The Muscogee County School Board is on track to hire a familiar lawyer as its independent counsel for legal advice on how the board’s controversial conduct might affect the school district’s accreditation.
A week after the board voted 5-2-1 in a called meeting to seek such an arrangement, chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 said during Monday night’s monthly meeting that only one of the four lawyers she and Laurie McRae of District 5 have contacted has the necessary expertise and availability to provide this service before the Muscogee County School District’s accreditation agency, AdvancED, visits Oct. 29 through Nov. 1.
And that lawyer is Glenn Brock, Green said.
Brock is the partner in the Atlanta office of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough who was the MCSD board’s consultant for hiring its three most recent superintendents. Green told the Ledger-Enquirer after the meeting she expects the board to vote on the selection next month.
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Brock also is the attorney the Clayton County School Board hired to handle the school system’s 2008 response to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ recommendation to revoke accreditation because of “alleged micromanagement, unethical behavior and misuse of district funds by board members,” the Henry Herald reported. It was the first school system in the nation to lose accreditation in 40 years, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Clayton regained full accreditation in July 2016, the AJC reported.
In November 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal used his authority under state law to suspend all five members of the Dooly County School Board after AdvancED threatened that school district’s accreditation because of governance issues.
For approximately 45 minutes Monday night, the MCSD board rehashed the debate about the wisdom of hiring an independent counsel. Voting yes July 11 to seek an independent counsel were Green, McRae, Naomi Buckner of District 4, Mark Cantrell of District 6 and Cathy Williams of District 7. Voting no were John Thomas of District 2, who participated via phone, and Frank Myers of District 8. Vanessa Jackson of District 3 abstained. Vice chairwoman Kia Chambers, the nine-member board’s lone countywide representative, was absent.
The board’s attorney, Greg Ellington of the Hall Booth Smith office in Columbus, recommended the independent counsel after Myers accused him in a June 22 email to the board of “intentionally misleading the board” in the Montravious Thomas case, “and he also played a part in orchestrating the delay in advising the board this event of Montravious being injured had even occurred,” Myers wrote.
Ellington has called the allegations “completely unfounded and baseless,” but he wants to avoid a conflict of interest on this issue.
Montravious, then 13, is the student Bryant Mosley, a contracted behavior specialist, allegedly body-slammed “no less than” five times while disciplining Montravious Sept. 12 in the alternative education AIM Program at the Edgewood Student Services Center, according to the $25 million lawsuit filed March 13 on Montravious’ behalf after his right leg was amputated below the knee Oct. 18.
At various points Monday night, Thomas, Myers and Chambers asked Green for more specifics about the scope of the independent counsel’s task. Green paraphrased her answer from last week: “The specific question was related to board conduct and that we’re coming up for accreditation review and we do have some concerns board conduct being an issue for us for our accreditation, and we want to make sure, to be proactive, to put our best foot forward.”
After further questioning, Green agreed to Chambers’ request to put the independent counsel’s parameters in writing.
The board also rehashed its debate about whether board conduct is a factor in accreditation. Both sides of the argument quoted Jay Wansley, the AdvancED associate director for Georgia who addressed the board July 11. He said then, “We’re not focusing on the school board. Let me be clear: Teaching and learning is what we’re about.”
But he also gave the board AdvancED’s “Standards for Quality” for school system accreditation. It addresses school board conduct, termed as the “governing body” in three indicators listed:
▪ Indicator 2.1 The governing body establishes policies and supports practices that ensure effective administration of the system and its schools.
▪ Indicator 2.2 The governing body operates responsibly and functions effectively.
▪ Indicator 2.3 The governing body ensures that the leadership at all levels has the autonomy to meet goals for achievement and instruction and to manage day-to-day operations effectively.
Superintendent David Lewis said that the MCSD board, before it hired him in July 2013 from Polk County, Fla., where he was an associate superintendent, received “a notation about governance concerns” from AdvancED during its 2012 accreditation. That was cleared up in December 2014, Lewis said.
MCSD’s current five-year accreditation expires June 30, 2018.