By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley has been tasked with seeing if the county's top elected officials for education and government should meet to discuss student transportation. But, right now, there is no sign that a meeting will take place, according to the chairperson of the Clayton County Board of Education.
Alieka Anderson confirmed on Sept. 13, that the board of education had received a letter from Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell, who asked for a joint, public meeting to discuss transportation.
Just days before the 2010-2011 school year began, in August, the school system announced it was going to eliminate transportation to 4,600 students living within a mile and a half of the schools they attend. In some cases, it has resulted in traffic backlogs near schools, and in other cases, students have had to walk to, and from, school along roads that parents say are dangerous.
On Thursday, Anderson, and Bell, said no meeting has been set up.
"Dr. Heatley has been asked to deal with this," Anderson said. "He is going to talk to them, about when a meeting could be scheduled, or if talks need to even take place. We're going to let them talk, and go from there."
Anderson's declaration means the question is not when the school board and county commission will meet to discuss the student transportation issue, but rather if the two bodies will meet at all.
Anderson said she does believe joint meetings should take place, but there should be a good reason for such a meeting. "We need to see if there is a purpose for a joint meeting, and determine what that purpose is, to see if there really is a need to hold a meeting," she said. "You don't meet for no reason." She said she has not heard school board members express interest in a meeting with county commissioners.
Bell listed his reasons for a joint meeting in a letter dated Sept. 7, to Anderson. The commission chairman said he wanted to see what the commission could do to help ease the impact of the school system's student transportation policy on students, and their families.
"While that issue is solely in the hands of the school board, I feel it important that the Board of Commissioners do its part to lessen the impact that the changes have on your students," Bell wrote.
Bell said the commission could help in the areas of sidewalks, cross walks and lighting. A lack of an adequate number of sidewalks has been a concern several parents have expressed during public comment sections at school board meetings in August and September.
Bell also wanted the two elected bodies to sit down and discuss School Resource Officer (SRO) agreements between the school system and county government.
As superintendent, Heatley was the person who made the ultimate decision to enforce the busing policy. His argument has been that it was needed, due to budget cuts. The policy of not transporting students within a mile and a half of their schools has been on the books since 1981, but it had been several years since it was enforced.
On Thursday, Anderson said the school board was deferring to Heatley on a joint meeting with the county commission, because "that is a day-to-day operations issue, and that is something the board does not need to be getting into."
Micromanagement of the school system by school board members is one of the problems that led to the revocation of the school system's accreditation in 2008. The accreditation was restored by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in May 2009, but the school system is still on probation.
Bell said he did receive a letter from Heatley at the beginning of the week, in response to his letter to Anderson, but he declined to say what the school superintendent's reply was.
He did, however, explain what was not said in Heatley's response. "That letter did not address any of the concerns that I raised in my letter," Bell said.
Heatley, speaking through School System Spokesman Charles White, declined to comment on the matter.
Bell said he has not given up on the idea of the school board and county commission sitting down, in public, to work on the student transportation issue. "I'm very hopeful for a meeting to take place," he said. "We owe it, not just to ourselves, but to the community, to do this."