school system can ever lose accreditation. We should do no less. If we want a better future for the State of Georgia, we must act now.

Gail Buckner represents District 44 in the State Senate. The district includes portions of Clayton and Henry counties.