Education groups lining up to fight Georgia governor’s plan for failing schools

Both sides of the aisle are clearing the education table for the fight over the Opportunity School District (OSD) constitutional amendment vote in December.

The Governor’s Education Reform Commission released its final report last month. Some parts, like merit pay for teachers, are more controversial for others. In preparation for the battle on OSD, the Deal team has decided to push these initiatives to next year. Furthermore, it would appear the Governor is attempting to cozy up to the educational establishment by increasing state funding and insisting on a 3% raise for teachers across Georgia.

Education SPLOST, a 1% sales tax for capital projects, vote has been moved from Nov to May 2016 for all metro Atlanta school districts (although I’m not sure that announcement has been made yet). School districts want to clear their plate for the fight against OSD. There will also be a number of Transportation SPLOST votes on the ballot in November and school districts want to avoid any confusion between all of these issues.

Lee Shearer with Online Athens reports on the education establishment circling the wagons in preparation for the fight against OSDs.

By LEE SHEARER

Education groups across the state are gearing up to campaign against the proposed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment that Georgia voters vote on in November.

If passed, the legislation allows Gov. Nathan Deal to pick up to 20 schools a year, up to a total of 100, from across the state in a special school district for schools labeled as poor performers that would be run through the governor’s office, under the supervision of a superintendent picked by the governor.

One Clarke County school, Gaines Elementary, is among the 120 named by the governor as possible candidates for the district because of low pass rates on state achievement tests.

Some 20 organizations are meeting to develop a coordinated statewide strategy, according to Karen Solheim of Athens, president of the Georgia Association of Educators’ retired teachers organization.

Solheim met with the Clarke County Board of Education’s legislative committee Tuesday, along with Valarie Wilson, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association, who attended the meeting via telephone.

The Clarke County school board is already on record as opposing the school district; turning back the so-called OSD is one of the legislative priorities for this year adopted by the full school board at a meeting earlier this month.

But the school board and board members have to limit their roles to education, said the board’s lawyer, Michael Pruitt. State law prohibits the board from advocacy on legislation and from spending tax money for advocacy, he told them.

State legislators last year voted to put the OSD question on ballots in this November’s general election, and also authorized a bill that partly outlined how the OSD would work.

The governor’s Opportunity School District superintendent could choose four options for schools whose low scores landed them in the OSD, including one that would remove them permanently from local control, although local school boards are required to provide school buildings and equipment for the OSD school and to contract with the OSD to provide services such as transportation to any local schools pulled into the OSD.

The options include “shared governance” of the troubled school between the governor’s superintendent and the local school board; a simple takeover of the school by the state; converting the school into a state charter school; and as a last resort closing the school.

If the governor’s superintendent takes the charter school route, the schools would be set up as nonprofit corporations with a board of directors appointed by the governor’s superintendent, with the authority to hire a for-profit private company to operate the school.

Schools converted to charter schools might not ever return to a local school board’s control, even if they began to post passing grades on an A-F grading scale the state is creating. They will be eligible to remain state charter schools, under the supervision of their state-appointed boards, according to legislation the state General Assembly adopted last year.

But except for money details, the governor’s office has not revealed how the overall process will work, Wilson said.

“None of that has been shared at all,” she said.

The Georgia School Boards Association hired a consultant to examine “growth” rates at more than 100 schools Gov. Deal identified last year as candidates for the OSD. That consultant found that the OSD candidate schools showed on average more growth from year to year than top schools, Wilson said.

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