By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
We have been pointing out for going on five years now the sheer hypocrisy of Mark Elgart’s and SACS’s actions. SACS’s so-called “standards” are a way to keep elected school boards in line and a way to protect superintendents and the politically-connected (uh, perhaps certain school board attorneys? Hmm.). SACS is simply used as a tool to keep the politically-connected in some kind of control once they have lost the control at the ballot box. See Clayton County and DeKalb County.
Perhaps Georgia legislators like Senator Fran Millar (pictured above) can pass legislation that will make sense of the accrediting process of the Georgia schools. The Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC) has worked well for over a century in Georgia. But, SACS, under the aggrandizing and opulently-paid Mark Elgart, has worn out its welcome being a meddling and controlling mechanism, taking away the local control spelled out in the Georgia Constitution for local school boards. What’s wrong with some enabling legislation that creates a Georgia Schools Accrediting Agency (GSAA) that would operate under the purview of Georgia’s top elected educator, the State Superintendent? What’s wrong with sending personnel from the Department of Education to the various school systems to ensure that the school systems are abiding by State Standards as was done for years? Who died and made Mark Elgart the Zeus of Educational Propriety in Georgia and elsewhere? The power that has been given to this man by default is both scandalous and obscene.
The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) was different because the politically-connected (uh, King & Spalding, Price Waterhouse, et al., perhaps) were still apparently getting what they wanted. So, a blind eye (literally a “blind eye”) was given to the shenanigans of the Beverly Hall Administration. And, these same “connected” people and institutions apparently took an active role trying to cover up these shenanigans and to prop up the already-disgraced Beverly Hall Administration. I believe ole Markie Mark Elgart also took an active role in trying to keep Hall’s house standing…before it came crumbling down.
Mark Elgart running away from the news conference about Clayton County.
What Mark Elgart and SACS did in Clayton County was unconscionable. This was all started because the two apparent favorites of SACS (Chairperson Ericka Davis and Vice Chairperson Rod Johnson) were seeing their unethical actions exposed and their powers slipping between their fingers. Hence, these two apparently thought that they could just use their friend Mark Elgart and SACS to scare Norreese Haynes into submission. Mr. Haynes was bringing about most of the heat on these two by his courageous expose of such matters as the now-infamous “land deal” in Clayton County, a deal that was pushed through without the signature of the superintendent. Richard Belcher on WSB TV 2 did a two-night report alone, interviewing Mr. Haynes at length. On one day alone, the four main local network news stations in Altanta as well as the national FOXS News called Mr. Haynes for interviews, but trying to be a “team player” on the school board, he turned down their requests for interviews.
Norreese Haynes exposed corruption and unethical practices on the Clayton County Board of Education, but he wasn’t one of Mark Elgart “fare-haired boys.” [AJC photo]
After this and other matters which Mr. Haynes exposed, Rod Johnson filed a formal complaint which consisted of mush. Mr. Haynes responded forthright with a 12 or 13 page complaint of detailed information with about 20 or more exhibits to SACS, demonstrating with great persuasion the unethical actions of Ms. Davis and Mr. Johnson who were apparently pointing the finger at him and others. What did Mark Elgart do with this detailed complaint provided to him and SACS (and sent, I believe as well, to attorney Glenn Brock, who seems to work hand-in-hand with Mark Elgart)? Well, Mr. Elgart just observed the “pass over.” He just passed right over it.
Instead, Mr. Elgart and SACS came out with a “report” that was, as Norreese Haynes labeled it the very day that it came out on February 15, 2008 in his own press release that was carried in the AJC and attached as a PDF, “a sham and a farce.” I read the so-called “report.” It was pitifully written and of virtually no substance. In fact, it was full of factual errors as well. SACS didn’t want to know the truth about what was going on in Clayton County. Initially one of the Central Office administrators in Clayton County called me and asked if I would be willing to interview with the SACS “investigation” committee. I assured him that I would love to interview with the committee. On the day of my scheduled interview, I was called by this same gentleman to inform me that SACS had changed its mind about interviewing me. Mr. Haynes stated to me that when he went before this same committee and reached into his brief case to pull out documents which would buttress the claims which he had made, the chairman of the committee hastened to let him know that he and the committee were not interested.
The Clayton County situation was an open-and-shut case from the very beginning. The “investigation” stuff was a joke. Same thing for DeKalb. What happened in DeKalb is that board members were getting way too independent and couldn’t be called in by a friendly phone call by the politically-connected. Glenn Brock’s offer of his services for a “search” for a new superintendent was rebuffed. Then the school board went out and inexplicably hired a lightweight superintendent from some small town in Ohio. Obviously, some members of the DeKalb School Board knew the connection between political power and money. Political Science 101. Pretty basic. But, sometimes the politically-connected are so arrogant while feasting at swanky places like the Piedmont Driving Club and discussing the billions of dollars associated with public school systems that they seem to forget that the elected members of school boards who may just dine at This Is It! Restaurant also see the money involved. And, guess what, they have the legitimate levers of power, viz., elections at the ballot box. But, ah, those feasting on seared salmon, scallops, and asparagus at the Piedmont Driving Club have SACS.
