Thursday's monthly meeting of the Clarke County Board of Education was the last one for attorney Terrell Benton. After 30 years of service, it was time, he said, to let someone else take over and represent the school system.
During his long tenure in Athens, Benton has been through several school superintendents, served for appointed and elected school boards, seen the arrival of special education rules and regulations after passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. He has watched as the legal framework for schools has become more sophisticated and regulated, with due process hearings for students.
A 1962 graduate of the UGA Law School, Benton said he isn't sure how he got into education law. "It sort of just happened," he said. His first job was with Bill Preston, an attorney in Monroe who was then representing the Walton County School Board as it dealt with desegregation.
After nine years of practicing law in Monroe, including working as the city attorney, Benton and his wife Jo, a school teacher, moved to Athens, where they reared their two children, Alice and Chip. (Both are attorneys.) He had joined the 102-year-old firm of Erwin, Epting, Gibson and Chivalis and practiced "law. Law," he said.
The firm dissolved in 2003. Benton has since opened an Athens office for the Atlanta firm of Hall, Booth, Smith and Slover. He's a partner in that firm.
In 1981, Eugene Epting stopped representing the school board, and Benton started. Over the years, he has added as clients the school boards of both Walton and Oconee counties. Now, he's done with them as well, he said.
How's the future of public education in Georgia look to him?
"I'm afraid to answer that," he said after a moment. "The outlook for public education is not good. The amount of money we get is less every year. If we don't educate the masses, we're going to have a lot of other problems."