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Clayton Schools postpones consulting contract

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools officials pulled -- likely for good -- a plan to hire an Atlanta construction-management firm to do consulting work for the district.

The action on Monday comes two weeks after members of the Clayton County Board of Education criticized the proposal. "We've got so much going on right now, with all of these construction projects going on, but we're going to try to handle it in-house for now," said School System Superintendent Edmond Heatley. "Money is tight right now, and we all know we're going to have to do more, with less."

Last month, Heatley recommended the hiring of Gude Management Group to help the district's construction department with 18 ongoing building projects. The proposal, to last six months, would have paid Gude $26,100 per month.

The district's chief operating officer, Cephus Jackson, said the hiring of Gude was needed because of the unexpected retirements of two high-ranking members of the district's construction department. On top of those retirements, the director of construction position had been vacant since the director retired in 2008.

School board members balked at hiring Gude, however, citing their displeasure with school redistricting work the company did for the school system in 2008 and 2009. Gude, some board members complained, took too long to complete the redistricting work, which involved redrawing attendance boundaries to prepare for the opening of Charles R. Drew High School. They also said Gude's staffers often were not prepared to provide information during presentations.

On Monday, Jackson said Gude officials had been stopping by the district's maintenance offices, and construction sites, in recent weeks. He said, however, their officials were only meeting "the people you need to meet, and scoping everything out." He said the project was pulled from the agenda for the board's business meeting, so district officials could gather more information. He added, however, that outside consultants may not be necessary, after all, because the key vacancies in the construction department may soon be filled.

"We're in the early interview stages," Jackson said. "A search committee is going to be interviewing candidates [today], and if they like someone, that person would meet with myself and Dr. Heatley in the afternoon for an interview. If we like that person, they would be offered the job. It's possible we could hire somebody by the end of the week."

Heatley said the most pressing issue right now, outside of hiring a new director of construction, and an architect, is getting two new school facilities, the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy, and a replacement building for Morrow Middle School, ready to open on the first day of classes, Aug. 9.

Heatley and Jackson said they, along with the construction department staff, spent the last week and a half -- which was officially a vacation period for district employees -- doing walk-throughs at new school facilities. "If we're lacking people, then the rest of us will have to pick up the slack," Heatley said. "There is no room for failure. We must have those buildings ready to open when school starts."

Jackson said Clayton County fire marshals have signed off on both schools, and he has the certificates of occupancy for both. Administrators are now beginning to move in, he added.

School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said the board might be open to an "in-house" solution to the steps necessary in the area of construction. She said she has not consulted other board members on the issue. "If that is what they [Heatley and Jackson] decide to do, then, I think that is something the board might be willing to consider," Anderson said.

The board also postponed voting on keeping the district's millage rate at the maximum 20 mills allowed under state law. No date was announced for when the vote might be rescheduled. The board also approved 11 personnel recommendations made by Heatley, including the naming of former Area I Assistant Superintendent Derrick Manning as the district's new director of athletics. Manning's previous position was eliminated in budget cuts. He replaces Bob Brannon. who retired.

Other approved personnel changes included the naming the former Sequoyah Middle School Principal Stephanie Johnson, as the new principal at Jonesboro High School, and moving former Coordinator of Secondary Language Arts Shonda Shaw to be the new principal of the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School.