Valdosta Daily Times

State News

October 1, 2012

Ga. school system in 2nd accreditation fight

JONESBORO, Ga. — A Georgia school system faces the second threat to its accreditation in four years, and that’s left residents worried about their children’s education as well as damage to the local economy.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools sent a letter last week to Clayton County school officials, warning that the system’s accreditation could be revoked again because of infighting among school board members and other concerns.

“I thought they wouldn’t be that stupid twice,” said Charmeca Jenkins of Ellenwood, who has three children attending high school in Clayton County and fears new sanctions against the schools could make it harder for her oldest son to go to college.

In 2008, Clayton County had the embarrassing distinction of becoming the nation’s first public school system to lose accreditation in nearly 40 years. The accrediting association blamed the school district’s elected board, saying it meddled in day-to-day operations of school and had frequent public squabbles that included berating staffing members during public meetings.

The impact was devastating, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/R4j8Xr ) Sunday. Clayton County schools lost at least $20 million in state education funds and more than 3,200 students fled the district. Business owners blamed the school debacle for worsening the blow of the economic meltdown the were already feeling from the real-estate market collapse.

This time, the accrediting association had ordered Clayton County school officials to answer its concerns in writing by Jan. 15. The association could take no action if it’s satisfied with the response. Or it could order an investigation that might lead to another loss of accreditation.

Karen Koschel, manager of a School Box education supply store near Morrow, said the 2008 school crisis definitely hurt her bottom line.

“It was a lot of extra stress and fear,” Koschel said. “We definitely had teachers buying less — sticking to budgets and returning excess supplies.”

At Jonesboro restaurant Butch’s, co-owner Gail Glancy said her business has also struggled since 2008. That’s largely because of the larger economic recession, but Glancy also partly blames the schools.

“We’ve just had so many jobs pulled out from here,” Glancy said. “And the school system isn’t helping a bit.”

The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce has gotten involved.

The chamber has been vetting candidates for the November school board elections with questionnaires.

“We understand how vitally important a strong school district is for our community and for economic development,” said Tim Hynes, the chamber’s chairman-elect.

Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton chapter of the Georgia Association of Educators, said he was shocked by the accrediting association’s warning letter.

Chapman, who attends every board meeting, said the current school board doesn’t always vote in lockstep, but it’s not nearly as disruptive as the previous board was in 2008 when it was “micromanaging and fighting to the point it had the community in disarray.”

“It’s not even in the same galaxy as it was before,” Chapman said.

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