SACS sends warning letter to Clayton schools

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SACS sends warning letter to Clayton schools

Clayton County school officials were warned Tuesday that their system’s accreditation could be back in jeopardy because of school board infighting, micromanaging and grandstanding.

In a letter to departing school Superintendent Ed Heatley, Mark Elgart, head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting agency, said some of the recent actions of school board members “could put your school system’s current and future accreditation in jeopardy.”

In 2008, Clayton lost accreditation, becoming the first school system in the country in nearly 40 years to have that happen. The system regained accreditation in 2011 and since has gained 4,000 students. Thousands of students fled the system after the district lost its accreditation, fearing their diplomas might not be recognized.

Clayton is the second metro Atlanta school district to draw SACS scrutiny this month. A SACS team will visit DeKalb County Schools next week to investigate how its board operates after complaints the board was interfering with administrative functions.

Clayton school board Chairwoman Pamela Adamson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. District spokesman David Waller said he had not seen a copy of the letter from SACS.

“We welcome their investigation and their interest in our system,” Waller said. “If they determine there is a problem, we will — as we have in the past — move as quickly as possible.”

Clayton school board members have made some progress since SACS’ last intervention, including better budget controls, Elgart told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview late Tuesday.

But he said the Clayton board members appear to have resumed some of their former problematic ways, particularly as Heatley’s departure became imminent. Heatley’s last day on the job is Friday.

In recent weeks, Elgart said, SACS has received reports about “divisiveness among board members and influences from the outside.”

Board members also can’t agree on a process for searching for a new school superintendent and are looking at conducting the search themselves “when they don’t have the ability, the skill,” Elgart said.

SACS required the board to have a national search conducted by an outside firm when Heatley was hired three years ago.

“And we haven’t changed our view,” Elgart said.

SACS has given the school board until Jan. 15 to report on the progress of its superintendent search, he said.

The board also will have until then to say “what they’re doing to address the divisiveness that is starting to rear its ugly head again,” Elgart said.

Elgart said the letter was sent to Heatley as a “proactive” move.

“This is giving them a heads-up,” he said.

Elgart said the accreditation agency has heard reports of individual board members threatening to sue each other, refusing to comply with board policies and berating school system employees in public.

He said this is “grandstanding, more or less” and “not necessary.”

The actions of some board members are “designed to create a line of controversy and center the attention on the individual board member,” Elgart said. “They are turning into seven individual political entities, rather than a board. If you go back in Clayton 20 years, every time you have a superintendent change, this same type of thing happens … the same people come out of the woodwork.”

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