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Clayton school board to
discuss superintendent search

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Although the Clayton County Board of Education will discuss its search for a new school superintendent tonight at a called meeting, the governing body is not expected to make a final decision on how to proceed.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., at the school system's central administration complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.

The district is in the midst of a national superintendent search to find someone to lead it after Superintendent John Thompson's contract expires June 30. Thompson has expressed an interest in applying for the job.

The issue is important because hiring a permanent superintendent is one of the nine mandates for regaining the school system's accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) will send a review team to the district in April to monitor progress made by the school board.

Officials from the agency have repeatedly said the board must, at least, have a plan in place to hire a superintendent, and be in the process of following that plan.

The board decided Monday to terminate the district's ties to the Illinois-based executive search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. That firm started the search for a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Barbara Pulliam in 2007, but abandoned their quest in favor of a search for a temporary, corrective superintendent last spring.

The board has already heard a presentation from attorney Glenn Brock, who pitched the services of his law firm, Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers, LLC. Brock previously worked for the board from December 2007 to April 2008, to help the district with its accreditation issues.

In other action, board members will also hear an update on teachers' contracts. On Monday, School District Spokesman Charles White said the system may offer contracts to teachers for the 2009-10 school year by the end of the month. Under state law, the district has to offer contracts by April 15, so the educators will know if they have a job secured for the upcoming school year.

The only action item on the agenda for the meeting deals with whether several parents should be billed for unpaid school lunches for their children.

Audrey Hamilton, the nutrition services director for the school system, said the department incurred a debt of nearly $113,000 for free lunches served between August and December 2008. The lunches were served to children who do not qualify for the federal government's free lunch program.

Hamilton has asked the board to do away with the district's policy of giving free lunches to students who do not meet the federal standards for free lunches. The policy was iniated in 2007, she said. At the end of the 2007-08 school year, the district had to pay nearly $90,000 to the nutrition services department to cover debt incurred during the first year of the program, Hamilton said.

The parents of those children have not re-imbursed the school system for the free lunches, Hamilton said. A Power Point presentation shown to board members during the Jan. 26, board work session, shows school system officials anticipate this year's debt to the nutrition services department could end up being more than $200,000.

"Each day we provide this service, our debt is going to continue going up," Hamilton said.

The federal program mandates that school systems provide free lunches to students who come from economically disadvantaged families. As a result of the district's present policy, several children who do not qualify for the federal free lunch program still get free lunches.

"If we're feeding everyone for free, then there will be no incentive for parents whose children actually do qualify for the free and reduced lunch program to sign up for it," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said there are pre-payment methods offered by the district for school lunches, including an online pre-pay system, which acts as a debit system, and an in-person, pre-payment system, in which parents go to the school and pay for the lunches before hand. Several families use the service, but not everyone takes advantage of it, Hamilton said.