At one time, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was a rather harmless private enterprise that almost gratuitously gave out its “good housekeeping seal of approval” to colleges and schools if you kept a modicum of standards and did not get too far out of line and were willing to jump through a few hoops when a team from SACS came to visit. Then, lo and behold, a new Pharaoh rose up over SACS, and SACS began to flex muscles that many educators never knew that it had or should have. Mark Elgart became this educational Stalin who ruled this faceless educational Politburo with an iron-first and apparently wished to wield the same muscle over the vast Soviet-like territories where SACS had extended itself. The rather small SACS office in Decatur was moved to a more opulent edifice in Alpharetta, and if your school system wanted to be blessed with the hallowed “SACS accreditation,” then the school system had to collectively and metaphorically kiss the Educational Zeus’s rear end as he sat upon Mt. Alpharetta. Or, more aptly put, perhaps Elgart became the Educational Buddha whose tummy had to be rubbed before the school systems received his blessing of full accreditation.
If the word “inconsistent” is found in the dictionary, it should have a photo of Mark Elgart next to it. He has been supremely inconsistent in applying SACS’s so-called Standards. They are egregiously and flagrantly applied in the most arbitrary and capricious ways. For example, the school systems of Atlanta and DeKalb never lost their accreditation, although Atlanta was scandalously exposed for having, according to The New York Times, the worst cheating scandal in the history of American Public Education, and DeKalb’s top two executives were indicted on a number of criminal accounts. But, poor little Clayton County had its accreditation yanked because, from my perspective, Elgart was trying to help the politically-connected to get back in line the elected school board members who would not toe the party line. The SACS Report (if you want to generously call it that) was, as Mr. Norreese Haynes who was serving on this school board at the time called it, “a sham and a farce.” The “report” was flawed, biased, and weak as water. Elgart made hilarious claims that on their face could not be true. Yet, the media understandably went wild with this yanking of accreditation which resulted in the citizens of Clayton County panicking.
Mr. Elgart’s “cure” for the Clayton County School System was far more damaging than any perceived ailment. It was tantamount to dropping an atomic bomb on a county for stubbing its metaphorical toe. Like amputating a whole leg to cure an in-grown toenail. It was laughable, if it were not so true. I blame Mark Elgart and his private company for destroying a here-to-for rather thriving community. Businesses shut down or moved out of the county. In droves, houses went up for sale…and eventually many were simply foreclosed on. Millions of dollars in real estate vaporized into thin air. Real estate value is largely rooted in perception, and the perception became that the Clayton County School System was falling of the proverbial cliff. A significant portion of the best-performing Clayton County students moved to other counties or transferred to private schools or illegally used the addresses of relatives and friends to surreptitiously land a student placement in another school system. And this, according to Mark Elgart, was action to improve the school system?
Mark Elgart has a penchant for unanimity of opinion on the school boards. Why? What’s wrong with a dynamic democracy…like the type exercised in the U. S. Congress, the Georgia General Assembly, or the Alpharetta City Council? What is wrong with disagreeing and having split decisions on school boards? No, no. Elgart says that this shows that the school board is not “working together.” He apparently wants the school boards to sit around, hold hands, and sign kum-ba-ya. The only true unity is unity in diversity…diversity of views, votes, and opinions. Anything else is uniformity of opinion or conformity to the wishes of the superintendent. Elgart apparently likes school board members who demonstrate that they will not dissent from the wishes of “the professionals.” In other words, he seems to like only those school board members who nod their heads in agreement to anything that the appointed superintendents want. Hence, I have said for a long time that SACS stands for Still Advocating for Cronies and Superintendents. I believe that SACS serves as a sort of “union” for the superintendents. I have actually heard anecdotal stories about superintendents in Georgia getting mad at elected school board members because they would not go along with him or her and the superintendent exclaiming, “I am thinking about calling SACS on them.”
SACS is not accountable to the people of Georgia. It has long ago outlived any usefulness that it might have served in the past. It is a money-grabbing private company. It monies come from the taxpayers. The school systems not only pay SACS a system fee but also a fee for each school accredited within the school system. Then, the school systems have to pay for continual SACS training, as well as for the materials. And we know that the school systems have to pay dearly if SACS steps up its game and enters into the investigative mode. Is there a money motivation at SACS? We read in an article that this newspaper wrote on SACS a couple of years ago that SACS, like many other private businesses, was undergoing some financial strains. How do we know what the motivations of SACS are? Why are some school systems apparently immune from stiff SACS sanctions? Are there more politically-connected people in these counties? SACS is certainly fickle and feckless when faced with daunting evidence. It often just ignores this evidence, like it did Mr. Norreese Haynes’s devastating 12 page complaint about the unmitigated micro-managing of the Clayton County School System by Chairperson Ericka Davis and Vice Chairperson Rod Johnson, just as Mr. Elgart ignored the many ethical breaches that Mr. Haynes brought up about these apparently SACS-favored Clayton County School Board members.
What can be done about SACS? The State of Georgia should simply choose not to participate in SACS’s shameless game. Personally, I think that this whole SACS accreditation game is a sham. The Georgia General Assembly should simply pass enabling legislation (to give it the strength of law) for the Georgia Schools Accrediting Agency (GSAA) to be administered by the Georgia Department of Education. The State Superintendent is elected by the People of Georgia. He could personally appoint the people to serve from time to time on this agency, or it could become more political like the Georgia Board of Education with the Governor appointing Members from each Congressional District for fixed terms. I prefer the former over the latter. Many teachers and administrators (or retired school system personnel) can serve on the school visits, if school visits are even called for. After all, this is what SACS does. SACS uses the personnel within the Georgia school systems. What the People of Georgia would finally have is accountability. If someone got out of hand and far afield like Mark Elgart has done, then his or her chain could then be jerked because the State Superintendent and the Governor are still elected in the State of Georgia, unless Mark Elgart can figure out how this disagreement at the polls is a threat to accreditation. © GTSO, October 30, 2012.