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Rumored names swirl in Clayton Schools job cuts

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley has been promising for months to cut several high-level school system positions, including those of three members of his cabinet, and 10 coordinators, as part of his $84 million budget-reduction plan.

At no point, however, would Heatley say what people, serving in which positions, would see their jobs eliminated. Those employees are now finding out their job status as the district's Human Resources Department has, in recent weeks, been sending out contracts for next year, and calling non-renewed employees into meetings to tell them of their status.

As those contracts have gone out, rumors have begun to swirl about which jobs in the district's central office have been cut. The Clayton News Daily has been told by multiple sources that Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Valya Lee, Area I Assistant Superintendent Derrick Manning, and the district's Special Assistant to the Superintendent, Luvenia Jackson, are the three cabinet members whose positions have been cut.

Lee, however, is the only one of the three cabinet members who has confirmed that her cabinet position is among the three being dropped. "My position has been eliminated," said Lee. "They told me that, as part of the superintendent's budget-reduction plan, three cabinet positions were being cut, and that mine was one of them ... They did tell me I could apply for anything that is available after May 15."

She said she learned her position had been cut during a meeting with School System Deputy Superintendent Stefanie Phillips, Chief Academic Officer Diana Carry, and Chief Human Resources Officer Douglas Hendrix on the morning of May 7.

Lee briefly served as the school system's interim superintendent last year. She is the highest-profile name among those mentioned as likely cuts. She led the district from March 2009, until Heatley took the helm on July 1, 2009. Lee had also applied for, and interviewed for, the permanent superintendent's position when it was available last year.

She has been a member of the superintendent's cabinet since 2003, except for a brief stint in 2006-2007, when she worked for Rockdale County Public Schools. In recent months, Lee's name has surfaced as a superintendent finalist in Albany, Americus, and Birmingham, Ala.

On May 7, and again on Wednesday, she said she is still in shock about her position being cut, and has not yet decided if she will apply for another position in the district. "I'm still trying to process this," she said on Wednesday.

Employees hit by the elimination of positions, will remain in their current jobs until June 30, which is the end of fiscal year 2010. Their job eliminations are part of the fiscal year 2011 budget, which does not go into effect until July 1. The Clayton County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on tentative adoption of the new budget at its work session May 24.

Officially, the district will not confirm the names of anyone whose position has been cut in the system's central office. When first contacted on May 7 about rumors concerning Lee's position, School System Spokesman Charles White said he could neither confirm, nor deny, the rumor.

After a reporter compiled a list of rumored employees, including Lee, Manning, Jackson, and several coordinators, and e-mailed it to White for confirmation on Wednesday, the district spokesman again remained mum on the issue.

"The district is still involved in implementing its reorganization plan," said White, in a written statement. "Any further comment on this personnel matter would be inappropriate."

Phone calls have been made to Manning's office and cell phone numbers, and an e-mail was sent to his school system-provided e-mail account, but he could not be reached for comment. In the past, Manning has served as the principal at North Clayton High School, and in the district's old assistant superintendent of high schools position.

As the Area I assistant superintendent, Manning oversees Charles R. Drew, North Clayton and Riverdale high schools, as well as their feeder elementary and middle schools.

When Jackson, a longtime employee of the school system, was reached by telephone, she would not confirm, or deny, the rumors about her position. She, instead, directed a reporter to pose any questions to the superintendent. "You'll need to speak with Dr. Heatley about that," she said. "Since the district is still undergoing its reorganization, I would not want to say anything that might be out of line."

Jackson has recently overseen the re-writing of the district's strategic plan, and fund-raising efforts for Heatley's new scholarship program for Clayton County students.

According to Heatley's budget reduction plan, the elimination of three cabinet positions will save $447,490 per year. School officials have already said that all tenured employees, however, will be given first dibs on vacancies, after the May 15 deadline for employees to return their signed contracts passes.

Among the school system coordinators, Lisa Orr, a 21-year employee, has confirmed that her position has been eliminated. She is the district's Coordinator of Elementary Language Arts. She said she, and other academic coordinators whose positions were cut, have been offered other jobs in the district. "What they told us is, if you had tenure, you'll get a teaching contract," Orr said. "We have already received our contracts, but we have not received our assignments yet. They'll look at the needs of the district, and where you're assigned, depends on what you're certified to teach ... The assignments will be made after May 20."

According to the budget-reduction plan, the elimination of 10 coordinator positions will save the district $1.07 million per year.

Two other coordinators, whose positions are rumored to have been eliminated, could not be reached for confirmation of their employment status on Thursday.