Board member Kathleen Angelucci, who has called SACS “a bully,” asked Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to present the board with accreditation options at Wednesday’s meeting.
Angelucci said she was wary of the non-elected agency that “bears down on the district, whose focus is more on board governance than student success.”
Critics of SACS say the nonelected agency is used by school administrators as a weapon against the elected school board whenever administrators don’t like how they’re being governed. In 2008, SACS revoked the accreditation of the Clayton School District, reinstating it the next year. In 2011, Cobb Superintendent Fred Sanderson, who was at odds with the Cobb school board, reported the board to SACS, claiming he had “genuine concerns” about the board’s ability to “govern effectively.”
Amy Krause, chief academic officer for the district, presented the board with a slideshow outlining the basic principles of two options the school board has for accreditation, SACS and the Georgia Accrediting Commission, a smaller accrediting agency based in Alma.
Cobb County, as well as Gwinnett School District, Forsyth, Fulton, Marietta City, DeKalb, Clayton, Fayette, Cherokee County and Atlanta Public School high schools are accredited with SACS.
The district is evaluated by SACS every five years, Krause said, and is up for evaluation in November 2014.
The district pays an additional $15,000 to $20,000 when about 25 SACS consultants visit district schools and evaluate them. The additional expense covers airfare, hotel fees and food expenses, she said.
SACS evaluates the district on its purpose and direction, governance and assessments used for learning, Krause said, and it takes the district about a year to prepare for a visit.
Ninety percent of Georgia schools are accredited, Krause said, as accreditation is “an indication of an institution’s quality of education.”
School districts strive to be accredited so students can transfer their credits between school districts if they move to new schools, and some college scholarships require students to apply from accredited high schools.
An alternative to SACS
The GAC has been accrediting high schools in the state since 1903, according to Robert Boyd, a consultant for GAC.
Similar to SACS, the GAC evaluates schools against its own set of standards, which is accepted by colleges across the country.
“SACS looks at the administration, at the system. We look at each individual school,” Boyd said.
Krause said GAC provides accreditation for Atlanta Public School System’s elementary and middle schools, Henry County Schools and Fayette County Schools.
GAC evaluates districts through more of a “checklist” process, Krause said, that looked at the physical layout of the schools, and what programs they offered students, as well as the finances of the district.
GAC accredits schools every five years, just like SACS, and charges $50 per school each year it holds its accreditation, according to the commission’s website.
To apply for GAC accreditation, a school or district must pay a $50 application fee, and the travel expenses and a fee of $250 each day for the GAC consultants who visit schools every five years.
The district has 112 schools and, not including the application fee, would pay roughly $5,600 each year to keep its schools accredited, and close to $6,250 if 25 consultants were to visit the district.
The evaluation ‘pageantry’
Board members were unclear Wednesday with what system would be best for the district. Many said they had never given its accreditation system a second thought until Angelucci brought the discussion forward.
“It’s very healthy to have a fact-finding journey,” board member David Morgan said, but “to me, SACS is like a club.”
Morgan had expected SACS to present more information or summary findings after its expensive visit, and was let down by the thin results, he said, describing it as “a pageantry.”
“SACS seems more governance-centered. I think that sometimes it gets to be hard to see your way out,” Morgan said.
Board Chair Randy Scamihorn said he wanted to ensure the district is getting the most value out of its money.
“We pay them a significant amount of money each year, and then we pay a significant amount of money for them to come and visit with us. Are we getting value for our money, and are they doing what they say they should be doing?” Scamihorn asked.
Krause’s presentation left Scamihorn unclear what the advantages of SACS or GAC were over the other.
“Is it like going to Lowes or going to Home Depot?” Scamihorn asked.
Board members did not seem eager to dump SACS, but said they wanted to continue to look at what the benefits would be of accrediting with GAC.
“Are we doing it because it’s always been here, or are we doing it because it’s the best thing to do?” Scamihorn asked, of the district’s relationship with SACS.
Board member Tim Stultz asked Hinojosa for a direct comparison between SACS and GAC, including estimated costs.
More details are expected to be delivered to the board at its next meeting Dec. 11, board members said.