Education

Muscogee board to vote on resolution opposing state’s proposed takeover of schools

Muscogee County School Board members: top row, from left, John Thomas of District 2, chairman Rob Varner of District 5, superintendent David Lewis, board attorney Greg Ellington of the law firm Hall Booth Smith and Frank Myers of District 8; bottom row, from left, Mark Cantrell of District 6, Athavia “A.J.” Senior of District 3, county-wide representative Kia Chambers, vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, Shannon Smallman of District 7 and Naomi Buckner of District 4.
Muscogee County School Board members: top row, from left, John Thomas of District 2, chairman Rob Varner of District 5, superintendent David Lewis, board attorney Greg Ellington of the law firm Hall Booth Smith and Frank Myers of District 8; bottom row, from left, Mark Cantrell of District 6, Athavia “A.J.” Senior of District 3, county-wide representative Kia Chambers, vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, Shannon Smallman of District 7 and Naomi Buckner of District 4.

With eight of its 53 schools on the chronically failing list that would make them eligible for state takeover if Georgia voters pass the November referendum, the Muscogee County School Board is scheduled to vote next week on a resolution to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment.

The board’s meeting was moved to Tuesday at 6 p.m. to avoid conflicting with the Georgia Department of Education’s public forum Monday, 6-8 p.m., in Northside High School to discuss how to implement a new federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 133 during this year’s legislative session with the required two-thirds majority in both chambers, putting the referendum to create an Opportunity School District on the Nov. 8 ballot, when it would need a simple majority to become law.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal, based on similar initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee, would authorize the governor to appoint an OSD superintendent, who could take over 20 eligible schools each year and control no more than 100 such schools at any time. The OSD superintendent could waive Georgia Board of Education rules, reorganize or fire staff and change school budgets and curriculum. The state also could convert OSD schools to charters or close them if they don’t have full enrollment.

The state would use the College and Career Ready Performance Index to determine which schools are eligible for takeover. Schools that score below 60 on the 100-point CCRPI for three straight years could be included in the OSD. Those schools would stay in the OSD for no less than five years and no more than 10 years before returning to local control.

Muscogee County had 10 of the 141 schools on the state’s original list of chronically failing schools released last year. Georgetown and Rigdon Road elementary schools, however, improved enough with other schools in the state on the 2015 CCRPI to move off the list. That leaves 127 schools in Georgia and these eight in Muscogee on the current list: Baker Middle School and Davis, Dawson, Forrest Road, Fox, Lonnie Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. and South Columbus elementary schools.

The OSD referendum doesn’t include any of those details. It asks voters only this: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance.”

The Muscogee board’s proposed resolution asserts, if the OSD is approved, “our local voice will be eliminated” and “would result in or have the effect of limiting the authority or the revenue generating potential of local school systems.”

The proposed resolution also claims, “Taking away local control, diminishing resources and making efforts to shift the governance of local schools will do just the opposite for the successful outcomes of Muscogee County students.”

If the board approves the resolution, it would join several other school boards in the state that collectively are opposed to the OSD referendum, representing the counties of Bibb, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Fayette, Henry, Richmond and Troup, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported.

The AJC reported Tuesday that a group called the Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local has started a TV ad campaign to oppose the OSD referendum. The group includes the Georgia Association of Educators, Georgia AFL-CIO, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia Stand-Up, the Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Public Education Matters, Southern Education Foundation, Working America, Pro Georgia, Better Georgia, Georgia Federation of Teachers and Concerned Black Clergy of Metro Atlanta.

Finding organizations that have expressed support for the OSD referendum is much harder. A search on the Internet came up with two: the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and a nonprofit called StudentsFirstGA, which created the 2016 Coalition for Georgia’s Opportunity.

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