School board reform in Georgia appears back on track

Gov. Sonny Perdue championed the bill, SB 84, last session after Clayton County became the nation's second school system to lose accreditation in the last 40 years. Clayton regained accreditation last year. The bill stalled in committee amid criticism that it usurped local control. Last month, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools announced a second Georgia system, Warren County, may lose accreditation in July because of governance problems.

Now, committee members working with the governor’s staff are reconsidering the bill, softening some of the language and adding more checks and balances. During a meeting Thursday, members -- among other changes -- approved language that said if a system were about to lose accreditation, state school board members would weigh in first whether to remove local board members before sending a recommendation to the governor.

The committee is expected to vote on the bill next week. It must still go before the full House for approval before being sent to the Senate.

One of the biggest sticking points appears to be a "nepotism" provision that would bar someone from serving on a local school board if he or she has an immediate family member at work in the same school system as the local superintendent, principal, assistant principal or as a "system administrative staff" member.

Lawmakers passed a similar provision under unusual circumstances last year. However, two local Georgia school board members filed suit last month in federal court to overturn it, saying in part that it supersedes voters' rights to elect their own local representation. Some committee members want local board members to be able to seek a waiver from that rule.

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