Thursday, August 28, 2008

Governor Removes Clayton County School Board Members

Governor Sonny Perdue issued an Executive Order today removing four members of the Clayton County School Board - Michelle Strong, Louise Baines-Hunter, Yolonda Everett and Sandra Scott - who were found by State Administrative Hearing Judge Michael Malihi to have violated their duties under state law. The Executive Order also formally removed Rod Johnson and Norreese Haynes who had previously resigned or been removed. The removal means special elections will be held in November to serve the remainder of Sandra Scott’s and Michelle Strong’s terms, which end on December 31, 2010. Regular elections are already being held for the seats occupied by Yolanda Everett and Louise Baines-Hunter, whose terms are up at the end of 2008.

“The fate of the Clayton County School System is now in the hands of the voters,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “Through the elections to replace these four board members, they can send a clear signal that the kind of behavior that has led to this ruling and the system’s loss of accreditation will not be tolerated. We can hope that this marks a new day for Clayton County, a time in which rebuilding can begin.”

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) today revoked accreditation of the Clayton County school system. SACS’s vote was largely based on the actions of the board. After the Governor’s decision to remove these four board members, all nine that were on the board when SACS began its investigation have now either resigned or been removed.

“I can only hope the remaining members of the board, parents and teachers will treat the loss of accreditation as a wake up call to pull together and make substantive changes in the way this system is operated,” Governor Perdue said. “Even the state’s offer of help was met with resistance from the board. We will now turn our focus to helping the system regain accreditation as quickly as possible.”

The remaining three Board members, Michael King, Trinia Garrett, and Alieka Anderson, are empowered to appoint individuals to fill the vacancies left by Johnson, Baines-Hunter and Everett. There will also be a special election for September 16, 2008 to fill a position vacated by board chairman Eddie White in April 2008. The terms of the new members appointed and elected in this fashion will end December 31, 2008. The persons filling those positions beginning January 1, 2009 will be elected in the November general election.

In April, Governor Perdue signed two pieces of legislation to help students who are affected by the Clayton County School District’s potential loss of accreditation: SB 480 and HB 1302. SB 480 allows students from schools that are accredited “currently or within the last two years” to receive the HOPE scholarship. HB 1302 put into place an extensive code of ethics for members of the Clayton County Board of Education and established a local ethics commission to review the actions of the school board and receive ethics complaints against board members.

Also, the University System of Georgia (USG) and the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) clarified their policies to reassure Clayton County parents and students that these institutions will continue to accept students from schools in the district, as long as they meet regular admission requirements.

In February, Governor Perdue appointed two Special Liaisons to serve in an advisory role and offer guidance to the Clayton County school board in completing the steps outlined by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Committee by September 1, 2008 to avoid a loss of the system’s accreditation. He also took a series of steps to help the system maintain its SACS accreditation by asking for state agency assistance in the three separate audits recommended by SACS. The state auditor’s office reviewed audits of the school system’s finances. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement audited the system’s attendance records. Governor Perdue also requested that Secretary of State Karen Handel, in her capacity as the state’s chief elections official, audit the election of the members of the Clayton County school board to ensure that such elections fully complied with Georgia law.

Governor Perdue even proposed legislation that would have allowed the voters to remove an entire school board of a system that loses accreditation. The bill, Senate Bill 535, failed to pass this legislative session.

Text of the Executive Order:

WHEREAS: On June 23, 2008, and pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 45-10-4, Dyane Simmons, George E. Glaze, George T. Brown, Albert B. Wallace and G. Robert Oliver (collectively “Petitioners”) filed charges with my office against Clayton County Board of Education members Michelle Strong, Lois Baines-Hunter, Sandra Scott, Yolanda Everett, Norreese Haynes, W. Rod Johnson and David Ashe (collectively “Respondents”); and

WHEREAS: The charges alleged that Respondents violated the State Code of Ethics, specifically: (1) the obligation to uphold the laws of the State of Georgia, O.C.G.A. § 45-10-3 (1); and (2) the obligation to “never engage in conduct that is unbecoming to a member or which constitutes a breach of the public trust,” O.C.G.A. § 45-10-3(8); and

WHEREAS: I determined that the charges levied against the Respondents raised sufficient, specific allegations that warranted review pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 45-10-4, and I appointed the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings to serve as my designated agent to “conduct a hearing for the purpose of receiving evidence relative to the merits of [the] charges;” and

WHEREAS: Administrative Law Judge Michael M. Malihi recommended on August 12, 2008 that Respondent W. Rod Johnson be removed based on Mr. Johnson’s “wish to resign rather than participate in the evidentiary hearing;” and

WHEREAS: Judge Malihi recommended on August 13, 2008 that Respondent Norreese Haynes be removed for failing to appear at the hearing; and

WHEREAS: Judge Malihi recognized that David Ashe was “also dismissed as a named Respondent because he had already effectively resigned from the Board at the time the hearing commenced;” and

WHEREAS: Judge Malihi presided over an extensive hearing and concluded that the Respondents Scott, Baines-Hunter, Strong and Everett each committed ethical violations prohibited by O.C.G.A. §§ 45-10-3(1) and 45-10-3(8); and

WHEREAS: I have reviewed Judge Malihi’s orders and determined that the charges are true.


ORDERED: Respondents Michelle Strong, Lois Baines-Hunter, Sandra Scott, Yolanda Everett, Norreese Haynes, and W. Rod Johnson be removed from office, and that the vacancies thereby created be filled as provided by law.

This 28th day of August, 2008.
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