BOE adopts state's model ethics code

The Clayton County Board of Education approved the State Board of Education's new, model code of ethics on Wednesday, weeks before they were required to do so under the state's new school board reform law.

Now, some tough decisions must be made.

With Wednesday's action, the Clayton board has two different ethics policies it is bound law to follow, and some provisions in one, are at odds with provisions in the other.

The policy the board was following before Wednesday was created in accordance with a local ethics reform law, commonly referred to as House Bill 1302, which was signed into law in 2008. That law applies only to the Clayton County Board of Education.

The newly adopted measure is the result of the state school board reform law, commonly called Senate Bill 84, which was signed into law earlier this year. It was intended to cover all boards of education in Georgia.

The Clayton board must, some how, merge its two ethics policies, which, officials say, won't be easy, because of the conflicting provisions.

"It needs to be cleared up, and it'll get there, but it may be after the legislative [session] — It probably will be after the legislative session before it all gets resolved," said school board attorney, Glenn Brock.

All school boards in Georgia are required, under Senate Bill 84, to follow to the State Board of Education's model code of ethics. Therefore, the Clayton County BOE's next step will be to figure out what to do with House Bill 1302, which was created in the midst of the county's accreditation crisis, to keep school board members in line.

Brock said the board has to find some way to get its two ethics policies to "marry" each other. "It [the board's existing ethics policy] would require some re-writes" to be compatible with the State Board of Education's model code of ethics, he said.

One possible solution to the compatibility problem, which some board members have expressed an interested in pursuing, is to ask the Clayton County Legislative Delegation to get House Bill 1302 repealed in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

"First thing I want to do," Brock said, "is find out if they want to ask the delegation to, either amend, or repeal, house Bill 1302, because if they are going to do that, then, we'll probably wait and see what happens with that first, before the board goes through that process."

Right now, the Clayton board is scheduled to discuss, and make a decision, on the House Bill 1302 issue at its Jan. 10 business meeting.

BOE Chairperson Alieka Anderson said the board will use the state's model code of ethics as a starting block in 2011, and spend time seeing where it can legally be expanded upon. She said it will be "a difficult move," and added that she is not sure how long it will take to complete the process.

"We know we've adopted the policy from the state, so we know that one is, no doubt, what we're going to have to follow," Anderson said. "But, we also need to look at the law [House Bill 1302], and see what the conflicts are from there. That's going to be our main goal."

A major conflict between House Bill 1302, and the state's model code of ethics, is who has the authority to deal with ethics violations on a school board. The state's model stipulates that the issue must be dealt with, internally, the local school board, but House Bill 1302 mandates that only an outside Clayton County Ethics Commission can deal with violations members of the Clayton County BOE.

Brock said there are several other areas where the two codes conflict with each other, but he added that he is not yet familiar enough with all of the conflicts to explain what they are. That will be discussed at the Clayton board's meeting in January, he said.

Anderson said the local school board wants to move quickly to, at least, get the marriage process started, because it will likely take a long time to complete. "That's why we're starting in January," she said.