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School systems need options
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Forsyth County News
In talking with members of the local legislative delegation earlier this month, Forsyth school officials asked the state lawmakers for something the General Assembly has been reluctant to provide to school systems in recent years — flexibility.

On the issue of state-mandated class sizes and educational programming, school system CFO Dan Jones said that providing local systems with some flexibility in meeting state mandates could mean savings of millions in tough economic times for Forsyth schools.

Listen to those involved in education around the state and you’ll hear the “lack of flexibility” complaint often, and with good reason.

The state’s legislative body, in its ongoing, and frequently futile, efforts to improve education statewide prefers a “one size fits all” approach to school system problems.

Unfortunately when it comes to communities as diverse in size, growth patterns and economic conditions as those in Georgia, one size seldom fits all.

Those who live in metro Atlanta often forget that in other parts of Georgia there are rural communities that bear little resemblance to those near the state’s capital. In trying to weave laws and spending plans that address the needs of both, lawmakers sometimes make it impossible to fill the needs of either.

Classroom size is a perfect example. Dictates regarding the number of students per teacher in a school system that adds five students a year really don’t make a lot of difference. But for a system that adds 5,000, those same mandates mean new school construction and the hiring of new staff on a continual basis.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that state lawmakers, many of whom like to see themselves as experts on education, have the habit of mandating rules and policies that local schools will follow, then failing to provide the funding to make it happen. And every time there is a shift in administrations or political power, a new set of rules and mandates seems to follow.

Providing school systems, especially those in fast-growth areas like Forsyth, some flexibility in dealing with certain state mandates would make a lot of sense, both in educational and economic terms.

What really matters should be the end result. If there are accountability standards in place to make sure systems are doing what they need to do to provide an education for students — and Forsyth has for years been one of the state’s best — then how they get the job done shouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Flexibility with accountability needs to be the mantra for state lawmakers looking to improve Georgia schools in tough economic times.