I am at a packed meeting of a joint House and Senate education committee where all attention is on HR 1162, which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot essentially allowing the state to approve and fund charter schools and use local dollars. (Please note that I am writing as folks speak and will have more typos than usual but will go back and correct once there is a break.)
Sitting in front of me are the school chiefs of Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb — but they are being told that the House and Senate meeting chairs do not want to address the controversial amendment, that it will be dealt with only at the House Ed meeting to follow
Meeting has yet to start with all the major education players are here. Sen. Fran Millar, chair of the Senate ed committee, is greeting school chiefs now. Everyone seems cordial, although school chiefs are clearly opposed to any effort to reroute local dollars from their schools.
Millar just said he doesn’t want to turn this into a debate on the constitutional amendment. “If you want to say that you are against this, that’s fine,” he just told Gwinnett school chief J. Alvin Wilbanks.
First up to speak is Clayton Superintendent Edmond T. “Ed” Heatley. “Everything is alive and well in Clayton County; things are prospering as they should. ” he said.
Heatley wants state to increase the age that students can leave school to 18. It is now 16. He also wants more career/technical training options for students. He asked the state to give financial flexibility to schools systems to use resources in the “best way for their students.”
Millar concurred with Heatley’s three points, saying, “We didn’t write your remarks but we agree with them.”
Now, Cobb’s new chief is speaking. “We know that you don’t have any money because we don’t have any money,” said Dr. Michael Hinojosa.
When the economy improves, Hinojosa would like to see a restoration of funds for dual enrollment at technical colleges. He also notes the challenges of the mounting costs of employee benefits to districts. Particular to Cobb, Hinojosa asked for legislative support for a fractional penny SPLOST.
As to HR 1162, he said, “I would be remiss if I did not state my concerns with HR 1162, and I will leave it at that.”
Now, the new Fulton superintendent is speaking. Superintendent Robert Avossa is talking about Fulton’s bid to become a charter system. He talked about the potential changes that he would like to see come with charter status.
For instance, Avossa mentioned the idea of giving teachers a $500 bonus for letting Fulton know by Feb. 1 that they are retiring at the end of the year. Conversely, he might want to levy a $1,500 or so fine if the teachers wait until Aug. 1 to notify the school, thus making it much harder to find a replacement. He wants to reform the employee dismissal process, noting that Fulton had 6,000 teachers but only dismissed six last year.
He is now encouraging quicker access to classrooms for career switchers. If Fulton were a charter system, Avossa would want to approach differential pay in “a meaningful way,” rather than in terms of a $1,500 bonus. He says he has to compete with pharmaceutical companies for chemists.
“What the market is telling us is that those skills are hard to find. You have to pay for them,” he said
If Fulton does become a charter district, it will be the largest such in Georgia.
Now, Wilbanks is at the podium agreeing with much of what his colleagues said. He encouraged permanent flexibility for systems. He also urged the lawmakers to oppose HR 1162.
Now, APS deputy superintendent Steve Smith is speaking. (Errol B. Davis is out of town.) He cited the painful redistricting now under way, pointing to the need for Atlanta to address the soaring costs of maintaining empty seats in some schools while there is overcrowding in others. Smith also said that the CRCT cheating investigations continue, and the district is working with the district attorney.
As to HR 1162: “We are in favor of local boards maintaining constitutional authority and control,” Smith said.
Speaking for DeKalb is Kendra March, deputy superintendent for school leadership and operational support, who announced, “It is a new day in DeKalb,” and “Victory is in the classroom.” She is very enthusiastic.
March says the county is moving forward with its “excellence in education plan.” She said the recent audit of the system’s workforce found “there was a lot work to do.” The county is going through departments now one by one in the wake of the audit, March said.
March said that DeKalb concurs with other systems in asking for greater flexibility to fund priorities as they see fit.
Now, lawmakers are asking the school chiefs question. Most of the questions are softballs, giving the school chiefs a chance to say good things about their systems.
Now, state Sen.Donzella James is asking Avossa about Fulton’s charter application. She asked why the county needs charter status to innovate. (In his response, Avossa slipped into his prior life, “We’ve got magnet schools in Charlotte.”)
Avossa said the issue was system-wide flexibility, which is what is afforded by full charter status.
Break time. Senate ed folks head out as the joint committee meeting is over.
Now, the House Education Committee is reconvening and Chair Brooks Coleman of Duluth is telling the audience that he will not allow comments on the explosive charter school amendment. I am not sure why he would not allow comment on that bill since it is a colossus with the potential of rewriting who controls locally raised tax dollars. He also is telling us that there is a substitute bill in the works, which I assume would reduce the state’s reach into local pockets to fund charter schools that are not supported by local boards of education.
Now, state Rep. Jan Jones of Milton is up with the resolution of the hour — HR 1162, which essentially speaks to the May, 2010, state Supreme Court decision dismantling the state Charter Schools Commission. Jones is attempting to revive the commission and its power through a constitutional amendment.
However, now Coleman says there will be no vote today. Jones is quickly running through changes she made to the resolution, designed to appease critics who found the resolution far too broad. I have not seen the new language so I am unsure of whether the changes are surface. Just received an e-mail from one school leader who said, “The question is a bit better, but the rest isn’t. Some language is out of section 3 but the amendment would still put the framework in place to do what they want.”
–from Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog