Coweta schools reviewing education options, including charter system status

Public education in Coweta County and across Georgia will likely see some significant changes in the next few years. A process initiated last year by Gov. Sonny Perdue will see school systems adopt one of three approaches to school management beginning with the 2013-2014 school year.

The Coweta County School System is currently investigating the benefits of the available options.

At issue for school boards across the state are the options of Investing in Education Excellence, also known as IE2, establishing a charter system or keeping things as the are now and maintaining the status quo. Both the charter and IE2 concepts provide local school systems greater flexibility.

Superintendent Blake Bass at a recent meeting of the Coweta County Board of Education said, “The status quo is out, it’s not an option,” adding that Coweta would move to either an IE2 system or a charter system.

Coweta staff headed by Curriculum Director Dr. Karen Barker are reviewing the components of the various systems are expected to report back to the school board in the coming months.

At stake in the transition are issues such as funding, school governance and flexibility with variables such as class size, salary schedules, control of expenditures and certifications.

Flexibility is something that has attracted school boards because, unlike the status quo system, an IE2 system could seek flexibility from current rules and laws pertaining to salaries, class sizes, expenditure controls and employee certifications. That flexibility translates into a variety of cost savings for many of Georgia’s cash strapped school systems.

Charter systems must also state if and how they would implement flexibility. But under the status quo, the state Dept. of Education (DOE) will not authorize any waivers or variances on issues such as class sizes and salaries.

On matters of funding, maintaining the status quo simply means continued reliance on regular QBE (Quality Basic Education) funding that is tied to the revenue fluctuations of the state economy. Under IE2, a school system could see possible saving through negotiated incremental flexibility. And under a charter system a district must state in the charter petition if and how a broader flexibility from laws and rules permitted under the Charter School Act will be implemented.

And perhaps challenging for school boards across the state is the component of governance.

Under the status quo boards of education would maintain significant control over issues such as finances and personnel. Under IE2, school boards can maximize school level governance by granting schools the authority to determine how to reach their goals and targets.

But under the charter system, the local school district must provide each school with school-level governance and decision-making over budgets, programs, personnel and innovation. Also with the charter system, significant emphasis is placed on parent and community involvement to ensure maximum school-level governance.

Both charter and IE2 contracts with DOE come with a time limit. The initial term for both systems is five years. IE2 systems cannot be renewed beyond 10 years while charter systems be renewed for subsequent terms of 5-10 years.

All school districts in the state are required to decide on a course of action by June 2013.

According to DOE, IE2 Partnership contracts are intended to provide local school districts with greater governance flexibility as a means to increasing student achievement. As created by House Bill 1209 (2008), Local Boards of Education (LBOE) can enter into multi-year contracts with the State Board of Education (SBOE) based on strategic plans developed in partnership with DOE and Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA).

Such plans must identify specific school-level student achievement goals that are in addition to current federal accountability requirements.

Progress on meeting stated goals will be monitored annually by GOSA. A school board will lose local governance if the contract at any school has not met the performance goals for at least three consecutive years, according to DOE.

With charter systems, the Charter Systems Act allows local boards of education to contract with the Georgia Board of Education to become a charter system, according to DOE. A charter system provides the opportunity for teachers, administrators, parents, and school boards to have greater flexibility to determine the educational needs of students within their district and requires some level of school level governance in the system.

To become a charter system, the local school system must submit a charter school petition to the DOE, after such petition has been approved by the local board.

A charter arrangement is a performance contract between a local school board and a charter petitioner. The charter petitioner can be a local school, local board of education, private individual, private organization, or state or local public entity that submits a petition for a charter, according to DOE.

The term "charter petitioner" does not include home study programs or schools, sectarian schools, religious schools, private for-profit schools, private educational institutions not established, operated, or governed by the state, or existing private schools.