Parts of Clarke County schools’ charter application ‘not possible,’ state says

The GaDOE has traditionally assumed an advisory role to local school districts. Rogue school districts, no accountability and the lack of autonomy for high performing schools and communities are a few of the reasons behind the push to require school districts to choose a Flexibility Option.  The Flexibility Option will allow school districts to keep their waivers in return for more accountability to the state.  If a school district’s flexibility option petition is denied, they will lose all waivers. The “Big Four” waivers are state class size, expenditure control, certification, or salary schedule requirements.

The GaDOE Charter Office said they will also not approve school districts that are not good charter partners. Clarke County School District is not inclined to give its high performing career academy any autonomy. In return, the GaDOE is not inclined to approve Clarke County’s flexibility option petition.

Lee Shearer with Online Athens goes into more detail …

By LEE SHEARER
Online Athens

Officials in the state Department of Education say parts of the Clarke County School District’s plans to become a charter district are “not possible.”

The “not possible” items are three waivers from policies the state requires public school systems to follow, including one that’s a kind of centerpiece for the school district’s plans — assessing teacher competence by measuring student progress in literacy rather than a homegrown system of “Student Learning Objective” tests, or SLOs.

Clarke school officials also asked for waivers from state limits on workplace learning and dual college-high school enrollment, and on rules governing special education for students with disabilities.

Clarke school administrators learned of state officials’ objections in a four-page Dec. 3 letter from Marissa Key, the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter System Petition Manager.

Key’s letter also asked school officials for more explanation of the waiver requests, including how they would improve student achievement. It also says the school system’s career academy should operate independently of the school board, Clarke County School Superintendent Phil Lanoue told the Clarke County Board of Education Thursday.

The career academy, named the best in the state, by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in 2014, should be governed by the board of a private, nonprofit corporation to under state law, Key wrote.

“I am not prepared in any way to make that recommendation to this board (to privatize the career academy),” Lanoue told the board. “I do not support going to a nonprofit status.”

When Clarke County established the career academy several years ago, the state approved it as a program rather than a separate school.

The state letter also questioned the Clarke County proposals for how so-called “local school governance teams” operate.

Under state rules, school districts asking for charter status must set up such teams at each of its schools, giving them real decision-making powers in school affairs.

The school district made Key’s letter public at a Thursday meeting of the Clarke County Board of Education.

The state is requiring public school systems to choose among three models for the future. They can choose to remain a traditional system, following all state rules such as having maximum limits on class sizes and hiring only trained teachers licensed to teach.

But systems can also choose to become charter systems, in which school systems contract with the state to install innovative practices raising their students’ achievement levels above the average for comparable school systems. In exchange for those waivers, school districts can get freedom from some state rules, including limits on where they can spend local and state tax money. Charter school districts must also set up those local school governance teams, with limited but real decision-making powers in schools’ operations.

A third option gives school districts freedom from the state rules but does not require local school governance teams.

Lanoue said the board has a Jan. 22 deadline to submit its response to the state letter questioning the charter proposal.

School administrators will also seek public input as they write their response and modify the proposal to meet some of the state objections. Lanoue plans to submit the response to the Clarke school board for approval in early January, he said.

A group that included Lanoue, other administrators, community members and business representatives met with state Department of Education administrators last month to answer questions about the proposal, but few of the questions in the letter came up then.

“I thought it went incredibly well,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything in that meeting we didn’t respond to — eloquently, I think.”

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