By Joel Hall
In the wake of accreditation problems in Clayton County and other parts of the state, Georgia has become the only state in the nation to adopt state-wide standards for local school board governance, and a model code of ethics with which all boards of education will have 90 days to comply.
On Thursday, the State Board of Education unanimously adopted "Standards for Effective Governance of Georgia School Systems," a policy which is effective immediately and dictates how all school boards across the state should be governed. The board also adopted a "Model Code of Ethics," which will serve as the blueprint for new ethics policies all school boards will have to adopt by year's end.
A press release issued by the Georgia Department of Education on Thursday states that both the standards of governance and ethics model will "provide standards for continuous professional development for public servants to model effective school board governance within their communities."
"The standards and model ethics policy the State Board passed today will hold local school governance teams accountable and help guide their work to create the best possible learning environment for students," said State School Superintendent Brad Bryant, in a written statement. "I believe this action will help transform local boards of education in ways that will have a very positive effect on student achievement."
Both the standards of governance and Model Code of Ethics were called for in Senate Bill 84, which was signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Sonny Perdue in the aftermath of accreditation controversies which consumed the public school systems in Clayton and Warren counties.
The 15-page "Standards for Effective Governance of Georgia School Systems," states that school systems in Georgia have "been bombarded by external and internal forces that have distracted less-able boards from their mission" to educate and prepare children. The corrective measures cover topics such as board governance, the roles and responsibilities for board members, and ethical behavior for board members.
The three-page Model Code of Ethics explains how school board members should handle disagreements, conflicts of interest, and interaction with school system employees and members of the community. The code orders school board members to "honor the chain of command," leave the "day-to-day administration of the school system to the local superintendent," and "refuse to surrender his or her judgment to individuals or special interest groups," among other mandates.
The Model Code of Ethics also stresses that school board members are not to interfere in administrative functions, such as the hiring, transferring, or dismissing of employees.
James E. Bostic, Jr., state school board member for the fifth congressional district, served as co-chairman of the state-wide task force that drafted the new guidelines. He said that all local school boards will be required to adopt equal, or stricter, versions of the Model Code of Ethics within the next three months.
"It will be reviewed [by local school boards]," Bostic said. "They can add to it; they can make it tougher than what it is, if they so desire. Each school board will adopt it."
School board governance became a pressing state-wide concern in 2008 when Clayton County Public Schools lost its accreditation due to infighting and micromanaging among members of the school board. Gov. Perdue eventually removed several members of the Clayton school board as a result. The governor took similar actions in Warren County this year after members of the local school board were found in violation of district policies.
"I think it's great that we got some ethical legislation," Bostic said. "It has been an issue in a number of counties, not just Clayton. Warren County was another place where this was an issue for us. This was a good piece of legislation across the state."
Clayton School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said that the county has put many new ethics policies in place following the accreditation loss. She welcomed the new state mandates, saying they "can only compliment what we are doing."
"Many school board members have never seen the state of Georgia have to come in and do things like this, but, sometimes, there needs to be rules in place," Anderson said. "We're not the only board that is having problems. We were picked out as a dysfunctional board at the time. We just happened to be the example. I am glad that the state of Georgia has taken the initiative to make sure that these issues are resolved all over the state, not just in Clayton.
"This is not about us, it is about the children," she added. "When it gets to the point where we are worrying about the day-to-day issues of the school system, and we are not letting the superintendent do their job, we are stepping out of bounds."