Bibb County school Superintendent Sharon Patterson, already the subject of a state investigation, is drawing fire from community leaders who say she should step aside.
Representatives from the school board, county commission, city council and others are asking that Patterson resign as superintendent or that the school board buy out her contract, which ends in June 2011. Her salary is about $200,000 a year.
The leaders said the school system continues to lag in state standardized test scores and graduation rates. And, in light of recent Telegraph reports of questionable hiring practices for school principals, they question whether the right leadership is in place for the school system.
“The school system is not benefiting from (Patterson’s) being here,” school board member Lynn Farmer said. “I would vote to fire her today.”
“Mrs. Patterson has not been truthful with school board members, and I do not trust her to give me correct information to make decisions for the system as a board member,” Farmer said.
Patterson, who was out of town at a conference Monday, would not answer when asked if she was considering resigning.
“I appreciate the call. Thanks for letting me know,” she said.
County commissioner Joe Allen also said Monday that it’s time for Patterson to move on.
“I think it’s time for a new superintendent,” he said. “She’s had enough time to turn the system around. ... We are failing our students, and as a government official something should be done. I think the school board should step up to the plate and do its due diligence.”
Allen also said he believes that a Macon City Council member or the mayor, as well as a county commissioner, should be appointed to the Bibb school board “for a better outlook at what happens in the community.”
Lonzy Edwards, another county commissioner, said it’s time for parents and the community to speak up for a better public school system, which may mean bringing in new leadership.
“When you look at the (academic) results, the results don’t speak very well for the community,” Edwards said.
“As much as it pains me to say it, I think the buck has to stop not just at the superintendent, but I think the school board has to bear a lot of responsibility for failure to lead and do what needs to be done as far as accountability and quality.”
At least one Macon City Council member, Larry Schlesinger, said there are clear-cut problems in the school system, and it’s to the city’s advantage to raise the standards and get a trainable workforce.
“I would say with figures being what they are in terms of dropout rates and graduation rates that we should probably be doing better,” he said. “Obviously, the superintendent and her staff and school board, as elective representatives, are the ones closest to the position and ones to effect change.
“Sharon Patterson is a personal friend, but I think the writing is on the wall,” he said.
A Macon pastor and after-school program director also said change needs to come to the Bibb County school system for the community to thrive.
During a recent board meeting, Tony Lowden, executive director of Campus Clubs, called for the Bibb County school board to take a “no confidence” vote in Patterson. The board took no action.
“Too many things are happening in our community as it pertains to our children,” Lowden said. “School to school, we are losing too many kids.” The school system’s new alternative program has too many students dropping out, he said, and Bibb continues to lose good teachers because of top leadership.
Patterson has been superintendent of Bibb County schools for nearly a decade.
She was named Georgia’s Superintendent of the Year in 2006, and she was one of four finalists for national superintendent of the year.
In that nomination, she was praised for helping students in poverty achieve and for the school system’s gaining its fiscal independence from the County Commission, which allowed the system to set its own millage rate for the first time.
Under her leadership, voters have also approved three sales-tax initiatives to build and renovate schools across the county.
But Patterson has also drawn criticism for hiring a long-term, high-priced consultant, as well as the system’s hiring and oversight practices.
In September, two school board members filed a complaint with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission alleging that Patterson and two of her top assistants failed to report to the state a principal who was having an affair with a subordinate, as well as a principal who was accused of choking a student.
After a Telegraph inquiry, the state commission also said it was investigating a third principal alleged to have mismanaged federal Title I funding. That case was not reported to the state within 90 days, as required.
Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chip Cherry said he wouldn’t comment on whether the school system should find a new superintendent, but he did say the county needs a stronger public school system.
“The one thing we have been looking for as an organization is performance — lower dropout rates and higher test scores,” Cherry said. “We’ve been disappointed.”
Education in a community is related to an area’s crime rate and its skilled workforce, and it can affect growth, Cherry said. In some cases, a few businesses that were considering coming to Macon chose to locate somewhere else because of the poor perception of the Bibb County school system.
“That has put us at a disadvantage in some instances,” Cherry said. “They have moved and located outside the county.”
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.