Haven’t we been here before with Clayton County? (And other counties as well, including several in rural Georgia.)
Did we learn anything from Clayton’s earlier woes or does the latest friction point to the larger problem of having citizens run school systems?
The AJC has a news story about the Clayton County school board chair suggesting that the governor intervene and remove some school board members to save the school system from losing accreditation again.
“We’ve had troubles on the board. We’ve had troubles for a long time,” Chairwoman Pamela Adamson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday.
Jacob Vigdor, a Duke public policy and economics professor whose writings I have run on the blog, issued a statement yesterday on the antics of the Wake County, N.C., school board, which fired its superintendent.
I thought Vigdor’s comment applied here:
When contemplating the ongoing soap opera that is the Wake County School Board, it is important to bear in mind that Wake is one of the 20 largest school districts in the United States. There are more than 17,000 districts across the country, the vast majority of them much smaller than Wake County. If the nation’s largest districts, those we might think of as having the best shot at professional management, can’t take care of themselves, how can we expect anything of the thousands of tiny districts across the country?
The United States delegates important education policy choices to over 17,000 local school boards and administrators. The overwhelming majority of these officials have minimal expertise in policy analysis — and clearly some have penchants for political vendettas that trump policy analysis. This has to be considered one of the key reasons American students lag behind those in other developed countries.
It’s time for a discussion of whether school boards work any more, given the complexity, costs and consequences of education today.
Consider the Clayton saga: In 2008, Gov. Sonny Perdue intervened after Clayton lost its accreditation and ordered the removal of four school board members. The district got a new board and a new school chief and regained accreditation.
But now, Superintendent Edmond Heatley departs tomorrow, and the district is again on shaky ground with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for school board governance issues that could jeopardize accreditation. The issues include board member conflicts and attacks by some members on the school system and its personnel, wrote Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED, the parent company of SACS, in a letter.
Adamson said a majority of the school board members are working diligently to help the school system, which regained accreditation in 2011. But “certain board members have caused trouble almost since Day 1,” she said. Adamson declined to identify the school board members, but said one board member sent about 1,000 emails to Heatley in a 20-month period.
“He was so inundated he couldn’t do his job,” Adamson said, adding that a majority of the school board voted to change its protocol for how board members should communicate with the superintendent.
The board also has issued reprimands and imposed sanctions on individual members. Board member Jessie Goree was barred from serving as board chair or vice chair for two years and from collecting expense money for conferences and other travel, according to information on the school system’s website.
Goree was rebuked twice by the board — once for making derogatory remarks about board members and the superintendent and once based on a complaint by Heatley about her conduct at a meeting with parents, according to news reports. Goree acknowledged some friction on the board. “It’s normal stuff that happens when you have nine people trying to have a discussion,” she said. “There’s no perfection here.”
New SACS scrutiny comes just as Clayton is losing its superintendent. Heatley leaves the school system Friday after three years. He was in his office Wednesday but did not respond to requests for interviews.
Asked whether his departure is related to conflicts with some board members, Adamson said: “I wouldn’t be surprised. I know he has endured constant attacks since he’s been here.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog