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Friday, May 3, 2013 - 8:39am

Promise Neighborhood Boosters Press On

Proponents of the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative are trying to keep their proposal alive amid lingering controversy.

In a sometimes tense Bibb County Board of Education meeting Thursday, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert reminded board members of the core Promise Neighborhood concept — many organizations providing comprehensive social services in an area of concentrated poverty on the city's west side, "so the teachers are then able to impart more effectively and efficiently the information that they’re trying get across, because some of the problems that the children are having at home are being taken care of," he said.

Most board members praised the idea, but some were reluctant to vote for a resolution reaffirming the school system's support for the initiative.

"I am so impressed with so much of what has come forward," said board member Lynn Farmer, addressing Mercer University administrator Peter Brown, who has been one of the chief proponents of the Promise Neighborhood concept. "My problem with it is, I feel so violated, that that trust I placed in you was violated."

The Telegraph of Macon has, in recent months, reported that the administration of former Superintendent Romain Dallemand committed many more resources to the Promise Neighborhood initiative than the board authorized.

Also, former Bibb County Schools Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier filed a suit challenging the legality of a lease Dallemand signed for facilities that will house some of the Promise Neighborhood programs. A judge threw out Collier's request for an injunction in February.

Board member Lester Miller, who was not on the board when those agreements were made, said he needs to know more about what happened before he can support the school system's continuing involvement in the Promise Neighborhood initiative.

"I don’t want to be testifying in court in two or three months under oath about something," Miller said, referring to testimony board member Susan Sipe gave during a hearing of Collier's lawsuit. "I don’t want the feds contacting me again to ask me information about Promise Neighborhoods," he said, revealing implicitly that federal authorities have queried him on the issue.

Following some heated debate, the board voted to adopt a pared-down resolution supporting the school system's involvement in efforts to get federal grant money for the Promise Neighborhood. The first grant application last year was unsuccessful.

After the non-unanimous voice vote, Peter Brown—who has been Mercer's chief booster of the initiative—was visibly upset. "So much of this has to do with the former Superintendent Romain Dallemand," he said with a shaky voice during an interview. "This is collateral damage of the controversy that [Dallemand] brought with him and the transparency with which some decisions were made."

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