The majority of a divided Clarke County Board of Education gave Superintendent Demond Means a vote of confidence last week by extending his three-year contract through the 2021–22 school year. The extension, while routine, was a win for Means and his supporters, especially those in the black community, who have come to view debate over the effectiveness of his two-year tenure as racially motivated.
“There’s a lot of racial tension inside the board and in the community,” board member Tawana Mattox said. “We have to stop this.”
Board President LaKeisha Gantt agreed. “It’s not something we can’t work through,” she told Flagpole. “But it’s also a microcosm of our community. We don’t know how to talk about race. We don’t know how to talk about biases.”
The audience of about 150, which appeared to be mostly black and mostly in support of Means, had dwindled to about 75 by the time the board re-emerged from a 90-minute closed session. Some audience members jeered Mattox and two board members, Greg Davis and John Knox, who asked to postpone the vote, and applauded when Means’ contract extension was approved by a 6–2 vote. Knox was also the lone vote against Means’ last contract extension.
Davis wanted to push back the vote because an ethics complaint against Means is still outstanding, and Knox added that much of the student achievement data the board is supposed to use to evaluate the superintendent had not been reported yet. “I’m a scientist, and I don’t have the data to make this decision,” said Knox, a geography professor at UGA.
While some parents wondered why the BOE would renew Means’ contract again after just extending it in December, the district’s attorney, Michael Pruett, explained that the board is supposed to vote on a contract extension each July, and that the December vote was supposed to have happened the previous July. “We have to work a little bit harder at tightening up our processes,” Gantt told Flagpole.
Although the two items were technically unrelated, the contract extension got tangled up in an ethics complaint filed against Means in May, which was also on the BOE’s July 18 agenda. Means is accused of plagiarizing a portion of an email to staff, accepting gifts from a vendor by working on the side for CCSD consultant AVID and misleading the board about his dissertation, in violation of state ethical standards. The Professional Standards Commission, which certifies teachers, referred the complaint—filed by a Newnan lawyer on behalf of anonymous clients in Athens—to the BOE. After Pruett outlined the charges, the board voted 7–1 to ask the PSC for clarification on what it’s supposed to do, with Linda Davis in opposition.
Pruett said it is unusual for the PSC to refer a complaint to the local district to investigate. “It could be perceived this is coming from some local political turmoil,” he said.
The board also unanimously voted to approve a contract to potentially buy property for a new district headquarters. The contract gives the board an option to purchase the property for $6.7 million after a 90-day due diligence period.
Means would not reveal the location of the property. “The seller is very sensitive to having their property exposed to the public,” he said. But he told Flagpole that the property is not the Georgia Power building on Prince Avenue. CCSD is still in talks to buy that building, Means said, and both properties “are in play.”
Central-office administrators have been split between the Whitehead Road Elementary School annex and the H.T. Edwards building since 2016, when CCSD sold its Mitchell Bridge Road office to Advantage Behavioral Health Systems with the intention of eventually moving into a renovated Old West Broad School. However, Means scrapped that plan in favor of early learning classrooms after determining that the building isn’t big enough, and the Athens Land Trust has also proposed to lease the property.
In addition, the board approved a lease for 1039 Baxter St. to house CCSD’s alternative high school. The district is bringing alternative education in-house after using contractors to run the program for years. “We think this is a better model,” Means said. An Eastside location will be consolidated into the Baxter Street space. Middle-school students in the alternative program will continue to attend their school.
This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Pruett’s name.
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