School boards rebel against proposed takeover of schools, local taxes

With a unanimous vote on a resolution last week, the Cherokee County school board joined about a half dozen of Georgia’s 180 school districts in openly opposing Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed constitutional amendment for an “Opportunity School District.”

At least two more school boards will vote on similar resolutions Tuesday.

The symbolic actions, which ignore typical partisan lines, come ahead of a Nov. 8 ballot referendum that would authorize the Republican governor to create a new statewide school district that could take over schools deemed to be failing.

Some districts that have adopted such resolutions have schools performing poorly enough to be taken over, such as Bibb, Chatham and Richmond counties. Others, including Cherokee in a GOP stronghold of the state, and Fayette, Henry and Troup counties, do not. A couple of districts with no currently “failing” schools, Clayton and Barrow counties, have resolution votes scheduled for Tuesday.

» MAP: See which Georgia schools could face state takeover

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At a recent meeting, Barrow school board vice chairwoman Lynn Stevens, a fellow Republican, demonstrated her ire over what she sees as an assault on local control over education and tax dollars. The statewide district, or OSD, could requisition local tax dollars for absorbed schools. If teachers are happy in their schools, Stevens said, according to a voice recording provided by the Barrow News-Journal, “then they need to fight this with their heart and soul, and they have the power along with the administrators to send a message to the governor to go to hell.”

The governor’s officer forwarded a request for comment to Tom Willis, a former Deal legislative liaison who went on to start Georgia Leads, an advocacy group.

“We are disappointed to see local boards of education around the state focus their efforts on political posturing as opposed to better serving the parents and students they represent,” Willis said. “If they would spend as much time and resources working to save the thousands of Georgia students trapped in failing schools as they have fighting the OSD, these reforms would not be necessary.”

About half the schools performing poorly enough to be taken over are in metro Atlanta. None of the school boards of major metro districts have taken a stand like Cherokee. DeKalb County school board chairman Melvin Johnson said he personally disagrees with the constitutional amendment. “However, when we speak as a board, that’s a whole different thing.”

He didn’t want to elaborate, but the district would have much to lose by antagonizing Deal, since his pick for superintendent would have independent authority to select schools for takeover.

Read more recent news about the Opportunity School District:

School boards defy Gov. Nathan Deal on state schools takeover

PTA slams new ballot wording on Opportunity School District amendment

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