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More school boards join fight against governor's state takeover district. Will that sway voters?

My AJC colleague Ty Tagami has a good news story on an emerging bi-partisan effort by school boards to fight Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed constitutional amendment for an Opportunity School District.

While local school superintendents seem to be sitting out the fight against the OSD, more school boards are taking a stand, including Cherokee County last week. Today, the Barrow and Clayton boards are scheduled to vote on anti-OSD resolutions.

Patterned after state districts in Tennessee and New Orleans, the OSD will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as its creation requires a change in the state constitution. Voters won't know they will be granting sweeping new powers to take away schools from local control and place them under state jurisdiction as the ballot language is vague, only asking if the state should intervene in failing schools.

A few of the districts that have opposed the OSD are at risk of losing schools, including Bibb, Chatham and Richmond counties. But, Tagami notes, others, including Cherokee, Fayette, Henry and Troup counties, are not in any danger now.

Interestingly, three metro Atlanta systems that could lose schools -- by virtue of geographic proximity -- have not passed resolutions against state takeover. Deal's OSD is closest in design to Tennessee's Achievement School District, which focused its initial takeover on schools in Memphis to ease coordination and maximizing of resources. For similar reasons, I envision the OSD  focusing on metro Atlanta schools in its first years.

There has not been a stampede of outraged superintendents to Deal's door but it may be the political nature of the battle. Or, it may be superintendents feel their time is better spent fortifying their own struggling schools against takeover.

Here is an excerpt of Tagami's piece that addresses that issue:

In metro Atlanta, DeKalb County has 28 schools subject to takeover, Atlanta has 22 and Fulton County has 10. The districts have embarked on programs to turn around low-performing schools in hopes of dodging a takeover.

None of their boards have taken a political stand like the Cherokee school board just did. DeKalb school board chairman Melvin Johnson said no school board member he’s talked to anywhere in Georgia supports the constitutional amendment. DeKalb board members have discussed a resolution against it, but haven’t yet taken a stand. “I don’t agree with it at all,” Johnson said of the constitutional amendment. “However, when we speak as a board, that’s a whole different thing.”

He didn’t want to elaborate, but the district would have much to lose by antagonizing Deal, since his pick for superintendent would have independent authority to select schools for takeover.

Unlike DeKalb or some districts that have aligned against the OSD, Cherokee has no schools subject to a state takeover even if the measure passes. School board chairwoman Kyla Cromer said the vote Thursday was partly in solidarity with affected districts and also a rejection of a statewide school district that would depend on the state’s ability to determine whether a school is failing. The proposed Opportunity School District, or OSD, relies on an oft-amended school grading formula that relies on standardized tests that also have been changing — and subject to technical glitches,

A couple of districts with no currently “failing” schools, Clayton and Barrow counties, have anti-OSD votes scheduled for Tuesday. “We will have that resolution and it will pass,” said Barrow school board vice chairwoman Lynn Stevens, who, like her fellow board members, is a Republican. In some cases, charter schools are managed by for-profit companies, and that rankles Stevens and other OSD critics, who note that the constitutional amendment would allow the OSD to continue to take their tax dollars for schools converted to charter management.

“This amendment is really just about privatizing education and taking money away from taxpayers and their communities and giving it to private, for-profit companies,” Stevens said.

I am not sure school board resistance will matter in November. School board opposition did not prevent passage of the charter school amendment in 2012. That amendment empowered  an appointed state commission to approve  charter schools over the objections of local boards of education.

A state commission had  already been doing so, but the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the commission represented  an overreach of state power  so the amendment was put forth.  Despite  the allegation that local school boards blocked charter schools, nine out of 10 of the existing charter schools  operating in Georgia at the time of the 2012 vote were approved by local boards.

And sun-kissed language also played a role in that vote: Voters were asked: "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?" The amendment earned a "Yes" from an impressive 58.5 percent of Georgians. I suspect the OSD will see a similar margin of victory. (Here is a piece from the blog urging passage of the OSD.)

Anyone disagree?


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.