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Parents, BOE members vent outrage over Heatley vote
Candidate offered $250,000 salary for 3 years

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education voted to give Edmond Heatley the job as the school system's next superintendent, during a school board meeting Monday that ended much like the meeting last year where his predecessor's contract was approved - with parents jumping out of their seats and accusing the school board of unethical behavior.

The vote for Heatley was razor thin (5-4), with board members Charlton Bivins, Trinia Garrett, Jessie Goree and Michael King offering opposition for a variety of reasons, including requests for more time for public input, a lack of prior knowledge about Heatley's proposed annual salary, and a belief that Interim Superintendent Valya Lee was more qualified to lead the district.

If he accepts the job and salary -- with benefits and other possible perks remaining to be decided -- Heatley, who is currently the superintendent of the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified School District, will take the helm of Clayton County Public Schools on July 1.

When Heatley takes over, however, he will have to deal with parents who felt disenfranchised during the superintendent search process, and a school board that barely agreed to hire him. As School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson adjourned the meeting Monday, angry parents began yelling at board members.

"You all are going to jail," said Riverdale resident, Linda Granger, as she held her arms over her head and hit her wrists together to suggest a person being put into handcuffs.

"This is the same crap as what we had with the last school board," said Rex resident, Charles Hardeman, the parent of two Mt. Zion High School sophomores. "They want to slide it by without involving the community in this decision. It's sad because we don't have a voice anymore."

Contract negotiations are still underway between representatives for Heatley and the school board to discuss benefits, but the new superintendent will receive a three-year contract with an annual salary of $250,000, according to School System Legal Counsel Glenn Brock.

The salary issue led to some contentious debate, with Goree and Garrett claiming they did not recall discussing a possible salary for Heatley during any executive session, or public meeting.

"It would be unethical for the motion to be brought to the table without the board discussing it first in executive session," Goree said.

Brock explained that the motion to hire Heatley is still pending board approval of his contract, which is still being negotiated, but the salary was based on "parameters" he obtained from surveys of board members he conducted in early March. "This is to ensure both parties understand the salary is going to be $250,000," Brock said later.

There was also debate among board members about when the board was legally allowed to vote on hiring Heatley, after introducing him to the public as their lone finalist.

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated 50-18-72, section 7, says an agency, such as a school system or school board, which is considering hiring someone to be its leader, must release the names of finalists to the public at least 14 calendar days before a vote is taken by the board to hire one of them.

Brock said the board could vote Monday because the 14-day waiting period began at 6:30 p.m., on May 5, when notice that Heatley was the district's sole finalist was sent to members of the media, public officials and members of the school system's Key Communicators group.

School board member Jessie Goree argued that the 14-day waiting period should not have begun until May 6, when an article on the announcement ran in the Clayton News Daily, the county's legal paper of record.

Another school board member, Charlton Bivins, asked the board to wait until the next scheduled meeting that includes public comment - the June 1 business meeting - to vote on hiring Heatley, because it would give community members a chance to formally offer their input. "I feel it would behoove us to engage the public one last time before we make a decision," Bivins said. "We want to make sure we do the right thing."

Morrow resident, Searless Hathaway, grandmother of a Mt. Zion High School student, said she felt the board was turning its back on a requirement from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to engage the public about more decisions that affect the school system. The district lost its SACS accreditation nine months ago, but regained it earlier this month.

"SACS said they needed to get the community involved, and they have not done that," Hathaway said. "No one in here disagrees with his [Heatley's] qualifications. It's the process we're upset about."

The law dealing with the issue does not state say when the 14-day waiting period begins, however. Georgia School Superintendents Association Executive Director Herb Garrett and Georgia School Boards Association Spokesperson Laura Reilly said the question of when the 14-day period begins is open to interpretation.

Garrett said he interprets the first day of the waiting period to be the day the school board sent out notice that Heatley was the finalist, which would be May 5 - the same day cited by Brock. "You're not going to find a lot of clarification on when that 14-day waiting period starts in the law," Garrett said.

Brock said one reason why the board needed to vote this week on Heatley's hiring was the school system's budget. A tentative adoption vote is scheduled to take place next week, and Brock said Heatley may want to offer input on the budget.

Although Brock said events in California were not a factor in the Clayton school board's decision, an issue for the Chino Valley school board was whether an annual performance review would be needed for Heatley in California.

Chino Valley Unified School District board member Michael Calta said the California-based school board was waiting to hear the outcome of the Clayton County school board vote, because Heatley is up for an annual performance review this month. The Chino Valley board member said the review is a lengthy process, which takes several school board meetings to complete.

Calta said California law forbids a superintendent's contract from exceeding four years in length, but the annual extensions that come from performance reviews continuously kept Heatley's contract at that length. A contract extension would have to be offered before the school year ends on June 30, Calta said.

Heatley and Anderson could not be reached for comment after the school board meeting.