The Dawson County Board of Education voted unanimously during Monday night's monthly board meeting to support a resolution to oppose Gov. Nathan Deal's proposed constitutional amendment that would implement an initiative known as the Opportunity School District (OSD).
Passing Amendment 1 according to Deal is a way to rescue "failing" schools.
Those are schools scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education's accountability measure, the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) for three consecutive years, according to Deal's web site.
The OSD would be operated by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) under the supervision of a superintendent appointed by the governor.
"At that point, the entire local community of parents, educators and other stakeholders will lose their voice in local school affairs," said Dawson County Superintendent Damon Gibbs about the amendment.
Though there are no schools in Dawson County that would be considered eligible for takeover by the OSD by those standards, the fundamental issues for many educators-including the local board of education -are still there.
"This does not negate the fundamental belief that public schools should remain under the authority of the locally elected boards of education," Gibbs said.
"I am very proud that the Dawson County school board has spoken in opposition to Amendment 1 which would create what are called Opportunity School District. Our coalition and these board members and 20 other local school boards across the state believe that this is not the best way to help challenged schools," said Dawson County resident Bette Holland.
Holland taught school in Georgia for 43 years and is a member of a coalition of educators, parents and civil rights groups called Keep Georgia Schools Local.
She has been working against Amendment 1 for a year and a half.
The Georgia Assembly passed the amendment during the 2015 legislative session and now requires majority approval by voters.
Amendment 1 will be on the ballot Nov. 8 when voters go to the polls for the presidential election.
It is considered a controversial proposal, even in the wording, as it will appear on the ballot.
The Georgia School Board Association and the Georgia Parent Teacher Association have also openly opposed the amendment.
The state PTA even decried the wording that introduces the amendment, calling it deceptive.
The introduction reads: "Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement."
Holland also disagrees with the preamble wording and says that the bill as written is very flexible.
"The OSD superintendent would answer to the Governor only," she said. "It is an over-reach by the state. It can be changed to anything they want to."
Holland also cites other states that have approved and implemented similar measures, like the Achievement School District in Tennessee and the Recovery School District in Louisiana.
"ACT test scores in the RSD in New Orleans are the lowest of any district in the state," Holland said. "It didn't work."
The Governor's web site also points to the same two states and programs, only claiming they have both found success.
"Since 2007, the percent of students performing at grade level on state assessments in RSD schools has more than doubled, and the district has made significant progress in closing the gap with the state average performance," reads a portion of Gov. Deal's posted FAQs on the OSD.
In passing the resolution, the Dawson County Board of Education joins close to 20 other districts across the state that have already taken an open stand against the amendment. Forsyth County is expected to issue its own resolution tomorrow and Lumpkin County voted to approve a resolution on Monday night.
Opponents believe that the OSD superintendent would wield too much power in the decision making process.
"We feel that every citizen should consider that, without any consultation with the local community, the OSD superintendent selected by the governor is empowered to: Close down any school, reorganize staff, fire and replace teachers and principals at will, transfer any school to the State Charter Schools Commission or direct local school boards to make changes at an OSD schools via contract," Gibbs said.
"The historic and long appreciated demonstration of trust and access of the entire local community of parents, educators and other stakeholders to its locally-elected school boards will lose purpose and value."
The OSD superintendent would have to be confirmed by the state senate and would be a direct report to the Governor.
If approved, the state would intervene with schools deemed failing beginning in the 2017-2018 school year.
According to the current bill (SB 133), the OSD would select no more than 20 schools in any given year and the maximum capacity would be 100 schools.
Once they have been selected, a school would be a part of the OSD for a minimum of five years and no more than 10.
"The school selection process shall include a public hearing to allow for parent and community input and the final selection of which schools are transferred into the OSD shall be in the sole discretion of the OSD Superintendent," reads the current version of the bill.
Holland and Gibbs both believe that we already have provisions in place for failing schools.
"There are mechanisms in place that our board feels should be supported. The Office of School Improvement and School Turnaround at the Georgia Department of Education already provide the lowest performing schools with special funding and support," Gibbs said.
"We understand that two current laws, O.C.G. A. 20-14-35 and O.C.G.A 20-14-41, can be utilized by the Georgia State Department of Education and the Governor's Office of Student Achievement to accomplish these goals," he said.
Holland also pointed out there are currently 127 schools that meet the criteria for takeover.
"Why do we need a constitutional amendment to address less than 2 percent of schools?" Holland said.
According to the Governor's web site, the number is 6 percent (127 schools out of 2,089).
Georgia voters will have the final say in November.