BOE seeking input on state flexibility contract decision

Published 7:06 pm Friday, April 10, 2015

The Decatur County Board of Education is working to get input from Decatur County schools and community members before deciding which of three state-mandated flexibility options it chooses. 

The flexibility options are five-year contracts between local boards with the Georgia Board of Education that would go into effect beginning the 2017 school year. The BOE’s deadline for deciding is June 30.

“[The legislation] was in response to a lot of people telling the governor’s office that we needed more local flexibility and control in public education, the funds that came down,” said Superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield, addressing the BOE at a called work session Thursday.

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Rayfield said that the overall goal is to increase academic results and gain flexibility from state board rules and regulations, but that flexibility may come with a catch.

There are four major waivers that school systems can currently apply for. Two of those are used every year by Decatur County for financial reasons. A class size waiver allows schools to have slightly larger class sizes versus hiring more teachers to follow the state’s student-teacher ratios. The other Decatur County uses involves the percentage of budget spent on instruction. The state requires 65 percent be spent on instruction, and Decatur County usually spends between 62-63 percent. A waiver allows them that flexibility.

“My opinion is — and I hope the board agrees — this is a community decision,” Rayfield said. “This affects all eight of our schools. It affects the system, and it affects the community because it’s a five-year contract with the state. We all have to be in one accord.”

Strategic School System

The first option is to become a “strategic school system.” The system enters into a contract with the GBOE saying that it will reach state-determined performance targets. The amount of flexibility granted to the system is proportionate to the student performance goals.

However those performance targets are set and monitored by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, which is completely separate from the Georgia Board of Education.

Rayfield said that he was “uncomfortable” with contracting with one agency but being monitored by another.

Another catch is that a school  does not meet those performance targets in five years, the state can take over that school.

“The bottom line is that if you don’t meet your performance targets in this model, that possibility hangs over your head: that you could lose the total governance and authority of one or more of your schools after that five-year period,” Rayfield said. “It certainly concerns me. You do get the flexibility to do innovative things in the classroom in exchange for the increased accountability.”

Rayfield said that so far, the only systems selecting this option appear to be ones that are well-off financially and are already outperforming the state’s education standards, like Gwinnett County.

Charter School System

The second option is electing to be a “charter school system,” which Rayfield stressed is not changing schools to charter schools.

The system would enter into a contract, a charter, with the state board that the local system writes. The Governor’s Office would not be involved, and the local system could select its own performance targets that would be rigorous enough to be approved by the state board.

Electing to be a charter system would require the creation of school-level governance teams.

“They would be very similar in composition to what we now know as a school council,” Rayfield said. “It would be the principal, parents, teachers and community or business folks. The difference is that this school-level governance team is going to provide recommendations on a regular basis to the superintendent.”

Rayfield said that the governance team was both a positive and a negative. On one hand, he and the BOE would get regular input from principals, teachers and community members, but on the other hand, those governance teams do not have power beyond making recommendations, which may make it difficult attracting volunteers.

A positive to this option is that there is currently money, about $80 per student, available to systems that choose it, but if all the systems choose this option, that money may run out quickly, Rayfield said.

Traditional School System

Previously called the “status quo system,” the final option means that the school system elects to do nothing and continue as it is. However, it would forfeit the ability to submit waivers and lose any and all flexibility from state rules.

“The state has designed an option that would be financial suicide for most of us,” Rayfield said. “You can not play, but if you don’t play, financially [the state is] going to hurt you.”