Board of Ed. continues to discuss ‘Flexibility Options’

Last week the Board of Education continued its discussion of its upcoming decision to designate the type of school system Fayette County will be going forward.

Superintendent Dr. Jody Barrow presented updated information regarding the platter of choices before the board. By June 30, 2015 the board (along with all Georgia school systems) must choose whether to designate itself an Investing in Educational Excellence School System (IE2), a Charter System, or a Status Quo system.

School systems around Georgia have been mulling the options for some time now. Barrow indicated that 65 have made some declaration of their intention, while 95 remained “engaged in the process.” He noted that a school board can choose a direction and still change that decision if there is enough time prior to the June deadline.

“What I hope our community will do is take an opportunity to take a look at the latest update with regard to flexibility that all school systems are going to have to choose a model,” Barrow said.

An up-to-date Powerpoint presentation regarding the different models is available as part of the agenda documents for the Jan. 20 meeting, which can be found at the district’s website at www.fcboe.org.

The Charter and IE2 systems are described as “Flexibility Options” because they allow systems to have some flexibility with “Title 20,” Georgia’s law which controls various rules and guidelines for school districts.

As the explanatory powerpoint shows, choosing one of the flexibility options allows the school district leeway in the “Big Four” areas: class sizes, expenditure control, certification, and salary schedule requirements.

In exchange for flexibility from the state, school districts have to negotiate Performance Contracts under either of those systems which lay out “Academic and other targets” to which the district is committed and outline waivers granted by the state to the districts. Charter system contracts also involve a list of “innovations” schools will use to meet targets as well as a description of how “Local School Governance Teams” would operate, and with what authorities, at each school site.

The third option, “Status Quo” offers none of the flexibility provided by the other two.

“We’re a high achieving district. There are those who may argue why do we want to change anything, just stay with status quo?” Barrow said. “But the problem with status quo is you don’t get the flexibility options. Right now we’re still in the position financially where we cannot afford to not have the class size waiver.”

The Powerpoint presentation Barrow referenced during the discussion goes into depth as to the various requirements and provisions of the different systems.

In a summary, the advantages of an IE2 system are “flexibility to innovate” and “financial savings possible from waivers.” Listed as a disadvantage is the possible “loss of governance over schools that fail to meet performance targets after five years.”

The charter system is summarized as also offering flexibility to innovate and financial savings from waivers. The system also offers possible “additional per-pupil funding in QBE if appropriated.” A unique element of a charter system is that “school level governance” is required for each school.

Barrow explained that the form this governance would take would be shaped as part of the district’s development of a Performance Contract with the state. Barrow explained each school would need its own governing body, but the contract would outline what those bodies are responsible for.

“That’s part of developing the contract. Like any contract, there’s some boilerplate things that are pretty standard, but it also gives us an opportunity to be innovative,” Barrow said.

Barrow also referenced numbers from other school systems that are farther along in the decision making process. A total of 61 districts had made some level of decision: 28 had approved Charter systems and three had approved IE2 systems. Another 23 had Letters of Intent for a Charter system and seven had letters of intent for an IE2 system.

A total of 95 districts remained “engaged in the decision process,” like Fayette, and another 24 districts were listed as “status unknown.”

Barrow said he had not observed an obvious pattern in which types of school systems were choosing which option.

“It’s all over the board. It depends on who you talk to,” Barrow said. “Our neighbor Fulton is a large system, they’re the largest that’s decided to go charter. We’ve had smaller, city systems (Decatur, Marietta) that have gone charter.”

Barrow said other systems like Gwinnett and Forsyth County opted for IE2 models.

“Some districts who have made decisions are now coming back because of recent changes in interpretations. Coweta and Griffin-Spalding are both going IE2 now,” Barrow noted.

The board did not vote on the matter Tuesday. The intent is to schedule a workshop at a yet to be decided date for more in depth discussion. Barrow noted a vote would likely not be taken at that workshop either, but the discussion would provide the grounding for a vote at a later board meeting.

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About

Josh Akeman is the managing editor of the Fayette County News, Today in Peachtree City, and East Coweta Journal. He is a graduate of Fayette County High School and the University of Georgia.


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