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Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Apr 26, 2012 Pictured is Chattooga High School in Summerville, Ga., on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Chattooga County, Ga., has adopted a four-day school week, and teachers, students and administrators say they prefer the shorter week. The county has also taken on other cost-cutting measures, like reducing the amount of electricity used and being more mindful about seemingly minor spending.
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Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Apr 26, 2012 Students hustle through the halls of Chattooga High School on the way to their final class of the day in Summerville, Ga., on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Chattooga County, Ga., has adopted a four-day school week, and teachers, students and administrators say they prefer the shorter week. The county has also taken on other cost-cutting measures, like reducing the amount of electricity used and being more mindful about seemingly minor spending.

A Chattooga County Board of Education member is trying to nip a recall effort in the bud.

An attorney for board chairman John Agnew filed a petition in Chattooga County Superior Court on Wednesday, asking a judge to block some residents' effort to collect signatures and kick Agnew off his perch. The effort is led by Allan Baggett, a county resident and friend of outgoing Superintendent Jimmy Lenderman.

Agnew was one of four board members who voted Jan. 17 to return the school district to a five-day-a-week schedule. School has been closed on Mondays since the fall of 2010. The board's decision sparked protests, online and at Chattooga County High School, where students walked out one day last month.

Baggett collected 122 signatures over the last couple of weeks from residents supporting the recall effort. Probate Judge Jon Payne, the county's supervisor of elections, said Baggett could proceed with a full recall effort. But before Baggett could start, attorney King Askew blocked him, at least temporarily.

Askew argued that Baggett and other critics don't have "statutory grounds" to recall the board chair. He asked a judge to dismiss the petition and force Baggett to pay Agnew's attorney fees, as well as damages to Agnew for making "untrue and libelous" allegations.

The recall effort centers on whether Agnew and other board members violated school district policy and ethical cannons by rushing through their effort to return to the five-day schedule. Board member Julia Houston has maintained that the decision was not rushed, arguing that the school schedule was the No. 1 issue on the campaign trail last year.

Nevertheless, parents and school employees have criticized the board at meetings, as well as on Facebook. During an interview Friday, Agnew said he couldn't recall any specific claims that were libelous off the top of his head.

But, he said, "a lot of these things are not true. These accusations that they made against me on the petition are not true. They are false. They may be libel."

Said Baggett: "Our reason for asking for a recall was valid."

Adele Grubbs, a senior judge from Cobb County, has been tapped to hear the petition, though no court date has been set. During the case, the onus will fall on Baggett to argue why the recall should go forward. He does not have an attorney at this time.

If Grubbs chooses not to dismiss the recall, Baggett and his allies will have 30 days to collect about 4,000 signatures in support of his effort. Then, the county would hold an election, asking all registered voters in the county whether they support kicking Agnew off the board.

Askew said his client has done nothing that gives Baggett legal grounds to recall him. Georgia law defines grounds for a recall as when elected officials:

> Commit an act of malfeasance

> Violate their oath of office

> Commit an act of misconduct

> Fail to perform their legal duties

> Misuse or misappropriate public funds

Agnew, Houston and two other board members advocated for moving back to a five-day schedule because they argue students will learn more. The students attend four longer days right now, giving them slightly more class time than they would receive in a standard schedule. But Houston said the current class time is not as efficient because students lose focus during long periods.

Board member John Turner and Lenderman have argued the four-day schedule is better. It saves some money on fixed costs, like bus gas, electric bills and salaries for non-certified employees. They also say frequent three-day weekends helps the district recruit teachers. Some parents like scheduling doctor's appointments on Mondays, knowing their children won't miss instructional time.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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