DeKalb County School Member Nancy Jester (bottom photo) may be getting whacked by the State School Board and the Governor for simply asking the right questions. Isn’t this what school board members are supposed to do? No, not according to SACS. SACS wants school board members to sit around holding hands and singing nursery rhymes in unison while the Superintendents and his or her Administrations wreak havoc in the school systems.
Yes, this is where SACS comes in. It is a private organization with absolutely no oversight from the State. No accountability whatsoever and scads of conflict-of-interests. Its money comes from the public coffers, from the same source which it “evaluates.” Mark Elgart and SACS have smarmy relationship with the States’s superintendents. They love SACS. SACS acts in a distinct way as their “union.” I have said many times that SACS should more accurately stand for Still Advocating for Cronies and Superintendents (SACS).
Oh, yes, let’s return to Clayton County. The next month after the so-called SACS “report,” I presume that Ms. Davis and Mr. Johnson saw that Mr. Haynes was not one bit intimidated by Mark Elgart and SACS. So, Ms. Davis contacted Eldrin Bell to do an “investigation” about where Mr. Haynes was living. Mind you that this is none of Mr. Bell’s business (by the way, he was slaughtered in this last election by Jeff Turner), but he got the Clayton County Police Department to “investigate” where Mr. Haynes lived. They did a pretty horrible job because they went to his former residence in Morrow and apparently knew nothing about him moving to Conley in a house still in the district. I knew about it and had visited Mr. Haynes at his Conley home. Mr. Haynes had even officially changed his address with the school system and the Registrar’s Office in Clayton County. But, when you are not really looking for the truth, you won’t find it. Despite the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office conducting an extensive investigation of Mr. Haynes’s residence and issuing not one but two different reports stating that it could not find evidence that Mr. Haynes lived outside his voting district, this same foolhardy Ericka Davis led the push in the March 2008 school board meeting to kick Norreese Haynes off the Clayton County School Board. Not all board members voted to kick Mr. Haynes off the school board, but all the remaining eight school board members either stepped down under duress and apparent shame, beginning with Chairperson Ericka Davis, or were removed by the Governor.
The State Law clearly states that an elected official of Georgia cannot be removed without first obtaining “judicial determination.” Mr. Haynes’s lawyer, Preston Haliburton, clearly and eloquently pointed this out in Judge Deborah Benefield’s courtroom, but Judge Benefield apparently did not have the stomach or nerves to hear the case and, quite frankly, would have gone all the way to Hong Kong back to try to find an excuse not to hear the case. She demurred. A real act of judicial cowardice. She was indeed a profile in cowardice.
What did Mark Elgart and SACS do? Ericka Davis, not in conjunction with other school board members but acting alone (which violates SACS’s precious standards), called on the County Commission Chairman, Eldrin Bell, to “investigate” Norreese Haynes’s residence. The office charged with this type of investigation is the Georgia Secretary of State. What about when the Clayton County Board of Education illegally voting Mr. Haynes off the school board? What did Mark Elgart and SACS do about this illegal move? Nothing. The same thing that Mark Eldart and SACS did with the Cobb County Board of Education even admitted to holding 57 illegal school board meetings. Heck, I remember when Mark Elgart and “advisor” Glenn Brock and two State Board Members met illegally behind closed doors with the Clayton County Board of Education. That was a real irony. I presume that it is O. K. to violate the State’s Open Meetings Law if you are connected. Hmm.
Education Attorney Glenn Brock always seems to be around to work hand-in-hand with Mark Elgart when school boards are spanked by SACS. Brock’s firm of Brock & Clay has made millions and millions off the largesses of the school board coffers.
I write all of this in some details to simply demonstrate that Mark Elgart and SACS are hypocrites. Several years ago when Crawford Lewis and Beverly Hall were riding high, I came up with my list for The Three Biggest Educational Hypocrites in Georgia. I later abridged this list to include Edmond Heatley of Clayton County. So, my list consisted of Hall, Lewis, Heatley, and Mark Elgart. The first three stepped down or were pushed aside rather disgracefully. I am hoping that the public will finally see the light of the great hypocrisy of SACS and its leader, Mark Elgart. I have offered to debate in a very public forum Mr. Elgart concerning the arbitrary and capricious application of SACS’s so-called “standards.” I have made this offer several times for almost five years. He has not even responded. I will debate him in Jekyll Island (he may be more comfortable at The Jekyll Island Club) or the Piedmont Driving Club (perhaps in the Alston Room), at the 29th Street Gym in Columbus, Georgia, in the Comer Auditorium in Bibb City, Georgia, at the Dairy Lane Barbeque in Sandersville, Georgia, at the Busy Bee Restaurant on Martin Luther King Drive in Atlanta, at Butch’s Chicken House Restaurant in Jonesboro, at the Big Chicken in Marietta (here Glenn Brock won’t have to travel far), or at Paschal’s on Northside Drive. Heck, I would even travel up to Mt. Alpharetta where Zeus Elgart lives. I don’t think that Mark Elgart wants to defend his actions in public. I would have more respect for him if he submitted his actions to a rigorous debate, with a thorough and sifting examination of these so-called “standards.”
Folks, the emperor is naked. SACS is a joke. It is a control mechanism. I prefer to allow the voters to control their politicians at the ballot box. This is how a democracy works. Anything else smacks of a pitiable Gnostic oligarchy. © GTSO, January 14, 2013.