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Forsyth education officials oppose Opportunity School District
Constitutional amendment to be on November ballot

FORSYTH COUNTY -- The Forsyth County Board of Education unanimously agreed to oppose Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District plan at a work session Thursday.

They are expected to issue the formal resolution to oppose the plan Thursday, Sept. 15, at the board’s monthly public meeting.

The statewide proposal will appear on November’s ballot, where Georgia residents will vote to approve or deny the law. If approved, it would amend the state constitution.

School boards across Georgia have expressed their opposition to the initiative, which would create a statewide school district and give Deal’s office the authority to take over failing schools.

This authority would be extensive; the state would have complete control over the schools in the opportunity district, meaning it could remove principals and teachers it deemed ineffective.

Deal’s office would also have the power to change what students are taught and what learning materials teachers use, as well as to regulate and handle the schools’ budgets.

Though none of the 37 public school in Forsyth County would likely be affected given their high performance, board members said they felt it important to articulate why this law would be detrimental to the state and what ramifications it could have down the road.

“I think it’s setting a very bad precedent,” said District 1 board member Ann Crow. “A lot of things in [the plan] are not defined. What does ‘failing’ mean? That could change with the governor’s administration, and on and on.”

“Less government is better,” she added. “It’s always better at the local level, and I do not think this amendment will help education as a whole in Georgia. We don’t know what this could open the door to in the future, and that’s what bothers me.”

Other board members agreed, with District 2 board member Kristin Morrissey expressing some of the same concerns.

“There are too many unknowns, too much of a chance for money to really not go ultimately where it’s supposed go,” she said. “But it’s more than just money. Some schools that were on the hit list are already stepping up for fear of this. So if nothing else, I think that’s been a good byproduct of this potential constitutional change.

“But once it’s changed in the constitution, there’s no going back.”

Superintendent Jeff Bearden also opposed the plan, saying he doesn’t think it is the correct approach.

His remarks echoed those of State School Superintendent Richard Woods when he spoke to the Forsyth County GOP in August.

A self-proclaimed foundationalist, Woods emphasized the importance kindergarten through fifth grade has in preparing students for successful higher education.

Bearden said he thinks the pre-kindergarten years are just as important.

“I would say, having worked in a high-poverty school system, the investment needs to be more from birth to age four,” he said. “What’s happening in many of these school systems is children are coming to school in kindergarten with no letter recognition. They’re developmentally three to four years behind their peers, and it’s an almost impossible task put on the teachers and administrators of those schools to get those children up to the same level as we would expect [in] Forsyth County schools.”

Crow said she also felt Deal’s plan doesn’t address the underlying problems common to many failing schools.

“If you’re not going to deal with all the problems that cause a child in a failing school to be that way, as in the poverty issue, violence and things like that – not dealing with the whole issue – how can you expect the school systems to perform well?” she said.

The proposed constitutional amendment is modeled after similar plans in other states. Louisiana took control of more than 100 of New Orleans’ failing schools 10 years ago.

However, the state’s program, “Recovery School District,” has seen mixed results.

Advocates say “recovery” is proof of what can be achieved when elected school boards and school systems are dismantled and taken over by the state.

Opponents point out the recovery district still has lower test scores than the state average and disrupts children and parents.

Georgia’s Opportunity School District will be listed as Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Voters will be given the choice to approve, deny or abstain from answering the question.

Both candidates for Forsyth County’s Board of Education District 5 seat, Republican incumbent Nancy Roche and Democrat Anita Tucker, oppose the plan.