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Heatley wants to hire construction consultant

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Board of Education members were vocal in their protests, earlier this week, over a Clayton County Public Schools proposal to hire a management firm to act as a construction consultant for the next six months.

It is not the position the school board members are protesting, however. It is the company the school system wants to use to do the work: The Gude Management firm.

The firm was used by the school system in late 2008, and early 2009, to re-draw attendance boundaries to accommodate the opening of Charles R. Drew High School. Several board members said they were not impressed by the company's work on that assignment, and said strong accountability clauses would have to be added to any future contracts the schools system awards to Gude.

"I don't want to approve a contract that does not have a strong accountability clause in it," said board member Jessie Goree. "I also want someone in place, who I feel can get the job done. You're asking us to hire someone we weren't satisfied with before, and I'm not willing to take that chance."

The proposal on the table would mean Gude, if approved, would be paid $26,100 a month, for six months, according to an executive summary for the agreement. The summary shows the money would come from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) IV funds.

School System Chief Operating Officer Cephus Jackson said two top people in the district's construction department, Coordinating Supervisor of Construction Wesley Smith, and School Architect Klaus Darnall, are retiring unexpectedly. The pair were overseeing the opening of two new schools in the county, the new Morrow Middle School, and the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy.

Jackson said, without Smith and Darnall, he will have to take on the responsibility of opening the schools, as well as 15 other construction projects that are underway, and four more projects that will begin in the next few months.

That is why, Jackson said, a construction consultant would be needed until the school system could hire someone to fill the vacancies left by the retirements of Smith and Darnall. "If I'm going to open two new schools, in addition to having two new fields [at Tara and Twelve Oaks stadiums] in place before students come back, I'm going to need some help," Jackson said.

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley added: "That gives us six months to post the positions, interview people, and hire someone to fill these positions."

Jackson said Gude is being recommended because it was the lowest bidder two years ago, when the school system put out bids for this type of agreement.

But, Gude brings with it the baggage from its previous stint with the school system, and the discussion about hiring them for additional work re-opened some old wounds from that experience.

School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson criticized the company for taking too long to re-draw the boundary lines, and for sending a representative to make presentations two years ago, without having any information to share with board members about the redistricting. "How do you come to make a presentation without any information prepared, or maps to show us," she said. "He could not answer questions."

On Wednesday, Gude Management Chief Executive Officer Sam Gude said he was not aware school board members had any problems with his company's performance with the re-districting, until Jackson told him about it on Tuesday.

The CEO said, "The information flow was probably not as good as it should have been," during the redistricting process, but he said his employees worked "under the directions of the superintendent [John Thompson] they had at the time."

He said his company has worked with 20 other school systems in Georgia and Alabama, and not received any complaints about the company's work from officials in those districts.

"We set out to do some work that would [help] the school system, and we still want to do that," Gude said.

In the end, it may come down to whether school board members believe Heatley and Jackson can do enough to hold the company's feet to the fire. On Monday, Heatley pleaded with board members to go ahead and approve Gude, and offered to take responsibility, if the company's work does not satisfy the school board.

"Allow me to do what I do," the superintendent said. "I will hold Dr. Jackson accountable, and Dr. Jackson will hold Gude accountable."

The school board is schedule to vote on the agreement on July 12.