Coweta schools pick ‘charter’ plan


School systems across Georgia are faced with a decision about how they will conduct business in the future. And like most others to date, the Coweta County Board of Education has opted to transition to a charter system.

To that end, school system spokesman Dean Jackson said the school board on June 10 approved a letter of intent to the Ga. Dept. of Education (DOE) stating that Coweta will pursue charter system status. The school system will spend the next several months drafting a charter system petition which will outline goals for the school system’s governance and operations as a proposed charter system, Jackson said.

All local school systems have until June 30, 2015 to choose one of three flexibility options. Those include becoming a charter school system, an Investing in Educational Excellence (IE2) school system or a status quo school system.

Unlike the current “status quo” system which is operational across Georgia today, the IE2 and charter systems are designed to provide local school systems greater flexibility and more accountability.

Status quo systems would see no changes. There is no performance contract, no freedom from DOE and Ga. State Board of Education (SBOE) guidelines, no waivers and thus no financial savings except in cases of a natural disaster.

According to DOE, an IE2 system is a local district that has a five-year performance contract with the SBOE which is reviewed annually. An IE2 system grants the district freedom through waivers from some of Georgia’s education laws, rules and guidelines such as class size, control of expenditures, certification and salary schedule requirements.

IE2 gives school systems additional flexibility to innovate in exchange for increased academic accountability. The contract between the district and SBOE is monitored by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

A potential disadvantage of the IE2 system is that the district can lose governance over schools that fail to meet established targets.

By definition, a charter system is one free from nearly all SBOE rules and state guidelines. The charter is a performance contract between the district and SBOE that grants flexibility to the district to innovate in exchange for increased academic accountability. The flexibility for a charter system includes waivers for class size, expenditure control, certification and salary schedule.

Unlike IE2 systems, charter systems require a move to local school governance and feature school-based leadership and decision-making. A charter system requires school-level autonomy and accountability and can benefit from financial savings through waivers.

A charter system also operates on a five-year contract that is reviewed annually.

As with IE2 systems, a charter system must meet contract goals and exceed state averages and previous system performance. Failure to do so leads to the charter being revoked and the school system reverts to the status quo model.

So who loses power when Coweta moves to a charter system where individual schools see an increase in governance?

According to DOE, the four responsibilities of a school board include adopting a strategic plan, adopting a budget, hiring the superintendent and holding the superintendent accountable for implementing the strategic plan within budget.

It is the superintendent’s authority that is shared with schools in a charter system, said DOE.

Jackson said the Coweta school board began considering the three options in 2011 and more recently began holding public informational sessions outlining the choices available to the school system.

In 2011 the school system visited some of the first systems to adopt IE2 and Charter System status and held preliminary focus groups aimed at discerning what levels of flexibility local citizens wanted. In the past year, the school system has continued discussions of the choices and discussed flexibility options with system stakeholders as it renewed its 2014-2019 Strategic Plan.

Coweta Superintendent Steve Barker and Director of Public Policy Mark Whitlock met with interested parents and teachers at Newnan High School on May 28 and June 2 to provide information about the upcoming decision regarding state flexibility options for the school system, Jackson said.lity from safety, health and accountability standards.

Assuming state approval of Coweta’s petition, the school system will begin operating as a charter system by the 2015-16 school year.