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Citing Deficiencies, Georgia Board Votes To Cut Off Funds to District

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The Georgia Board of Education has voted to withhold state funds from a rural school district for failing to meet state standards, the first time such action has been taken since it was authorized under the state's 1985 school-reform law.

The Quitman County district, which operates a 210-student elementary school and shares a high school with a neighboring system, faces the loss of up to $577,000 a year in state aid--nearly two-thirds of its annual budget of approximately $900,000. The southwestern Georgia county is the state's poorest, with an average per-capita income of $5,431, just under 50 percent of the national average.

Georgia's Quality Basic Education Act also authorizes the state board to remove the county's elected school superintendent, James Gary, if the system fails to correct the alleged deficiencies.

In a separate development, the state Professional Practices Commission is currently considering whether to recommend that the state school board revoke Mr. Gary's teaching certificate for alleged dereliction of duty. Mr. Gary is reportedly hospitalized and could not be reached for comment.

National Trend

The move by the Georgia board on Nov. 10 comes amid growing state interest in the concept of penalizing or assuming control over school systems found to be substandard. The most prominent example of this push for accountability is in New Jersey, where state officials are waging a legal battle aimed at a takeover of the Jersey City schools.

According to Georgia officials, the state board decided to withhold aid from the Quitman County district because it had moved too slowly to correct deficiencies in 18 areas cited by the board last January.

Five major deficiencies remain, they said, including failure to comply with state requirements governing student testing, contracting and purchasing, and the provision of uninterrupted instructional time.

"There was a great deal of time allowed to correct problems and it was simply not done," said Maitland Adams, associate director of the education department's division of standards and evaluations.

Officials said it may be some time before the district's state funds are actually cut off. Under the qbe law, the district may request a rehearing before the state board within 30 days of its initial ruling. If the district disagrees with the outcome, it can pursue appeals in the state courts.

Dismissal Sought

Proceedings have been launched at both the state and local levels that could result in the ouster of Mr. Gary, the district's superintendent.

Earlier this year, the professional-practices board, which oversees the certification of Georgia teachers and administrators, reviewed charges that Mr. Gary operated a private tax and insurance business out of his office, was frequently absent, and worked while intoxicated.

"We found practices that are in direct conflict with his carrying out his duties as superintendent," said James J. Carter, senior associate director of the commission.

The panel considered recommending that the state board suspend Mr. Gary's certificate for three years, but delayed that step after the superintendent pledged to "shape up," Mr. Carter said. He noted that the commission might reconsider its decision in light of the board's recent action.

Meanwhile, the Quitman County school board voted on Nov. 14 to reprimand Mr. Gary for his "disregard of board policies and his inability to administer education," said Loyd Lewis, the board chairman.

Mr. Lewis said the state board's action, while harsh, could change the status quo in Quitman County and lead to improvements in the administration of the school system.

"You've got to shake people up sometimes to get their attention," he said, adding that the state "sure got our attention."

The Quitman County board gave Mr. Gary two weeks in which to come up with a plan to address the deficiencies cited by the state or be suspended. Mr. Lewis said the board thinks it can take such action against an elected official under the circumstances.

Mr. Gary, however, recently informed the county board by letter that he was being hospitalized and would take 28 days of sick leave. County officials did not specify the nature of the superintendent's illness.

Sharon Barry, a bookkeeper for the district, said she had been authorized by Mr. Gary to run the system while he is hospitalized. "We are working closely with Atlanta, and hopefully we can meet our deadline" to correct the district's problems, she said.

Mr. Gary has been the county's superintendent for 11 years and ran unopposed for a new term in this month's election. Mr. Lewis said Mr. Gary is a member of a family that has dominated county politics for many years.

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