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BOE focusing on board-superintendent relationship

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The majority of Clayton County Board of Education members want to spend the next year focusing on improving their relationship with Superintendent Edmond Heatley, and clarifying the differences between their roles and his duties, according to the board's chairperson, Alieka Anderson.

Anderson read aloud a list of eight goals board members singled out as areas they most want to focus on in the new school year, during the board's business meeting on Monday. Half of the goals dealt with co-operating with the superintendent, and respecting the boundaries that are designed to keep school board members from micromanaging a school system.

Micromanagement was a problem former members of the school board faced, which helped lead to the revocation of the school system's Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation in 2008.

The school board approved the list of goals by an 8-0 vote on Monday. Board member Trinia Garrett was not at the meeting. "We want to stay in our lane in terms of letting the superintendent do his job, and run the school system," Anderson said. "We want to work hard with the superintendent to maintain the stability of the district."

The board's goals for the upcoming school year are the result of its self-assessment over the last year. It directly ties into efforts to regain full accreditation, according to the school system's accreditation official, Director of Fine Arts Kay Sledge. The district regained its accreditation last year, but it was on a two-year probationary basis. Sledge said SACS, under its mandate that a fully functioning board of education be established, wanted to see the school board perform a self-assessment at some point, to determine its own needs for professional growth.

School board attorney, Clem Doyle, said board members performed the self-assessment by filling out a Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) checklist, and checking off statements they felt the board needed to work on.

The goals that were announced during the school board's meeting, were:

* The board, and individual board members will demonstrate respect, and cooperation, in their relationships with each other, and with the superintendent, staff and the community.

* The board and individual board members will support the superintendent, as CEO, and his role as general supervisor of all school system employees.

* The board will recognize, and protect, the chain of command.

* The board will strive to communicate with the community, using forums, groups, the media and/or other vehicles.

* The board will annually evaluate its performance in fulfilling the board's duties, responsibilities, and the board's ability to work as a team.

* The board will meet in a retreat environment, to review the standards checklist for the board and the superintendent.

* Periodically, the board will formally evaluate the performance of the superintendent.

* Board minutes shall properly record actions of the board, and shall be maintained as prescribed by the Open Records Act.

School board member Jessie Goree said she would like to see the board develop an action plan that would serve as an outline for meeting it's goals. "We need to have a plan," she said. "We can say we're going to do it, but if we don't have a plan of action, we won't meet these goals."

But, in finding a way to respect the boundaries between what the board can do, and what Heatley is authorized to do, some board members said they will have to deal with a general public that thinks the board has more power than it really has. SACS officials and board members, have often said school boards exist mainly to set policy, and to approve, or disapprove of, fiscal matters for the district.

Board member Charlton Bivins said the board needs to educate the community on what powers school board members have. "I wish members of the community better understood the power we have as board members," he said. "We need to explain to them that we cannot get involved in the day-to-day operations of the school system, and that we're more powerful as a whole board, than as individual board members."

In other action, the board voted 7-0, to keep the school system's millage rate at 20 mills. Board member Michael King was not present for this vote, although he was present later, during the business meeting.