Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

February 13, 2013

School system’s accreditation probation continues

SACS cites BOE’s lack of oversight, accountability

AMERICUS — SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) still has concerns if the Sumter County Board of Education (BOE) has the ability to effectively govern the district, according to a report from an AdvancED monitoring team that visited here in December.

The Sumter County Schools System made a report available to the public this week from AdvancED (parent company of SACS) monitoring team that visited the school district Dec.11-13, 2012, to review progress the board has made since SACS first visited in April 2012.

One concern in the report deals with “votes by the board that reflect questionable practice and not in the public’s financial interest,” particularly legal action that some board members were not aware the Board’s attorney was authorized to take. The monitoring team expressed concern that the board’s majority may be delegating their responsibility to openly direct action taken by their attorney.

Legal actions supporting this concern include a motion to expunge the report from the Sumter County Grand Jury, a 55-page continuation motion with the State Board of Education and directing another attorney to file a lawsuit against the Governor and the State Board of Education.

“Several board members reported that there was never a vote recorded permitting these actions by their attorney, especially the action to file suit against the Governor and the State Board of Education. The public should know who authorized these types of legal actions and the cost to the system for legal bills,” the report states.

However other members told the review team that the attorney was authorized. The team found in the official minutes that motions made concerning legal matters were often “vague and generalized” and added that such motions could be “an innocent mistake or an attempt to give blanket approval and complete discretion to the board attorney.”

The report calls for a formal vote from the board and says that these types of decisions lack oversight in keeping down legal costs. The report also calls into question such authorizations as telling the attorney to “handle the report,” referring to the Grand Jury’s report. The monitoring team says these types of decisions leave community stakeholders “confused and concerned” and illustrate a lack of direction and control exercised by the board over its own attorney.

In terms of public funds, the team addressed public concerns about the $10,000 in legal fees being paid to the second attorney, Brian Watkins, to seek an injunction against the State Board of Education and the Governor. This subject raised more questions from the review team in that the ordeal has caused more public confusion because only six of the nine board members are being represented by Watkins in the injunction hearing. Further, the report states that in interviews with the board members and Superintendent that a vote to authorize the lawsuit against Governor Nathan Deal and the State Board of Education was never authorized.

This example of legal fees being dispensed without a vote being taken, illustrates to SACS, according to the December report, “diminishes the accountability of those responsible for the actions.”

The report says the lack of effective leadership and lack of openness and transparency is leading to the erosion of public trust and suggest extensive training on proper Board procedure.

The monitoring team also found that the required action of implementing a written redistricting plan had not been addressed by the board. The board did vote following the monitoring team’s visit to move forward with its own nine-member district plan. The report directs the board to comply with the ruling issued by the federal court.

The report states that the board is currently engaged in addressing other required actions including communication of plans for the school system by the Superintendent and his appointed communications team, comprehensive review of all board policies and a written plan for unifying the board in order to serve the needs of the children of Sumter County.

On Jan. 20 the AdvancedED Accreditation Commission approved the recommendation by the monitoring team of the continuation of status of accreditation probation.

The Sumter County School Board meets at 7 p.m. today in the board’s meeting room in the Central Office, 100 Learning Lane. The meeting is open to the public.

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