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School board approves accreditation report

Clayton County school officials will send a 108-page report to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools by the beginning of next week, arguing that the school system is either "operational" or "highly functional" in nine areas the accrediting agency cited as "in need of improvement."

The school board approved a draft version of the district's SACS report Thursday by a 6-1 vote. Board Member Michael King cast the lone dissenting vote. Board members Ophelia Burroughs and Trinia Garrett did not attend the meeting. Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said Burroughs was out of town, on a business trip, and Garrett had an illness.

Board Member Pamela Adamson, who is the board's liaison with SACS and is trained to do review visits for the accrediting agency, said the school system in a good position to regain its accreditation before high school seniors graduate in May.

"I will be surprised if we do not get our accreditation back," Adamson said. "I do not believe we will get full accreditation right away, though. There are three stages of accreditation we may get, and they are 'advised, warned, or probation.' I'd be happy if we got any one of those three because it means we are accredited for our children."

The report includes several claims of progress made by the board, and the school system, including several hours of training, signing code-of-ethics and conflict-of-interest affidavits, hiring a parliamentarian, reviewing and revising policies, creating a policy committee, having the Georgia School Boards Association review the district's policies, limiting use of executive sessions, making use of the board's newly created ethics commission, and taking action against King when it was revealed he allegedly violated the ethics policy by representing a former teacher in a lawsuit against the school system.

"Members of the present board have accepted the task of changing the legacy of misconduct by some members of the immediate-past Board of Education," school system officials wrote in the report's executive summary. "The current board has begun a focused effort to act appropriately with the interest of children at the heart of every decision."

The draft copy of the report approved Thursday says the district is "operational" in all of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' mandates, except the one dealing with residency verification for board members. School system officials determined they were "highly functional" on that mandate.

The report's claims also include hiring an internal auditor and a purchasing card administrator, taking purchasing cards away from transportation department employees until they received training on how to use them, implementing recommendations from attendance audits, consulting with conflict-resolution experts, and hiring former accreditation attorney Glenn Brock to conduct a national superintendent search for the board.

In July 2008, the school system sent a 2,300-page report to SACS officials, outlining steps taken by the board and district leaders to meet the accrediting agency's nine mandates for improvement. A month later, a SACS review team determined only one mandate was met, though, and the district lost its accreditation.

Anderson said a completely revamped board has made significant progress toward meeting the mandates this time, citing several hours of board training as an example of that progress.

"I believe in my heart of hearts that our accreditation will be restored," Anderson said. "We've gone above and beyond to meet these mandates."

King said the report should have been reviewed by "outside consultants" before it went to the board. He also argued the board has not met the third mandate, which deals with the establishment of a strong ethics policy. He argues that the local legislation which created a new ethics commission for the school board is unconstitutional, and he is fighting its recommendation to have him removed for ethics violations.

"There has not been enough substantial progress to get us back on track in terms of our accreditation," King said. "If it [the ethics commission] is unconstitutional, then we have not met that third mandate."

School system Deputy Superintendent Judith Simmons told the board the final version of the report will be sent by courier service to SACS President Mark Elgart no later than Monday. District Spokesman Charles White said the report will also be posted on the school system's web site Monday, and copies will be put on public display around the county.

Earlier Thursday, the school board's policy committee met for the first time, and agreed to review each policy section one month at a time, on an annual basis. The committee will hold its next meeting April 27, at 5 p.m., at the district's central administration complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.