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Effort underway to kill constitutional amendment on schools

As the Nov. 8 election draws closer, Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools, and other public school advocates are preparing to ramp up a campaign in opposition to a proposed state constitutional amendment.
Amendment 1 on the ballot this fall, if approved, would allow the state to take control over public schools deemed to be “failing” and create an Opportunity School District, a state level bureaucracy, that would manage the “failing” schools.
A new superintendent would be appointed and would answer directly and only to the governor. Public school advocates who oppose the move say the OSD superintendent is not required nor is expected to work in concert with the elected State School Superintendent should the constitutional amendment pass.
Schools are considered “failing” if they score 60 or below on the Georgia College and Career Readiness Index for three consecutive years.
The Grady County School System does not have any schools that would be deemed “failing” under the current rules, but Dr. Gilliard remains strongly opposed to the amendment and will hit the ground running this week campaigning against it.
“I will be speaking to a group Thursday, and as the election gets closer I will be doing more talks, as will others,” he said.
The Grady County school superintendent points out that while the current rule is a 60 or less on the CCRPI the proposed law is written so the appointed OSD superintendent could change the score and bring more schools under the jurisdiction of the OSD.
“This is similar to what was done in New Orleans following Katrina and it hasn’t worked and they are reversing course now,” Gilliard said.
Should the amendment pass, a failing school would be closed down and all of the faulty, staff and principals could be fired.
The Grady County school superintendent and other opponents of the amendment are voicing concerns that the language used in crafting the resolution may confuse voters as to the actual realities.
The ballot question will read “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”
Dr. Gilliard said more accurate wording would be “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to take over our public schools from our locally elected school boards?”
“This is an issue of who controls public schools in Georgia. Will our schools be managed at the local level or by a bureaucrat in Atlanta? I suggested that we can make better decisions right here in Grady County as how best to run our schools than someone in Atlanta,” Gilliard said.
He also noted that the state’s Office of School Improvement and School Turnaround at the Department of Education already provides the lowest performing schools with special funding and support.
“Why create more bureaucratic duplication?” he asked.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting critics of the proposal are outraged by the “preamble” published by Secretary of State Brian Kemp that will introduce the ballot question to voters. In it, it states, “Provides great flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.”
“Parental and community involvement is not increased by or required by the OSD enabling legislation,” Lisa-Marie Haygood, president of the Georgia PTA, recently told the AJC. Haygood said “local communities” and their elected school boards are the most effective school stewards, and she noted that the constitutional amendment would allow the governor’s new superintendent to take local tax dollars for any school absorbed by the OSD. “Forcing local taxpayers to fund local schools in which their local school board (and by extension, the voters) have no voice is not the answer,” Haygood wrote in an email to the AJC
According to Dr. Gilliard, the Grady County Board of Education will be considering a resolution in opposition to the proposed amendment at its September board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Other school boards are considering similar action.
Dr. Gilliard echoed the comments of Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, who recently told the AJC, “What communities should understand is that this amounts to a state takeover of their local public schools.”
“Governor Deal says if we don’t have failing schools we have nothing to worry about, but putting that much power in the hands of two people in Atlanta, Ga., and taking it away from the local community is reason for concern. I hope local voters will take the time to read and educate themselves on this important ballot question,” Dr. Gilliard said.
For more information about Amendment 1 or to have Dr. Gilliard speak to your group, contact him at 229-377-3701.

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