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Friday, October 28, 2016

NOTES FROM THE SENATE, OCTOBER 28, 2016

AMENDMENT ONE - INFORMATION FOR YOUR DECISION

Amendment One is known as the "Opportunity School District" amendment and is controversial. Enabling legislation, SB 133, has already passed and is in place.

First, some facts about failing schools in Georgia:

1. There are 127 schools listed in the "failing category," which means the school has failed the state A, B, C, D measurement for the last three years straight.

2. Almost of the failing schools are in 5 urban systems, 3 of which are in Metro Atlanta.

3. 110 of the 127 schools, or 86.6%, are in 8 systems total, all urban systems.

4. These systems all spent in excess of $8,500 per FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) in FY2015, and Atlanta Public Schools, which has 22 failing schools, spends over $14,000 per FTE. The state average is $8,665.22. Tattnall County, for example, spends just under $8,000.

5. Outside those 8 systems, totaling 110 of the 127 failing schools, only 1 system has 2 schools, the remaining 12 all only have one and there are 3 charter schools on the failing list, one of which has closed.

6. There are no failing schools in the Fourth District and really none in Southeast Georgia, outside of Chatham County.

So, why is there such broad opposition by school boards in counties far, far away from the actual failing schools in Georgia?

This action, creating a state-wide school district to manage failing schools, could ultimately take dollars away for any local school board affected and flow directly to the school, and some oppose that on principle.

HOW IT WOULD WORK

During any single academic year, up to 20 schools could be selected, following a hearing, from the list of what is now 127 schools, who have scored failing grades for the past three years.

There is a process where the OSD Superintendent would meet with the local board, Superintendent and Principal to discuss the failing school selected by the evaluation and possible options.

Those options are:

1. Direct Management of the opportunity school by OSD

2. Shared Governance by OSD and a local board through a contract where the OSD has the power to direct changes

3. Reconstitution of the school as an OSD Charter School, where OSD works with Charter School Commission

4. Closure of a school not at full capacity, reassigning students to a non-qualifying school in the district... a last resort.

The OSD Superintendent can directly interact with the principal and school council or, if the school becomes a charter school, the school council and principal will make various decisions on curriculum, hiring and other decisions.

By contract, the local board must continue services like transportation, cafeteria and maintenance at reasonable prices. The OSD status is 10 years max, and, at that time, one option would be the return to the local board. There is a 3% hold-back fee for the OSD administration or for the Charter School Commission.

SB 133 CONTAINS A SECOND PLAN

For schools not selected for Opportunity School District status, they are eligible for waivers from the State BOE if they are on warning, probation and on the qualifying list but not chosen. For those schools, the State Board of Education must provide school improvement services and technical assistance if they are on warning, probation or listed but not chosen as OSD selections.

That team will conduct a comprehensive on-site evaluation of the school to determine the cause of the school's low performance and lack of progress and present to the local board, the principal, a parent member of the school council and other school personnel.

The team will recommend action, including reallocation of resources, changes in procedures, professional learning for administrators or teachers, and instructional strategies based on scientifically based research.

They can recommend waivers of state rules and regulations with the goal of all groups of students meeting the state's proficiency goals. This plan can include extended instruction time for low-performing students and strategies for involving parents, teacher mentoring and smaller class sizes as appropriate.

This plan would be monitored by the State BOE, but these schools would remain under the local Board of Education.

Conclusion: States don't have too many wins when taking over local schools in urban areas. But, if Amendment One does not pass, you can expect some sort of action concerning school boards who are not trying to turn around failing schools. The question is: if Amendment One is not a good answer, what is?

Full transcript of SB 133 may be found at http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20152016/SB/133.

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