Power shift ahead for Fayette Board of Education?


With a newly elected member, the Fayette County Board of Education’s first meeting of 2011 on Jan. 4 may see a shift in voting power.

The board’s alignment for the past few years has featured a 3-to-2 split sometimes, with board members Bob Todd and Marion Key being on the short end of the vote.

That may change in the coming year as Sam Tolbert joins the five-member board, replacing Lee Wright, who did not run for reelection.

Wright was a dependable third vote for board Chairwoman Terri Smith and member Janet Smola. With Wright gone, the pendulum may swing in favor of Todd and Key. The first test of that shift may come with the vote to elect the new chairman for the coming year.

Strictly an organizational meeting with fewer agenda items than usual, one of the issues up for a vote will concern the day of the week that the board’s regular and called meetings will occur.

The school board had for a number of years held its meetings on Monday nights. But that changed last year when the board voted 3-2 in favor of moving the meeting nights to Tuesdays, ostensibly to give the public two full business days, Mondays and Tuesdays, to review the agenda and supporting documentation on the school system’s website.

But the change in meeting days often failed to bring a more timely release of data, with the agenda and supporting documentation sometimes not being posted until mid- or late Mondays and, at other times, early in the day on Tuesdays.

The idea of going back to holding board meetings on Mondays surfaced earlier this month and the school board at the Dec. 14 meeting was given a list of tentative meeting dates for 2011, one occurring on Mondays and the other on Tuesdays.

Little mention of the issue was made Dec. 14, with the exception of board member Janet Smola noting that she had to work on Mondays and would have that obligation until the summer.

For a number of years the school board held its meetings on Mondays. But that changed last year. During the January 2010 organizational meeting, then-superintendent John DeCotis appeared to advocate for moving the meetings to Tuesdays, saying he had received feedback from the public and some on the board that they would like to have more time to look over agenda items and the supporting documentation provided on the school system’s website.

And at that meeting Chairman Smith, in advocating for changing the meeting days from Mondays to Tuesdays, said, “It seems like an extra day would help us get our homework done. Sometimes it’s kind of crazed on Mondays.”

So the board voted 3-2 to move the meetings to Tuesdays with the agenda and supporting documentation to be posted on the school system’s website early enough on Mondays to give board members and the public two full business days to review the agenda information.

Board member Bob Todd last year also weighed in on the topic, saying the major issue is the deadline for staff to get their information in and for that information to be given to the board.

“If that’s not done it doesn’t matter if the meeting is on Monday or Tuesday,” he said. “There’s got to be a deadline that’s set. So is it necessary to change the day or is it conducive to set a deadline on Thursday (prior to the meeting)?”

Todd also mentioned that in years past the board held to Monday meeting days to give the local press adequate lead time for issues they wanted to cover.

Smola responded, saying that the newspapers could publish the stories in the next day’s paper.

Todd’s idea of establishing a deadline day for staff to submit information for the meetings was carried forward by board member Marion Key.

“We still don’t get some documents until we get to the board meeting,” Key said, reiterating the point that both the board and the public need access to information earlier than now exists.

Board member Lee Wright agreed, saying, “Lots of times we don’t get (information) for the work sessions until we get here.”

Responding to Key’s question about getting supporting documentation for agenda items a week ahead of time, Smola said that was not possible.

Also commenting on the issue of requiring staff to submit agenda information prior to Fridays, DeCotis said the district in the past tried for a Wednesday cutoff but the schools could not get all the information in on time. DeCotis said he would be willing to try a Thursday deadline.

After the brief discussion the idea of calling for a deadline day was dismissed by the majority. The discussion ended with a 3-2 vote to change the board’s meeting day to Tuesdays. Smith, Smola and Wright voted to t
he change, while Todd and Key were opposed.
The Citizen in a mid-2010 review of nearly a dozen large school systems around the metro Atlanta area found that the Fayette County School System lags behind nearly a dozen school systems in metro Atlanta in terms of a required deadline for staff to submit supporting documentation used at board meetings and in posting the agenda and supporting documentation on-line for public review prior to the meeting date.

Those school systems include, Coweta, Henry, Gwinnett, Forsyth, Cobb, Fulton, Douglas, Clayton, DeKalb and Cherokee counties.