Want local control of education? Pass the Opportunity School District

If voters approve the Opportunity School District, the power to make meaningful decisions will lie closer to the classroom than before.

If voters approve the Opportunity School District, the power to make meaningful decisions will lie closer to the classroom than before.

All politics is local, and that goes double for school politics. But just what does “local” mean?

Georgians are going to have an argument about that word between now and the November referendum on the proposed Opportunity School District. A great logomachy over localism, if you like.

The OSD, if approved, would allow the state to take control of public schools with failing grades for at least three straight years. The state could force certain changes at such a school, run the school itself, convert it to a charter school, or even shut it down.

In doing so, the state would have the authority to redirect the school’s portion of locally raised taxes. And that has opponents screaming about “local control” being undermined.

First, it’s worth noting that “local control” is one of the more malleable political-cudgels-posing-as-principle you’ll find in state politics. Republicans use it to bash Democratic proposals, and vice versa.

But our debate this fall isn’t really about whether to honor local control. It’s about exactly how local the control should be.

Opponents of the OSD argue the local school board is where the authority properly lies. They have the advantage of tradition on their side: That’s the way it’s always been.

But the way it’s always been has never produced the results we’ve always needed. Local school-board elections — in communities where parents of current students are typically outnumbered by other voters — have not provided the accountability needed to end chronic failure in far too many places, both urban and rural.

The OSD would not shift the local board’s power to the state so much as allow the state to drill below the local board’s level and insert that power in the schoolhouse itself.

While the OSD’s superintendent would have four options for dealing with schools selected for takeover, I think most close observers agree the most common option would be converting them to state charter schools.

No school has more local control than a charter school. It has its own governing board, rather than the board for the whole district. And that board has real power: over finances, hiring and firing, curriculum, and so on. That’s much more power at a lower level than the vast majority of public schools have. At OSD schools that don’t become charters, there will still be advisory school councils.

In fact, the bill passed to direct implementation of the OSD, should voters approve the measure, has at least a dozen references to control being exercised well below the state level.

The OSD’s superintendent must hold a public hearing before selecting a school for the new district; must consult the local school board, principal and superintendent before transferring it to the new district; and must seek still more local input before deciding which of the four options to take with the school. Particularly in the case of converted charter schools, the OSD’s superintendent will yield much of the school’s operations to school leaders. Then, when it’s time for a school to leave the new district (within 10 years), the OSD’s superintendent must work with the local community again about how to make that transition.

Taken together, that’s a more meaningful measure of control at an even more local level than most schools, parents and students enjoy today.

Reader Comments 0

24 comments
RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

This is an EXCELLENT, accurate article. Well done, Kyle.

Sceptical
Sceptical

I hope the amendment fails.  Georgia needs to keep graduating people that are on the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to education.  McDonalds, Burger King and all the other fast food companies need workers. Many school boards and teachers have been doing a great job of filling the fast food pipeline with undereducated students.  If we take control of education out of the hands of inept local school boards, inept principles and inept teachers, who is going to serve us next time we want to eat at a fast food restaurant?  Please vote against the amendment.  We need a continuing supply of poorly educated students plus inept school board members, inept principles and inept teachers need a job. 

ruthhartman
ruthhartman

The key to stopping failing schools is to end poverty in the area surrounding the school. There is a huge correlation between 'failing' schools and poverty. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

This decade's common core initiative.

cellophane
cellophane

Nice theory on the charter boards, but it's not accurate.  Look at the one in Cherokee County for an example of how that isn't really how it works.  Parents don't elect the "board."  Board slots stay vacant for months, even years. Look at the minutes for the meetings (cherokeecharter.org).  The last decision they actually made (other than voting to approve reports provided by the management company or a budget developed by the management company) was on items for the vending machines.  They don't choose uniform colors or even socks.  They don't hire teachers.  They voted to hire the principal-- but he was the ONLY candidate the management company sent them to vote on.  The school is under complete corporate control, NOT local. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

As someone not intimately familiar with the problems of the schools, but wanting to cast an informed vote in November, I find the debate and arguments rather bewildering. As I understand it in perhaps simplistic terms, the state will take the power from the local school boards of the failing schools, and give it, according to Kyle, to another form of local control. Other than what seems to be an obvious support for charter schools, what exactly will make the schools work better? The argument that any change is better than a failing system does not hold much water. Where are the arguments about what makes particular schools fail and how specifically will the proposal change that?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"But the way it’s always been has never produced the results we’ve always needed."

Really? Never?


"The OSD’s superintendent must hold a public hearing before selecting a school for the new district; must consult the local school board, principal and superintendent before transferring it to the new district; and must seek still more local input before deciding which of the four options to take with the school."

And then they will do exactly as they please!


Have the repubs thought of taking the students of an underperforming school and just go out and shoot them? I'm being sarcastic, to say the least, but that gets rid of the problem, doesn't it? Maybe the state should require people running for the school board to actually have some credentials that show they have some sort of experience in education, instead of being political hacks!? 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@RoadScholar Instead of shooting them, why not just give their parents all the money appropriated for their education and let the child/parents decide where they would like to attend school.

independentiii
independentiii

"The OSD would not shift the local board’s power to the state so much as allow the state to drill below the local board’s level and insert that power in the schoolhouse itself."

Gonna have to call BS on that...

I thought the R's were for smaller Government, not expanded??

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Local control is just a big rip off for local property owners.  Education is the state's responsibility and they should fund it 100%, no reason to think they can't.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

The system just doesn't work as currently designed.  In rural counties, with failing schools,  the candidate pool for school board is limited, as those with resources available to place their children elsewhere have other fish to fry.  Those whose children are grown, just want to keep the school board taxes as low as possible, and are not interested in the schools or the boards.  People with school age children stuck in the failing schools struggle to make ends meet, with both parents working full time and tutoring their children at night.  


So, in the end you have a bunch of older folks with no children in the schools, with maybe a few relatives working in the schools, who are interested in their own selfish agenda, that step forward to lead the school.  Once they get elected they tend to stay in the position, helping their relatives get jobs, and enjoying the prestige of having a little bit of power.

jezel
jezel

Retired teacher/coach....self employed....3 2 1...cannot for the life of me understand  why some of you folks cannot connect the dots. Education reform...call it charter schools or OSD or whatever...is a scam.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

In just a few minutes, all of the teacher's union/ government funded bloggers will be clocking in to tell you what an awful idea this is.


3, 2, 1....

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@IReportYouWhine So they do not applicable rights and knowledge of what the problems are?  And your qualifications are?

PJ25
PJ25

This will pass by a landslide and I can't wait for all the crying from the Political Insider, Bookman and Maureen.  I have the whining marked on my calendar already. 

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@PJ25 It'll pass by a landslide because the question will be worded something like: "do you love puppies and kittens and the American flag?" The general assembly chooses the phrasing.


As proof, watch voters gut the Judicial Qualifications Committee without having any idea what the hell they're doing.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Aquagirl @PJ25 Also, see the "Preamble" that has been added to sway the LIVs. "This amendment provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools THROUGH INCREASING COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT.'


Kind of like the book 1984, we increase community involvement by removing the governance from the local community!

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

@Aquagirl @PJ25 So you assume that Georgians are too stupid to become informed. You MUST be a Clinton Supporter.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Something beats nothing, and "nothing" is what OSD haters offer.

Ignore them and move forward for real progress.