Liberty charter vote a wise financial decision

Recently our neighbor Dr. Dana Spears, Ph.D. expressed her concern that our Fayette County Board of Education decided not to make Liberty Tech Charter School part of our excellent Fayette County public school system, but rather supported Liberty’s goals and expressed hope that the state of Georgia would approve Liberty as a state charter school. The difference is money.

If the Fayette County Board of Education accepted Liberty as part of our system we would accept financial liability for another school after closing some just last year. By deferring to the state of Georgia, Fayette loses funding for students who go to Liberty but do not have any liability to provide any of our limited local funds. Unfortunately, our last two governors, in concert with the legislature, have reduced state funding for traditional K-12 public education resulting in over $100 million in educational funding being withheld from our excellent and quality Fayette County public school system over the past decade. We cannot accept the responsibility for additional cost of an additional school when we cannot trust the state of Georgia to follow its own funding formula. Therefore, the board made a wise financial decision.

However, Dr. Spears also posed a question which I think is on a lot of minds. Basically, do our excellent test scores reflect quality education for a vast majority of our students? She claims students are “leaving in droves” to seek education that better fits the individual needs of the student.

Exact numbers are hard to find, but there seems to be a consensus that this population represents approximately 8-10 percent of Fayette’s school-age children. When compared to national statistics, it appears that Fayette’s “alternative student population” is within the average. In Georgia, one study puts the average at 9.5 percent. But the question remains how can we shape our system to meet the needs of a vast majority of our system without creating 20,000 different approaches?

Dr. Spears offers a menu of possible solutions such as charter schools, magnet schools, School of the Arts, College and Career Academy, and so on. However, in the case of Liberty Tech, a one-off decision without a direction or strategic plan is a reaction that may or may not result in the desired results for the entire system.

The good news is the FCBOE has just engaged the Georgia School Board Association to help Fayette to develop a long-term strategic plan which I believe is the first step in answering these questions and developing an innovative system wide approach to continuing to offer excellent and quality public education to all of its residents by building on an already proven strategy. We can see in statewide statistics, while Fayette County is still among the educational leaders in Georgia, our results are now being matched and passed.

However, we all need to be involved to get the desired outcome for our children. Not all of us have time to attend FCBOE meetings, but your input is just as vital and welcome via e-mail or phone call. A quality strategic plan should reflect a broad consensus of the community rather than a narrow viewpoint. When it comes to our children we all need to make time and have a voice, as we all have an opinion.

The process should unfold over the coming months, please take time to provide your input to our Board of Education that represents all of us. You can find the contact information at www.fcboe.org.

Neil Sullivan
Peachtree City, Ga.

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