Harris schools heading toward charter system

To gain some flexibility in how it spends its money, the Harris County school system is aiming to achieve charter status.

A public meeting on the move will be 6 p.m. today in the Harris County Board of Education's central office at 132 Barnes Mill Road in Hamilton.

Superintendent Susan Andrews said this is the second of two public forums on Harris' proposed shift to a charter system.

"Becoming a charter system means that you will be allowed flexibility under the current state laws in exchange for greater accountability," she said. "In other words, they'll waive the rules and state laws for you as long as you keep your test scores up. More local control is what it is."

Georgia long has allowed individual schools to become charter schools. State law was amended in 2005 to let entire systems operate according to a charter approved by the state, Andrews said.

"We've been working on it about a month, so it's a fairly new process," she said. The deadline to apply to the state is Nov. 1, she said, so time is running out.

An example of a state regulation on which a charter system might gain more leeway is the minimum class size, she said.

"We'll just take kindergarten, for example: You can't have more than 18 students in a kindergarten room. So when the 19th child walks in the door, you've got to hire another teacher," she said. "Well, under the charter system, what I'm asking for is let us have a system average of 18. So in one room you may have 17; in another room you may have 19, so you have some flexibility there, and not have to be under such rigid, rigid guidelines."

Shifting to a charter system "just gives you more local control over your finances," she said.