Troubled Ga. district loses accreditation

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JONESBORO, Ga. - A national agency revoked the Clayton County school district's accreditation Thursday, an unusual move blamed in part on what has been called a "dysfunctional" school board.

The 50,000-student district met only one of nine mandates laid out in a scathing February report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, agency head Mark Elgart said.

The district has known for six months that it would lose accreditation Monday if it didn't meet the report's requirements but only started work on the problems three months ago, Elgart said.

The school system already is down about 2,000 students this year, mostly because of its shaky footing with the Decatur-based accrediting agency.

Meanwhile, Gov. Sonny Perdue ousted four members of the school board Thursday based on a judge's recommendation that they be removed for violating Georgia's open meetings laws and ethics code.

"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," Perdue said in a statement.

Clayton County Superintendent John Thompson said the district did its best to prove it was fixing its problems.

"We should have gotten a little more consideration," Thompson said at a news conference at school headquarters in Jonesboro.

He said the district would appeal the ruling within the required 10 days and remain accredited during that process.

Losing accreditation means students who graduate from the district won't be eligible for some scholarships or admission to many colleges. It also could drive down property values in the county and hurt economic development, community leaders have said.

If the district meets SACS' mandates in the next year, accreditation will be granted retroactively so that this year's graduating class will have accredited diplomas, Elgart said.

SACS' February report blamed the district's woes on a "dysfunctional" and "fatally flawed" school board, a problem that still remains despite many of the members resigning over the last six months, Elgart said. The school board gave too much power to new Superintendent John Thompson to make decisions without consulting the board, which violated state law, SACS standards and the board's policies, Elgart said.

He said yanking the district's accreditation was necessary to wake up board members who continued to point fingers rather than focus on fixing the system's problems.

"A greater injustice would be for SACS to turn and look the other way and grant accreditation to a school system that does not deserve it, and in doing so validate that the current way of operating is best for students," Elgart said.

A team from the association visited the Georgia school district last week to review whether the district had done enough to keep its accreditation.

Parents said they were surprised by SACS's decision.

"I really was shocked," said Wendy Labat, who has a fifth- and ninth-grader enrolled in Clayton County schools and does not plan to pull them out of the district. "It had to be done to send the right message, but it's unfortunate that kids will have to suffer."

Monika Penny said she already has called the school district to find out what she needs to do to remove her twin boys, Joshua and Kaleb. The two will finish their senior year in a dual enrollment program at Clayton State University so they have accredited diplomas, she said.

"This is serious, and I hope parents can do something to salvage at least the seniors for next year," Penny said. "It's sad."

Clayton County was put on probation in 2003 for similar issues, but the problems were resolved and a new board elected.

Five years later, the same school board misbehavior was back and worse than ever, SACS officials said. The agency launched an investigation just before Christmas after board members began filing grievances against each other with SACS.

On the Net:

Clayton County Schools

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

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