ATLANTA — The Georgia Board of Education warned members of the Miller County school board Monday that they could be removed from office if they don’t settle a long-running dispute with the district’s superintendent.
The state board voted to delay deciding whether to recommend the ouster of county board members until February, but state board members did not mince words on how frustrated they were with the problems in the south Georgia school district.
Miller County was put on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools earlier this month over an ongoing squabble between two school board members and Superintendent Robert McIntosh. The arguments led to public yelling matches, threats of fist fights and the board meddling in the day-to-day operations of the schools. In one case, school board member Bob Eldridge screamed obscenities at McIntosh during a football game in a neighboring county because Eldridge — whose son attends a county school — was banned from standing on the sidelines during the game.
“This group has set a new standard for dysfunction for school boards in the state of Georgia, and that’s not an award,” state school board member Larry Winter said during the three-hour hearing in Atlanta.
Under a new state law, the governor can oust school board members in districts that are in danger of losing accreditation. The state has held similar hearings for districts in Atlanta, Montgomery County and Coffee County, but so far has not recommended ousting board members in those districts.
One state school board member, Allen Rice, voted Monday against delaying a decision until early next year. He declined comment after the hearing, referring all questions to state board chairwoman Wanda Barrs.
“I believe we’re clear on the expectations for the work going forward and that no one can do that work for them. They have to commit to the hard work of communicating and growing in their trust for one another and building good board governance leadership skills,” Barrs said after the hearing. “I believe every one of those board members has the capacity to do that, they simply have to have the will to do that.”
The two board members who have been fighting with McIntosh — Eldridge and Renza Israel — declined comment after the hearing. Both said during testimony that they want to work through their problems and would be willing to resign if necessary.
“Do I think we can solve this? Yes. I’ll forget about being ripped by him,” said Israel. “I can put everything aside and stand up and be a man.”
The board is hiring a mediator to help work out the problems and the board will undergo conflict-resolution and communication training with the Georgia School Boards Association. The board is also establishing an advisory panel with parents and community members to improve communication with the public.
“Given the seriousness of this hearing today, I think the message got across to all the parties involved how serious this is and I’m hopeful we’re all going to work together at this point,” McIntosh said.
The 1,000-student district is on probation with SACS through June 2012. Losing accreditation could put the district at risk of losing some federal funding and could mean students won’t be eligible for admission to some colleges.
The tiny district in Colquitt near the Alabama line has three schools, all housed in one building.