Mar 16, 2008

JONESBORO, Ga. -- A suburban Atlanta school system should lose its accreditation on Sept. 1 following allegations against its school board of financial mismanagement and unethical behavior, a national accreditation commission ruled Saturday.

The ruling, if it stands, would mean that seniors who graduate starting next school year from the 50,000-pupil Clayton County school district will no longer be eligible for the HOPE scholarship, which uses state Lottery proceeds to give Georgia students who earn and maintain a certain grade point average free tuition to state colleges.

Losing accreditation also would jeopardize federal funding and student acceptance into college. And without accreditation, if legislation pending in Georgia passes the state Board of Education would be able to take over control of the Clayton school board.

The vote, at a meeting in Chicago, was 33-0 in favor of stripping the district of its accreditation, said Mark Elgart, head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which recommended the action its national commission took.

The vote was largely expected.

Reached Saturday night at home, Eddie White, vice chairman of the Clayton school board, would not say if the board will appeal the ruling.

Elgart said the only way for the school district to overturn the vote is a successful appeal to a panel appointed by the national accreditation commission or to comply within the next 5 1/2 months with a series of strict recommendations.

Elgart sounded doubtful the school system will be able to comply with the recommendations, which include addressing conflicts of interest, ethics issues, fiscal mismanagement and attendance records that were allegedly modified to show higher attendance rates.

"Unless there's significant outside support and intervention, the school system cannot satisfy and repair this situation in a sufficient way," Elgart said.

White said the school board recognizes the stakes.

"SACS made some recommendation for us, and we will respond to those nine recommendations," he said.

A scathing SACS report released Feb. 15 alleged that one Clayton school board member had a football coach fired for not handing over a game film featuring her son, and another spent more than $500 of school money at an Atlanta hotel.

The state is investigating the election of the board after allegations that others also do not live in their districts.

This is the second time in five years the school district has been dinged by SACS. In 2003, it was put on probation for issues similar to those detailed in the Feb. 15 report, but the problems were addressed and the system was cleared.

SACS has stripped a district of its accreditation only once before in the past decade. If it happens to Clayton County, it would be a first for a Georgia school system. (Source)
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