Gov. Nathan Deal very much wants to do away with local boards of education that run Georgia’s public school systems.
The school boards are starting to fight back.
Local boards in Cherokee, Troup, Fayette, Henry, Savannah-Chatham, Bibb, Dougherty, Richmond, Newton and Clayton counties have passed resolutions opposing Deal’s proposed constitutional amendment that would create an "Opportunity School District" (OSD).
Their counterparts in Barrow, Douglas, and Rockdale counties may be voting soon on similar resolutions.
The Opportunity School District, which is on the Nov. 8 election ballot, is a mechanism for a state takeover of low-performing schools. The district would be headed by a superintendent, appointed by the governor, who could take over schools where students underperform on standardized tests.
"We still have too many schools where students have little hope of attaining the skills they need to succeed in the workforce or in higher education," Deal said. "We have a moral duty to do everything we can to help these children."
Many of the schools targeted for state takeover are in the Atlanta, DeKalb, and Fulton County systems. Opposition to the proposal, however, is coming from conservative, Republican-leaning counties like Cherokee, Troup, and Fayette that don’t have any schools on the hit list and voted for Deal both times when he ran for governor.
"The big part of this in my mind is that as a member of this school board our job is to protect the children of Cherokee County, and I see no benefit in this to them," said Kyla Cromer, who chairs the Cherokee school board, in a typical reaction to Deal’s proposal.
Much of the opposition centers on the issue of local control, which would be eliminated when a school is taken over by the governor’s hand-picked superintendent.
"This will remove local control, would remove the funding, restrict community access to public facilities, instructional materials and school equipment, and will allow the diversion of state education funding away from local public schools to taxpayer-funded private schools, or charter schools," Troup County Supt. Cole Pugh said.
"Once you give up autonomy of those institutions, you’ll never give it back," Gwinnett County board Chairman Robert McClure warned. "We believe we know how to do education in Gwinnett. We can tackle our own challenges."
"A superintendent appointed by the governor and managing up to 100 schools from an office in Atlanta cannot be expected to do any better in turning these schools around than the experienced educators who are on site and working with teams from the district and school to analyze the issues and determine strategic interventions," said Allene Magill, director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE).
Another sensitive issue is that the governor’s superintendent could bring in for-profit charter school companies to run these designated schools.
"What the ultimate motive is, is to privatize public education," Decatur County Supt. Tim Cochran said. "What I believe the plan is, is to contract with for-profit charter schools and let them come in and run it."
Many of the problems faced by schools stem from the state’s decision to drastically reduce formula funding to local systems. The governor and the legislature have cut more than $8 billion combined over the past 12 years that should have gone to public schools but was instead diverted to other budget areas.
"Why doesn’t the state give local boards the finances to be able to do the things that they’re saying they can do?" Newton County board member Almond Turner asked.
Teachers’ groups like PAGE and the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), as well as the Georgia PTA, are also opposed to the school takeover plan.
"If our teachers are happy being teachers in the cultures in the schools that we have created, then they need to fight this with their heart and souls," said Barrow County school board member Lynn Stevens. "And they have the power, along with the administrators, to send a message to the governor to go to hell and take his money with him."
It’s a simple question to decide on Nov. 8. If you like the idea of faceless bureaucrats in Atlanta spending your tax dollars and running your schools without your having any say in it, vote yes. If not, you should vote no.
Crawford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.