Chattooga County school board
A judge dismissed a Chattooga County resident's petition to recall Board of Education Chair John Agnew this afternoon.
In an order, Senior Judge Adele Grubbs said resident Allan Baggett moved to recall Agnew on false pretenses. In his petition, Baggett wrote that Agnew allowed no discussion before the board voted to change school schedules from four-day weeks to five-day weeks.
"Members of the board discussed the measure at length [before the Jan. 17 vote]," Grubbs wrote. "It was the public that was not allowed to participate. They had not signed up 5 days before to speak for a matter on an agenda that was only issued the day before, but that is not material to the question involved here."
Grubbs added that someone signing the petition may think that Agnew allowed nobody to speak on the proposed change - which isn't technically correct. Grubbs wrote that the board held a "long and informative" discussion before voting.
Board member John Turner, the only vote against changing the schedule, gave a speech about how improvements in artificial intelligence will eventually put all work and school schedules on a four-day week. He believed the district is ahead of the curve.
Board member Brad Hayes said the state legislature may try to set a standard schedule for all public schools in Georgia. He believed the district could be forced to change to a five-day week anyway.
Baggett said he does not expect to try to recall Agnew again. He said he has worked with a committee of 20 residents, and he believes their energy will be better spent on campaigning against him next year.
"We'll probably just try to primary him," he said. "I have to talk to my committee. I hope this hasn't knocked all the air out of our balloons."
Baggett first filed a petition to recall Agnew on Jan. 29, but he withdrew the document because he said it was "riddled with errors." After consulting with other residents and an attorney, whom he did not name, Baggett filed a second petition March 19.
"We should have pointed out when we said 'no discussion' (in the petition) that we meant 'no public discussion,'" he said. "We didn't do that. So I guess we should have just been more specific. ... I'm not trying to blame it on him. We probably told him what we wanted it to say."
Baggett's attorney, Justin O'Dell, argued Tuesday that the public had practically been blocked from speaking out about the schedule change at the Jan. 17 meeting. Board policies demands that anyone interested in speaking must sign up five days before the meeting.
Casie Bryant, a writer for All On Georgia - Chattooga, testified that she did not receive a copy of the agenda to publish until the day before the meeting. The public would not have known the issue of the school schedule was going to come up.
Agnew said Thursday that the superintendent's office sends out the agendas, not the board. Nevertheless, looking back over the past few months, he wishes they made the school change more slowly.
Going forward, he said policy decisions will be introduced at least a month before the board makes a decision.
"That just ensures that we give them ample opportunity to make sure they have input," he said.
Parents and other community members have criticized the schedule change at the February, March and April meetings.
Baggett still believes the group will move to recall Hayes, board member Julia Houston and board member Sammy Ballard. All elected in November, the three voted with Agnew to return the district to a five-day week.
Georgia law does not allow residents to recall elected officials within their first 180 days in office. A recall effort on the three could begin in July.
To kick out an elected official, opponents need to collect signatures from at least one-third of registered voters in the county the year those officials were elected. This would be about 3,700 signatures.
After Grubbs' ruling, Houston said she still expected Baggett and others to try to recall her. Asked why, she said, "I really shouldn't make a comment on that."
She added: "I would like for this ruling to help our system move forward and maybe put aside these differences and look at what's best for our kids and do what's best for our children."
Houston said Agnew paid for his legal representation in this case.
The schools have operated on a four-day week since the fall of 2010, skipping Mondays. Former superintendent Jimmy Lenderman, an advocate for the four-day week, argued the schedule boosted morale because students and teachers had more time off.
Agnew and Houston have argued that the four-day schedule, which includes longer days from Tuesday through Friday, is too taxing on younger students. They believe reading comprehension scores for elementary school students will improve on the five-day week beginning this fall.
The decision has sparked protests in the community. With Lenderman's permission, Chattooga County High School students walked out for about 30 minutes earlier this year.