Bartow County residents file SACS complaint
by Mark Andrews
Dec 05, 2012 | 3012 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County residents Paul Nally and Gail Englehardt have filed a complaint to AdvancED, the organization that oversees the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, regarding the actions of the Bartow County Board of Education. It is the second complaint to be filed to the organization concerning the BCBOE this year.

According to the complaint, mailed Nov. 30, “We believe that the majority of this Board’s problems stem from a lack of psychological preparedness on the part of these public officials to work in a cooperative, harmonious and respectful environment, both among themselves and, of special note, toward other stakeholders. Further, as other evidence shall establish, too many of them tend to micromanage the personnel of their little fiefdom and revel in their perceived power plays rather than focusing their attention on higher priority administrative tasks.

“They seem to have forgotten that the people elected public servants, not feudal lords. Sadly, this seems to be allowed by the Superintendent even though none seem able to exhibit any degree of skill in properly managing the most valuable asset of the system, its employees, which is not a function of their office. Their ability to comprehensively read the English language is also in serious question.”

The complaint alleges the board has failed to comply with system policy and local and state law in the appointment of Anna Sullivan to the Post 5 seat before holding a special election. It also cites board members Angie Cornett and John Howard and text messages regarding personnel matters posted on the website www.bartowforabetterboe, which have yet to be contested by board members.

The citizens’ complaint questions whether Superintendent John Harper was influenced by Cornett and Howard on a personnel decision and also calls for an ethics probe of Cornett.

The first complaint was filed this summer by a number of community members as well as board member Wanda Cagle Gray, who will leave her Post 4 seat in January to the newly elected Fred Kittle. After receiving a response letter from Harper, the organization stated it found no reason to conduct an investigation, but said the board should act in a “spirit of harmony.”

In November, The Daily Tribune News conducted a Q&A with AdvancED President and CEO Mark Elgart regarding various scenarios of the investigation process:

At what point does SACS feel it is necessary to conduct an investigation after a formal complaint has been made?

A: Complaints are reviewed to determine if there is a possible violation of Accreditation Standards. If this appears a possibility, AdvancED/SACS sends a letter to the superintendent asking for a response to the complaints and possible violations of the standards. Depending on the response from the superintendent and other evidence available, a determination is made whether an investigation is needed.

What does a typical investigation include?

A: When AdvancED conducts a Special Review visit, in general, the team interviews the board of education members, the superintendent, senior staff, as well as representatives from the schools and the community. The team also reviews documents and evidence related to the complaints being investigated.

At what point in the year does a school system typically renew or lose its SACS accreditation and when does the renewal or loss of accreditation become official?

A: Schools and school systems are accredited for a five-year term. Generally the commission meets in January and June.

If a school system is to lose its SACS accreditation, what does this mean for students in terms of their access to local and accredited schools? Also, what does losing the accreditation mean for students approaching graduation and looking at attending a school within the University System of Georgia or the Technical College System of Georgia?

A: First and foremost, loss of accreditation is a long road. Institutions are given time to comply with any required actions to meet the Standards for Accreditation. Most institutions that face difficulties in meeting the requirements of accreditation quickly seek help and address the needed changes proactively. The loss of accreditation does make it more difficult for students to transfer credits seamlessly. Additionally, there are some colleges and universities, as well as scholarships, financial aid and military programs that require students to come from an accredited institution. Students still have choices, but it is imperative that they understand the application and admission requirements.

What would you consider to be the far-reaching repercussions of a system losing accreditation (i.e., have you witnessed communities losing jobs and businesses due to losing accreditation)?

A: In 2008, Clayton County School System lost its accreditation. This was the first school system in 40 years. Clayton County community members have shared that in addition to a loss of students to the school system, local businesses and the economy were affected.

Does SACS have the power to remove school board members?

A: No.

Can you explain the role of a SACS state chairman?

A: In each of our states and regions, we have a council that supports the state office staff. The council provides support for professional development activities sponsored by the state office, the council provides feedback to the state staff regarding activities and initiatives, and the council reviews all accreditation activities within the state before reports and accreditation recommendations are sent to the Accreditation Commission. The council chair presides over the council meetings.

[Board Chairman Davis Nelson also serves as Georgia’s SACS state chairman.]

And, finally, could you explain what you deem a “spirit of harmony” in regard to board operations? And at what point would you determine a board is not following a “spirit of harmony”?

A: As part of the AdvancED Standards, Standard 2: Governance and Leadership:

“The governing body operates responsibly and functions effectively.This includes collaboratively making decisions in the best interest of the school system and working together in a collegial group to support student achievement. A board absent of professionalism and in constant strife will struggle to meet the requirements of a responsible and effectively functioning board. Thus, a spirit of harmony reflects a positive culture and commitment to do what is in the best interest of all students.”