The school accreditation agency AdvancED will visit Liberty County School System months ahead of schedule because of school board issues, a letter said.
“AdvancED has determined that an onsite investigation is warranted and necessary to evaluate the adherence of Liberty County Schools to the Accreditation Standards for Quality School Systems,” AdvancED Chief Accreditation Officer Annette Bohling wrote in a March 13 letter to Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee.
AdvancED will visit Liberty in the fall, according to the letter. The group wasn’t scheduled to return to Liberty County until May 2018.
Bohling’s letter said AdvancED has received continuous complaints about board members.
The letter refers to recent allegations that include a board member accused of violating school district policy regarding access to school facilities and the discussion of personnel issues outside of executive session.
The letter refers to the complaint by former LCSS Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese, accusing the BoE and Lee of violating school policies regarding banking services.
The visit comes at a time when LCSS is in the midst of a five-year external review process. School systems are evaluated by AdvancED every five years to maintain accreditation.
LCSS’s first review began March 6, 2016 when AdvancED sent a team of six educators to Liberty County.
Records show AdvancED interviewed 324 people, including six board members, the superintendent, 50 administrators, 83 teachers and 49 support staff members, 16 parents, 15 community people and 104 students.
Overall, LCSS graded well and in some areas was above the national average.
The results were provided to the LCSS identifying certain areas which needed improvements and The LCSS was given until May 2018 to make those improvements.
One of the areas the AdvancED team found during its evaluation that needed improvement was the governing board of the school system.
the ERP Team interviewed six of the seven board members, one at a time, and determined that though most had attended the necessary training provided by the Georgia School Board Association, not all were using it.
The review team reported there were a number of situations when board members were not operating responsibly and functioning effectively.
The report cited mediation between board members and discussion of possible board sanctions had been noted in minutes of board meetings.
AdvancED reviewers found meeting minutes of board members arguing over petty things, such as not dressing appropriately. But they also found board members saying some were interfering during the election process.
“One Board member shared how he was trying to decide what he could do to get the right people to oppose the Board members who were currently on the Board,” the AdvancED report stated. “Board members shared how some used Facebook postings and radio announcements as avenues to discredit other Board members.”
AdvancED reported it was clear that the board had “problems” related to the LCSS code of ethics and its training.
The rancor may be clouding the public’s trust in the BoE’s ability to govern effectively. AdvancED reviewers found that surveys showed less than half of parents thought the school board did its job well.
“Survey results substantiated some areas of concern within the Board governance,” the report stated. “When surveyed, parent responses from the twelve schools varied fro
from 18.31 percent to 40.13 percent strongly agreeing to “Our governing board operates responsibly and functions effectively.”
Similarly, the statement “Our governing board does not interfere with the operations of the leadership of our schools,” showed parent responses ranged from 25.7 percent to 40.67 percent strongly agreeing.
Staff responses ranged from 26.03 to 48.68 percent of those surveyed strongly agreeing to “The governing board maintains a distinction between its roles and responsibilities and those of leadership.”
Staff responses to “The governing body complies with its policies, procedures, laws, and regulations” ranged from 26.44 percent to 61.54 percent strongly agreeing.”
“For a school system to be effective, it must operate under governance and leadership that promote and support the administration of the system and its schools,” ERP Team noted on their report.”
Based on the findings the ERP Team advised the LCSS to provide more focused training and support for the BoE.
Since last year’s review, AdvancED has received three letters about the board’s behavior and its alleged noncompliance with or violations of policies.
One was dated July of last year. Another was dated Feb. 15, and a third letter
was more recent.
Those letters prompted AdvancED to send what it calls a Special Review Team, “to provide all parties with the opportunity to review information and evidence related to the stated concerns so that an informed decision can be made as to the validity and extent of alleged violations relating to the Accreditation Standards and Indicators.”
According to the letter, the LCSS is responsible for all costs associated with the on-site review, including the a fee of $4, 300 and all related travel costs of the agency’s “special review team.”