The SACS special review team, which conducted interviews with board members, Polk School District employees and members of the community on March 18, found that the nine-member school board was in immediate violation of SAC’s governing standards.
The probation status goes into effect for the 2004-2005 school year and ultimately means that the school board will have one year to show their compliance with SAC’s policies of government or else the school district’s accreditation could be lost.
Loss of accreditation for local schools could spell out big problems for graduating seniors, as most colleges in the South use this term of approval as a way to measure the quality of education a student has received.
A SACS appointed special review team, which conducted the initial March investigation, will revisit the school system in September 2004 to assess the systems’ progress in relation to complying with the agency’s standards and policies.
In April of 2005, the special review team will once again visit the school district, review its progress and recommend the accreditation status for Polk County schools.
According to the special review team’s written report that was made available to The Standard Thursday afternoon, SACS believes that the board of education should take several immediate steps to ensure a solid accreditation status for Polk schools.
The SACS team report states that the board should refocus its commitments and energies to the educational welfare of all students and ensure that all actions made by the board are within applicable laws and regulations. The report also states that the board should seek guidance from an outside professional source regarding their roles as an elected officials of Polk County.
The report does not exclusively name members of the board who are in violation of policy, but does allude to several individuals that have contributed to the district’s impending probationary status.
SACS specifically mentions that two or more members of the Polk County School Board “continually ignore” policies set by the board itself, and “operates almost on a daily basis in clear violation” of basic Board of Education policies.
Those interviewed by the SACS team referred to meetings held by the board as “embarrassing,” “intimidating,” “chaotic” and “dysfunctional.”
The report cites one meeting specifically in which a physical confrontation between a board member and a spouse of a board member took place, and goes on to say that one board member “has challenged and threatened a representative of the news media.”
SACS also reports that board members have “blatantly circumvented policies” in several matters including the reviewing of personnel files and evaluations, entering classrooms and speaking with teachers during classtime, giving direct instructions to personnel, threatening employees with dismissal, receiving bids outside the bidding process and ordering materials without authorization.
“Almost every person interviewed stated that their board members representing the Rockmart and Cedartown areas are very divided in their decision-making process… and actions are based on this division rather than the best interest of all students,” the report maintains.
The report stated there is evidence the Board of Education has been in direct violation of state law and its own policy by not giving the Superintendent an annual written evaluation. The SACS team called this premeditated failure to provide mandatory annual evaluations of the superintendent.
The investigative team stated in the report that statements made by those interviewed clearly indicate the preferential treatment for certain individuals and nepotism has occurred. Principals stated that they have been directed by board members to change their personnel recommendations to individuals the principals feel are less qualified for the job. In some cases job assignments and transfers were viewed as harassment or punishments due to conflicts with individual board members.
In an epilogue of its report, the SACS investigative team included this statement.
“Because some of the Polk County Board members have moved outside the parameters of their policies and procedures there exists little or no direction for the effective and efficient operation of the Polk County Schools. The focus of the community is now on the behavior of members of the Board of Education rather than on what is happening to the educational welfare of children. Comments from employees of the system indicate that there is an environment of apprehension, intimidation and mistrust in the system.
“Equity of educational opportunities should not be a happenstance of the community where a student resides, but should be ensured by the decisions of the board members who have been entrusted to guard the educational welfare of all students. Decisions should never be based on where a board member lives but only on what is in the best interest of all children regardless of where they go to school.
“In a school system the board of education is charged with providing leadership for education. There is no room on school boards for individuals who are rude, profane and arrogant in their relationships with others and their conduct during and after meetings... the students, parents, employees of the school system, and other citizens deserve, expect and demand nothing less from its elected Board of Education.”
The initial investigation into the board’s behavior began when SACS received numerous calls and written communications from concerned individuals in Polk County.