Op­por­tu­nity school’s fate to be dis­cussed at Town Hall

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DUANE M. FORD news@cov­news.com See SCHOOL, 11A

This fall, Ge­or­gia vot­ers will de­cide the fate of the Op­por­tu­nity School Dis­trict (OSD) that has been pro­posed by Gover­nor Nathan Deal. A “yes” vote on Amend­ment 1 sup­ports cre­ation of the OSD; a “no” vote on Amend­ment 1 op­poses the cre­ation of OSD. Early vot­ing be­gins Oct. 17, 2016.

The New­ton County and Rock­dale County school sys­tems con­ducted a joint town hall meet­ing Thurs­day to dis­cuss why both school boards have passed res­o­lu­tions op­pos­ing the OSD. Fea­tured speak­ers where Mar­garet Cic­carelli, Direc­tor of Leg­isla­tive Af­fairs for the Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ge­or­gia

Ed­u­ca­tors, and Donna Flem­ing, Or­ga­ni­za­tional Spe­cial­ist for the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

Cic­carelli said vot­ers should not be fooled by the lan­guage of Amend­ment 1, “It sounds won­der­ful, but that is not the end of the story,” This con­cern was echoed by Sa­man­tha Fuhrey, Su­per­in­ten­dent for New­ton County School Sys­tem, who said, “I fear vot­ers will be swayed by the lan­guage of the amend­ment be­cause it sounds glit­tery,” Fuhrey said, “but the im­pli­ca­tions of the OSD for chil­dren might be harm­ful.”

Reg­is­tered vot­ers may visit the Ge­or­gia Sec­re­tary of State’s “My Voter Page” (mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do) to see a sam­ple bal­lot and read the lan­guage of Amend­ment 1. How­ever, that lan­guage is as fol­lows, “Pro­vides greater flex­i­bil­ity and state ac­count- abil­ity to fix fail­ing schools through in­creas­ing com­mu­nity in­volve­ment. Shall the Con­sti­tu­tion of Ge­or­gia be amended to al­low the state to in­ter­vene in chron­i­cally fail­ing pub­lic schools in or­der to im­prove stu­dent per­for­mance?”

Cic­carelli said that sounds good, but al­ter­na­tive lan­guage drafted by Ge­or­gia State Se­na­tor Vin­cent Fort is closer to the truth about what Ge­or­gia cit­i­zens are be­ing asked to de­cide. He put it this way, “Shall the Con­sti­tu­tion of Ge­or­gia be amended to al­low an ap­pointee of the Gover­nor to take over lo­cal school op­er­a­tion, build­ings, and con­trol of all fed­eral, state, and lo­cal fund­ing if a school has low scores on stan­dard­ized tests or for any other rea­son a fu­ture leg­is­la­ture may al­low?” His lan­guage will not ap­pear on the bal­lot.

If Amend­ment 1 and OSD are ap­proved this fall, it will give the State of Ge­or­gia the power to take over the op­er­a­tion of schools deemed to be “fail­ing” based on test scores. Schools scor­ing 60 or below on Ge­or­gia’s Col­lege and Ca­reer Readi­ness In­dex for three con­sec­u­tive years would be el­i­gi­ble for takeover by the State’s OSD. Fuhrey pointed out that this stan­dard is in it­self prob­lem­atic, “The State’s as­sess­ment in­stru­ments are nei­ther valid nor re­li­able and have not been the same since 2012. This is why New­ton County School Sys­tem is try­ing to opt out of the State’s as­sess­ment model. They are not achieve­ment based and peo­ple need to un­der­stand that a ma­nip­u­la­tion of the test­ing stan­dards could change the sta­tus of schools as to whether or not they are con­sid­ered fail­ing.”

The OSD would be ad­min­is­tered by a su­per­in­ten­dent ap­pointed and su­per­vised by the Gover­nor. Once taken over, the OSD would take con­trol of all Fed­eral, state, and lo­cal fund­ing, all build­ings, and all op­er­a­tions away from the lo­cally elected school board for a min­i­mum of five years. Cic­carelli, Flem­ing, as well as many dif­fer­ent New­ton County and Rock­dale County school board mem­bers and ad­min­is­tra­tors ex­pressed unan­i­mous con­cern about the State wrest­ing de­ci­sions about chil­dren as well as the use of lo­cal re­sources away from lo­cally elected board mem­bers and com­mu­ni­ties. As Cic­carelli put it, “Who un­der­stands the needs bet­ter than lo­cal peo­ple?”

Once the OSD takes over a school deemed to be fail­ing, the OSD su­per­in­ten­dent would have four op­tions. He/ she could close the school; ad­min­is­ter the school di­rectly; trans­fer the school to the State Char­ter Schools Com­mis­sion; or de­velop a con­tract with the lo­cal school board re­quir­ing spe­cific changes. Cur­rent teach­ers, staff mem­bers, and ad­min­is­tra­tors could be re­tained by the OSD or re­leased to the lo­cal school board for re­as­sign­ment or lay­off.

There are cur­rently 130 schools in Ge­or­gia which, by the def­i­ni­tion given above, are deemed to be fail­ing. Ac- cord­ing to Cic­carelli, three of those schools are State-run char­ter schools, rais­ing the irony of the State tak­ing over fail­ing State run schools. No New­ton or Rock­dale county schools are cur­rently con­sid­ered fail­ing and there­fore none would be sub­ject to OSD takeover.

Ka­t­rina Young, Rock­dale County Pub­lic Schools Board Mem­ber, pointed out that the cur­rent OSD el­i­gi­ble schools serve about 68,000 stu­dents, which is 4 per­cent of Ge­or­gia’s 1.7 mil­lion ele­men­tary and sec­ondary school chil­dren. Cic­carelli re­ported that if the State took con­trol of all OSD el­i­gi­ble schools the to­tal fund­ing di­verted from lo­cal to state con­trol would amount to about $13 mil­lion per year.

Cic­carelli and Flem­ing both dis­cussed the track record of OSD-like ap­proaches in other states as well as al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches to ad­dress the needs of strug­gling schools. Ten­nessee and Louisiana have OSD-like mecha- nisms, but ac­cord­ing to Cic­carelli and Flem­ing state takeovers there have had mixed re­sults and in both cases fam­i­lies felt dis­con­nected from their chil­dren’s schools.

They both said that al­though there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of suc­cess for the OSD ap­proach, there is plenty of ev­i­dence for the suc­cess of al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches. Cic­carelli cited the need to pro­vide re­sources to strug­gling schools to en­sure they could hire the best teach­ers, sup­port smaller class sizes, give stu­dents more at­ten­tion, and pro­vide “wrap around” health and nu­tri­tion ser­vices. She said, “We need to take pol­i­tics out of our schools and fo­cus on what works.”

Lo­cal state rep­re­sen­ta­tives in at­ten­dance were unan­i­mous in their op­po­si­tion to Amend­ment 1 and OSD. That in­cluded Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Pam Dick­er­son, Dis­trict 113; Rep­re­sen­ta­tive JaN­ice Van Ness, Dis­trict 43; and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Doreen Carter, Dis­trict 92.

Duane M. Ford | The Cov­ing­ton News

Mar­garett Ci­carelli and Donna Flem­ming speak at a town hall meet­ing about Op­por­tu­nity School Dis­tricts Thurs­day.

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